I would like to preface this post by saying that I am no “dog rescuer”. There are people who dedicate all of their days to dog rescue, who give countless “freedom rides”, who successfully save lives by boldly going into shelters and making wrongs right, and most of whom suffer from compassion fatigue to a degree that those who are not involved can’t possibly understand. I do not claim to be one of these people. This is one story of only a handful of rescues in which I have been involved. My intention in sharing my story is that you will gain some insight into what can be involved in a rescue, that you will appreciate what can happen when you never give up on a life, and to show that fostering a dog can literally save a life…
Last summer, a friend & mentor in anti-BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) activism contacted me about a dog that was scheduled for euthanasia, simply because she had been mis-labeled a “pit bull” by the shelter where she was abandoned by her owner. All networks had been exhausted and they were desperate for anyone to help this poor dog. I receive messages like this on occasion but in this case, there was an accompanying photo, and there was “just something about her”.
For three days, I worked frantically, reaching out to anyone I thought could help. I did not give my one-year old daughter the full attention she deserved for hours at a time (for which I felt such guilt), as I desperately networked and reached out to anyone and everyone about this dog. I felt responsible for her life, even though I had no personal connection to her. For 3 days, this dog consumed my every thought.
It was suggested by a friend that I reach out to a mutual contact who runs a rescue and fostering network, called No Dog Forsaken. I had no idea at the time that he was involved in such things. So I did, not really knowing what I was supposed to say nor how I could specifically help, but I was honest and confessed my naivete. He was kind and explained the process to me, enabling me to be a little more involved, and two days later, he invited me to participate in her rescue. He sent me a message I will never forget: “Do you wanna pick her up next week? She is gonna live cause you saved her”. I was humbled by the message, and so excited by the opportunity. I had read about “Freedom Rides” but never dreamed I would be giving one to a dog, most especially this special dog. I confessed that I had given her a name, Bahati, which means “fortunate one” in Swahili.
It was a long, nerve-wracking drive for me that day, out to the rural shelter. I had no idea what to expect. It was nearly two hours from my home. I had my Mum come over very early that morning to watch my daughter so that I could have plenty of time to get there and face whatever awaited me. I arrived at the shelter early and had plenty of time to speak to the staff about Bahati, learn about how she was abandoned there and had spent nearly 30 days in a cage, literally pacing in and out of it, non-stop. Eventually, I asked the staff if I could excuse myself from their friendly company and spend some time with Bahati. They said that I couldn’t go into her cage as she was far too fearful of people. So instead, I spent just over an hour sitting on the cold, cement floor of the kennel, singing to this poor, terrified dog, determined to make her feel more calm. It broke my heart that for nearly a month, she had done nothing but pace back and forth, with her tail between her legs, non-stop, all day, every day, in and out of this steel cage, waiting for adopters who would never come, all because of her “pit bull” label …
Bahati had been kept in a crate for her (estimated) 2-years of life, used for breeding, she was not socialized with people and was never walked. Her nails were so long, they curled around into her paws. And yet she had such a sweetness to her. Not just in her face but she literally had this aura of sweetness about her. I sang my heart out, like she and I were the only people there, and after I ran out of short songs, I stuck to “You Are My Sunshine” … about fifty renditions of it! My voice echoed through the rows of empty kennels. And at one point, for just a brief moment, she lay down on her blanket and looked me directly in the eyes. We had a moment there, where I believe she knew she was going to be ok.
Eventually, my contact from No Dog Forsaken arrived and he laughed, politely, when I told him I’d sat on the floor singing to her that entire time. We waited while the shelter staff put her leash on and took her outside to do her business. Then they took several attempts to get a cage into the back seat of my car, so that I could have the opportunity to give her her first “Freedom Ride”. It took some work, but they managed to erect the cage in my small car and got her inside, covered her with a blanket. I nervously asked if I could take a photo of her on my backseat, which I did, her tongue hanging out in such an obvious display of nerves. I got in my car, took a deep breath, and went on my way. My contact with the rescue stayed behind to finalize her release paperwork.
I drove Bahati to the vet, where she was to be treated and spayed. The drive to the vet was nearly an hour-long. Bahati moved around a lot in her cage, on my backseat, at one point, nearly knocking it out of place. But I continued to sing to her, talk to her, even praying for her aloud … basically, whatever I could to keep her calm. When I arrived at the vet, the assistant came out to help me because she would not get out of her cage. I didn’t want to strangle the poor girl, so eventually, we lifted her down and shed a lot of sweat getting her in the door of the office! I hated leaving her there. I had already bonded with this dog. If I’m being honest, I had bonded with her before I ever met her. But I knew she had to stay there for a couple of days, before taking her second Freedom Ride to the dog trainer and then an eventual journey to foster care. I had been warned not to touch her, because she was so fearful of people, but when I said goodbye to her at the vet, I couldn’t help myself and I cradled her face in my hand. And in return, she rubbed her cheek up into the palm of my hand, looking me directly in the eye, as if to say “thank you” in her own way. That was a moment I will never forget, for as long as I live.
I called the vet the next morning to check on her, and then touched base with my rescue friend thereafter. He assured me she was in good hands and promised to keep me updated from there on, which he did indeed. Once Bahati went into her foster home, her name was changed back to Ginger (I can’t help but still call her Bahati!), which was the name the shelter had given her, and it was in this home that her real taste for LIFE began. I received lots of photo updates on her progress in the foster home and with each photo, I could clearly see her coming to life. It warmed my heart.
My friend Cosimo, who I now proudly call friend, who runs No Dog Forsaken, has since been back to that shelter and had her file corrected with the right breed of dog, as per the vet’s paperwork. Bahati is in no part a “pit bull” type dog. Sadly, this is a common mistake on the part of shelter staff who are only trying to do their jobs, and in places where BSL exists, it costs dogs their lives far too often. This dog had two days left to live when we took her away from there.
Fast forward 8 months later and I had the absolute pleasure of seeing her again!! I had been connected with her fosters previously, through Facebook, so I had seen photos, but to see her in person was amazing. Equally amazing was meeting the foster family who took her in and has made such a commitment to getting her settled and comfortable in her own skin. Her vitality now is remarkable; she has learned to walk and to love, she loves children and other dogs (she has a canine brother now), and everyday learns more about how to really be a dog!! Her foster family loves her unconditionally. I’m not sure who is more fortunate, but she hit the jackpot landing them for family!! It was a proud moment for me to introduce her to my daughter, who delighted in her presence. One day, I will ensure she knows the importance of this story.
As I left our reunion, I watched this dog walking on her leash, tail wagging high in the air. I cannot put into words the joy that brought to my heart. As someone once told me about child sponsorship: You can’t change the world, but you can change someone’s world. Bahati’s world has been changed forever and her foster family is making sure that she never feels anything but love in her new life. If it wasn’t for No Dog Forsaken rescue, Bahati never would have been rescued. And if it wasn’t for Bahati’s foster family, she would have had nowhere to go. She would never have had the chance at being the dog she was always meant to be. A dog who now gives cuddles to her family (not all dogs dislike hugs!); a dog who has a sweet little whistle when she speaks; a dog who is working through her fear of men with the support of her amazing foster Dad who loves her unconditionally; a dog whose Mum loves her so much that she told me this recently: ” I cant imagine what this world would have lost if Ginger lost her life because of a label. Makes me sad that we live in such a shallow society that does that. What excuse was so important that we couldn’t open our home and hearts to help her?”
Like I said, Bahati/Ginger hit the jackpot landing her family, and vice versa.
There are four important morals to this story:
1) Never give up on a life.
2) Don’t be so quick to put labels on our dogs – labels can cost them their lives.
3) Fostering saves lives.
4) Love conquers all.
** This story has been told with the family’s permission, but their names and location details have been left out, to protect the family’s privacy **