It was her eyes that caught my attention. I don't think I've ever seen a dog whose eyes were the same color as her fur - cocoa-colored with beautiful golden highlights. She peered out through the bars of her cage, her eyes sparkling clear, curious, and friendly.
Then I spotted the sign on the door of her cage: "FRACTURED PELVIS." Oh, so that explained why the dog would stand up to move toward me, then sit down immediately on a small cushion in her cage. "Oh man," I thought to myself, "No one is going to adopt a damaged dog, no matter how cute she is. Who wants to start off with a big vet bill?" The dog had been at the North Central Animal Shelter in Los Angeles for three weeks, and no takers ... of course.
After wandering through the shelter and looking at dogs for half an hour or so, I left and went home. This was the first time I'd seriously considered adopting another dog since my darling girl Fannie died from melanoma six months ago. When she died, I thought I'd never adopt again. She was the only dog I'd ever had - since I've been a cat person my whole life - and she was such a perfect pooch that I figured any other dog would be a disappointment. Indeed, at the shelter, it seemed as if all the dogs had signs around their necks that read, "I'm not Fannie." I realized that I'm not ready to adopt again ... yet.
But still, I couldn't get that little terrier out of my mind. She was a scruffy little thing who looked a lot like Toto in The Wizard of Oz. The next day, I went back to the shelter to see her again.
This time I asked one of the helpful staff to take her out of her cage so I could see her better. Oh happy day! She was so happy just to get out of the confined space that her tail didn't stop wagging the whole time.
I asked about her injuries and was referred to the veterinarian on duty. He explained that she had a fractured pelvis and a dislocated hind leg, probably from being hit by a car. He explained a simple surgical procedure that could fix her leg as good as new. He also explained what would happen if no surgery was performed. This was clearly a happy, healthy young dog who would be highly adoptable if her leg was fixed. I thanked the vet, petted the dog, and went home again.
This little sweetie was running out of time. After three weeks in the shelter - and with her injuries - it wouldn't be long before she was euthanized. She needed a rescue.
I knew I wasn't ready to adopt this dog - or any dog at this point in time. But I thought, "Well, I could still save a dog, even if I don't adopt one."
But I also knew that I couldn't save her alone. So I reached out to Annie Hart, a local dog rescuer who just recently founded a new group, Rescue From the Hart. At first Annie said she wasn't sure she could help because she had so many rescues to handle already, many of whom had major medical issues. Then she emailed again a little later in the day to ask, "What's your phone number?" Annie called and we talked. We agreed that it might be possible to rescue the injured dog if we could cobble something together with a couple of other rescue groups.
Annie sprang into action. She contacted Jf Pryor of The Mutt Scouts, who said that the Scouts would arrange to get the dog out of the shelter and provide boarding for a week or so until arrangements could be made for her surgery. Then she contacted Eldad Hagar of Hope for Paws, who said his group would cover the dog's medical expenses.
My job was to foster the dog for a few weeks of recovery after her surgery and transport her wherever she needed to go - pick her up at the shelter, taking her to boarding, take her to surgery as well as to follow-up visits to the vet, and take her to adoption events later on. All the pieces were in place to save the dog.
That was three weeks ago. Today, the cute little Toto-dog with the golden eyes is doing just great, thanks to Annie Hart, Jf Pryor, and Eldad Hagar - all of whom pitched in to help a moppet mutt they'd never even met. Thanks also to Echo Park Vet Hospital, for granting us a discount on boarding her, and Dr. Raviv Balfour at Animal Specialty & Emergency Center in West L.A. who made time to add one more surgery to an already jam-packed surgical day. It takes a village to save a dog!
I never could have done this on my own. Even though it was just one small 16-pound dog, I knew that it was more than I could handle. A wise friend once told me that three of the most powerful words in the English language are: "Please help me." She was right. Another wise friend taught me that I may not be able to do everything, but I can always do something. She was right, too.
To support these wonderful LA rescue groups check out their Facebook pages and get involved - volunteer, foster, adopt - Rescue from the Hart, The Mutt Scouts, Hope for Paws, and North Central Shelter.
Oh, and the little sweetie that Annie Hart, Jf Pryor, Eldad Hagar and I rescued is ready to find her forever home in the next week or two. We didn't name her Toto because that famous name is already taken - so we call her Cocoa. But you can call her anything you like if you're the lucky person who gets to adopt her.