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It’s a love affair that began at birth. It has always been, and always will be about a love of dogs. Over the years, dogs have always given me unconditional love. They’ve also been a source of great joy, even when it seemed hard to find in my two-legged friends. They’ve never made me feel abandoned, judged, betrayed, ridiculed or ashamed. Whatever love I have shown them, they have given it back to me tenfold.
I hope you will support me in my attempt to use this business as a way to give something back to the animals that have given and continue to give us so much. Through my donation-matching program and my Underdogs page, I hope to raise money for worthy pet rescue organizations and animal shelters across the country and to help find loving homes for cats and dogs that could really use a break in life.
When I was about 13, my family went away over the Christmas holidays and we left our large dog, Shiloh, with some friends who lived about eight miles away across town. When we got back they told us that Shiloh had taken off, probably trying to find her way home back to us, and had been lost for about a week. Of course they were sick about it and had tried everything to find her.
Right away my Mom and I sprang into action. We did everything we could to find her for 2 days but she was nowhere to be found. I was distraught. How could a 120-lb dog just disappear?
What happened next was a miracle. Even though she had never been to that part of the city before, she somehow found her way most of the way home. She managed to travel several miles along a major traffic thoroughfare and crossed a multi-lane causeway before she got to a place she recognized. It was an entrance to a park where our family often walked and went cross-country skiing with our dogs. When she got to the parking spot where we usually parked, she just waited there for us to show up. I don’t know how long she waited but after our second day of searching, my Mom went to that park to go cross country skiing and relieve some stress. What joy and relief there was in my house when Mom brought Shiloh home from the park! We’ll never know how Shiloh managed to get herself all the way across the City to that park without being struck by a car or being recovered by Animal Services but it must have been a remarkable journey.
This experience taught me just how stressful and heartbreaking it can be to lose a pet (especially for kids) and how worried and helpless you can feel when you know they're out there lost and you just can't find them. It also taught me how important it is to have good, reliable identification on your pet so you can at least have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that someone will be able to easily identify and contact you as soon as your pet is found.
Back in 2004, a friend told me about a pair of black Labradors (Luke and Laika*) who were in the SPCA and needed a home. The dogs were brother and sister who had lived their entire lives together but were given up for adoption at age 11. Their owner had advanced MS and was no longer able to take care of them because her male partner had abandoned her. I’m sure it was very hard for her to have to give them up.
The SPCA had tried to get the two adopted as a pair but it’s hard to find a home for two large dogs, especially older ones. After several weeks, the dogs became more and more depressed the SPCA had downgraded them a couple of times. By that time they had all but given up hope of keeping the dogs together and were willing to settle for even just one of them being adopted. I knew that meant that time was running out on the two.
I began asking everyone I knew if they might be interested in adopting those dogs or knew someone who would. When I asked my housemate, Tracey, she said that her brother and sister-in-law who live several hours drive away had recently mentioned they were thinking of getting two large dogs,and Labradors were high on their list. Tracey convinced her sister-in-law to adopt the dogs and her brother had no choice but to go along with it. They arranged to adopt both of the dogs and Tracey went down to the SPCA to spring Luke and Laika. The deal was that the dogs would come and stay with us for a couple weeks until Tracey and her brother could arrange to meet halfway. We already had two Labradors in the house so having two more was just fine with me.
They were nice dogs but I quickly got the sense that the previous owner's male partner must not have been kind to them: the dogs were quite wary of me and other men but were much more at ease around women.
I decided to try and help rehabilitate the dogs by showing them that men could be warm and affectionate. One morning, I was trying to give some affection to Luke by petting him and giving him hugs. I was in close scratching him behind the ears in a way that most dogs like to be scratched. I must have been in too close for his comfort because he warned me to back off by baring his teeth and growling a little. I saw him do it and knew what it meant. But for some reason, it just didn't register with me. I then did something really stupid: foolishly believing that Labs never bite, I did the same thing again. This time he snapped at me and happened to catch the tip of my nose in his bite.
I was bleeding and my left nostril had taken some pretty nasty damage. Once I got the bleeding stopped, I saw that some small bits of it were missing. I knew I was going to have to go to the hospital and that there would be some plastic surgery involved. I also knew they'd know it was a dog bite and there was no other way to explain an injury like that.
I immediately realized what the consequences would be for the dogs if anyone ever found out that Luke had bitten me. I was pretty sure the adoption wouldn’t go through and figured there was a very good chance they’d put Luke down or not allow him to be adopted which would pretty much amount to the same thing. I couldn’t live with that because I felt what happened was more my fault than Luke’s. I put myself in harm's way. He warned me to back off. I didn't heed his warning. I got bitten. My fault.
To save his life and his chance at adoption I knew I had to come up with a cover story that deflected all suspicion away from Luke, Laika and our two dogs as well. But how to do that?
It just so happened that it had snowed the night before and the sidewalk needed shoveling. I decided that I would say that a large dog came along when I was out shovelling. The dog appeared to be lost because it was nervous and acting panicky. I got a hold of it, tried unsuccessfully to find an I.D. tag and then tried to check its ears for a tattoo. In its state of fear and panic, the dog snapped at me and bit my nose. I of course let go and it ran off. I decided that if asked, I would give a vague description of the dog to ensure that no innocent neighborhood dog would become a potential suspect.
In order to make my story completely convincing, I went out, shoveled the snow off the walk and staged a crime scene by leaving a fake trail of blood from the sidewalk to the house. That way there was convincing forensic evidence to support my ruse. (Guess I was watching a lot of CSI in those days.)
They admitted me into the hospital straight away. This all happened on a Wednesday and my first surgery was scheduled for Friday morning. On Thursday, they let me out on a day pass so I could go home for a bit. When Luke saw me come in with my bandaged nose, his head dropped and his tail went between his legs. He slowly walked up to me and nuzzled his head into my leg and then into my chest as I crouched down to give him a hug. He looked so sorry and ashamed - he seemed to sincerely regret what had happened. I forgave him straight away.
The surgery on my nose was quite radical. A skin graft was needed to replace the missing bits of my nostril but in order to get the graft to take, they also had to route an external blood supply to the site to keep the graft alive. Fortunately, foreheads have a good blood supply so they were able to route a blood supply to my nose by cutting a big strip of skin and tissue out of the center of my forehead and grafting it to the tip of my nose while keeping it attached to the inside of my eyebrow. A skin graft from my thigh was also needed. I think I had around 75 to 80 stitches in total. As a result, I looked like something out of a horror movie (see photo) after the surgery. I stayed looking like that for 2 - 3 months until they were finally able to sever the bridge between my forehead and my nose.
Those were the longest and loneliest 2 - 3 months of my life. I barely left the house the entire time and I had to warn people of what they were about to see when I answered the door. After that, I was left with a big ugly bulbous nose tip which the surgeons gradually pared down during numerous follow-up surgeries which occurred over the next 2 - 3 years. Being single, my disfigurement was of no help to me in meeting and getting dates with members of the opposite sex. Bit of a dry spell there for a while.
Several years and thirteen surgical procedures later and with pieces of my forehead, ear and thigh being used to repair it, my nose looks a lot better than it did right after the accident and TONS better than it did right after the initial surgery (see photo). That being said, it’s still nowhere near perfect or pretty. I was never pretty to begin with so no big loss there I suppose. People used to say my face had lots of "character" before the accident. Well, now it’s absolutely loaded with it. :-D
You’re probably wondering how things turned out for Luke and Laika. I’m happy to report that my little ruse worked perfectly. Unless they’ve read this, Tracey and her family still think I was bitten by some other dog while out shovelling snow. I made sure to tell them about my suspicions of Luke’s past mistreatment and distrust of men so they would be aware of the problem and take the necessary precautions. As it turned out, both dogs got along great with Tracey's brother. In fact, he and Luke wrassled and roughhoused all the time and Luke never showed any aggression towards him or anyone else. The dogs were able to put their past behind them and took to their new family like gangbusters. On the other end, their new owners were smitten with their new dogs. Luke and Laika lived out the rest of their lives with their new family and enriched the lives of everyone who knew them. It was a great ending to their hard luck story and I’m proud of what I did in helping to make that happen. In fact, I look upon how I reacted and acted on the day of the accident as one of my finest moments.
I hope that after reading this you understand why supporting the pet rescues and having the Underdogs page is important to me. Luke and Laika were Underdogs, and helping them find a wonderful home with a loving family was a truly rewarding experience for me.
Given that I once looked like something out of a horror show and having had to go through 13 plastic surgeries, I can sort of identify with the Underdogs. Maybe in some small way we’re a bit alike, the Underdogs and me. And since it is within my power and capabilities to do something to help them, I will do what I can. Please help me do that by telling as many people as you can about our Underdogs page and our donation matching program that’s benefitting pet rescues and animal shelters across the country.
* Please note that the names of all dogs and people in this story have been changed to protect privacy.