We are just a few days away from marking the 5th week since our yellow Labrador foster dog Destiny came to stay with us. We are also officially counting down one week from today when she can have her post-heartworm treatment checkup to get the all clear to run and frolic like a normal dog.
Destiny came to us on January 31, 2015 on a flight from Puerto Rico as a blizzard was heading to the area. The snow literally started to fall as my husband parked at the cell phone lot of O’Hare airport to wait for my call. I watched the snow begin as I waited nervously at the airline parcel pickup area. Her first paw prints on land in the continental United States were on a snow covered airport sidewalk as we hustled to get to the designated “Canine Relief Area” accompanied by an urban soundtrack of the road noise of busses, people shouting and horns honking. I cannot imagine what it was like for her to step out of the airport and into such a cold and confusing scene.
During her first few days with us Destiny explored her new world and raced around the snow chasing snowballs and figuring out this peculiar land that was covered in ice. Her snow zoomies came to a screeching halt, however, when we learned that she was still heartworm positive and had not been treated like we thought. Because heartworms are literally growing in a dog’s heart and taking up space that should be free to pump blood, dogs who are heartworm positive should have limited activity even before treatment occurs.
Fortunately the veterinarian was able to schedule her treatment quickly and Destiny headed off for a two-night stay at the veterinary clinic. When I brought her home post-treatment I was grateful for the pain meds that were
prescribed for her as they also made her drowsy and helped her sleep through the worm die off going on in her body. Once the pain meds were finished we worked on simple training and introduced her to Kongs and West Paw toys filled with frozen yumminess and a treat releasing puzzle game to work her mind and alleviate some boredom.
With a week to go we are expanding her time out of her crate a bit more, keeping her on leash in the house but spending hours sitting on the floor with her over the course of each day while we rub her ears and pet her tummy as she chews her favorite moose antler. I’ve started very short walks as long as she walks quietly and does not try to run and it warms my heart to see her checking out new places and smells.
Part of me feels immense guilt each time I look at her in her crate even though I know that heartworm treatment is a very serious matter because dogs are at risk for blood clots while the worms are dying. This beautiful dog has come way too far and been through too much have something go wrong and if that means she spends a month on strict kennel rest, then that is what we will do. My husband reminds me of the fact that she was originally found tied to a tree with her mouth bound by a plastic bag and left to die, so a warm, dry crate with her own special blanket in suburban Chicago isn’t that bad of a way to spend a month, particularly when the temperatures have been as much as 90 degrees colder than her native Puerto Rico.
Thanks to a steady diet of Canine Caviar Wild Ocean grain free dry holistic kibble her ribs are no longer protruding from her body and her once naked underside is nearly covered with fur. Her coat is becoming thick and beautiful and the various tones of yellow are deepening in color. She no longer smells even though she has not had a bath since her arrival, her breath is odorless and she has the legendary small and firm Canine Caviar poop.
Over the last month we have noticed scars all over her body. They cover her front legs and there are some on her head and her face as well as one on her lip. No amount of high quality food will be able to heal them or make the fur grow back, nor will it bring back the many teeth that are missing from her mouth, including all along the lower front part of her jaw between her canine teeth. Love and patience, however, are healing some of the scars, at least on the inside where it matters.
Destiny is still jumpy when being petted but she has relaxed significantly. Her submissive hand licking has diminished and she has picked up the habit of sitting between our feet and legs with her back to us so that we can pet and massage her back and shoulders. She is getting used to us petting her back legs and the lower part of her back by her tail, places that she let us know were entirely off limits when she arrived. She loves human attention and wants to be with us all the time but she is not ready to snuggle or be hugged, and that’s ok. Most dogs do not like to be held tightly or hugged too much so we respect the ways that she wants to interact with us but we also want to prepare her for people who do not realize that hugs are not a dog’s favorite thing so that if she comes across a human who hugs and squeezes her that she’s had some experiences that turned out ok.
Of course we have had the conversation that all foster families probably have: should we keep her as our own dog? My heart says yes but the practical dog owner in me says no. It would be easy to pay the fee to Chicagoland Lab Rescue and join the ranks of foster failures across the country who fell so much in love with their foster dogs that they could not say goodbye. But the logical side remembers the lifelong commitment I’ve made to Jackson and Tinkerbell to provide the best care that I can and that adding another dog to our family could jeopardize my financial ability to provide that life for them.
It is not going to be easy to say goodbye to this sweet girl who now follows me around the house, with whom I am starting to develop the dog mom bond. But the key to saving these homeless dogs is to push those emotions aside and summon our inner strength for them, opening up our homes and our hearts as if they were our own and then allowing them to go to their forever home with humans who are actively seeking the next canine love of their life, just like I have found the canine loves of mine with Jackson and Tinkerbell.