As I was leaving the shelter one afternoon I passed in the PTS (Put to Sleep) section, a small wire cage containing two tiny, filthy skeletons, sitting side by side in their own mess with their little heads hanging down, just waiting to die. Knowing I could do nothing, I gulped and hurried out.
The next day I was told they had postponed the PTS, and were giving me a couple of days to see if I could bring them back to life, so my work was cut out for me. The cage they were in had been thrown out and they were in a clean one, but their little bodies were emaciated and caked in faeces, the skin red and raw with fungus, and what little fur had managed to cling on was horribly matted. I decided to call them Fred and Wilma, after the Flintstones, as I figured if they had survived this far, they had to be pretty hardy.
I took Fred out first, as he was in worse shape than Wilma. He was as light as a feather and his eyes had that glazed look that animals get when they have given up on life. I laid him gently on my lap, stroked his little patchy head and said, “Now look Fred, I have to do some work on you, so please bear with me, OK?” He looked straight at me, let out a big sigh and I could feel the tension go out of him as he lay back and closed his eyes. It didn’t take me long to cut away the matted fur, because there wasn’t much of it anyway, but the real problem was his ears, legs and paws, because they were rock-hard with caked faeces and dirt. I asked one of the younger volunteers to gently give him a bath and work on those areas, and he did a wonderful job, while I looked after Wilma, who had all the same problems, but to a lesser degree. The bath revealed that their fur was basically white, with ginger markings, whereas at the beginning they had both looked a dingy dark brown.
The following day, with them both smelling nice, I was able to tidy up their ears (which must have been a great relief for them, not to have these two heavy blankets hanging from their heads all the time), and with a fine-toothed comb I loosened what was left of the fur round their feet. To my amazement they both allowed me to dig around in between the pads and ferret out the little stones and twigs and clumps of dirt which must have made it so painful to walk.
At the beginning they both had to learn to walk again, because being cooped up in that tiny prison they had lost muscle tone in their legs. Fred would walk along and suddenly his back end would collapse because he just did not have the strength, but after a little rest being carried, he was always game to try again. Wilma from the beginning was the stronger of the two, and she was already smiling and ready to take part in life again. I believe they must have paid a little attention to her at some time, whereas Fred had got none, so I found myself spending more time with him because he needed more.
After a few days management wanted them put in separate cages. I muttered at first, because they were so closely bonded that I felt to separate them would slow their progress. Then I pieced together the whole story. A man had ‘rescued’ them, filthy cage and all, from the property next door, because he could no longer bear to watch them suffering. They hadn’t been taken out of the cage in the yard for ages, nor given food nor water. What a brave soul!
So moving them was a sensible idea, in case anyone came looking for them (which was unlikely, taking into account the way they had been kept, but still possible). As it turned out, they were put in adjoining cages, which rather defeated the purpose, but they could reach through the side bars and touch each other so it wasn’t as bad for them as it could have been.
Within a week the transformation was unbelievable. They were starting to put on weight, their fur was growing back, their eyes were alert (although Fred’s needed cleaning regularly), and they were starting to play. Fred even made a valiant effort to hump Wilma, but it took too much out of him, and he desisted.
The next problem looming was what was to become of them? We wanted them to go together, but that made it more difficult, and I was envisioning the chaos bringing the pair home to a situation where we already have three little bodies sharing the bed with us, and four big bodies outside. And lo and behold, God sent an angel.
The angel, a nurse, wanted a little dog for her son, but almost immediately decided to take both of them as she found it impossible to choose one over the other. With Christmas delivering several public holidays at a stretch, they didn’t get around to doing their spay and neuter surgery, which suited me fine as I had more time with them. Then came the day when they did actually have their operations; Wilma as usual took it all in her stride, but I remember opening Fred’s cage and him coming towards me, still wobbly from the anaesthetic, and HE KNEW. The cages are at eye level, perched on top of larger cages holding bigger dogs, and he buried his little head in my chest. It was a wonderful and terrible moment, and I dropped a few tears on his newly-covered furry head. It was hard to leave that day, and I kept going back to his cage, and giving him another little hug, till I could put it off no longer, and fled.
The next day, instead of the two empty cages I expected, they were still there, and I was ecstatic. I’m afraid no one else got a walk that day because I spent all my time with them, very carefully cleaning them up after the surgery, and combing and snipping till they were looking splendid. Just as I was bringing Wilma back to her cage I saw they were taking Fred out and realized the lady must be here. I was so happy to meet her and her little boy, and hear from her that she already had two big dogs, a couple of cats, a parrot and some fish, all rescued. What really impressed me, however, was that, while I was still holding Wilma, the worker handed Fred to her and she said no, give him to my son. Children are usually clumsy and careless with little dogs, and I was holding my breath, but he took him and held him as if he were a precious jewel, and his face was shining as he looked up at his Mom.
I helped settle them on a big fluffy towel on the back seat of their car, with the little boy hovering over them both, and mused on how different this goodbye was from the one the previous day. Now I knew they would be safe, well looked after, and happy.