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TideWriters Tales
Rescue Corner
By Jean Keating

    With the increasing incidences of purebred dogs landing in shelters and humane societies, most breed clubs have stepped up their efforts to insure that their beloved breed has some protection from being one of the sad cases, without a second chance to find a loving home. Ethical breeders increasingly write requirements into contracts that their puppies come back to them if the original buyer is unable to keep them at any time during the life of the puppy, protecting their own from such fates. But as the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” And so it is with increasing popularity of Papillons. As these little butterfly dogs become more popular thanks to commercials and highly visible wins at national and international dog shows, puppy mills and backyard breeders produce more chances of unfortunate stories for my beloved Papillons. The rescue arm of the Papillon Club of America [PCA] was formulated and refined to offer an organized and nationwide support net to help purebred Papillons, based on visual inspection or on AKC papers. Many regional papillon clubs also maintain rescue committees and operations.

    And so it was that I came to know Charlie. His abrupt entry into my life was the result of opening an email in mid June from the national chairman of PCA’s rescue committee. Her request that I go to Raleigh, NC, to pick up a ten year old, gentle lump named Charlie was not what I’d planned as that weekend’s activity. But I couldn’t say ‘No’ after hearing his story.

    And I’m continuously glad I didn’t decline. Shakespeare’s words from The Merchant of Venice come to mind when I think of rescue efforts. “The quality of mercy...is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” Each day I’ve been blessed by the dog that entered my life that day.

    His name is Charlie. His adoring owner was 71 years old when she bought him from a pet store. He was luckier than most. He received regular veterinarian care, but little exercise except for trips to the vet with concerns that ‘he wasn’t eating.’ By ten years of age, he was fat, very fat. Although he grew to 14 inches at the shoulders, it was not nearly enough to handle the 23 pounds of flab he’d packed on to his frame. Then his owner fell, broke her hip, and couldn’t reach a phone to call for help. Charlie barked constantly for more than three days, trying desperately to attract the attention of someone to help. Despite having no food or water, he stayed beside his mistress and did his best to comfort her while barking and whoo-whooing for help. Finally, neighbors responded to his noise. His owner spent weeks in intensive care but survived. At 81, however, she required a nursing home. 

    The faithful dog who saved her was left without a home or anyone who wanted him. Neighbors kept him while they waited to learn his owner’s fate. But Charlie had been forced to eliminate in the house for at least the three days following his owner’s accident if not longer. The neighbor’s white carpet was not sacrosanct to Charlie, so he soiled it regularly and was banished to the yard. While the neighbors waited to see if Charlie’s mistress would recover and want him, Charlie’s only place to stay was outside in the hot summer weather. By the time his mistress indicated he needed to find another home, Charles had a sunburned nose and an aversion to going outside. Somewhere along the way, either from age, no exercise, no water, or whatever his kidneys were compromised.

    A local church group couldn’t stand the though of this courageous dog being put down, but at ten years of age and with health problems, the group knew he stood no chance at the local shelter. They found PCA rescue on the internet and contacted the committee. And without much delay, Charlie arrived in Williamsburg to spend some time with me and my pack of 14 Papillons and two cats, a mob I refer to collectively as the Astra gang, the prefix under which I breed and show.

    Sunny, my eighteen-pound cat and puppy sitter, took one look at the towering hunk of 23 pounds of Papillon and retreated to the second floor. The rest of the gang, crowded around for the normal butt sniffing which was made difficult by Charlie’s disinterest in standing on his own four legs. Windi decided he must be some new obstacle for agility and began jumping over him at every turn. Charlie weakly wagged his tail and collapsed on the cool tile floor in the great room, grateful I think to be indoors. 

    Despite all his troubles, he remained gentle and trusting. I put ointment on his sunburned nose and dragged him for walks. He was a gentleman on a lead, slowly but steadily following me for walks around the yard, but stopping to sit and rest after every few steps. It took two weeks of conditioning for him to make it around the yard without sitting down to rest in the process. Meanwhile, Zack and Puff joined Windi in the game of ‘jumping over Charlie’.

    His water consumption was constant and copious, and he left several small lakes in my kitchen floor when I missed his two-hour limit for outings around the yard. Like every papillon I’ve ever met, he manipulated his way out of eating the canned kidney diet prescribed by his new vet. He organized a strike against the canned food by nosing pieces to the younger dogs and letting them get their jaws stuck together on the gooey stuff. My long-suffering vet furnished me with a receipt for a home cooked replacement. Now Charlie’s happiest exercise routine is walking to and fro in the kitchen, supervising me while I brown meat, fix rice and boil eggs for his diet. I expect a revolt any day from the remainder of the Astra gang, who all seem to think they should have the ‘kidney diet’ too.

    His new crate was and continues to be a delight to him. I gather he had no place of his own in his old home. For weeks, he spent most of his time in his new space, curled butt and flowing plumb tail blocking the open crate door to passively protect his head and his food dish—generally empty—from younger members of the Astra gang. The two inch thick, egg-crate foam bedding and the wire sides of the crate offered comfort and protection without isolation. Cool and comfortable, there he sprawled, in the middle of the milling pack of busy dogs augmented now by two cats who’d finally decided he was harmless. Nowadays, once the pack settles in for rest, Charlie moves to a thick fleece pad at my feet in the computer room. Somehow this large hunk manages to ooze into the space, displacing smaller members of the household, without causing any complaints from other members.

    It seemed from our first meeting that Charlie knew no commands, even the simple ones of Come and No. Positive reinforcement with treats wasn’t possible because of his excessive weight and his kidney problems. I tried using part of his regular diet as treats. Rolling little balls of rice, bread, meat and eggs into a ball wasn’t easy, but handling the mess was even harder. If the balls of food were frozen sufficiently to handle, they didn’t smell to Charlie like anything he wanted. Then by accident, I discovered something he really loved and could have in unlimited supply. He sedately ambled over to push his head between my brush and the cat several times before I realized he loved to be brushed. Now reinforcement of correct behavior is a few brush strokes along his back or ruff. Of course, he gets a long, lazy brushing each morning and evening also. Even when he’s not certain the energy required to move his bulk is worth the effort to go outside, the happy pack around him and the prospect of yet another brushing gives him the extra will to do so.

    I feel like the offensive line of a football team trying to move against a large block of a defensive center at times. Feedings of the Astra gang take longer with my newly appointed supervisor who manages to always be directly in front of me no mater which way I turn. Just in case I drop some food. Just in case it needs to be instantly cleaned from the floor.

    He’s already a poster boy for PCA Rescue. I wrote up his story for the PCA national newsletter. It was read by a wonderful artist named Jill who painted his picture, put it out on E–bay for sale, and donated the proceeds to the PCA rescue. The woman who bought it has two other rescue Papillons, both girls. Charlie has already started writing letters to those two young lady paps so they’ll have a scent to go with his picture. 

    Charlie is compiling his list of wishes for his forever home. It is sure to describe a home where he can go out often, accompanied by a loving companion or two, human and dog, hopefully contain a friendly cat, be shared by a human who will cook his special meals, and contain lots of brushes. When he’s recovered and trained, he’ll be ready to put his picture out on the internet page listing PCA rescue dogs looking for a home. He’ll be the large, happy red-and-white hunk with the beautiful smile. He’s a hero, but very modest about his fame.
I’ll be proud to see him go off confidently to a new home where he can be an only dog. I will cry to see a gentle friend leave my home. 

© 2002 Jean Keating All Rights Reserved

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