On Stray Animal Day, a dietitian goes to the dogs
Since today is Stray Animal Day, I thought it was only fitting to share this post. While my colleagues on this blog have written about the health benefits of pets many times, the goal of this particular post is the raise awareness of the importance of fostering in the hopes of finding them their forever homes. It's somewhat long, but certainly a worthwhile read. (in my very biased opinion)
Wally and his forever mom, Wendy Jo
On many days, the highlight of my day is receiving a text, Facebook post or a picture from my colleague and friend, Wendy Jo Peterson, MS, RD, about Wally.
I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing Wally is doing! He has gotten vocal, plays with Brandon on the ground, and loves to give kisses! He enjoyed his first camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park last weekend, too! He has Brandon wrapped around his pinky! All he has to do is stare at him and Brandon picks him up and plops him in his lap while he works on his computer. It's adorable. Thanks for saving Wally and all the other dogs you rescue!
Over the last 10 years, I ™ve fostered a number of dogs. Rosie. Cher. Smokey. Sammy. Andy. Korbin. Since marrying and having a child, my husband and I have taken on animal fostering as a family affair. We are committed to this type of service and it's also one way we teach our son the meaning of taking care of something without ever expecting anything in return. In the Jewish faith, it's called a mitzvah.
We regularly pull dogs from a local shelter that are on the urgent list. Euthanasia is likely if they are not adopted or pulled by a rescue group within 24 to 72 hours. We also have a tendency to foster black dogs as they are the least often adopted and most often euthanized. (If you don't know about this, search black dog syndrome .)
Wally, then named Oslo, was tagged as a 9 year old Lab mix. From his profile, it was clear he was emaciated, malnourished and likely dying. Typically, this would be a dog that would not ever survive the shelter experience. Both rehabilitation and finding a home for a sick, older dog are quite difficult.
I begged the foster group we work with ((Hillcrest Animal Rescue) to let me take him and they miraculously agreed. If nothing else, we were taking this dog to die in a peaceful, loving and safe place.
The vet confirmed that Wally was starving. She chose not to talk to us about his long term prognosis ” she feared he would die soon. Refusing to believe that, I set out to formulate a gradual 30- to 35-pound weight gain. Out came the puppy food, high calorie gel, mega doses of vitamins and minerals, and, of course, and the treats.
Wally immediately claimed the bed belonging to Bo (our 6-year-old Lab) and rarely left it for weeks. Often, he was too weak to force his body to his food bowl, so we brought it to him or hand fed him a few bites at a time. Most of the day, he rested as his cloudy eyes stared off into space or at the wall. He tolerated us petting him and the other dogs sniffing him, but clearly wasn't interested in any interaction. His hipbones were exposed to the point that he could barely sit comfortably and chose to lie down instead. Carrying and lifting him was necessary; walking seemed to exhaust him. Watching him go to the bathroom I often thought he would topple over as he tried to steady his gait. In the evenings, he let me lay with him as I softly whispered, I ™m sorry that someone did this to you, and rubbed his ear while my tears fell onto his bed. Slowly, he began gaining weight.
As he showed more interest in the daily goings-on of the house, we started with very short and very slow walks. Surprisingly, he had a spring in his step and was always excited to see his leash come out of the closet. It was a process, as we didn't want him to burn the calories that he so desperately needed. But, socializing him with our other two dogs and providing routine for him was also important. Soon he began taking his place along side the other dogs during meal times, walks and even found a suitable place on the couch to rest. He spent less time in his bed and more time interacting with the family.
Wally’s first walk with Ben
After he had gained 15 pounds, the vet was thrilled and began talking to us about the possibility of placing him with a forever home. She was still unsure of his adoptability factor due to his age. I realized that Wally might become our permanent family member ” and we were all OK with the idea. However, I began networking Wally on Facebook and, in particular, to a dear friend and fellow RD, Wendy Jo Peterson.
In recent years, Wendy Jo and her husband, Brandon, had lost two of their older black lab mixes due to old age. Hilly, 10, was the solo dog in the family and had also started to show her age. Wendy Jo had been considering adopting another dog to keep Hilly company, and I thought Wally might be a perfect fit. Wendy Jo was on board with very little persuasion; convincing Brandon would be the tricky part.
As Wally continued to gain weight and improve mentally, physically and emotionally, he flourished. We were soon taking him off-leash at the park with the other dogs and, while he stayed close to me, he was happy to trot around and chase after my son. I think it was the video I posted on Facebook that finally convinced Brandon to say yes to Wally. Wally was running through an open field and looked healthy and happy. The message I received from Wendy Jo shortly thereafter said, We're ready to take him.
Honestly, I wasn't ready to let him go. All of our foster dogs are special, but Wally was really special. Nursing him back to health for three long months was emotionally hard but helping him regain his life back through nutrition, love and trust truly was the most powerful and impactful part of the process. Knowing he was going to a loving family who would continue nourishing him in any way he needed put me at ease. Finding Wally his forever home also allowed us to open our home to the next dog that was in danger of losing his life.
We arranged for the adoption to occur a few weeks later at an outlet mall in Waco, Texas, halfway between my home in Dallas and Wendy Jo's home in Austin. It took Wally a while to warm up to Wendy Jo but after 30 minutes, he stood waiting at the back of her car, as if to say, Let's go home. We were all ready.
Assured for the hundredth time that he would be well taken care of, I climbed back into my car and, as the tears began to fall again, I began the drive home to Dallas. The texts and pictures came often in the next few days and I breathed easier as I knew he was in great hands with his new mom and dad.
Recently, Wally relocated with his family to San Diego. Wendy Jo tells me he's gained weight, is active and is a happy and healthy boy, especially around his dad. From the pictures, I know this is true. He's spoiled rotten to the core. As it should be.
We're currently awaiting our next foster dog “her name is Holly.
This post was orginially written for the Food and Nutrition Magazine's Stone Soup blog.