2 days after we got him Approx. 1 month after being Gonzo now, after living in a normal
out of the kennel removed from the kennel home for 6 months.
Gonzo's Weekly Recovery Log
Since most people have never had the opportunity to rescue an animal, they don't realize all of the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears that go into the process of helping a furry kid recover from a hard start. Some mistakenly think that if an animal has had a painful or difficult beginning that they're a lost cause. I don't believe in lost causes. The truth is that most animals just need a chance and an understanding soul to show them that life doesn't have to be painful. Regaining trust and establishing confidence in a dog can be a time-consuming process, but you would be amazed at how incredibly forgiving an animal can be, even after suffering tremendously. I have witnessed, and continue to witness amazing recoveries of the spirit every day and believe in giving every one of them a fighting chance.
My policy is that, if after I help an animal to recover physically, get him into a normal home/foster environment and personally work with him intensively, he shows me that he just doesn't have the will to go on anymore, I'll let him go. I have yet to say goodbye.
All of the animals who have been adopted have been through this process and were adopted into wonderful, loving homes. We do occasional check-ups on each animal and each is doing great! Each adoption has shared a common bond: All of the families have told me how much they love their newly adopted "kid" and how amazed they are at the animal's wonderful, loving nature, despite his or her ordeal. There's something to be said for not giving up.
For those unable to become a foster parent, I thought that writing a daily/weekly update on each animal's progress would be a special way for all to share in their recovery. I thought it would also be interesting for others to see the emotional journey a rescuer goes through with the animals he/she helps. It's a bitter-sweet process, which I hope you'll enjoy sharing with me!
One day Jane, the woman who runs the original kennel from where most of our dogs came, received a call from a friend about a 4 month old puppy who was starving in front of someone's house in South Central (unfortunately this is very common). When Jane went to investigate, she found Gonzo lying in the rain on an old couch that was left in the front yard. He was severely emaciated and was shivering from the cold - he had been living under the house. Jane asked Gonzo's owners if she could take him and they said they didn't care and that they didn't want him anyway, which is why they weren't feeding him (they were hoping he'd run away). Jane took Gonzo to the kennel, where he stayed for the next 4 years until I found him, along with 39 other dogs.
Before I started this rescue I had been trying to walk all 40 dogs by rotating them on a daily basis. Unfortunately this still meant that each dog only received 1 walk every few weeks. I have since decided to focus on getting 4 of them out at a time, working intensively with each to give them the best chance at a normal life. This makes rescuing them a much slower process, but it means that once they're adopted, the chances of them being returned or given up again are much lower than if I just took them out of the kennel & immediately placed them in a home.
When I first started walking Gonzo he was absolutely terrified of everything. His body was stiff, his tail between his legs and he had a look of utter shell-shock in his eyes. How could he not? He'd lived in that dark, cold kennel for his entire life without a walk, a touch or a toy to occupy his mind. Nevertheless, something about him told me that he wasn't ready to give up. I knew that his spirit was broken but his will to live and love was there. It was a struggle for this kid, but he has more strength and spirit than any human I've ever seen. This is the log of his journey.
Since Gonzo's original problems and his recovery are typical of all of the kids who have come from the kennel, I've chosen to tell his story.
The Recovery Process
Since I'm a pet-sitter, I'm able to keep a dog with me during the day. Not only does this help with house-training (the dogs learn to go outside, not inside the house or in the car) and teaching them not to be destructive (no chewing up the interior, kiddies!), but they get to walk, play & get kisses & cuddles all day. It's really wonderful for the spirits of those kids still in a kennel.
I guess before I begin Gonzo's log I should explain the recovery process. For a kid like Gonzo, who was in a kennel for most of his life without getting so much as a walk, every new experience is terrifying because he'd never HAD any. He had never heard a car, he had never seen humans jogging by, he had never heard the crackle of leaves beneath his feet and he hadn't even seen grass since he was a puppy. The goal of the process for him is to slowly expand his world and his experiences. Introducing him to too much all at once could be very traumatic, so it's a very time-consuming process and takes a lot of patience but he's been doing wonderfully & is close to being fully recovered. I started by moving him from the original kennel to a new one at a vet's office, where I knew he would receive proper care both physically and emotionally. Every day the animals are given two 15-20 minute "breathers" in which they're taken to an enclosed yard so that they can get out of their cage; this was the first expansion of his world. There he stayed for 2 weeks without any further work while he became accustomed to the surroundings & could feel safe. Since he had demadax (a skin condition caused by high-stress), his treatments were begun and he was also able to gain a little weight during this time.
After 2 weeks I started taking him with me during the day. We started out very slowly, just getting a car ride and very short walks through a quiet neighborhood. (Later steps include taking them to places like the greenbelt, where they can experience other dogs, people walking by, etc. and eventually I take them to public places like Petco to get them used to a lot of activity & having strangers touch them - adoption days also help with this) The car rides themselves are therapeutic since I work on de-sensitizing the dogs to touch. I constantly touch their feet (most dogs don't like this if they're not used to it, so it's very important to work on, especially if we want them to be part of a family), rub their ears, scratch their underbelly and get them used to having their face touched & kissed. Gonzo absolutely THRIVES on touch. He can't get enough of it. He will fall asleep in your lap as you rub his ears, kiss his face & scratch his back.
Now for the log:
Tuesday, March 7th 2000
When I first started walking Gonzo, he was frightened of every sound, sight & smell. He literally walked flat against my leg, not wanting to venture even a few feet from me. I always walk the kids on a retractable leash so that they can begin to get some independence while still feeling safe - today, Gonzo walked on the end of the 20-foot leash! This might not sound like a good thing but it's actually wonderful! It means that he's becoming more confident and independent! He's also learning commands like "stay" (he's got that one down pat!), "heal" (today was the first day we worked on this one but he's getting it so fast - I was so proud of him!) and...."give me a kiss!" (Okay, so that one is a little selfish...) When they first come out of the kennel the dogs are so shell-shocked that they don't have a personality at all. I feel so lucky to get to see them blossom when they start to feel safe & happy for probably the first time in their lives.
He was just so adorable today - he loves taking walks & gets so happy when we go to the "greenbelt" (a 7 mile nature path for dogs, joggers, etc.). He's excellent on the leash & usually walks next to me (although not pressed against me like he used to - he's much more relaxed now), but it's funny how all of a sudden he'll just get this look of utter happiness on his face & run over to me, wrap his paws around my waist (yes, he "hugs!") & give me a little kiss! (He doesn't give many kisses & the ones he does give are just little mini-licks, but you know he really means it when he kisses you). This is especially funny because he's so mellow that when he gets this little burst of energy it looks so goofy & clumsy! He also wanted to meet all of the dogs he saw today - this was his best day so far! He met a beautiful Golden Retriever female who I thought he was going to run off & elope with! It was sweet!
We ran for the first time today on the greenbelt - he was walking calmly & then all of a sudden he looked at me with the most devilishly playful expression on his face, ran back to me to get me to chase him & then took off running with me trailing after him! He's so silly! He also wasn't paying attention to where he was going today & walked into a fat little boulder that was just about chest-level to him - he's so clumsy sometimes & I couldn't help but laugh! He got that goofy little look on his face - stopped in his tracks, backed up & walked around the boulder! I swear sometimes I wish I had a video camera - I'd win on America's Funniest Home Video's for sure!
When I first started working with him he was frightened of new people (as are most of the kids when they first come out) - now he happily runs up and greets new people at adoption days and even jumps on some of them! (This is obviously both a good and bad thing! We're working on that one!)
The saddest thing that rescuers have to deal with is a dog who doesn't even know how to play because he/she has been so neglected. We see this often in street dogs, backyard dogs & dogs who've been abused. This can usually be taught, which is one of the more rewarding aspects of the process. Poor little Gonzo-riffic, as I call him, didn't know how to play at first. I bought him a bunch of squeaky toys (which he now loves!) & he's getting better at playing with them every day! He especially loves throwing them up in the air & catching them!
I just can't get over how great he is in the car. He is so quiet & when I go into one of my client's houses he just lays down on the seat & sleeps until I get back (I sneak peeks every now & then!). The hardest part is taking him back to the kennel at the end of the day...after our long walk on the greenbelt (we take an hour-long walk/playtime/grass-rolling time), he zonks out in the car, resting his head on my lap (he loves to lay his head on my lap while I drive). It's hard to have to take him back to another kennel while in my head I keep dreaming about the day he'll get to go home to a mom or dad, a huge soft bed & a bunch of hugs & kisses. I know that at least he's not in the original kennel, but a little square box is a little square box - it's not a family. I just wish I could explain it all to him.
Wednesday, March 15th
What an incredible day! Gonzy-bear was in such a great mood!! We had so much fun today - even more than usual! First of all, his fur is finally starting to look healthy & shiny and is even growing back! Last week I started giving him Missing Link (I highly recommend this for dogs with mange or any kind of skin problems - I always use it for our rescue kids) and Derm-Caps (These are filled with fish oil, which is great for the coat!) and I'm really starting to notice a difference. The kennel cleaners did too....His skin is still very dry though, so I'm going to pick up some aloe vera gel tomorrow to moisturize & soothe his skin.
Let's see....first we went for a walk in our usual neighborhood up in Palos Verdes (where one of my clients is - I always get there early & take him for a walk before taking care of my client). We walked all the way to the park today & that silly little boy had a great time rolling around in the grass (AND all over me!! I made the mistake of lying down on my back & he came over & did somersaults all over me!! He was so much like a little boy...) After he'd had enough of his rolling antics we lay down in the sunshine & I massaged & scratched his back & belly. I have never seen anyone look so fulfilled in my life!! I think that if someone had offered him a juicy steak at that moment he would've declined!! He looked so happy.....I would've stayed there in that sunshine forever if I could. He was also more interested in looking out the windows as we were driving today (from the comfort of my lap still, of course!).
I've started his dog-socialization & so far he's doing great! Since all of the doggies in the kennel were basically forced to fend for themselves for food, etc., they can be either dog-aggressive or afraid of dogs. Gonzo is mostly afraid of them, but we're working on that & now whenever a dog walks by he HAS to go meet him/her....he's a regular social butterfly!
We walked on a harness instead of a choke-chain for the first time today - he did so well! It took him a while to get used to the feeling of having something wrapped around him - he looked like he had ants in his pants for the first 20 minutes!! - but he was fine by the middle of our walk.
He was so silly & playful today, I couldn't even believe it! When we were at the park he was running around me, chasing me & trying to get me to chase him - all the time with that incredible smile of his..... I was planning on bringing the camera so everyone could see a picture if the Gonzo I know....the ones we have on the site right now are from the first week I started working with him & he looks so somber. His entire personality has really blossomed. Whoever gets this little boy is going to be so incredibly lucky.
He gave me so many kisses today! (Well, like 4 or 5 - but for him that's like a thousand! Like I said before, he doesn't give many, but when he does it's because he's so happy & wants you to know he loves you) This little boy is going to be so hard to say goodbye to when the time comes. Everyone tells me not to let myself get so attached, but the problem is that these kids NEED me to get attached. If I just work with them without loving them then I'm just a trainer. They need to trust me more than anyone they've ever trusted because I'm basically showing them a whole new world. They need to know that no matter what I show them or where I take them, they're safe with me. It's just hard.
I bought myself some oreo cookies as a treat today & bribed the kid for a kiss! He was happy to gently accept a cookie (and give a kiss!) but was only interested in separating the sides & licking out the creamy filling! he's SO good about taking food from you....he acts like he's picking daisies with his front teeth! It's so cute! Last week I had burgers for lunch & he didn't even beg! Of course I shared though....I'm such a sucker!
He's still scared of loud noises (but then again, who isn't), so I'll need to work on that.....
On our greenbelt walk we met a man & his furry daughter Chloe - Gonzo was great about letting the man pet him (he was surprisingly confident! Before, he would've run away before letting someone pet him....today he patiently let the man pet his head & side). As soon as he saw Chloe he ran right up to her! She was very shy though & was uninterested in meeting Gonzo, but I was so proud of him for wanting to make friends!!
I parked for a half-hour so I could massage & brush him. He loved it! He just stood there in the seat next to me & looked out the window. It was the first time I've ever really stared into his eyes when he wasn't aware....They were so full of hope & curiosity....it was really amazing to see. He got really happy when he saw a pigeon walking around right outside the window. He just sat there transfixed! He was very disappointed when little ms. pigeon decided to chicken-walk away!
We had such a great day today....I will sleep so well tonight knowing that Gonz had such a happy day. The kennel cleaners at the kennel where he's staying always tell me that he's afraid of them (the kennel cleaner at the original kennel was VERY mean to the dogs). Lately they've said he's gotten better, but he's still shy with them. He gets very sad in the kennel.....which is why he barks non-stop at adoption days - he doesn't like to be caged. When we got back to the kennel tonight one of the kennel cleaners said, "Wow, he looks so happy! He's smiling - he never smiles in here!" That made my night....he was smiling....
Thursday, March 16th
Every evening I go to the kennel to feed the kids....the kennel techs feed all of the dogs but I have all sorts of supplements & things to add to my kids' food & it takes a lot of time, so I just go & take care of it....anyway, tonight when I went to feed them I was running a little late & the techs had already fed everyone, so I just spent a little time with Gonzo & Rosie before closing time. Usually I'd spend time with Luna & Max too but I only had about 20 minutes `til closing. In any case, I brought along all kinds of "lotions & potions" as I like to call them (okay, so they were aloe vera gel, a vitamin supplement & prozyme, an enzymatic dietary aid, but "lotions & potions" sounds so much more interesting!). I think I mentioned before that Gonzo's skin is still extremely dry & flaky, so I spent about 10 minutes just brushing him out to loosen up & get rid of the flakes. By the end his coat looked so pretty & shiny! He loves getting brushed!
He's so silly! (Have I stressed that enough in this log???!!!) After I brushed him out I applied some aloe vera gel to his skin. I actually have never done this with an animal before, so I checked with a vet to be sure that it isn't harmful (which it isn't). I've used aloe vera on my own skin all my life & know about its incredible healing properties (thanks to my herbalist grandmother!), so I figured I'd give it a shot on Gonzo's skin troubles. What a great success! When I got there he was doing somersaults on me & jumping around because he was so happy I was visiting, but as soon as I touched his skin with the aloe vera it was like the world had stopped. He got very quiet, layed his head on my lap & just stood patiently as I rubbed it in. When I was done he actually looked up & started kissing my face like crazy! I couldn't believe it - he was a kissing machine!! The aloe vera obviously felt great on his raw, dry skin. If you've ever had a really bad sunburn & used aloe vera on it you know how soothing it feels. Imagine having the worst chapped lips of your life & someone handing you a giant tube of chapstick - that's how happy he was! My only concern is that the gel doesn't clog his pores since I want the fur to grow back. That's something I'll have to check into. I'm pretty sure gel won't do that but I want to be positive. In any case it definitely made him feel more comfortable!
Gonzy-bear's appetite has improved drastically. He's always been very shy of food, probably because of being dominated by another dog in the kennel, but he's getting better about it every day! Tonight he ate almost the whole bowl while I sat with him!
He loves to mouth on things that are soft (like the big fluffy bed I got him!) & I happened to have brought my sweatshirt with me tonight, which I sat on the floor next to me. Well, no sooner had I set it down than that little boy had it in his mouth, parading it around his hut (I don't like to call it a cage)! Talk about a goofball!
I was feeling very sad today because of another doggy I'm working with who just lost her foster home, so it was so nice to visit with Gonz. He always makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. I always feel so sad when I start working with a new kid because they're just so confused & lost, like a little 3 year old staying the night without their mom or dad for the first time. No matter what I do for them I feel like it's never enough, but when I'm with Gonzo (and when I'm with Luna), I feel comforted, like it is enough. (When I'm with Rosie and Max I feel extremely guilty though because they're both getting so depressed in the kennel - they've been ready to find foster homes for far too long).
Tomorrow is Rosie's day out - she really needs it. He eyes tonight literally almost made me cry. She was BEGGING me to take her with me. God, if only I could.
If I could tell people one thing about rescue, it's this: that no matter how painful it is to you, it's so worth it. I know that a lot of people don't want to foster an animal because they're afraid of being sad when the animal goes, but what's really sad is that an animal is being deprived of the chance at feeling safe for probably the first time in his or her life because humans don't want to feel sad for a little while. This just seems so selfish to me. If people had to look into Rosie's eyes every day like I do, I guarantee they wouldn't be so worried about the sadness they'd feel for a few days. Sorry for the preaching....I guess on a day like today it just hurts so much that so many people have the space to foster a kid but so few have the heart.
When I decided to start this log I promised myself that I wasn't going to edit anything....I was going to give all the details about rescue, from the unbelievable highs to the devastating lows. I wanted everyone to share in Gonzo's journey and I knew that it wasn't always going to be an easy one. I think that if you, the reader, can understand the rollercoaster of emotion that a rescuer goes through in rehabilitating an animal, it will make the day that I write about him finding a new family and home as joyous for you as it will be for me.
And please, if anyone out there has even a little space to foster (contrary to popular belief, most dogs don't need a big backyard, just someone to scratch their belly), Gonzo, Luna, Max, Rosie and the rest of the kids and I beg of you to consider it.
Saturday, March 18th
Rosie found a foster home!! I'm so happy!!! Gonzy-bear was so great today - everyone really noticed a difference both in his coat and in his personality! That aloe vera has really worked wonders on his dry skin. He doesn't have any dandruff anymore, which means that the dry skin isn't clogging his pores, which in turn means that his fur can start growing back, and boy has it!
Robert is a volunteer who's known all of the original kennel dogs for a long time. He hasn't seen Gonzo for about a month & a half and when he saw him today he couldn't get over how different he looks! He said he couldn't believe how much more relaxed he is is too! That was great to hear. It's always encouraging when others notice a difference too.
Gonzo found a girlfriend today! He had such a great time playing with her - he was in such a great mood! It was so fun to watch him prancing around trying to chase her...Robert couldn't believe that either - Gonzo wasn't good with dogs when he first came out of the original kennel & here he was prancing around with the other dogs at adoption like he'd known them all his life! It definitely hasn't taken much to socialize him with other doggies....I've been letting him go nose-to-nose with dogs on the greenbelt (after spending the first week just passing by them without meeting until I saw that his body had relaxed & his tail had begun to wag) but this was the first time that he's actually played with another dog. I'm going to start taking him to the dog park this week. We won't actually go in this week - we'll first start out walking around the outside of the fence until he gets used to being around a large number of playing dogs all at once.
That boy is such a kisser now! Even as recently as a week ago Gonzy-bear didn't know if giving kisses was a good or bad thing - he'd never had anyone to give them to. I've been encouraging him to give kisses & now it's one of his favorite things! Whenever he gives me a kiss I hug him & give him scratches on his chest, telling him that it makes me happy when he smooches! He's responded so well! Giving kisses is another indication that he's becoming more confident. At adoptions he now happily greets people who come up to his cage....what an incredible change....
Monday, March 27th
Unfortunately I haven't been feeling well today (for the last few weeks actually - I have to go in for some tests this week), so I wasn't able to take a kid with me during the day. Days like today make me very sad because I really love getting to spend the day with the kids. I saw them yesterday during feeding time though (and of course, when I gave Gonzo his daily brush out/Aloe Vera gel application!) - which is a ritual in itself. I really love feeding time though because it's the only time during the day when ALL of the kids get something special (they get dry food & wet food with Missing Link sprinkled on top, Prozyme sprinkled on top & Derm Caps cut open & squeezed on top). Of course the kids love feeding time!
I've created a furry little monster!! Now that I showed Gonzy-bear that kissing is a good thing, he's become a little kissing MACHINE! heehee....he just loves giving those kisses now! I have to tell you, his whole personality has changed, even just within the last few weeks. He's probably been one of the most drastic recoveries I've seen, so it's really incredible to watch! One of the volunteers, Pamela, mentioned to me at adoptions on Saturday that she's seen such a huge change, which was great to hear. Also, another volunteer who is now helping in the original kennel & has known Gonzo for a long time told me that he's a whole different dog. Hearing things like that really make a huge difference for me. It helps to know that it's not just me who notices a difference.
Gonzy-bear has learned to play fetch! We have such a great time! Because the kids didn't have any toys, chews or anything else to occupy them in the kennel, most of them have no idea how to play, although they all get so excited the first time you give them toys (they just don't know what to do with them!) - they get so bouncy & happy & jump around the toy with such excitement, like a kid at Disneyland. It's one of my favorite parts of the recovery process....Well, Gonzo was no exception - except that I've left a toy with him in his kennel, so within the last couple of weeks he's figured out a few games with it! It's so cute! Now, without any help from me, he's learned to play fetch! It's one of his favorite things! (hmm...I wonder if it helps that when he brings the toy back he gets tons of smooches & scratches....ya think? heehee). Gonzo's recovery has been so dramatic within the last couple of weeks that i'd have to say he's about 90% recovered. I won't say that until I've seen certain things become consistent, such as the dog consistently being confident, consistently good with strangers, etc. In Gonzo's case, he's really doing wonderfully and is right on time as far as his predicted recovery time....He's gotten much better with kids now, which was one thing we really had to concentrate on, since they absolutely terrified him when he first came out. He can still get scared & try to run away if they run up behind him when we're out on a walk, so I'd say he'd do best with older kids, but it's really an incredible difference.
This kid absolutely LOVES other dogs now! I can't even believe what a ham he is with them! It's so hilarious to watch `cause when he sees another dog he gets so bouncy - like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh! I was feeling ill last week so I didn't get a chance to take him to the dog park as planned, but I'll definitely do that this week `cause this boy is rarin' to go!! By the way, he absolutely LOVES Luna! Well, who wouldn't love a looker like that!
Gonzo's appetite is 100% better - he eats the entire bowl every night at dinnertime!
This week I'll be taking Gonzo to Petco several times - he's been once & did well, although he was a little unsure of himself, but we'll be working more on public settings this week.
I'm so happy with Gonzo's recovery so far - it's been nothing but positive from the start. I've really been amazed at how open he is to new experiences & how trusting he is. Now that he's getting more & more experiences under his belt he's becoming less & less like an adult dog & more & more puppy-like. It's like he's re-living his childhood since he missed it the first time. It's so amazing to see....Now that I know his true personality it makes it even more important to me to get those other kids out of that kennel - they're all like him. I wish so much that I could keep Gonzo. I love ALL of the kids who come into my care as if they were my own children, but occassionally you come across a kid who you just really develop a special bond with that you can't describe. I've had 4 dogs like this, 2 of whom have gone on to find wonderful homes and the other 2 are Luna and Gonzo. Who knows, maybe I'll win the lottery and I'll be able to keep them. I really hope so.
Sunday, April 2nd
Well, all I can say is that my prayers have been answered & Gonzo has found a foster home! It's a bittersweet day for me. It's a really wonderful foster home, but letting him go is incredibly painful since I've worked so hard with him. I knew this day would come but I guess I didn't expect it to be today. I'm a little emotional right now so I'm not up to writing much in the log, but I'll write more about the family & my feelings tomorrow. In the meantime we can all be happy that Gonzo isn't sleeping alone on a hard floor anymore.
Sunday, August 27th 2000
I was just reading through the log and boy, have things changed! Where to begin? Well, first of all, Gonzo was adopted out to a family in April but unfortunately it didn't work out, they didn't have the patience for a dog who needed special attention. When I got him back after 2 weeks he was just so happy to see me and I to see him that I couldn't imagine putting him through the trauma of becoming accustomed to a family & then being ripped away again, so we decided to keep each other...Gonzo's been living with me since April and he is a completely different kid! He's fat, spoiled and stretched out on mommy's bed as I write this! He weighs 70 pounds now (he was about 45-50 when I got him from the kennel) and he's blossomed unbelievably! We take semi-regular trips to his favorite place, the dog park, and regular to trips to our local coffee shop, where he's known by all of the regulars! He enjoys barking at passing bike riders & getting scratches from all of his buddies there...he just loves being the center of attention! Gonzo is so well-behaved that he gets to go off-leash (in appropriate places like our cul-de-sac). When we go for car rides I open the front door, let him off of the leash & he makes a beeline for the car. When I open the door he knows to jump right in & get into the back seat. He has the routine down pat! Unfortunately we're forced to find a new home for our growing little family, but we're all happy to have each other!
To see pictures of Gonzo now enjoying his new life click here