I have a sad story to share and I hate to do it since we've had a few recent tear jerker cases, but our supporters deserve to know: We traded lives last week, meaning, we put down one of our dogs on the heels of saving the life of another. That happens in rescue often enough to be commonplace, but it still feels like an earthquake when it happens.
Who was it? We're sorry to report that we said good-bye to the most beautiful Susie Q, who some may have met through her foster mom's wonderful blog. We first met Susie in Oakland Animal Services late 2009. She'd had a rough start in life, and fell apart fast in the loud and chaotic wards of the shelter. She was later put on the euthanasia list for behavior issues related to kennel stress - (kennel stress-related euths are another situation that happens often enough to be commonplace). But we hate giving up on dogs that suffer through no fault of their own, so when a spot opened up in our foster program the same week as her end-date, we weighed out our options and voted to give it to the oh-so sensitive but hope-filled Susie Q.
We puzzled over this large leggy girl's breed type - Pointer-Pit? American Bulldog-Hound? - but in the end, we decided that since the world would always see her as a pit bull, she would need a pit bull rescue's support.
Because she'd shown some behavior issues at the shelter, the foster family was prepped with some hardcore "What ifs" and Rep Linda went to work helping them smooth out her transition with a peaceful decompression time, training protocol and lots of happy play. We celebrated as she settled in and woke up to a new life of rowdy romp sessions with dog-sister Otter and - for the first time - a human leader who would teach her new manners and show her what a good girl she was. We all started falling in love with the tall, quirky pony girl who bounced into class on Saturday, sometimes full of happy fun. Altho truthfully, she sometimes had off days and was startled by random phantoms that robbed her of her confidence and sent her home early from class, away from the ghosts that set her alarm barking.
Somewhere around the time that Susie was getting her bearings and showing us who she was, a dog in Sacramento was nursing a litter for some young * cough * entrepreneuer. We don't know much about her early life, but she was left outside long enough for the sun to burn into the tops of her tiny white ears and split the soft velvety skin on her young muzzle. She was optimistic and social, but neglected. At one point in her youth, someone thought enough of her to teach her to 'Sit,' but when her work was done and her babies were sold off, she found herself among the many cast-offs at Sacramento City Shelter. The clock was ticking for this one; with sagging boobs and diamond in the rough manners, this used up mama was set to be destroyed as soon as her stray hold was up.
The same week that Maude was waiting for her death was a bad one for Susie Q. Behavior issues that had seemed to be fading re-emerged, and after one particularly bad day last week, we were faced with a fact that we'd been hoping to avoid: Susie's fear was deeply ingrained and would always be a part of who she was. Despite the enormous progress that's been made for dogs with special needs, the world is still not ready for a pit bull type dog that uses her voice to scare random 'scary' strangers and other phantoms away. Her foster family was understandably crushed by our collective decision to let her go.
So as you can probably guess, we pulled Maude (left) out of harm's way just hours before putting Susie Q to sleep. Trading one life for another and talking to each other again and again and again the way people do when they need to be reminded of the bigger picture. Commonplace practices in rescue might be responsible practices, but they still hurt.
We look forward to the day when pit bulls can be seen as dogs again, with quirks and pimples and foibles like all other dogs - and when worriers like Susie can earn the general public's sympathy rather than their outrage and disdain. But we're not there yet. Someday, Susie - maybe.
We're deeply indebted to Susie's foster family for loving that girl with all your hearts, for giving her hours and hours of fun and then, for doing the impossible and letting her go. You did what most people could never do, and you did it with compassion and grace. Thank you Carol and Larry and OTTER -- and bless your sweet, sensitive heart, Miss Susie Q.