by Kay Saterlee
I am what the rescue community calls a networker. All day long, I post and re-post photos of animals in need. These include animals who are at risk of being euthanized at high kill shelters and animals thrown away like day-old garbage. I see hundreds of dogs and cats every week. I have become painfully aware that I am unable to save all of them. Eventually, there came a point where I became apathetic to the suffering. It was something I swore would never happen, but seeing so much suffering every day will cause even the most sensitive to become numb.
Lately, my life has been a little bit of a mess. I didn’t just feel numb to the suffering of animals. I felt numb to everything. My relationships were a struggle, my school work was pathetic. I was apathetic to everything. I thought of suicide daily. I wanted to escape the sense of nothing that was chipping away at my will to live.
One January morning, I woke and followed my usual routine. Coffee, Facebook, share animals who would probably die. I shared the massive number of pictures I had been tagged in and then came to one that had me gasping. There he was. A male pit mix named Crystal. He looked so pathetic with a puddle of pee beneath him, ribs poking through his hairless skin. He reminded me of the velveteen rabbit whose boy played with him so much it rubbed off all his fur, except this dog hadn’t been worn from love. This poor soul had been worn from neglect and abuse. He had been tied out in the hot Miami sun, with no food or water. I guess when the owners didn’t want to look at the product of their neglect anymore, they dropped him at Miami Dade Animal Services, a kill shelter. His eyes were so sad and hopeless, they reminded me of my own.
For the first time in months, I felt emotion and the drive to do more for this lost and forgotten creature. He had absolutely no interest, no shares, no money pledged to help him. Well, I was going to help him. I shared and called every contact I knew. No one could help. There were bully breed laws in place. People who wanted to take him weren’t allowed to, and those farther away didn’t want to arrange transport.
I worked furiously through the day and into the night to find some way to get him out of the shelter. I woke the next morning hoping that someone had saved him. I opened my Facebook to see that there were barely any more comments on this picture of him, and he was still listed as “urgent.” In 20 minutes, this dog would die.
I didn’t ask anyone if I could do what I was about to do. I hardly thought at all. I dialed the number for a boarding facility in Florida that was known for pulling kill shelter dogs and boarding them until someone could take them home. I had them pull Crystal for me and I also told Jim, the owner, to change his name to Christopher!
This was only the beginning. I was in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, 1,200 miles from Miami. I started a Facebook page asking for donations to have Christopher flown to me. I really didn’t think I’d receive anything but within three days, I had raised almost $1,300! I was amazed by the generosity of others and their willingness to help this dog. I had enough money for Christopher’s airfare and treatment. I began calling airlines and ran into another problem. Every airline said they wouldn’t take a pit bull. Even they had bully breed bans!
I was so determined and fed up that I decided to just get in my car and drive. I left on Friday and arrived in Miami Saturday afternoon. Jim brought Christopher out and I saw that his condition was worse than the pictures had shown. I reached out to pet him but he jerked away from me. When Jim handed me the leash, Christopher turned around to go back to his kennel. I struggled to get him into my car. This poor, scared dog had no idea I was there to help him. All he had known in his lifetime had been neglect and here was someone else to force him into a situation he didn’t choose.
At one point on the drive back to Pennsylvania, I needed to fill up on gas and let Christopher out for a break. I led him over to a patch of grass for him to do his business and what happened next will forever haunt me. It was night time, and instead of sniffing for somewhere to go to the bathroom, Christopher turned in a circle, laid down under a bush, and looked up at me with such sad, knowing eyes. He thought I was going to leave him there. People in the gas station parking lot saw quite the spectacle as I knelt and held this dog while I shook with tears. I would never abandon him and I told that to him over and over while I cried into what remained of his fur.
Christopher and I arrived home Sunday evening. We promptly passed out on our bed, exhausted from our journey. He cuddled with me all night but was afraid to wander off on his own unless I was right behind him. It was clear that I had become his security, even in the short time we had been together.
At his vet appointment, Dr. Bell from Animal Hospital of Waterford confirmed Christopher’s demodex mange, treated him for worms, and helped me come up with a feeding plan for weight gain. The staff cooed over Christopher and even now, Christopher becomes excited when we make trips to the vet. He so enjoys the attention.
Christopher weighed 43 pounds at his first vet visit. Today, he weighs 67 pounds. Most of his fur has grown back, save for one patch on his tail that I like to say gives him moxie. I did intense work with him to show him he didn’t have to fear his surroundings. At first, every little noise sent him running in the opposite direction. He was terrified of parking lots, cars, people, other dogs, and anything that moved too fast. I did a lot of exposure therapy with him and had him accompany me most everywhere I went. I can say now that he is pretty laid back, only running for food or a treat. Actually, he is pretty lazy and a little demanding. I’m quite proud of him!
Christopher took me on an adventure that no one thought I would ever have the courage to do. He lit a fire in my heart for rescue and bully breed advocacy. I wake every day for him, and for the millions of dogs who need me to speak for them. No longer numb, I am absolutely filled with passion to speak for those who have no voice. Not only is Christopher my best friend, he is the reason I live with such intensity.
I saved this dog, but there is no doubt in my mind that Christopher saved me right back.
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