real life

"I adopted a sick shelter dog. When he got better, his previous owners wanted him back."

Three and a half weeks ago, we added a new member to our family. We rescued a beautiful male labradoodle. I'm going to call him Bear in this piece. 

That’s part of his name, the part we gave him, kind of a nickname, but we ended up keeping the first part of his original name because he was used to it. For protection, I won’t share that part of his name.

He was abandoned by his previous owners while they were on a cross-country road trip in a van or RV. 

I'm not entirely sure exactly which one they were in, but they were travelling in it with two larger dogs. On the trip, Bear got very ill. 

According to the angelic vet that treated and literally saved him, it appeared he had a neurological issue. He was limping, which progressed to being unable to really walk at all. 

The vet gave his previous "family" (you’ll understand why I use the quotes in a bit) ideas on what he thought it could be. As all doctors do. It’s been done with my kids and my other pup Duke. They lay out all the possible scenarios and you go from there. 

There were myriad of potential issues, but it would take testing, eliminating, and confirming. 

One thing he thought it could be was toxic mushrooms, which we’ve had a bloom of because we had a rainy spring and summer. Another possibility was Myasthenia Gravis. Among other potential causes.

This next part is crucial and gut-wrenching. Take a deep breath, I know I am as I type this part of Bear’s story. 

Before ANY test results came in, just during the initial investigation moment, the previous "family" asked the vet to euthanise Bear.

They didn’t have even one single test result, just the potential issues that needed to be confirmed or denied based on his bloodwork and labs. 

The angelic vet was beside himself. Bear is about 18 months old. A young handsome man, with a lifetime ahead of him, if the vet could find the culprit, which he was determined to do. 

Nothing had been confirmed when they asked to euthanise him. And, had it been MG, it’s a treatable illness.

Angelic vet asked the "family" to surrender Bear instead. They agreed. They signed the papers. They continued on their road trip for another several weeks. Without Bear. 

Bear was placed in a foster home through the local humane society. Then, Bear came across my path and I was obsessed with him, his case, and getting myself four-plus hours away from my home to meet him. 

It didn’t matter to me that he was maybe sick. My thought was this: IF he is sick with a long-term illness that I can help treat with meds or care, then he should be with me, a person who treats her other pup like a son. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I knew I could care for him, no matter his need. He deserved to be in a loving home that could and would always be there for him.

To dogs, our best friends. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

A couple of months earlier, our goldendoodle, Duke (real name), had an accident that required surgery. We happened to be on an extended trip. 

At the time and location, families were still not allowed in the vet clinic because of COVID. We had to either leave our guy there and go home and wait to be called or we could sit in the humid, sweltering parking lot into the wee hours of the night. 

We opted for the latter, with our two hungry, tired, worried children. We sweated through our clothing. We paced. We called my mum to give her updates. 

We texted with our friends and family letting them know how our guy was faring or what we did or didn’t know at the time. I lost track but based on how early we got there and how late we got home, we sat there for over six hours, outside. 

The moment Duke was ready to be released, we were still in that parking lot, smelling ripe and looking even worse. We met him at the clinic door, and immediately, he had us back! His family was there to scoop him up and reassure him with love and pets and gentle care. 

In our family, we don’t quit on each other just because we are on a trip or one of us is sick. We stick together. 

We wait at the doctor’s office or hospital. We adjust our holiday plans to get treatment for whomever needs it. I’ve done this for Duke and I’ve done this for my human kids when they’ve gotten sick on vacations, which has happened many times. It’s just what you do. 

Bear deserved that kind of family, and I knew I could give him that.

We met at the foster family’s home. Bear busted through their door and greeted my husband and me as if he’d known us his entire life! Oh, the kisses and nibbles and nose butts in those first few seconds. 

ADVERTISEMENT

He was so excited he peed a little! Maybe I did too, I can’t recall. It was fate. We were meant to be. 

Bear went on to greet our two sons and Duke the same exact way. The six of us were meant to be a family. Bear completed our family.

Bear’s test results came back negative for MG. All of his other labs were normal. He went off his meds and did absolutely fine. Then, I noticed something on one of our first few walks together: Bear EATS plants! 

Duke does not, so I immediately noticed the odd behaviour. This led me back to the idea of the toxic mushrooms. We even had that mushroom bloom in our yard this summer, before getting Bear. 

I let the angelic vet know about my observation. My instinct as a mum to both human and fur kids is that he definitely ate something stupid and had a toxic reaction to it. I now watch him like a hawk amongst the foliage on our explorations.

We hike a tonne. We hike up great elevation gains and for many hours. We live on a mountain, where the dogs get to play and wrestle and chase each other and play fetch. Bear has excelled in this environment. 

He keeps up with Duke, who is a month or two younger than him. Bear gets excited to go on walks and adventures and hikes. I’ve never, in over three weeks, witnessed him stumble or limp or struggle to walk. He is thriving!

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. In this episode, host Claire Murphy speaks to an expert about what we can do to ensure that our dogs don't pose a threat to anyone. Post continues after audio.

Two days shy of our three-week marker of his "got ya" day, Bear’s old family discovered he was healthy and adopted to a new family. They'd reached out to the vet to see how Bear was doing and he informed them of Bear’s adoption.

They were outraged. 

They went on a social media tirade on the humane society’s social media. They claimed they were tricked. They claimed they should get him back now that he is healthy. They waxed sympathetic all over their Facebook about how much they missed him and how they were mistreated. 

Imagine! They’re the ones who were mistreated! 

They never once mentioned they asked for Bear to be killed. They never acknowledged the small tidbit that they happily still travelled for another month after ditching him in a state he was unfamiliar with while sick and scared. 

One person on their social commented, "now that he’s healthy, can’t you just go get him back like a kid in foster care?" I thought my brain would explode at that comment for many reasons. 

That’s not how foster care works for human children or fur children. Foster care isn’t a babysitting service for when it is too inconvenient for you to care for your offspring. 

ADVERTISEMENT

They’re also aggressively "pro-life". Except, it would seem, when it comes to the life of an animal...

I had a panic attack when I discovered they were attacking the humane society online. I spent way too much time scrolling through their very public social feeds, seeing the lies and misinformation they spread about the situation. I panicked that they were going to try to come for him. 

One person, seemingly related to them because of the same last name, suggested they "find him and dog nap him". I have the screenshots. Saved forever in my phone, just in case I need to protect my fur son.

Here’s the rub: they have no case. 

They tried to kill a dog before test results even came in. A vet needed to intervene on the dog’s behalf. There would never be a moment that I would immediately opt for that choice when my dog was sick, and it would take a ton of tests and a horrible prognosis for me to even get to that choice. 

I’ve done it once before. 

Elsie, my childhood dog who passed in my early 20s. An all-white Shepherd Husky mix that was found wandering outside. My family rescued her too. 

She never barked, she only howled and would jump on me whenever I walked in the door. I can still feel her coarse white fur in my hands as I’d cuddled with her in my living room. I loved her howling. She was unique and lovely in all ways. 

My heart still stops every single time I see an all-white dog happily on a walk with their family. You can almost always count on me to get misty and exclaim, "looks just like Elsie". Even if they don’t exactly, the all-white fur gets me every single time.

I held her as she left this realm. I felt the life leave her body as she suddenly became sickeningly heavy in my arms. She was there, breathing, and then the heavy sharp stillness that came still feels like a punch in my stomach 13 years later. 

I sobbed when I heard a gasp of air escape her body after I thought she was gone. I recall screaming and asking if she was still alive. Did it not work? 

It had. That was normal. It happens. Gasses and air escape a corpse, human and animal. Yet, I’d never been so physically close to a creature that just passed. 

She was riddled with tumours and she was old, her prognosis had been pain and suffering. And still, it took everything in me to get through that moment. 

I can still feel her die in my arms. I will never forget that feeling.

Those people, well, they signed a legally binding document surrendering Bear. Three weeks after they left him alone, like inconvenient trash on their road trip, I legally adopted him. 

ADVERTISEMENT

They don’t get to come back three weeks after I signed those papers and ask for him back because he is all better. No! Six weeks, over a month, after abandoning him!

I have hugged him. I have rested my hands on him when he violently twitches as he tries to fall asleep, which I think is residual trauma either from being abandoned or from the neurotoxin. It has become less and less as the weeks have gone on. 

I sleep with him in my bed each night, rubbing his extra curly fur, twirling my fingers in it, enjoying the different texture than my soft golden has. 

I scrubbed his diarrhea from my carpeting when he ate a new food that didn’t seem to agree with him. Then I hand-fed him several times a mix of mashed banana and pumpkin puree to help slow the diarrhea (it did). 

I’ve bathed him and dried him off and brushed burrs from his fur. I’ve changed my schedule for him because his is different than Duke’s. 

I’ve made all of his meals, as I enjoy cooking for my dogs. I’ve walked him. I’ve loved him. I’ve brought him on hikes and to my kids’ schools. 

I’ve taken him to the vet to make sure he was still on the mend and updated with shots. (He had a glowing bill of health!) I’ve treated him as I would treat, as I do treat, my other children. All in THREE weeks! All of that in less than a month is the love I’ve given him, no questions asked.

Dogs are sentient beings. They are emotional. They communicate. They love. 

They are just as deserving of a loving, stable home as our kids are. I am that loving stable mum. He is my soul now, like my two human sons and my other pup Duke. 

They are deeply intertwined into my essence and being. A couple of ignorant bad humans do not get to chaotically roll through and demand him back now that the vet, humane society, fosters, and my family have done the work, the hard dirty tiring work, to get him healthy.

The story is hopefully wrapping up. They’ve gotten their sympathy online from the four or five people that comment and pay attention. They’ve made themselves feel like the victims and not the villains. 

If that’s what they need to do to move on, so be it. But the real victim here was Bear, and now, like every good fairytale, he’s been saved by the ones who love him best, no matter what.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

For more from Nicole Vandeboom, you can visit her website here. 

Feature image: Getty.