It was the coldest night of the year in February 2013 — just a couple of nights before the Academy Awards — and the temperature had dipped below freezing in Lancaster, Calif., just north of Los Angeles.
A man in a suit walked into the animal shelter, placed a small cardboard box on the counter and said, “I’m turning this dog in because he’s old and can’t walk anymore.” The man turned away without further explanation and walked out the door, as his pug’s sad, gray, little face peered out from the box.
The poor dog was a mess — paralyzed back legs, sores on his hindquarters from sitting in his own urine and feces, infested with fleas, raging bladder infection, ear mites, and more health problems than one dog should ever have to suffer. It was apparent that his owner had let the dog’s health deteriorate for months — probably years — and done nothing to get medical attention for his canine.
But it wasn’t this dog’s night to die — not that evening. A kind soul at the shelter alerted Lori Zech-Shaw at Pug Nation Rescue of Los Angeles, who promptly dispatched one of their rescuers to get him out of there. The rescuer took the dog straight to their vet, who issued a cautious prognosis. It wasn’t at all clear whether this pug could be saved or not.
His skin was so ulcerated with urine burns and flea infestations, it was uncertain if his sores could heal. His urinary infection was so bad that they might have to amputate his little penis. The dog had been neglected for a very long time, and now, at 13 years of age, it wasn’t at all clear whether the paraplegic pug could recover — and if he did, what his quality of life would be.
Lori Zech-Shaw posted the dog’s photo and his rescue story on Pug Nation L.A.’s Facebook page. “Oscar, the Senior Pug in a Box” they called him. Oscar, named for the night he was rescued.
As I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw his sad little face peering out from the cardboard box and tears came to my eyes.
Who could do this to their pet? Who could let their dog’s health decline for so long without doing anything to help him? If they didn’t want the dog, why didn’t they turn him in to the shelter long before this? How could they let this little guy suffer so?
I immediately alerted several dog-loving friends. We all agreed — we must do something to help rescue this pug in a box! Facebook messages flew back and forth, as did emails and phone calls. Friends pledged money to help pay his vet bills and to buy him a set of wheels so he might be able get around despite his paralyzed back end. I offered to foster him once he could leave the veterinary hospital.
My friends and I weren’t alone. Thousands of people — not just around the country, but around the world — sent messages of compassion and support for this little dog. Hundreds of people offered to adopt him – people from as far away as Japan, Europe, and Canada. Oscar quickly became loved by many, many compassionate dog lovers who sent prayers, money, and messages of encouragement for him — as well as for the folks who were working so valiantly to save his life.
After many days in the hospital, it became clear that some of Oscar’s health problems could be fixed, while others could not. He would live, but with several chronic health conditions which would require a high level of medical maintenance. He couldn’t pee on his own, so his urine would have to be expressed several times a day. He couldn’t control his bowels either, so “accidents” were completely unpredictable. His hind legs were paralyzed and his front legs were very weak, so even with a set of specially built wheels, Oscar’s mobility would be very limited.