By Tiana Nelson
A small white and black rat terrier looked up at us from an email – in her photo she looked homely against the pale white walls of her cage at Farmington Animal Shelter. She sat on a dingy white blanket.
The email was a “last chance” call for the dogs listed. That dog in the photo needed us to foster – we were her last chance, so we told the transport to tag her for rescue.
She arrived on a large horse trailer on a Friday night, and was skinny and smelly, but so sweet and gentle.
As soon as we got her home, we fed her and she gulped down her food – she literally didn’t chew a single morsel, just swallowed it whole. After that, the first order of business was a bath, which she did well in – making cute noises with the warm water on her back.
About halfway through the first evening with this little pup, I noticed that despite her bath, she still smelled a little strange. I checked her ears, nothing. I checked her coat, nothing. Then I checked her teeth and almost dropped her from my reaction to what I saw.
Her teeth were covered in the worst gingivitis I’d ever seen. I googled pictures of gingivitis and still couldn’t find anything worse. The poor thing wouldn’t let me near her mouth … it then hit me that she wasn’t swallowing her food just because she was starving, she swallowed it so she wouldn’t have to chew.
Long story short, we found a vet that would do the dental for a discounted rate, and Colorado Canine Rescue didn’t miss a beat in saying they would cover her dental surgery.
After the surgery, we picked up the little sweetheart that we had named Annabelle, and were told that our little 8-pound cute foster pup had only five teeth left. Every other tooth had to be extracted due to the damage.
Over the next couple days she recovered quickly.
About a week after the surgery we were sitting on the couch with the pups and Annabelle picked up a soft toy. It took us a moment to realize what she had done, and then another moment to grasp it. She picked up a toy. With her mouth, she picked up a toy.
A minute later we played our first game of fetch. It was on.
Annabelle quickly became the dog she was meant to be. She finally didn’t feel awful – she probably hadn’t known what it was like to feel good. She became spunky, playful, and silly. She’d throw her own toy if you didn’t do it for her, and would curl up under the covers every night and snuggle into you sweetly. She gave kisses.
About a month passed and Annabelle had long stolen our hearts, but as foster parents we knew by getting her adopted into a great home, we’d be able to save more animals. A good friend of mine who is in flyball competitions invited me to a tournament and suggested I bring Annabelle.
Fast forward a couple days and we brought Annabelle to flyball. We pulled up to the tournament and noticed a woman walking her rat terrier outside the complex, and walked in while humorously noting that they were twins.
Inside there were hundreds of dogs. We found our friend and she introduced us to a woman standing next to her, noting that Annabelle was up for adoption. The woman immediately led us to someone she said we had to meet.
We found ourselves in front of the woman we had seen outside with the other rat terrier. She had lost her German Shepard to old age and said she had been waiting for the right dog to adopt to fall in her lap, because it had always happened that way. And there we were.
The adoption was complete that afternoon and we left Annabelle with her new family: a brother rat terrier, sister Siberian Husky and her new mom.
Looking back at each dog we foster is such a gift. We had Annabelle (now Leilah) for about a month and that little dog taught us so much about perseverance.
Our little Annabelle has a lesson for all of us that rough starts – even rough “middles” – can still give way to beautiful second beginnings. And what a beautiful beginning it is.
Tiana Nelson is from Denver, Colo., and started the Doggie Avenger Blog with the goal of educating people and changing their perceptions about animals. When she began volunteering at a local animal shelter, it struck her that so many people were not actively aware of animal overpopulation. She hopes to change the lives of animals one-by-one through increasing awareness and encouraging people to always adopt — never buy from a breeder or pet store, to always spay and neuter their pets, to understand the depth of animal issues and to know why all of that is important. Tiana currently works in higher education, and in her free time enjoys traveling, running, volunteering with animals, spending time with her two pugs, and her family and friends.