By Cindi Scholefield
The motionless heap on the table bore no resemblance to a dog – it looked to be no more than a filthy bundle of horribly matted hair, leaves, debris and foul-smelling excrement. There was an ugly wound all around his neck from a deeply embedded collar, which had been twisted even tighter with a stout length of thick wire, so that it had very nearly pierced his windpipe, and to complete the picture there were three large puncture wounds in his chest, all oozing with maggots. I wondered that they had not put him to sleep on arrival, but the girl who had found him and brought him in had begged. I set to work to find a place on his body where I could begin to cut the matts away, and resigned myself to many hours of work. To my surprise, after a good time when I succeeded in cutting away a square inch or two of matted growth and gently rubbed the skin beneath, the head managed to lift itself just a little, two eyes peered at me from the depths of the morass, and he feebly licked my arm! That settled it, and from that moment he was my number one priority.
We went slowly, as I knew every touch caused him pain, the matts pulling his skin in all directions, and over the next few days I got blisters and calluses from cutting and cutting, but when I got the section down his spine free and ran my hand down the fuzz which was all that was left, he gave a great shiver and a sigh, as if to say, ‘That’s it, keep going, please’. So I kept going. The trickiest parts were going to be around his neck, and his legs, which had solidified masses of who-knew-what, hard as rock, seemingly glued to his skin. There was nowhere I could get the scissors in to make a start, and eventually I went back to basics and used a razor blade to slice down the middle of the mass and open it up. This partially released it, then another slice released a bit more, and so on, till I could finally get underneath and snip away at it. When I eventually removed this heavy weight from his front leg, with him sitting patiently on my lap, he managed to find the part of my finger which had the blister, and he licked it in thanks. The same happened with all four feet, and each time I felt like I had achieved a small victory.
I decided to call him Job, because of all he had been through, but it soon turned to Jovi. I had noticed what long ears he had, but not paid much attention till I was approaching his neck, but to my horror I now saw that what was making them look so long was yet more of the congealed matts, hanging off him like an aberration of giant earrings. Jovi was the perfect little patient, and stayed very still through all my tentative pulling and snipping and cutting, and with the weight off his ears he was at last beginning to look like a dog. He now trusted me to deal with the sensitive area around the wound, which was still very raw, although slowly beginning to heal up, and I was able to trim away any stray hair that was getting in the way.
Soon the day came when I felt I could safely say that all the matts were gone, and Jovi was beginning to come back to life. Both of his eyes had protruding growths on the cornea, but they seemed not to bother him, and he was now walking around without bumping into things, and even finding his voice. Occasionally a tentative woof would escape him, frightening both of us for the moment, and as we went along, the woofing became more frequent, till he found he was quite comfortable with it and one day proudly let out a full-blown bark.
Then there was cuddle time. The old cupboard, set on its side, which I used as a bench, was the cuddle area, and Jovi had an endearing habit. He would run up to it, but instead of jumping onto it, he would leap up vertically, then grab at the sides and scramble ungraciously on to the top. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, and it was so funny to watch him spring into the air like a jack in the box, miss the bench altogether, and land back where he had been. But once I sat down he would wriggle right up into my lap and stay for as long as I would let him.
Time was passing, his fur was growing back, he was getting very playful and looking positively handsome – all healed and ready to go – but the girl didn’t come back. I was terrified he would get adopted by someone who wouldn’t appreciate what he had been through and would neglect him, but along came a lovely couple with two small sons, who I thought had been sent from heaven. They wanted to know all about him, and were really excited about taking him home to make friends with their other house pet – a rabbit. It was just a question of having his surgery done. Then, without warning the world turned upside down. At the very eleventh hour the original girl appeared with her money, and it turned out she had made an arrangement with the Senior Vet which hadn’t filtered down to the workers on the ground who do the adoptions. The family were devastated but there was nothing they could do. I too felt helpless and upset, and promised I would look out for another ‘special’ dog like Jovi. It didn’t really help, but it was all I could offer.
Saying goodbye to him was a wrench. We had been through so much together, but I was glad that he wouldn’t have to spend another day in a hateful cage, and word has it that he is having a glorious time with the girl’s other two females.
Riggs was full of himself, and into everything. At first he wouldn’t keep quiet long enough for me even to look at his face properly, but after a few days when he settled and knew he could trust me, I was able to comb him out, trim the hair around his eyes so he could see properly, and verify that, for a change, here was a little dog, bursting with personality, and with nothing wrong with him. He had been found on the road, and had to stay for a certain length of time in case the original owner turned up. But he reminded me so much of Jovi, only in a smaller edition, that I decided to contact the family who had been so disappointed when they were told that someone else had already adopted him.
I had no idea whether they still wanted a dog, but I took photos and sent them, and when I got no reply, I phoned. It turned out that they had not received the photos, so it was perfect timing when I did call. I was assured that the husband would be summoned from his job in the country, and instead of coming to town later in the week, he would come and bring the family in to meet Riggs that same afternoon.
The only other thing I could do was just pray that the original owners didn’t appear at this eleventh hour, as they would still take priority, and it would be the second time that these nice people would be disappointed. Later in the day and near to closing time, when I had finished walking everyone, including Riggs, I thought of calling again to remind them, and stopped myself, as that would have been too pushy. I was in fact halfway out the main door, feeling depressed, when I heard my name, and there was the lady with another little dog, recently adopted, black and fluffy, getting a check-up. They had asked and had been told that the adoption section was closed for the day, so they presumed I had left.
This called for serious measures. I had to sneak. I went back round to the kennels, took Riggs out, and casually walked him around the front, where I was greeted by the husband and two young sons, all of whom promptly fell in love with him. By the time the lady came out with her little girl puppy, it was a done deal, and only a question of filling out forms (as they had already paid their money the first time), and arranging a surgery date.
Even after that I was still a little nervous as to whether someone might suddenly appear and claim him, but the days passed uneventfully. I kept telling him each day what a lovely life he was going to have, and no one claimed him. Eventually, the time came for his operation, and the following day he went to his new home. Only then did I allow myself to breathe and relax. The last I heard, Riggs and Zoe (the little black one, now his constant companion) had decided they should sleep in bed with the boys and the boys agreed, but Mum wasn’t sure. I suspect Mum lost the battle.
For several years after leaving her regular job as a translator, Cindi Scholefield volunteered every day at the local animal shelter in Kingston, Jamaica. Out of the hundreds of dogs she rehabilitated (and fell in love with) came a collection of stories, some sad but the majority with a happy ending. For the most part she wanted to show people how forgiving dogs are. No matter how badly they are treated, no matter how much they have suffered, with patience and kindness they can make miraculous recoveries, both physically and emotionally. She believes we humans can learn a lot from them, not just about forgiveness, but about love, trust and unparalleled loyalty. Cindi shares her home with 7 dogs rescued from the streets, and one husband (not necessarily in that order).
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