You'll never hear me say that we rescued Manatee. This implies that we rappelled into the bowels of some canyon and hauled her from the snapping jaws of a pack of angry predators. We didn't do that for her. Someone did rescue her, though.
What's your story?
Many people assume that you can't be sure what you are getting with a shelter dog. You may never know every painful detail of an animal's surrender, but usually, shelters will tell you what they know. Every piece of information can provide clues about how an animal may react to certain situations in the future.
The Hawaiian Humane Society had received multiple complaints about Manatee's former home. Our girl's previous owners had been keeping her in a small yard with several other dogs in conditions that caught the attention of people around them. Rather than face more trouble and complaints, they surrendered Manatee along with her yard-mates. The amount of time that the animals spent in those conditions and the reasons for the neglect remain a mystery.
The Vet's Verdict
Manatee was 45 lbs. on her initial weigh-in at the shelter. She was not spayed, and she had recently had a litter of puppies. I'm sure she had all sorts of parasites upon intake, but the shelter had treated her for those by the time we met her. She gained two or three pounds through the shelter's efforts, and volunteers assured us that she'd fatten up when she could access more generous portions.
Three days after we picked her up, we took her for her post-adoption vet visit. I had already been asked to collect a stool sample when I scheduled the appointment. This was slightly off-putting, but it also felt like indoctrination into the dog-parent club. I agonized over how much to bring and what kind of baggie to use.
When we arrived, Manatee shook and cowered. Perhaps she thought she was going to be relocating for a third time that month. I wished that she could speak English so that I could have convinced her that she was stuck with me.
About that terrible skin...
The veterinarian determined that she had demodectic mange. He assured us that this infestation was unlikely to cause trouble for her humans or the cat. Demodex is actually a common mite that most dogs' bodies regulate on their own. Neglect, stress, and a recent spay surgery had compromised Manatee's immune system, which gave the little buggers free reign. The mites had made her short coat a patchwork of bald spots and sores. We began a treatment program of two baths per week with benzoyl peroxide shampoo.
It took three vet visits over the course of a month, a 14-day round of antibiotics, and 12 baths to get Manatee's coat and skin in good shape. She doesn't love tub-time. There was a lot of bribery involving peanut butter and chicken, but we did what we had to do. Who doesn't eat peanut butter directly from the jar after a trip to the spa? (Let me just clarify that she has her own xylitol-free peanut butter.) All this spa time plus generous portions helped her pack on the pounds, which made my attempts to lift her into the high-sided tub even more laughable. We got through it.
Sleep it off
Manatee slept and ate like it was her full-time job in those first few weeks. As a new dog parent, I was paranoid. Was there something else wrong with her? Was she depressed? Did she have a thyroid condition? As she snoozed, I spent hours researching whether this was normal.
It turns out that it's tough to be pulled out of one situation in which everything is familiar but you aren't receiving care only to go to a new environment in which your needs are met, but everything is different. Then, just when you've started to recover from the surprise surgery they gave you at the new place - just when you've learned to tune out the cacophony of barking dogs and the endless parade of strangers, many of whom insist on touching you, some strange couple puts you in the back of their car and takes you to another unfamiliar location. At this place, there is a puffy, hissing, vomiting creature who jumps onto high surfaces and glowers at you everywhere you go. People are often criticized for projecting human emotions onto their pets, but if we are being reasonable about a shelter animal's experiences, Manatee's desire to chase butterflies in her sleep for a few days was perfectly logical.
To the future
Today, Manatee weighs 52 pounds. Her short coat is full and shiny, and she's no longer covered in bumps and sores. When she first came to live with us, the neighbors asked if she had puppies and whether she was a shelter dog. Now, they stop to tell me how good she looks, to ask what kind of dog she is, and to ask if they can pet her. I will admit that it is nice to have the positive feedback.
She still catches a lot of butterflies in her frequent and lengthy naps. She is taking steps to become friends with the other creature that inhabits this space, a cat who is far less-puffy, and (thankfully) far less likely to hiss and vomit than at the time of their introduction. She has two comfy beds, a stable routine, and she knows that the gravy train makes stops at least twice a day. There is an inexhaustible supply of belly rubs.