Oh, Emily . . . we're so sorry.

After 10+ years of volunteering for a Boxer rescue organization, I can take just about anything in stride. Nothing really grosses me out (and I’ve seen some foul shit attached to and coming out of various dogs, let me tell you). Dogs come and go from my home and I find something to love about each one of them. I try to focus on the pooches we can and do help and not the ones we couldn’t or didn’t. Otherwise, my heart would break at least once a day. People are constantly sending us emails containing dire pleas like “This dog will be PTS on Friday!” PTS is shelter lingo for “put to sleep.” Most of the time, the dog is far away and we already have our hands full just trying to help local dogs.

Last week, however, a friend of mine tagged me in a photo she put on Facebook. She lives a few states away. I became acquainted with her originally because she founded the rescue for which I volunteer. She founded the rescue and then I came along and offered the one skill I have: my ability to organize stuff. I got us set up with our 501(c)(3) status and all that jazz. We became friends and worked together very closely, establishing and growing the rescue. For the first year or so, it was just the two of us, doing what we could for the Boxers. Eventually, though, she remarried and moved out of state while I carried on with what she had started.

Anyway, a poorly-bred but very sweet middle-aged Boxer showed up at her local shelter last week. No name, no history. The dog was a wreck: a nasty open mass on her rear leg, sizable lumps along her mammary chain, etc. With local rescues being full and not a lot of other resources available in that area, I talked with our President and Vice President and we agreed to give this Boxer girl a shot. We are fortunate in that we just had a fundraiser and can technically afford to help a dog like this.

Many, many volunteers worked together to arrange the transport across several states. One of our volunteers drove for hours to meet the last leg of the transport. The journey was over 400 miles in total. Somewhere along the line, this nameless girl was dubbed Emily. Everyone agreed that she was just as sweet as the day is long. She was so happy to have any little bit of attention. She soaked up every pat, every hug. Emily touched a lot of hearts along the way.

Finally, she arrived at the home of one of our volunteers, who immediately took Emily to one of our regular veterinarians. We had lots of reasons to be alarmed about Emily’s health status. The open mass on her leg smelled hellacious and kept her from walking normally. The masses on her mammary chain were also of concern, because such growths are often a telltale sign that what’s happening on the inside (lungs, etc.) is much worse than what is going on externally. However, our hope was to have the growth on her leg removed and then address the other issues. Emily wiggled and did a happy dance every time she met a new person. This was probably the first time in her life that anyone had taken such an interest in her.

Surgery was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. The veterinarian had an entire “to do” list for Emily: if item 1 goes okay, proceed to item 2, and so forth. The bad news came early, though, when the pre-anesthetic blood work came back with some not-so-great results. Her x-rays were okay, though, so Dr. Jeff proceeded. He took her into surgery and opened her up. What he found was that she was full of cancer from stem to stern. The lymph nodes were involved and the tumors on the mammary chain were significant and deep. Her prognosis was bleak. She had no more than a few weeks to live and her body would not have been able to tolerate even the removal of the smelly mass on her leg. The kindest thing was to let her go while she was still under anesthesia.

We are all saddened by her death, of course. Our only source of consolation is knowing that she was so loved for the last few days of her life and that she did not die on a cement floor in a shelter. So many people were pulling for her, but we were too late. Every year, our rescue loses a few of the 70+ dogs we help annually. We typically lose one or two to untreatable medical conditions and a few more to temperament issues that cannot be overcome. It is, unfortunately, part of the deal. The vast majority of the dogs are adopted and spend the rest of their days holding down the couch in a loving home. It is cases like Emily’s though, that make it hard not to hang my head and cry. Occasionally I do exactly that, but it doesn’t really help matters. Why did someone allow her to suffer for so long? The masses could have been removed when they were still just tiny bumps, buying her lots of happy days, lots of walks, lots of giddy car rides. Instead, she suffered, unable to walk properly while cancer spread like a stain across every part of her.

The family that used to own my boy Gideon caused him to suffer as well. He was, as far as we can guess, hit by a car. The impact broke his right foreleg and knocked out many of his teeth. Instead of seeking medical attention or turning him over to someone who could, they simply kept him as is. Later, they did leave him on a roadside (in a crate) near a shelter. By then, the leg had healed (crookedly) and he was in a lot of pain because his teeth were broken off at the gum line, leaving the nerves exposed. I understand that maybe some folks don’t have the financial resources to provide care to a companion animal. But if that is the case, why not surrender the animal right away? If we had gotten Gideon right after the incident, we could have had his leg repaired. Instead, he has a crooked foreleg that is too short, leaving him with a limp and probable arthritis.

Emily didn’t just wake up one morning in the condition in which we received her. These things happen over time. There is almost always time to help, to do something. But so many times, people just don’t. Why? I don’t understand.