Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Remembering Brody-O

Years ago (11ish), I got involved in rescue as a volunteer. At that time, there were just two of us (Vicki, the rescue's founder, and me), taking in homeless Boxers and finding new homes for them. Today, the organization has expanded considerably and has taken in well over 700 dogs to date. Over the years, I've learned a lot about canine behavior, fundraising, and various medical conditions ranging from entropion to degenerative myelopathy to megaesophagus. I've made some wonderful friends along the way and I've met a few nutjobs, too.

Back in the early days with the rescue, I used to write articles for a site called Themestream. The way Themestream worked was that people could post their writing and if a site visitor clicked on your article, you'd make a few cents. I was actually faring pretty well on the site and had the intention of donating the money to the rescue. I certainly would have done so, except that Themestream shut itself down and left like a thief in the night, not paying any of its writers for their work. I think a few people tried to file lawsuits, to no avail. A friend recently dug out an article I wrote for Themestream and sent it to me. I was glad to have it, because I lost some of my older writing when my computer died its violent death in May.  So, here it is, the story of Brody-O, a sweet soul who lives on in my heart.

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I imagine that Brody the Boxer must have started his life as a typically exuberant and affectionate pup. By the time we met him, he was a sweet but cautious adult. As we would soon learn, he looked fine on the outside, but on the inside he was broken. We just didn't realize at first how badly he was broken. We thought he was simply damaged and that with a steady stream of hugs and kisses and "good boy's," we could fix him up good as new. We'd done it before and we thought we could hand out second chances just that easily. Our proverbial cup is always half full.

Last summer our rescue got a call from a Wisconsin shelter asking if we could take a nice six-year-old male Boxer. First we did what we always do - mutter and sputter about how someone could dump a six-year-old dog. Dogs of that age are difficult for us to place since applicants naturally want a younger dog, one that will be with them longer. Nonetheless, we agreed to take him because that is what why we are here - to help Boxers in need. We've even managed to place several 8-10 year old Boxers with kind-hearted adopters. At least you don't have to worry about chewing and housebreaking, we always say.

All we knew about Brody was that he had been surrendered for being a "runner" and that he hadn't been treated very well. From what we were told, he had lived with two different families. When the first family gave him to the second family, he ran away and returned to the first. Evidently he ran away a couple of times and ended up at the shelter. Eventually, no one wanted to claim him.

My rescue partner, Vicki, picked Brody up and brought him back to her home. Her teenaged daughter Kim took an immediate liking to Brody. He was a handsome fawn with cropped ears and a black mask. His dark eyes seemed very knowing. Brody was obviously very bright and Kim even taught him to raise himself onto his rear legs and dance. Before long, though, a few little warning signs began to appear. Brody very much enjoyed being outside and sometimes didn't agree that it was time for him to come in. One day Kim went outside to lure Brody in. Brody growled at her and took a rather menacing stance. Not long after that incident, he again got very agitated when Vicki told him to stop rooting in the garbage. We attributed Brody's behavior to the many recent changes in his life and felt that in time he would become more comfortable and not exhibit defensive behavior.

Since I have done some obedience training with my own dogs and with many of the rescue dogs as well, Vicki and I decided that she would transfer Brody to me so that I could work with him. I don't have children and my house is a bit less chaotic than Vicki's, so we felt that Brody would fare better in a quieter environment. Sure enough, Brody did very well at my home. He got along with the other dogs and did very well in his training. Once or twice a week I would take him to obedience class and the instructor would always remark on what a smart, well-behaved dog Brody was.

As the weeks passed, I came to love Brody very, very much. He was sweet and affectionate, and I felt that we had a wonderful, wordless bond. I loved the way he would spin himself in circles when he knew it was his turn to go for a r-i-d-e. At the same time, Brody was a fairly complex dog and I began to have my doubts that the right home would ever come along.

We had some nice warm autumn days then, and Brody often did not want to come back inside. He would approach the door as if he wanted to come in, but then would scoot away when I opened the door. Over time it became harder and harder to lure him in. Brody knew nothing but kind words in our home, but he never seemed able to shake those residual memories of prior mistreatment. It was as if he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Eventually came that sad October day when our hopes for finding a new home for Brody slipped away. I left work for an early lunch that day. We had an applicant who wanted to come by and meet Bandit, a young deaf Boxer who was living with me at that time. The young man brought his three-year-old child and his female Boxer for the visit. I left the other dogs crated in order to give the family time to meet Bandit and interact with him. Eventually, I decided to let all of the dogs out to go potty so that I could get back to work. Afterward, I rounded my two dogs up and brought them back into the house. As I should have guessed in advance, Brody did not want to come back in. He was sitting on the deck, watching Bandit cavort with the visiting Boxer. "Come on in, Brody-o," I said. The day had grown chilly so I knew that I couldn't leave Brody outside. Boxers are strictly indoor dogs. Their single-layer coats make them poorly suited to cold temperatures, and their short muzzles make hot weather equally perilous. As I was talking to the visitor, I had Brody's collar in my hand. I began to walk toward the house with the intention of bringing Brody with me. He sat in place and would not move. In retrospect, I know that I should have let go of Brody's collar right then, but I held on for just a moment too long. Quite suddenly, Brody began lunging at me, springing up to his full height. He seemed to be targeting my hands. I couldn't read his face; it was if he was a different dog. I drew my hands up towards my chest, all the while yelling at Brody to stop. Brody was clearly out of control and seemed unable to stop. He lunged at me again and again. Jay, the visitor, stood horrified, holding tightly to his child and his own dog. He later confessed that he felt terrible about not being able to help, but I knew he had to put the safety of his child and dog first. In the span of those few seconds I did something I had never done and hope never to do again. I began kicking Brody, just to keep him away and bring him back to his senses. Finally, as quickly as it had begun, the attack was over and Brody had retreated. I felt terrible about Jay having witnessed this terrible scene. I didn't want to blow Bandit's chances at getting a new home. Jay asked me if I was okay and I said I was fine. I grabbed a wad of paper towels from the kitchen and wrapped it around my left hand, which seemed slightly worse off than the right. The towels immediately turned red and I knew it was bad. "Thanks for coming by!" I said to Jay. I hoped he wouldn't notice how distraught I was.

When he left, I called my husband and told him to come and take me to the emergency room. I then called Vicki to let her know what had happened. Sadly, we agreed on a course of action. We had known that Brody was a bit quirky, but we had hoped that an experienced dog owner could give him a good home. We never dreamed that he would bite someone. When I opened the back door soon after the attack, Brody came bounding in with no hesitation. As I sat on the couch waiting for my husband, Brody came and put his head on my lap, licking at my makeshift bandages. "Oh, Brody," I sobbed. "Why?" It was if he knew on some level that he had caused this terrible thing. I kissed him on top of his head and told him he was a good boy. My husband arrived and took me to the emergency room. They declined to sew up the wounds because dog bites are considered "dirty" and the risk for infection is very high. They cleaned me up and sent me home with some strong antibiotics and painkillers. I didn't know which hand hurt worse. My left hand was lacerated in more places than I could count. My right hand was bruised and had wounds on both sides where Brody's teeth had clamped down. I held my hands out gingerly on the way home. Even today I still do not have full flexibility in my left index finger.

Initially we thought of moving Brody to a shelter where he could be isolated. But I just couldn't picture my Brody-o spending his last ten days in a cage. By law I had to wait ten days before having him euthanized, even though I knew he was vaccinated against rabies. I spent those ten days making sure Brody knew that he was loved and well cared for. We cuddled together on the couch. The only difference was that I was a bit cautious around him. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of a dog.

That evening I called Jay to apologize once again for the terrible scene he had witnessed. Since he had a Boxer already, he was very familiar with the breed and knew that it is excessively rare for a Boxer to bite anyone. I had prayed that Brody's behavior would not reflect negatively on the breed itself or on Boxer Rescue. Fortunately, Jay remained very excited about adopting young Bandit. Today, Bandit has a customer service job at the family's Harley-Davidson dealership.

Although it might seem strange for me to say, I was relieved that Brody had bitten me and not an adoptive family. I was also relieved that my own dogs had been in the house during the attack. Since my Boxer, Lucy, gets agitated when my husband and I pretend to wrestle and swat at each other, I can only imagine what she would have done to try to protect me.

After much soul-searching, I have decided that it seems appropriate now to tell Brody's story. Dogs are remarkably resilient creatures. A dog's loyalty is so woven into his heart that he will stay with someone who abuses him, even when he has a chance to run away. The world is full of stories of animals that have survived all sorts of horrors, but always emerge pure of heart and ready to love again. In Brody's case, though, we think he had perhaps just endured too much. We saw it in the way he always came to us for some affection with his head down, as though he didn't deserve even the smallest pat on the head. His dark, knowing eyes always seemed to wonder when our kindness would end and the abuse and neglect from his old life would resume.

On that Saturday morning in early November, Vicki and I solemnly loaded Brody into her van and drove him to my vet. My vet apologized and explained that he would have to muzzle Brody for the procedure. We nodded in understanding. A veterinary technician came in to help, and we all lifted Brody to the exam table. He was distressed by the gauze looped around his muzzle. Vicki and I were blinking back tears as the full impact of Brody's imminent passing became reality. We each stood on one side of him. The veterinarian prepared to inject the sodium pentobarbital into Brody's right rear leg. I held Brody's head and tried to reassure him. "I'm so sorry, Brody," I murmured. "You are such a good boy, such a good boy . . ." Within a few moments Brody was quiet and the vet confirmed that his heart had stopped.

Vicki and I spent a lot of time talking about Brody and what might have gone wrong with him. As rescuers we pour our hearts into saving dogs. We live for cards and emails from adopters telling us, "thank you for bringing this great dog into my life!" Our only solace was focusing on the many, many dogs that were now snoozing on couches in new homes around the state. We hoped that Brody knew we loved him. We imagine now that he spends his days in a place where he never has to come inside and where he knows only soft words and gentle hands. We would want nothing less for our Brody-o. He's not broken anymore.

5 comments:

Steph K said...

That was heart-wrenching to read.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing.

Selena said...

That was really beautiful, and so touching Claudia. Thank you for making sure that Brody knew love before it was his time to go. Your work is so important!

Mary said...

I read that the first time you wrote it and it hit me just as hard as then this time. You gave him every chance, and let him know he was worthy and loved even after the incident. Thank heavens he was in a home that understood him and knew it really wasn't his fault....This is the hard part about rescue, but you gave Brody some good times, he knew he was loved there I am sure. If I could fix every dog personally I would and so would you but sometimes we just can't. Bless your heart for giving him all you did....

Lisa said...

oh man. This post should come with a warning. :(