I have a word of caution for you all: If you are at your vet office and someone sits next to you balancing an open cardboard box on their lap with a frail-looking creature inside, do NOT say, “can I see what is in your box?”, unless you are absolutely immune to the urge to fix what is broken.
I am not.
It was Muppet in that box, found by a U.S. Forestry Service work crew in the middle of a road winding through the Ocala National Forest. She was curled up in the same tight ball you see here, probably seeking the relative warmth of the road’s black surface on what was an incredibly chilly 37 degree morning, March 13th.
She was devastatingly skinny and completely nude, her skin covered in crusty sores and open lesions. She did not look well enough to be alive. The Forestry Service crew had named her Muppet and were raising money for her care. For a reason I never learned, they brought her to my vet who is far across town from where she was found. In a box. That I looked in.
I spent time with Ivy, the wonderful person charged with the heavy responsibility of getting Muppet to the care she needed and, at the end of our brief time together, handed over my card and said I would help in any way needed; please call me.
Muppet spent that whole month at the vet, in isolation, getting treated for her numerous skin, ear, and eye infections.
Now, there are some things we will never know about Muppet’s past, but there are other things that are pretty easy to guess. For starters, Muppet had been used for breeding, repeatedly. She was not old, but she was no longer young and her body had been used up. It is likely that a litter had been weaned from her just before she was found. Muppet was terrified of being outside of her kennel. Never, not once, during her hospitalization did she do her business outside. Never, not once, were staff able to get her to walk on a leash. She was patient with being handled, but awkward and unaccepting of hugs and caresses. Her skin issues were months and months in the making; her emaciated state, the same. Given all of this, it seemed unlikely that Muppet had survived any length of time on her own. The most plausible speculation is that Muppet was a part of a neglectful, abusive puppy mill operation.
And then she was dumped.
Are you angry yet? I was; still am. And that is why when her rescue crew called me looking for a foster option for Muppet, I said yes. How could I say no?
I picked up Muppet on April 23. It had taken more than a month of veterinary care to heal her and bring her weight up from nine to now sixteen pounds. The staff said affectionate farewells to her and were thorough in their cautions to me about Muppet’s background, about her “uniqueness”. I figured we would work it out.
I could be that cocky because I believe in the magic of what we have created here in this place; the power of finding and holding love for each and every creature that comes to us. I believe in Marco’s ability to nuture and caretake in a devoted intensity exactly matching what is needed.
I believe in the kindness and patience of the man I married, who never makes me feel that any of this is too much.
I believe in the instincts of the pack and the herd to know when there is a fragileness present and to allow space for that one to “be with”, without pressure.
Mostly, I believed in that little pup; that her background was just that — her background, and not a definition of who she was on the inside. Slowly, but steadily we watched Muppet transform herself. She tolerated, then accepted, then began to ask for human caresses and snuggles. She went from full scale panic about being outdoors, to guarded curiosity, to willing adventures. She slowly became house broken, keeping her kennel clean, weaning into diapers, and finally, learning to use the dog door, coming and going as she needed. That pale, cowering little pup, began releasing her fears and settling into her own body and becoming what I can only describe as joyful.
We so recently lost Molly and had a terrible scare with Grace, after which I made a valiant speech to Gordy about how attrition is not such a bad idea, Still, here came Muppet all tangled up and quirky. We celebrated her successes and laughed at her antics and in the course of it all, fell very much in love with her. No, more than that. We felt wired for Muppet: What she is, we needed and the same in return. So, yes, this is a story with a happy ending, for Muppet has found her forever home — with us. Attrition will have to wait. There is so much more love left to share.
A special and extraordinary thank you to Ivy Nys and other members of the Forestry crew who made Muppet’s miracle possible. Thank you also to the awesome and kind care provided by Town and Country Animal Hospital, and especially thank you, Gordy, for knowing when not to hold me to my word; I love you. And Muppet, dear, Muppet, you are loved and safe, now and forever. Be happy.