Gigi’s life was spared by the simplest of lies, one invented by her previous owners, maybe even on the spot. On a morning, hard to distinguish from any other day in her life, those owners bundled Gigi into their vehicle and drove to the County Animal Shelter where they handed her over. We don’t want her anymore, they confessed. Too many medical issues. They claimed her to be socialized and friendly and not too old at all — maybe 5 or 6? — and, oh, yes, part Wheaten Terrier. Well, that just about covers it.
They were right about the medical issues. Gigi had birthed more than one litter of pups, the last one recently. She had a massive mammary tumor, severe chronic skin disease, severe dental issues (requiring extractions), and severe eye and ear infections. She had “handling sensitivities” that prevented Shelter staff from completing a blood draw or even taking her temperature. They guessed her age to be closer to 8 or 9. But, what the heck, the Wheaten Terrier part could be right. The Tampa Shelter is a high-kill shelter. Given the fact that Gigi was owner-relinquished and had significant issues, she was placed on the euthanization list; her life now measured in days. Her only hope would be if a rescue stepped in to pull her.
The Shelter “mug shot” for Gigi was brutally honest about her issues but also included the Wheaten Terrier mix part, which caused someone to contact the Wheaten Terrier Rescue, run by the local breed organization. If you remember Molly’s story, then you know what awesome human beings are behind that Rescue and this was no exception. Within hours, they had someone ready to go to the Shelter to pull Gigi, someone else lined up to foster, and the Rescue stood ready to cover Gigi’s medical expenses. Gigi’s life had been saved because someone claimed that some part of her was Wheaten.
We were not in Gigi’s rescue plan. We had — I don’t even remember how many dogs at the time — but a lot. Gracie’s old age was giving us plenty to attend to and we had only recently absorbed Muppet into our household who was just beginning to act like a normal dog. Our hands were full. Then the Rescue called. Gigi’s initial foster arrangement had fallen through. Could we take her? Just for a while? Oh, heck.
Here is what I remember about the day Gigi came to us. How wonderful Suzanne and Thom were, who brought her to us, and how they adored and cared for Gigi, though their time with her had been brief. How shockingly terrible Gigi’s physical appearance was — pictures had not done the trauma justice.
How concerned Gigi was about space — where to be, where not to be. When left to her own, she would seek a space in the closet or out on the porch away from the activity, calm but unwilling to move from the spot she considered safe.
We took care of Gigi’s issues in a plan orchestrated with our vet. Even though she was not strong, we prioritized her surgical needs in order to alleviate pain factors for her. She had 16 teeth extracted, was spayed and had the mammary mass removed. Medicated baths, antibiotics, and ointments followed. All this and good food and Gigi began to physically heal.
Her social issues, however, were another matter. For starters, she was quite body defensive. It was important not to startle her; restraining her or touching her paws was out of the question. She was awkward in close quarters with the other dogs and could be unruly when asking for human attention. But outside, she was the best girl. She loved barn duties! She was good around the horses and roamed the pastures eagerly. I never worried about her out there. She was happy.
My sister, Kim, was living with us then and she made it her mission to help Gigi through her “confinement” issues. Every night after dinner, she would invite Gigi into her room — just Gigi — and treat her to cozy one-on-one time. She would reward Gigi with a treat for placing a paw in her hand. She would love on Gigi and let her know that touching is good and will not lead to harm. In return, Gigi gave Kim her undying loyalty and love. I am not exaggerating about this. The day Kim moved to a home of her own was traumatic for Gigi. She sat at the door and howled. For days. Kim visits us regularly, of course, and Gigi is the first to greet her, wildly and enthusiastically, then hovers by her side not wanting to waste a precious moment. Often, after Kim’s departure, she will cast herself against the door, howling her dismay.
The only thing that saved Gigi from losing Kim was her equally profound attachment to Gordy. She loved him first and almost immediately. I tell the early-on story about working at the barn, carrying a corral panel with Gordy and Gigi panicking when the moving bars of the panel came between she and her man. I’m not trying to steal him from you, Gigi.
In truth, it is entirely because of these two profound attachments that Gigi became ours. How could I take that away from her? How could the answer be “you are saved”, and then “nice practice, try again”? Of course, you already knew that’s what happened — you saw the Christmas photo. Also, that is what we do, foster and fail.
If you must know, Gigi is feeling her age. Her eyes, never good, are getting worse. She broke her back leg this spring, which, though healed, has slowed her down. We never accomplished helping her feel safe with restraint. Gigi goes to the vet for sedation in order to have her toenails trimmed, although they were able to do the last few of her cast changes on her broken leg without it. She tries, but she has her limits and we have learned to respect that.
The ironic punch line to Gigi’s story is that, after she became ours, we had DNA testing done on her. You may have already guessed this, but no, Gigi does not have a single speck of wheaten terrier in her. She is mostly Great Pyrenees with a hodge-podge of other backyard breeds stirred in. We still consider her part of the wheaten family though because, wheaten is what saved her.
You cannot drag an animal through the worst of human callousness and weakness and expect them to spring back to shape. There are permanent dents and wounds and Gigi has more than her fair share. Her burden has made us dig deeper, to understand and make allowances, so that we can create love and joy together. And that is what I want you to remember about Gigi’s Rescue Story; that even the most damaged of hearts can still love and be loved. Just give it time.