Friday, September 23, 2005

For Better Or For Worse

Copyright 2003 - Bruce Gaughran

“I’m sorry to say that Fred is a mess.” Doctor Clayson’s words should not have come as a surprise, but I guess we blinded ourselves with ‘hope’.

"How bad is he," I asked.

The doctor didn't immediately answer; instead, he continued to use his masterful fingers to probe Fred's glands, nose, eyes, and ears, his stomach, and finally his testes. The whole time the doctor examined him, Fred just stood there - looking at us with the saddest eyes that continually asked, “Why are you letting him do this to me?”

"Well," he continued, "it is amazing he is still alive. Let me show you the results of his blood work-up." The doctor led us into the lab, placed a slide on the microscope tray, and peered into the eyepiece while adjusting the focus knob. He turned the microscope towards Donna and commented, "Look for yourself."

As Donna looked at the slide, the doctor explained what she was seeing as he placed one slide after the other onto the tray. "Do you see the brownish and green objects on the slide?" When Donna nodded, he continued, "How about the gray wormy-looking thing near the bottom right?"

Donna stared into the microscope lens and eventually commented, "Yes, now I see it. What am I looking at?"

"Fred has a serious worm problem. What you see are three different types of worms: hook, round, and whip." The doctor slipped another slide onto the tray and commented, "Now you are looking at his blood smear. Do you also see that squiggly worm-like thing in the middle of the slide?" When Donna nodded, he continued, "Well, I first thought that was a round-worm, but he tested negative to it. I think it is something else, but we aren't even going to worry about that right now. If we can rid him of these other worms, get control of his mange, and treat his infection, then we'll talk about next steps."

Donna backed away from the microscope and allowed me to look at the three slides. "So, Doctor, your saying he can be treated," I asked hopefully.

"I don’t want to get your hopes up yet. All I am saying is that if you were Bill Gates, I could really spend your money ... and maybe we could find all the things that are wrong with Fred. But, since he is a stray, let's perform a couple of tests, treat the major health issues, and see how it goes. If he survives the first round, we'll go to step two and treat more of his problems."

Hope was diminishing quickly in both Donna and my eyes. We knew Fred was in bad shape, but having the doctor walk us through all of the known problems, it almost seemed insurmountable that Fred could ever fully recover.

The doctor continued his examination of Fred and the whole time Fred stared into my eyes as if begging to be rescued. His tail was planted firmly between his legs and pointed forward. Guilt was hanging over me like a lead umbrella for making Fred’s first contact with me a trip to the Vet. I wondered whether he would ever forgive me.

While Donna asked the Vet a few more questions, I flashed back two months ago when Fred wandered into our lives. Who would have ever thought we would end up 'adopting' this guy. Both Donna and I said from the beginning, we don't want another pet.
The three of us, that is Donna, me and our cat, Willy, were sitting in the living room on Labor Day afternoon when Willy jumped up and stared our the back window. Donna and I followed suit concerned that someone was in our back yard. There, on our back porch, was a light brown and white beagle stuck between the two vertical slats of the railing.

Donna ran to the door while Willy ran the other direction. By the time she had the door open; the beagle had remarkably managed to squeeze his body through the four-inch-wide slats. The last we saw of the dog was when it ran off into the woods. We both thought the whole episode was strange, but soon forgot about it.

A few days later, I was in my office writing an email when I noticed the same beagle plus another one at our birdfeeder. The second beagle, slightly smaller than the other, was dark brown and white. Imagine my surprise when I saw both dogs eating birdseed. Even more strange, when the two had cleaned up all the seed on the ground, the smaller beagle jumped up and slapped the feeder knocking more seed to the ground.

I quickly walked over to the window and examined the pair. Both dogs were very thin. In fact, the ribs were their most prominent features. I became a little emotional watching the two dogs lick up the seed on the ground knowing this was not normal behavior. These dogs were starving. I ran through the kitchen, only stopping to grab a cup full of cat food, and exited the house through the garage. As soon as the dogs saw me, they started to run away. I called out to them and threw some of the food down on the driveway. Both dogs stopped dead and their noses went into the air. The smaller one took a tentative step forward and stopped.  The lighter colored one ran forward until he was about ten feet from the food then stopped to sniff the air.

I realized that neither was going to come any closer no matter how hungry they were. I threw the rest of the food down and walked back into the house. I watched them from the window as they devoured the food.  Afterwards, they meticulously checked out the entire area for any crumbs. Once they were satisfied there was no more food, they trotted down the driveway and exited into the woods.

Well, I should have known then that what you begin, you have to finish. The next morning both beagles were waiting for us when we woke up. We gave them some more cat food and decided we should buy some dog food for them. For several days thereafter, they would show up in the morning and early evening looking for a handout. However, they were also very nervous around us. We quickly surmised that they were abused as pups and perhaps 'dumped' out on the highway. Donna decided that the light-brown beagle looked like a Fred. I said that if he was a Fred, then the other one was a Barney – making it a Flintstones reunion. From that day on, we only called them by their 'given-names'.

We also learned as the days went on that the two were inseparable. Whenever they rested, they were touching each other. Often Barney would rest his neck on Fred's back as the two slept. We decided the two must have been littermates.

After several weeks, Barney looked healthy and strong again, but poor Fred looked bonier then ever. His eyes were often glazed over and matted. He had trouble walking and occasionally limped. Fred was also lethargic and seemed to wear down easily. We wanted to take him to a Vet, but could never get within five feet of him before he would run off with his tail between his legs.

Slowly, but surely, the two dogs adopted us as their daily food source. After about a month, we hit a cold spell and it had a negative impact on Fred. He could barely move in the mornings. We decided it was time to take some further action. I decided our tool shed would be a good makeshift doghouse. We put several layers of cardboard on the floor, then added about four inches of foam, and capped it off with a thick blanket.  
We lured the two into the shed with some food and they immediately loved their new home!

Three days later, however, Barney was gone. He must have wandered off in the middle of the night. Fred, on the other hand, could hardly move and spent most of his day sleeping. We knew something had to be seriously wrong with Fred if Barney left him behind. It took us three more days, however, to be able to pick him up.

The whole time this adventure was going on, we continued to reassure one another that we didn't need any more pets. If Fred ever left, we would wish him the best and pray for his health and happiness. We just didn't want any more responsibilities in our lives.

Now, here it is two months later and we are sitting in the Vet's office praying that there is nothing seriously wrong with Fred. The one thing we did not want had happened. Fred was now our pet and along with it, our responsibility. Not a day went by that I didn't pray for Fred's health, happiness, and for him to experience the joy of being loved and cared for.

The turnaround was nothing but amazing. Within a few days after the visit to the vet, Fred was wandering around the yard and craving some attention.
Donna gave Fred his worm medication and antibiotics twice a day and each day Fred became stronger. After about a week, he started to act like a dog again. When he saw one of us come out of the house, he would run up with his tail wagging like crazy. If you ran with him, he would jump over downed-trees or run around in circles as he kept up with you. He was once again enjoying a dog’s life.

At the same time, it became very apparent as to the abuse someone had subjected him to. If you approached him, he would crouch down real low and wrap his tail between his legs. The head would go down and to the side and he would drop down and roll over giving the classic sign of an Omega male. When Donna carried the Sunday paper out to the trash one morning, Fred saw the paper in her hands and dropped to the ground whimpering. It broke our hearts to see him wanting to be petted, but at the same time afraid that we were going to hurt him.

Fred next indicated that he needed a home when he started sleeping under the rear porch. So Donna and I bought a dog house … not just any house, mind you, this one was insulated. We then lined the walls and floor with six inches of foam rubber and put a heavy blanket over the top. Fred liked the house right away. We became worried several nights later when we heard the temperature was going to drop into the high 20’s. We needed to protect our buddy, so we moved the doghouse into the storage shed, sat it on five layers of cardboard for better insulation, wedged the shed-door partially open for easy access, and placed a tarp over the open area to insure that the wind and rain wouldn’t penetrate Fred’s new home.

We now found ourselves with a constant companion when we were outside. Fred would follow us down the driveway to get the mail. He would follow us around the yard when we fed the birds. As we cleared the walking trail, he would be at our side inspecting our work - making certain it was completed to his satisfaction. And, any time that we would stop for a moment and look down at him, he would flop over on his back, wag that tail, and ask us to rub his belly.

We also found out that Fred has an excellent quality that so many of us are missing. He is a good listener. I could be outside for hours rambling away about some problem at work or a situation around the house and he would just sit there, intently looking at me, listening to my every word. When I asked what he thought about the situation, he would roll over, wag his tail, and show me, in no uncertain terms, how much he empathized with my situation.

One day he performed the ultimate 'dog-act' in my opinion. He took the dog-bone treat I gave him, ran about thirty yards into the woods, and buried it. A few days later, when I gave him a stuffed toy and a rope-chew, he immediately ran off into the woods and buried both of them. These were pretty funny acts, but the one that really had us laughing was the morning when Donna couldn't find her tennis shoes. When we asked Fred what happened to the shoes, he just flopped onto his back and waited for us to reward him with a rub.

For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, Fred was our dog now and we celebrated the occasion by buying him a collar and nametag. It was now official. Fred had made a space for himself within our lives and we were all the better for it.


  1. Good story, sounds like it came right out of the Disney archives! Since I know the story to be completely true, that makes it all the more interesting. Good 'Ole Fred!

  2. What a precious dog! I have adopted almost all of my pets I have now and all the ones in the past, from situations just like this. I think animals can sense something in a human who is soft-hearted enough to help them. Thanks for the read it really touched me. Welcome to the site. I hope you are enjoying it as much as I have. Smile


  3. Just recently discovered your blogs. You have an an amazing talent for writing, Bruce. I enjoyed reading more about Fred, and how he came to be a part of your family.

    Lexie's mom :-)


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