Preface: Some readers may find a few of the following “before” photos uncomfortable to view or perhaps graphic. I choose to include the least graphic yet effective photographs along with “after” photos to illustrate the theme of this post, “transformation”. I assure you that these are the least disturbing. If your eyes are sensitive, please read another post~ Bernard
For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of working in animal welfare is witnessing the amazing transformation, whether physical, psychological or social, that shelter animals go through. They come to us for lots of reasons and in all sorts of conditions. Loved and well-cared for victims of circumstances, lost or abandoned, healthy, recently groomed with pink nails and mohawks, broken, neglected, abused; you name the situation or physical condition and I promise you that shelter staff have seen it, fixed it and found it a home.
I know for me personally, I am drawn to animal welfare for reasons not entirely altruistic. I recognize a little bit too much of myself in the hard luck cases; the injured, the special needs, the abused. I haven’t yet mustered the courage to explore the reasons why, but I do know that I connect with a broken dog on a deep, almost visceral level, and by healing them I simultaneously heal something in myself. I’m not sure what this says about me, though I have my suspicions. One day, maybe I’ll ask the hard questions, but until then I focus on transformation, theirs and mine. Two sides of the same coin.
The most dramatic examples of transformation are the severe neglect and abuse cases. Emaciation to the point where the body is unable to stand. A deaf dog beaten for being a bad, defiant dog- because he couldn’t hear the verbal commands he was being given by an owner who never considered the dog couldn’t hear. Open wounds or broken bones left untreated because the owners, living paycheck to paycheck, didn’t have the financial resources to treat the animal. The bait dogs with few teeth and gaping wounds. These are the cases that suckerpunch you when the dog is dragged or carried into the lobby. These are also the cases that mean the most when they’re fat and happy with working parts, smiling on the beach or playing dress up in her brand new home.
And that’s where Elizabeth Taylor Swift comes in (and a few uncomfortable “before” photos to illustrate my point.) I choose to include uncomfortable photos because I believe one of the most effective ways to tell the story of transformation from down-and-out to healthy, happy and rockin’ out to Stevie Nicks is in a handful of before and after photos. And frankly, unfortunately, these photos are reality for some very unlucky animals.
Her name at the Humane Society of Greater Miami was NOT Elizabeth Taylor Swift, but that’s what I called her. When she was brought into the shelter, she was in rough shape. Half of the soft tissue on her left jaw was missing. The wound was so large and deep, mandibular bone was visible when looking at her profile. You could also see one of her few existing teeth. She had cuts that appeared to be bite wounds all over her body. She was also heart worm positive, had an upper respiratory tract infection and was emaciated and anemic. We suspect she was a bait dog, but who knows. In cases like this, you get the donkey out of the ditch then talk about it later. As I carried her from the van in the parking lot to the medical team for assessment and processing, I figured she needed a little sparkle and glamour in her life. It was then that I christened her Elizabeth Taylor Swift.
She made an impression from day one. From the executive team to the daily care workers to the volunteers to me, she was one the most popular residents, with updates and anecdotes about her shared widely and freely. Everyone was invested in her recovery and we all celebrated when she completed the last of half dozen surgeries get her to her new normal.
Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t always the most compliant patient. She refused to listen to reason when it came to her e-collar. No matter who explained why she simply must wear her e-collar, she’d lick your face, wag her pittie tail then promptly rip that cone to shreds. When she pulled half of her toenail off, we scolded her gently, placed another(!) e-collar, then another, then another. But hey, she was Elizabeth Taylor Swift, not Lady Gaga, and a pin up girl always wears a velvet pill box hat, never plastic.
This week, Elizabeth Taylor Swift was adopted and everyone cheered. She had fought through some tough days and several surgeries. She had survived handfuls of pills every day for almost two months. And she suffered the indignity of unfashionable head wear. To mark the next chapter of her life, the good chapter with more love than a girl could dream of, Elizabeth Taylor Swift took a new new name: Bella Donna, Bella for short.
She may still need an additional surgery or two, but she is loved and cared for by two wonderful people- both of whom work at the shelter. The staff and volunteers will still get the daily updates we’ve grown accustomed to, but now those stories will be ones about the dog beach, the drool on the couch and taking up more bed than physics would suggest she need.
Here’s to you Bella, and girl, I love your taste in hats!