I am a veterinary technician working in animal welfare. Galileo was surrendered to the shelter that I work at two and half years ago. The gentleman who brought him in had found him tied to a fence at the back of his property. He was about five months old at the time. He had a broken back and was completely down in the hind legs. He had suffered a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra, the result of blunt force trauma. He had been beaten, or kicked, or stepped on. I spent hours pulling hundreds of ticks out of his ears and from between his toes. He was emaciated and had localized demodex on his back, his head and his ears.
My husband immediately agreed to let me bring him home as a medical foster. For the first month or so, he was unable to bend down to reach his food or water bowl. Either we held the bowl up to his mouth or he would lie down to eat and drink. For the first several weeks he was unable to walk more than a few feet. During this time, we carried him outside to go potty and to his bed.
Slowly, he gained strength and his spine began to heal. He started to walk longer distances. He began to eat and drink without assistance. He could walk out the front door to go potty, but was still unable to manage the steps to the backyard.
After nearly three months, he was healthy enough to be neutered. After which, we brought him back home to “recover” though, in hindsight, we were trying to summon the courage to say goodbye- the hardest part of fostering animals. We had gone back and forth for months about adopting him. We weren’t ready to say goodbye, yet weren’t ready to make the life-long commitment that responsible adopters make. We loved him but when we took stock of our life- a small house with one large dog, five cats and a small lovebird- we had some serious reservations. When we focused on what was best for Galileo, we knew it was time to bring him back to the shelter so he could be adopted.
As I work Tuesday through Saturday, I prepared his room on a Saturday evening, so we could bring him back on Sunday. We scheduled it this way so Galileo and I would have two days apart before I returned to work. It would be hard enough for me seeing him, but I couldn’t imagine what he would be feel seeing me numerous times throughout the day but not being able to be with me.
He had always been very social with us, hyperactive even, always in the middle of everything we were doing- except the morning we were preparing to take him back to the shelter. That morning, he hid in the corner behind the sofa and the love seat. Clicking the leash on his collar was like a sucker-punch, but we did it. We both cried as we left him in his room at the shelter. We told each other we weren’t ready for a second dog yet. We spent a lovely afternoon with our first dog, Darwin, convincing ourselves we had made the right decision.
I went into work early on Tuesday to play with him. Throughout the day, I made up reasons for me to go into his room and be with him. I even took him to Starbucks with me at lunchtime. While we were at Starbucks, I drafted an email to Omar. The email was written from Galileo to Papi, asking to come home. I saved it as a draft and went about my day, unsure if and when I was going to send it. I mean, it was emotional manipulation elevated to an art form and that isn’t our style.
Late in the afternoon, someone wanted to meet Galileo. My stomach dropped. It felt like someone was trying to steal my dog. I scrambled trying to come up with a reason to deny the adoption. Fortunately, she didn’t have her ID with her and we can;t process an adoption application without one. I hit send on that email before she left the building. About five minutes later, I received a text message from my husband saying he’d be there at six to sign the adoption contract. That was two and half years ago.
Today, Galileo weighs almost seventy pounds. He is the strongest of our three dogs and is, by far, the fastest runner of them all. He loves to chase the other dogs and can’t get enough of a tennis ball. He does not have a normal gait and never will. We don’t know what his spine will be like in the future, nor do we know how this will affect his mobility. We keep a close eye on his weight to reduce any unneeded strain on his back.
In addition to being proud of the medical recovery he’s made, I’m in awe of what a loving, friendly, happy dog he has become. He adores people, all people. And if any dog has reason to be angry, aggressive and distrustful, it is Galileo.
He is slowly learning that he will always have food. He no longer inhales his food then tries to take the other dogs’ food. He still jumps at loud noises and will scurry out of the room then hide if he thinks he’s in trouble. However, he is learning to let me restrain him for medical reasons without freaking out.
As I watch him tonight, I’m filled with pride at his recovery, awe at what he has accomplished and sadness that such a wonderful dog had such a crappy start in life. I’m not sure he will ever be free of the psychological scars he has, but I can promise he will have a charmed life for the rest of his life.