I love a good makeover. Call it shallow if you will, but the truth is, we all walk a little bit taller and with a more confident swagger when we are able to present ourselves in our best light. When we look good, we feel good. It’s true for us, and it’s true for dogs.
In Mary’s case though, her makeover wasn’t just about looking better – it was a medical intervention.
A couple of weeks ago, she was found hiding behind a dumpster in the alley outside our shelter.
It was obvious that Mary was both cared for, and horribly neglected.
I know – that sounds stupidly contradictory. She was cared for in the sense that she was at a healthy weight, more or less. So someone one was obviously looking after her. But aside from keeping her well fed, her well being was grossly neglected in every other way. Cruelly so.
I smelled her long before I actually saw her. Like, from a whole building away. It was as if she had been dragged through a landfill, dipped in a porta potty, and coated with drunk fraternity vomit. And then baked. I’m serious you guys – she was such an epic hot mess, she made Nick Nolte’s mugshot look downright regal.
There’s something about Mary, though. Through the layers of matted fur and sludge, we could see the hopeful spirit in her eyes. This girl was a badass survivor buried underneath years of accumulated filth, trapped by the putrid proof of her neglect – but not defeated by it.
After a cursory medical examination, we called in Gaby, our resident grooming guru to set about the work of finding the dog under the filthy mats. Thanks to a phenomenal grant funded by the Pet Care Foundation to provide grooming services to our shelter animals, Gaby is able to give extreme makeovers to our animals in need of some TLC and deep conditioning every single week. It’s pretty amazing, actually. So is Gaby.
Usually, when we see cases of neglect this severe where the matted fur and urine burn (a painful inflammation of the skin having been regularly exposed to urine and fecal matter) is so out of control, the process of grooming can be a bit challenging. It’s painful for the animal – so they don’t necessarily make it easy for the groomer – fidgeting, growling, or even snapping because of the extreme discomfort.
Not Proud Mary. She sat perfectly still despite the discomfort. It was almost as if she knew she was being saved – finally being regarded and cared for. She was patient and graceful through the hardest parts. As she was freed from the painful mats and layers of grime, her personality began to emerge…jovial and sweet.
Finally clean and fresh as a daisy (for the first time in who knows how long), one would think Mary would smell less like a decomposing skunk. But no. Oh, heavens no.
The filth that once covered her entire body was merely an unpleasant scent drizzled over the magnificently horrendous odor emanating from her mouth. That breath! Oy. I can’t even.
Her mouth was a train wreck. A train carrying a cargo of fish guts and fermented eggs. Her teeth were surrounded by large pieces of caseous purulent discharge and chunks of fur. Yes, I know that’s graphic – but trust me, whatever vivid image that conjured in your head couldn’t possibly be more gross than the reality.
When it was all said and done, all of her remaining 15 teeth had to be extracted – which wasn’t all that tough to do since most of them fell right out just by touching them.
Sans matted fur and offensive grill, Proud Mary was a whole new lady. A super cute one at that.
One of our wonderful volunteers – whose name also happens to be Mary – knew about Mary’s massive transformation and was immediately compelled to find her a loving home. A friend of hers was grieving the recent loss of her dog, and thought Mary might just be the perfect companion to mend her broken heart. She brought her to the shelter to meet Mary – and the two took to each other from the very first moment.
Once meeting her new best friend, Mary honestly had no interest in being anywhere else in the world but on her lap. She hasn’t left her lap since the day they met. It is as it should be.
I do love a good makeover. And I loves me a good happy ending too. But since we’re all friends here, I’ll be honest. While I’m overjoyed that Mary and her new mom got to have a happy ending, my joy is tainted with an overwhelming sense of anger – nay rage – that Mary was ever in need of a happy ending in the first place. Her entire existence should have been a happy one – not just the part that followed an extreme makeover.
But instead of letting my anger consume me, I redirect it to fuel my sense of purpose for this work and to remind me to choose kindness. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Working in animal welfare, I’m faced with this type of harsh reality pretty much every day – in some way…and with every tragic case in need of a happy ending, my heart breaks a little bit. But I once learned that when bones break, they become stronger when healed. I believe the same can be true for our hearts.
When the people I work with see cases of animal neglect and cruelty, they don’t shut their eyes or look away. They face it head on, all the while knowing their hearts will be broken. Snapped, jagged and raw. These people are my heroes. They break a little every day, and every day they heal stronger – so beautiful creatures like Mary can find their happy ending. It is as it should be.