Warning: There are some sad photos in here, but this is a happy story!
My friend Carrie works at the Austin Animal Center, and her Facebook feed is often filled with photos of Austin’s stray dogs and cats. Each animal has a back story, many times a sad one. The neglect, abuse and disease can be seen on their sweet faces.
One of these beautiful creatures was Wilbur, an 8-week-old, 2.75-pound chihuahua-Jack Russell puppy that came into the center at the end of 2015. Carrie named him Wilbur, after the pig in Charlott’es Web. His skin was pink and inflamed due to mange and neglect.
As Carrie tells it, “He caught my eye one day when I was walking by. I saw this sweet, sad little puppy curled up in the corner and had to meet him. Although he was very sick, he loved being held, and we became quick friends. He would just curl up in my arms and whimper, while also licking my face. On days when I worked, I would walk by his unit and look to make sure he was still there. We had many early snuggle sessions.”
Carrie was so taken by Wilbur that she brought him home to convalesce. Due to malnutrition, Wilbur’s paws were swollen and weak; his left eye glued shut from pus. She initially kept him in her bathroom with a baby gate and heated bed, and slowly introduced him to the rest of her pack (two dogs and three cats).
“He was always so friendly and good-natured from the moment I met him, and that carried over to his approach to my other pets. Wilbur wanted so badly to run around and play with my dogs in the yard, but because of his flat feet and weak, bowed legs, all he could do was sort of scamper in place and romp around a little bit. He couldn’t go up and down the three stairs of my back porch at first, either, so I had to carry him to go outside and to come back in. Even just hopping down those three steps, his legs were too weak to catch himself and he’d tumble.”
But over time and with Carrie’s help, Wilbur began getting better.
“Over the six weeks that I had him, Wilbur went from being a very sick, weak little pup, to growing back more than about 75% of his body hair, becoming so much stronger and more agile on his feet and legs that he could tear around the whole yard with the fastest of them.”
Wilbur and Carrie bonded very closely.
She knew that letting him go was going to be tough.
“Wilbur was the first single puppy I’d ever taken in, and the first medical case. He was very much like a baby (pink and bald!), and we bonded so closely. It was excruciating handing Wilbur over and letting him go. I’m still having a pretty hard time with it. I miss him every day. I miss how he smelled and how he’d wake up and yawn, and lay his chin across my neck and nuzzle with me in the mornings. I think I will always kick myself for not being in a different place in life where it would have been feasible to have kept him. He’s a great little dog, though, whose light cannot be dimmed. I attribute all of the success of Wilbur’s medical turn-around to Wilbur himself, his resilience, and his bright spirit.”
A young man saw Wilbur on Austin Animal Center’s page and was immediately smitten. Wilbur’s medical issues (he still has non-contagious mange) didn’t deter him. Wilbur’s new poppa worked in veterinary medicine, and Carrie felt confident and comfortable that dear Wilbur was going to a good home.
I asked Carrie what she learned from this experience.
“Fostering, and working in animal welfare in general, is as heartbreaking as it is rewarding, but it is the most worthwhile thing you will ever do. You will never feel like your time was wasted, I promise you! If you want to help homeless animals, but cannot make it down to your local shelter to walk dogs or socialize with cats, fostering is a great way to still be involved from home. There are animal organizations in any community that need foster help. Pick the one that you like best, or is the most convenient for you. Or, you don’t even have to foster for an organization at all. You can take in needy animals that are on the streets, around apartment complexes, junk yards, or just neighborhood strays. Donations are always needed at animal organizations, too. Whether it’s a monetary donation or items like towels and blankets, everything helps. There will always be puppies (like Wilbur), kittens, adult dogs and cats, animals with medical needs, animals who are shut down, unsocialized, traumatized, helpless… who all need us.”
*All photos by Carrie Wells