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A Sweet Dream Comes True

A volunteer's "vision" leads to her adoption of a rescued dog

Editor's note: Summer Sears, a certified public accountant and animal welfare volunteer from Oregon, took part in a Humane Society of the United States-led operation in July 2010 that rescued about 90 dogs and cats from a filthy, overcrowded humane society in Eastern Montana.

My rescue experience started with Hurricane Katrina. I felt compelled to help however I could, and the Humane Society of Central Oregon (HSCO), where I was a board member at the time, connected me with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Working at the Lamar-Dixon emergency shelter in Louisiana was a rewarding, but emotionally trying, experience. When I got back home, I applied for the HSUS National Disaster Animal Response Team (NDART) team. I wanted to put the skills and experience I had gained to use. Last summer I received a deployment inquiry for Eastern Montana (the details were unknown at the time, due to the need to keep the raid under wraps). I felt an inexplicable draw to this deployment, and I quickly found myself making arrangements.

The logistics of planning the trip fell into place easily, but the emotional piece was a little more difficult. After blocking them out for many years, I have finally in the last couple of years started dealing with my own emotional traumas from childhood. I can now acknowledge that I witnessed animal torture when I was very young, and was emotionally abused for most of my childhood. As I work through this, the long-repressed memories and emotions are very raw. So, while I was almost desperately drawn to help with this deployment, my anxiety level was through the roof.

My husband was supportive as I weighed the decision to go. He juggled his work schedule so he could take full-time duty with our son. He was also worried about me emotionally. We both knew that the experience could be either really good for me or really, really bad.

By the time I joined the NDART team in Billings, Mont., in preparation for the journey out to Baker, my anxiety was almost getting the best of me. I spoke to the shelter lead, Diann Wellman, and told her that I wasn't sure if I could emotionally handle the conditions at the shelter. I was worried that it might be too traumatic. But I offered to help anywhere else that I was needed. If that meant paperwork or other tasks that others did not want to do, I was happy to help.

The morning of the rescue, the HSUS team, the sheriff's officers, and a couple of United Animal Nations (UAN) members left for the rescue site. The rest of us stayed at the fairgrounds to finish setting up the emergency shelter. The shelter lead gave us the layout that she wanted for the crates. As we started to set up the back row at two crates high, I had a gut-level feeling of recognition and pending … something.

You see, about six months earlier, I had a dream—or maybe a vision—of what I thought at the time was going to be our next dog, a quick “blip” of a medium-sized, extremely shaggy dog. The dog had dark fur and, at first, it was leaning down to a bowl. But then it lifted its head and looked at me. I was looking through bars, so I knew the dog was in a shelter of some sort.

But the really strange thing about the vision was the angle. I was not bent over, but the dog was at eye level. In Montana, when I saw the crates stacked up at the fairgrounds, it was a reminder of that angle. I felt excitement, fear, confusion—what did this mean?—and hesitation, but just kept working.

When the rescued animals arrived, we helped get them into clean crates with some fresh water. As we neared the end, I looked down the row of dogs and realized that none of them were even close to the dog from my dream. I had a mixed sense of relief and disappointment until I turned around and there was this matted, dark-gray furball being carried toward me. I turned away and caught my breath, knowing immediately that this was the dog. And as I turned back, they put the shaggy dog in a top-row crate, and the image from my dream was complete.

The next morning, she got her shave job. It took the volunteer groomer and helpers 40 minutes to shave about 15 pounds of matted, gross fur off of this 25-pound dog. They apparently started with the tail and, as they finally took a couple swipes of fur off of her head, the volunteers watching said with glee, “It's a schnauzer!” When they got her back to her clean crate, it was quite the moment as they watched her jump in surprise at the sight of her own legs. Can you imagine?

The whole time, I kept my distance, trying to figure out what it all meant. When I took a break a little later, I found that the HSUS truck driver, James Sowden, had taken her to an enclosed area. I watched him playing with her, and she looked like a big goofball, so full of joy and energy. My heart was so full watching her play that tears started flowing out of my eyes. That’s when I knew that I was supposed to bring her home.

I took a deep breath and found Ashley Mauceri, who was working intake for The HSUS. I introduced myself, told her that I was interested in adopting one of the dogs, and asked her what I should do. She told me to go through Adam Parascandola, who was the incident commander. With a smile, she asked me which dog had caught my eye. I told her the schnauzer, and her smile grew. I think everyone loved the schnauzer at that point.

I didn't want to force anything, but I caught Adam and let him know that I was interested in one of the dogs. He explained that they don't usually adopt directly from the emergency shelters, but he asked me which dog. We walked over toward the schnauzer. After Adam explained why they usually don't do the adoptions, I told him that was fine, and that the last thing I wanted to do was cause extra work or have him break protocols for me. It didn’t feel right to force or fight things; if it was meant to be, then it would happen. At Adam's suggestion, I contacted people at my local shelter, HSCO, and asked them to facilitate the adoption. They were happy to help, and I am so grateful to them.

Before I called HSCO, I had called my husband. He was shocked, but confirmed that he would support me in whatever I thought was best. And from there, everything fell into place.

A Sort of Homecoming

Sugar—as my fellow volunteers were calling her—and I left the fairgrounds in Baker on Thursday afternoon. By the time we made it home some 50 hours later, it was like Sugar and I were long-lost friends who had finally found each other again. Thankfully, she was comfortable with my husband almost immediately and did well with my 1-year-old son, Kellen, so we finalized the adoption through HSCO the following Monday. The folks at the vet’s office were amazed by her story and the before-and-after pictures. We have finished her ear mite treatment and the local vet diagnosed her with giardia, an intestinal parasite that we are also done treating. Her skin was a little irritated from being matted in disgustingness for who-knows-how-long, but she seems to be doing just fine now.

Interestingly enough, the vet said that she was a little overweight, but it was all in the top of her body. She was being fed enough food, but got no exercise. Her legs are tiny, with no muscle tone from lack of movement. That is changing, too, and overall, Sugar is amazingly healthy and very happy, given everything she has been through. As I look down right now, here she is, curled up in a little ball next to the computer, as content as can be. This is after running and playing and rolling around like a puppy all evening. How can this be the same dog who, less than three weeks ago, was the matted furball in those pictures, standing around in her own waste, never getting out of her crate for some fresh air and a walk? How does one survive such a thing, I wonder; and now (other than a little shyness) she acts as if it never happened! She is already loyal to our little pack/family and brings us so much joy and laughter. It is hard to explain, but it really is like we have known her all our lives. She just fits.

And more than that, after everything we have been through in our pasts, we are helping each other heal. There is a reason I went to Montana, and there was a reason for my dream. There was someone waiting for me there.

Update: A few months later, Sears reported that Sugar “is doing great. We've checked out nearly all of the dog parks in Central Oregon, and she is really enjoying family life. She loves to dig, swim, go for walks, give kisses, play tug, fetch, and just generally act like a silly monkey.”

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