A Fergie’s Friend post
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Roger Karas
I am a huge animal lover. In fact, there are many days I prefer animals over people, especially lately. An animal’s love is unconditional. Ask anyone who has ever rescued a dog from a shelter, and I am sure the story they will tell you will pull on your heart strings.
This was the situation I found myself in when I saw ‘Franklin’ on Petfinder. He was a yellow lab who seemed to be stuck in the shelter with no hope of adoption. Although several people came to see him, the deformity of his jaw and the slight depressions on the top and side of his head seemed to repulse them. I credit the shelter photographer who took Franklin’s picture for Petfinder. He captured the softness in Franklin’s eyes, and I knew at that moment, there was something special about him. When Franklin was introduced to me, the woman at the shelter led him into a room, explained to me that he had a deformity and would hide his head. She then handed me the leash, but Franklin would not look at me. I took the time to let him get comfortable. Finally, he lifted his head, looked at me with those beautiful soft, brown eyes and pushed a stuffed toy towards my hand. He did not want me to take the toy, but he started wagging his tail while still hiding his face. I could see something was not right, so I asked the woman what happened.
“He was found wandering the streets. No one came for him. We believe he broke his jaw, and it was never set correctly. We understand if you would rather not adopt him. Everyone walks away when they see him.”
“I’ll take him. Every dog deserves to be loved.”
That act of compassion to care for an animal with a disability changed the life of both me and my husband. When we adopted him, I had been dabbling with my writing but had not taken any of my work serious enough to send it for publication. I needed that spark to not only ignite my creativity but also to give me a purpose on what to write about. Little did I know that spark came in my new four-legged companion.
Every room in my house had a reference to a famous literary work or author, so it was only appropriate to rename Franklin after someone in literature who excelled despite having a disability. After much thought, Franklin was renamed ‘Lord Byron’ or Byron for short.
If Lord Byron could overcome a birth defect of a club foot and still go on, despite the excruciating pain to travel extensively throughout Europe, become a leading figure in Europe’s Romantic Movement as well as one of England’s greatest poets, while still having the will to live, well then, my Lord Byron would have that same will, despite his injuries.
We loved Byron. We needed to be patient; leaving Byron to adjust to us, his new fur brothers and his new forever home. We reached out to Dr. Paul Orsini, formerly with Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Trooper for an explanation on Byron’s injury and to give us an overall health checkup. The shelter staff initially told us it was a broken jaw which was not set properly. Dr. Orsini explained that Byron had a partial mandibulectomy (removal of a portion of his lower right jaw) which could have been due to cancer, but he believed it was from a traumatic accident since there were obvious depressions on the upper right side of the head and a few teeth were pushed to the left. The mouth was sutured on one side so that a pocket was formed allowing him to keep food in his mouth to eat.
Dr. Orsini, said whatever had happened, Byron had adapted well to the surgery. Byron had no trouble eating which was evident from his 80-pound body weight and his disposition was very calm. Byron was scheduled for several extractions to save his oral health. Besides the dental issues, Byron seemed to be in good health.
We never did learn what had happened to him or why he was abandoned. We believe he was struck by a car since we soon realized he was attracted to loud noises (like our lawn tractor, snow blower and cars). But why was he abandoned? We were not sure and surmised that it was primarily the result of an economic issue or his owner’s death.
Prior to Byron arriving at the shelter, the economy had crashed, and people were losing their jobs and homes. People struggled to keep their heads above water and having another mouth to feed was difficult. The surgery that Byron had received at the time was approximately $4,500, not an amount many young people would be willing to quickly invest, especially not knowing the future costs of his care or their financial stability. However, an established older couple often does not hesitate to provide the care needed for a pet when the pet is sick or injured, even if it means they need to forego something for themselves. Their pets are family, and they would do anything for family. It is possible that the older couple became sick, went in a home, or passed away. The children ‘inherited’ a not-so-perfect dog that needed extra care, and not all children would be willing to undertake that responsibility. It is easier for people to simply abandon them so as not to look like the ogre turning the dog into a shelter. Sorry if the conclusions seem harsh but my husband and I were both in law enforcement and had seen the worst side of people and sadly how some people viewed animals. Whatever had happened, we knew that Byron would live the rest of his days with us where we would provide for his health and safety no matter what.
Byron’s disability was invisible to us. Sure, we had to give him a little more attention than our other two dogs, but it was well worth it. We learned so much by watching the other two interact with him. It was the most amazing experience we had. Somehow, the other two sensed there was something different with Byron and they instinctively adjusted their actions to allow Byron to be a part of the family, eating, sleeping, and playing together. If only people would have those same instincts and not judge others, our world would be much better.
It was through my interactions with Byron that I learned to accept my own disability and make it work for me. Until then, I would not discuss it. I started writing again but this time I was more confident and honest with my own situation. Soon I was published every week in newspapers and eventually magazines. I credit Byron for showing me the way.
For us, Byron was our special boy who reminded us that life should be enjoyed, that through patience and persistence, we can overcome the odds and be happy with what we are dealt in life. We learned so much from him and are committed to helping another unwanted, abandoned or aging dog. Their hearts are pure and the unconditional love they show is something everyone should experience. It is life changing.
Helping one animal at a time overcome harsh treatment, taking care of them when they are sick or injured, giving them a safe and healthy environment, and fighting for them, when necessary, has rewards far greater than money. In my opinion, people who devote their lives to the welfare of animals will have a special place in heaven. One particular non-profit that does just this is Silver Linings Sanctuary.