By Meadoe Hora
When his picture came across my Facebook newsfeed, I had a physical reaction to it – the big brown eyes, the floppy ears, the huge, raw burn on his back. The next thing I knew, I was explaining to my husband that I volunteered us to be his new foster home. Oops.
When I picked up Hendrix, my new foster puppy, I was shocked by his back. His owner poured chemicals on him, creating three large raw, red, angry burns that ran from the top of his head all the way down his back. He was skinny and scared, smelled like he had been lying in urine and he had worms. But he was really happy to see me.
I was a little nervous on the way home. It had been a while since I’d had a young dog and Hendrix was all puppy. When I imagined fostering him, I envisioned a little, cuddly fluffball puppy, but he was already a 40-pound Labrador with springs for legs and no social boundaries or training. When we got home, excited to have a dog who would play, I picked up a tennis ball and bounced it on the ground. He shrank back from it and cowered.
For the first few days, I kept Hendrix on a leash so I could house-train him. His back needed to heal and he was on some medication. So he mainly slept all day, springing to life with bursts of crazy puppy energy to run laps around the house. I took him for a walk every morning. The first time, he walked right next to me with his ears back, looking straight ahead – not stopping to smell anything. Each day, he started to branch out a little more, and then – he discovered the joy of stalking rabbits. His tail started to wag. He held his head up proudly and he started acting like a dog. That was when I knew Hendrix would be all right.
My kids were upset by his wounded back. The burns were hard to look at and the healing was slow going. Hendrix had cones and T-shirts and inflatable tubes, but the burns would scab and then get ripped open again. The vet initially said it would take a couple of weeks to heal, but it actually took several months. I can’t imagine what kind of pain he was in while it was healing. I burn myself on the stove pretty much every time I bake and I whine about those little burns for days. I can’t imagine having a large part of my back an open burn wound.
Hendrix was a wild child, jumping on everybody who came to the door and bolting out whenever he had the chance. My kids tend to leave the door wide open. So we spent a lot of time searching the neighborhood for him. Although he never got into playing fetch with a ball, he loved to play and he loved to bite, but he didn’t quite distinguish between an arm and a chew toy. We began to feel like we were in over our heads. However, he never once growled at my kids. He was just crazy playful. Mostly crazy.
After a few weeks of fostering, Hendrix got adopted – but it was not to be. His wild behavior and lack of manners made him a bad fit for their family and they returned him after a week. My focus had been on house-training, but that made me realize that we needed to kick the training into high gear if he was going to have a chance at a forever home.
We started going to obedience classes, which was more for us than for Hendrix. As we kept going to class, he got better. At the end, he celebrated graduation by chewing on his diploma. Afterwards, one of the other people in class told me that she would never have considered adopting an abused animal, but after meeting my sweet boy, she would consider it.
People have asked me why I would bring an abused dog into my house when I have kids. It always strikes me as an odd question because why wouldn’t I? My kids have always been around dogs and they know how to behave around them. Who better to help a dog than a kid, and who better to teach a kid about compassion and patience than a dog? Adults look at Hendrix and see the wound on his back. Kids look at him and see a nose for mischief and someone to play with. If you let them, kids and dogs will bring out the best in each other.
It’s easy to look at Hendrix’s back and see evil. There’s no other word to describe someone burning a puppy on purpose and then not even bothering to take him to the vet. However, when I look at him, I see good. There was one evil person who hurt him, but many more who stepped in to help – from the people at the rescue group to the vet to the countless people who saw us on walks or online and stopped to give him some love. My kids had a lot of questions. Growing up surrounded by love, my kids didn’t understand how that could happen. Honestly, I don’t either, and I struggled to explain it to them.
But as Fred Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s true. Where there is evil, there is also good. Once I started thinking of it like that, it was much easier to explain to my kids. Just find the good. It’s there. I’m hoping that this sweet dog shows them that they can be one of the helpers.
This goofy dog has taught me about healing and spirit. The asshole who burned him will probably always be miserable and broken, but Hendrix is happy. He suffered so much, but he’s not afraid of people. He’ll always have scars, but he doesn’t pay any attention to them. He views everyone as someone who might play with him, not as someone who might hurt him. Dogs live in the present. They find joy in little things and they move forward. Imagine what a world we would live in if people could do that.
Meadoe Hora lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two kids, two old basset hounds and Hendrix. He is already part of the family, but they will make it official after the holidays. She blogs at www.meadoeoutonalimb.com.