It’s not as simple as I would have believed to transition to a cruelty-free household. There are just so many companies and so many products that conduct animal testing…. things you’d never think about….such as garbage bags and ink pens. When I first resolved to stop supporting products tested on animals, then looked at the seemingly endless changes we would have to make, I quickly became overwhelmed. I’m going to begin sharing my journey with some practical tips I learned:
Buyer-Beware…. Do your homework before you buy…. (I’ve messed this up a few times.) There are some famous brands out there touted as ‘cruelty-free’ that are actually owned by larger non-cruelty free companies, such as Tom’s of Maine or Burt’s Bees, or Bare Minerals. There are a couple different schools of thought on this. Here is a quote from the popular beauty and fashion blog mybeautybunny.com:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping things that creeps on the earth.”
Genesis 1:26 ESV
“Good people are good to their animals; the ‘good hearted’ bad people kick and abuse them.”
Proverbs 12:10 MSG
Sometimes when you are a writer, there comes a day when you pour yourself into a writing project; and when you are finished, you read through it hoping that the passion you feel comes across in the words you’ve crafted…. but you have to be honest with yourself…. what you’ve just put hours into creating is just utter crap. That is where this story is born…. in the ashes of one that came before it (but one you will never see). The problem is that I tried to articulate way too much in one small space, and what I was saying was heavy on emotion and light on facts. I am a person who feels things deeply, but I don’t believe everything I’m told. When I hear something or read something across my Facebook newsfeed that tugs at my heartstrings, my first thought is, “Is this actually true?” Then I find out. Though I’d read and cross-checked facts and knew what I’d written to be true, I’d not put any of the concrete information into the text, and the result was the exact type of sappy-sentiment that I find easy to doubt when I read it elsewhere….and since this is important to me, I knew I had to do something about it. I had to go “old-school-research-paper” style. I haven’t bothered with sources and footnotes in over a decade now, so it’s sort of a novelty.
I love animals….. I always have. As I write this, my beagle Ichabod is 11, and he’s been my constant companion and best friend since he was six weeks old. One day while he was still a teeny-tiny pup, I recall jabbering on about him to a co-worker; I couldn’t help myself…. to me, everything he did was sheer puppy-magic. I’m sure my co-worker meant well and all, (or perhaps he was trying to shut me up,) but as I gushed about my sweet baby beagle, he sort of flatlined the conversation by saying, “You know they primarily use beagles in lab testing, right? It’s sad.”
I made some sort of “Oh, no, I didn’t know that” type of response, and changed the subject. I didn’t want to think about it. That was the way I handled the unpleasant side of life while in my twenties…. if it felt as though the problem was too big, or that it would be impossible for me to make any sort of impact… I chose not to think about it. Though I made a conscious effort to learn as little about it as possible about animal testing, deep down, I never forgot what that guy said to me that day.
The years passed. I grew up. I changed. I began to see that ignoring things I believed to be wrong simply because they made me sad, or I couldn’t envision making an impact was both childish and selfish….not to mention soul-crushing. This inner-shift in me coincided with the dawn of the age of Facebook, and suddenly, the cold hard realities of life became harder to ignore. (If you’ve ever had your day ruined because you were innocently scrolling through your phone when, without warning, you find yourself looking at a photo of someone strangling a Pitbull or electrocuting puppies to make coats, you know what I mean.) It was inevitable that it would happen. One day as I scrolled I came across a suggested post for an organization called “The Beagle Freedom Project”. As I gazed at the photo of a hound dog, (not so different from my old hound dog snoring on the couch) next to the words, “I shouldn’t have to die for your laundry detergent”, I realized the age of denial had come to an end. It was time to learn what this was all about….. and what I could do about it.
Because I feel things so deeply, and have a soft spot for animals, researching this topic was extremely difficult. I began by looking into the suggested post organization, “The Beagle Freedom Project.” Though I quickly became overwhelmed by the plight of the lab animals, I gained an immense respect for the work done by the rescue; they were everywhere trying to make lasting changes… introducing legislation, educating the public, asking for the release of animals once companies are done testing on them (usually they are killed), and placing the rescues with fosters before finding forever homes for them, as well as promoting cruelty-free products.
After reading the facts, and considering my own pampered hound dogs, I couldn’t justify my mindless consumerism… How could I love and protect these dogs while thoughtlessly supporting companies that kept similar animals caged up; subjecting them to torturous experiments, clipping their vocal cords if they found their cries annoying, denying them fresh air, love, or even the dignity of a name (their ears are tattooed with numbers)…. all for the sake of making money.
Here some of you are probably thinking, “It’s not just about making money…. these experiments keep us safe.” But are they really? Would it surprise you to know that 106,000 people die every year from drugs tested safe on animals? 
I don’t pretend to be a scientist….but I like to believe that I have some common sense. As I was researching this project, one evening I felt sickened while looking at a photograph of a lab monkey…. the poor creature had the top of his skull removed and had wires attached to what was left. I decided I’d seen enough for one evening and went to talk to Steve. With that thought still fresh in my mind I said, “I don’t know how people can do that. How they can be so barbaric to animals…. then simply go home and go about their lives.”
“I guess it takes all kinds,” he began. Until he went on, I didn’t understand that he was disagreeing with me. “I guess they figure for all the good they do that it’s worth it.”
Unsure what good could come from a monkey with part of it’s head removed, but not wanting to be closed-minded, I invited him to go on. But he didn’t really have a point…. just assuming that since it was a common practice that there must be a good reason he said, “They do learn stuff that helps us.”
“So you believe that what is safe for them is safe for us?” I asked.
“Yeah, there must be a reason they do it.”
“OK,” I began. “We’ve seen what Ichabod gets up to in the backyard…. so I’m assuming that it is safe for a beagle to eat dog poop. From what you are saying, that means you believe it must be safe for us as well…. would you like to do a little ‘human testing’ on that theory?”
This was a low blow, and I knew it. Steve has a vivid imagination and a sensitive gag reflex. He stared at me, betrayal shining in his eyes and said, “On taco night? How could you?” But I’d made my point. I include this story not to make my husband sound bad… or to make myself sound like a know-it-all, (though to be honest, I believe I would have been fabulous if I’d done debate team in high school) but I mention it in order to clarify something: Steve is a smart guy…. but when we don’t use our intelligence to investigate troubling realities…. those realities remain troubling… and unchanged.
I think my admission to my dog poop argument confirms what I said earlier…. I’m not a scientist. But I can read (and sort of understand) science written by those much smarter than me. When I began delving into this world, I was mostly concerned with the consumer-products side of animal testing. I was surprised to learn that even in relation to medical research, animal testing is largely antiquated and irrelevant. Here are a few credible arguments I’ve found against the necessity of animal testing:
“While the public supports the idea of animal testing because they believe it necessary to find cures for human diseases, about two thirds or higher of all animal research has little or nothing to do with curing human diseases or advancing human medicine. The majority of animal testing is done on cosmetics and household cleaners for the purpose of protecting corporations from liability.
Even research that purports to advance human treatment of diseases has been shown to be irrelevant to human health. Animals behave differently than humans, so much of the results end up being inaccurate, inconclusive, or unreliable. The Food & Drug Administration recently reported that of all the drugs that tested safe and effective in animal testing, 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans.” 
“The public often consider it [self-evident] that animal research has contributed to the treatment of human disease, yet little evidence is available to support this view… Despite the lack of systematic evidence for its effectiveness, basic animal research in the United Kingdom receives much more funding than clinical research.” 
As I’ve said, I am an emotional person, and now that I’ve presented some hard facts, I’m going to hit the ‘heart’ side of animal testing. I was especially moved by Barney’s story found on the Beagle Freedom Project’s website:
I’m sad to say that Barney didn’t make it. After a lifetime of being used and discarded by people, he made it to his forever home; a home filled with love…. but sadly, the ‘forever’ didn’t last very long.
Looking into animal testing has raised so many questions for me concerning our ‘legitimate’ economy. I’ve come to question everything from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear and even the toys my son plays with…. but those are stories for another day. I will add, however, that I’ve come to the conclusion that we ‘look the other way’ a lot when it comes to morals and money, but at what ultimate cost?
I’ve had well-meaning Christians tell me to my face that they didn’t think this animal stuff was all that important…. that there were other things to be more concerned about. In a way they are right… there are many things wrong in our society, and it’s not just limited to the way we exploit animals. But I disagree in that I DO believe that God cares about the plight of these animals. He’s made it clear through His word that we people are responsible for the animals he so lovingly created, and we are meant to treat them with kindness. Further, He’s put it on my heart to speak up for them, and to live what I believe. (Next I plan to write about my journey towards cruelty-free living. Our household is not totally cruelty-free yet, but we are in process. I would like to throw special shout outs here to my husband Steve, for converting without complaint to recycled toilet paper, and my sister Amanda who was with me on two separate hot and sweaty days when my cruelty-free deodorant failed me completely.)
The way we treat animals matters. As I come to the close (for now) I ask that you watch this video. As you watch this, ask yourself…. “Is there anything that I buy…. make-up, cleaning products… anything that is worth this price?”
If you answered “Yes,” then I have another question. Do you honestly believe that a company who is willing to do this in order to make money is all that concerned with your health and safety, and that of your family?
“…many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.”
When Rowling spoke of imagining our way into….. and therefore sympathizing with…..the suffering of others, she was speaking of human suffering…. but her words are quite apt here as well. Whatever we may turn out to be…. let’s not be as those she so wisely warns us about.
Pandora Pound, Shah Ebrahim, Peter Sandercock, Michael B Bracken, Ian Roberts; “Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?” British Medical Journal, 2004; 328:514-517, http://www.bmj.com/content/328/7438/514
During the autumn of 2009, right before Lucy came to live with us, I took 5 years old Ichabod to the vet for his annual visit. After the exam had been completed, I asked the vet whether it was time to schedule Ichabod for a dental cleaning. In response to my query, Dr. Rich pulled Ichabod’s lips apart and surveyed his teeth before pronouncing the surgery unnecessary.
“These are dirty teeth, but not bad teeth,” he explained. I was more than happy to go along with his recommendation.
Four months later we adopted Lucy – a formerly homeless basset hound. Though the rescue organization assured us that Lucy was a maximum of two years old, it was clear that those two years had been hard ones. She’d come to the rescue as a stray….terribly sick with kennel cough, painfully skinny with the look of a mother whose milk had recently dried up. In addition to these challenges, Lucy had horrible teeth. As the rescue worker pulled back her mouth to show us, she explained that it was rare for such a young dog to have so much tartar and damage.
“You’re going to need to have her checked out by your vet right away, and schedule a dental cleaning,” she ordered.
Though we promptly followed the first recommendation, making an appointment to visit our family’s vet, we put off the cleaning for a few months. By the time I scheduled the procedure for Lucy, nearly 7 months had passed since I originally inquired about Ichabod’s teeth, and I decided to go ahead and have both animals taken care of at the same time.
In April, 2010 on the morning of the surgery, I couldn’t help but fret. In the short months that Lucy had been part of our family, she’d suffered extreme anxiety at any separation. I dreaded taking her to the vet and dropping her off; fearing she would see this as just another abandonment. But for her own good, it had to be done.
As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong to be concerned about Lucy. By all accounts, she was a maniac the entire time. I was told that once she regained consciousness, she barked incessantly. Eventually the vet techs took their breaks so they could hold her and keep her somewhat appeased. I wasn’t surprised by this. Early in the afternoon, however, I received a shocking and upsetting phone call. There’d been a serious problem with Ichabod. It seems he hadn’t responded well to the anesthesia and they’d had trouble waking him.
With my thoughts focused on Lucy, I’d never considered there being a problem with Ichabod. Five years before he’d been neutered and there’d been no indication that he’d had any trouble. Though by the time I was informed, he’d already been revived and the danger had passed, I couldn’t help but feel the squeeze of panic in my chest. What was more.. Ichabod had required several extractions. I was informed that two were so bad they simply fell out during the initial polishing. So much for Dr. Rich’s assessment that his teeth were in good condition. (I would like to note that although I was told that two of the teeth fell out on their own… I was still charged the extraction fee.)
As soon as they were through their observation period, I rushed to collect the dogs, only feeling relief when I could see for myself that they were fine. I loaded them into the car and headed home for a difficult few days.
Lucy recovered immediately, but Ichabod struggled. He was out of sorts and temporarily lost control of his bowels, especially while asleep. When he finally recovered, I resolved to take good care of his teeth so that this would need never happen again. I would like to say that I made good on my vow, but that isn’t true. As it turns out, it’s harder than you may think to brush a wild beagle’s teeth… and before we knew it, Carter came along. With all of my tasks as a mother to a little one, doggie-dental-hygiene fell to the bottom of my mental to-do list.
For years I told myself that we could get by without cleaning his teeth again. The denial held until an unwelcome development with Lucy. One day as I was sat on the edge of the bed putting on socks, Lucy approached me for some attention. As I absently stroked her head, I noticed a bulge in her cheek. Lucy is an enthusiastic eater, and in her haste, she routinely gets food stuck in her cheeks. With years of experience, she’s learned that when this happens she can come to me and I will set her to rights. As I attempted to force the trapped food from her face, I had no reason to think this was different than any other time…. until her squeal of anguish, that is. Turns out, there was no food lodged in her face…. she was very swollen!
My initial thought as I surveyed her was ‘insect sing’. Turning to the internet, I learned that this type of facial swelling is common with a tooth abscess. Interestingly, this occurred the day before Lucy’s annual vet appointment. The following morning when the vet examined her, (a different office from the one mentioned before…. we decided to find a new vet after the events described in ‘The Tale of the Headless Rabbit’ ) he discovered an abscessed molar. Prescribing a round of antibiotics to clear the infection, he explained we would need to give them time to do their work and then schedule her for a cleaning and extraction.
Driving home that day with Lucy, my thoughts turned to Ichabod. It suddenly dawned on me that I was kidding myself if I believed he wouldn’t wind up with something similar one day. That night I talked to Steve, and he agreed that we should have Ichabod’s teeth cleaned… and though I believed it to be necessary, I couldn’t shake the memory of what had happened before. I reasoned that If Ichabod had trouble when he was six and extremely healthy, I was concerned what over what may happen now that he was 11 and overweight withh a heart murmur. I decided to make a regular appointment for him prior to scheduling the cleaning…. just so they could check on his heart and I could thoroughly explain my concerns about the anesthesia.
When we arrived for our appointment, we saw a vet we’d never met before. She looked through Ichabod’s records stored on her computer and expressed concern because the previous vet had recommended heart meds, but she saw no record that I had a prescription. I assured her that I did have a prescription that was being filled through a local store. She was dubious since it wasn’t in her records, but I assured her that he was taking his pills every day. (Interestingly, when the doctor wrote the script, he didn’t indicate that it was for a dog. This led the pharmacy staff to believe that I had a 10 year old child named Ichabod who suffered from heart problems.) Almost as though she didn’t believe me, she began pounding away at the keyboard, telling me she was updating the record to reflect that Ichabod was taking his medicine.
After she listened to his heart, I explained my concerns about the surgery. She downplayed my concerns and said they would run some blood tests that would indicate if he was healthy enough for anesthesia. She further stating that without knowing the specific drugs the other vet used she couldn’t say for sure what the problem could have been, but she assured me they had other drugs to use for dogs who’d shown previous reactions to anesthesia. Somewhat relieved, I gathered Ichabod and took him home. The following morning I received a phone call assuring me that his blood work came back fine and that he was cleared for surgery. Forcing down my misgivings, I scheduled the appointment.
Two weeks passed quickly and suddenly it was the night before the surgery. I had such a bad feeling about it, but kept trying to reassure myself that everything would be fine…. In the meantime I’d obtained the record from his old vet, detailing the medicine they’d used on him last time. When the office called to confirm the appointment, I explained that I had some information about Ichabod’s medical history that I would be bringing with me. I asked my small group to pray for him. (I’m not sure whether or not they believed this to be over-the-top, but they were nice about it.) I had trouble sleeping, and suddenly, it was morning.
As I corralled Ichabod and Carter for the trip to the vet, I had no time to linger on forebodings. On the rare occasion that we take Ichabod somewhere while leaving Lucy at home, trickery and cunning are required. We once made the mistake of blatantly leaving the house with him, and it was an incident I’ll never forget. When she realized what was happening, a sound that I don’t have the words to properly explain, burst from Lucy. I’ve never heard such a sound from any dog or human. It was as though she somehow managed to channel all the pain of a thousand lost souls and verbalize it. Frightening stuff. But this morning we managed to fool her, and, sneaking Ichabod into the garage, we were soon on our way.
Due to his wild nature, taking Ichabod to the vet is always stressful. Due to his 3 year old nature, taking Carter places where he needs to be quiet and behave is always stressful. Taking Ichabod and Carter to the vet together is sort of beyond words. While I checked Ichabod in and reminded the receptionist that I had a paper for the doctor, Ichabod tried to break free so as to attack a cat in a carrier while Carter laughed maniacally and jumped up and down on the scale as I tried to talk business and get the two of them under control. Soon it was our turn with the doctor. When we were ushered into the exam room, things quickly took an upsetting turn.
(I’m going to detail this conversation simply with the words that passed between the doctor and me. This doesn’t adequately paint the picture, however. As this conversation took place, Ichabod was howling and trying to escape. Carter, delighted with Ichabod’s loud noises and frenzied movements egged him on by squealing, jumping up and down, and trying to open the door to release him, and the conversation was frequently halted by my ineffectual attempts to bring order to my wayward children. Please bear all that in mind as you read the following words.)
“I see a note here that there is some concern about anesthesia,” the doctor began. This is the vet we usually saw, not the lady from a couple weeks before.
“Yes,” I began. “That’s why I made the appointment a few weeks ago. I wanted to make sure this was understood and also to check on his heart murmur. I have an e-mail from the other vet which explains the meds used on him last time.”
Without looking at it, he took the paper from me and went on. “Before we get into that, I see that we recommended heart pills back in September, but I see no record that we ever wrote a prescription. I’m really concerned that he hasn’t been taking this medicine.”
I was shocked. What kind of a scattered place was this? “When we were here two weeks ago I had the same conversation with the other vet. I assured her that I do have a prescription and he’s been taking his meds. He took them this morning. She said she was going to update his file to indicate this.”
“Well, she didn’t. It’s upsetting to me that we seemed to have dropped the ball here. If you think about it, maybe check the label and call to let us know which doctor prescribed the medicine. It should have been noted in this chart but wasn’t. (When i arrived home, out of curiosity I checked the medicine label. THE SAME DOCTOR WHO MADE THESE HEAVY-HANDED STATEMENTS WAS THE ONE LISTED ON THE LABEL. I never called back.)
Finally he turned his attention to the e-mail I’d given him. “This is pretty standard; this is what we use.” Glancing up from his paper; looking me in the eye he said, “I didn’t know until this morning that there was a previous reaction to anesthesia. If that happened five years ago when he was younger, thinner and healthier…to be honest, I’m not sure he would survive being put under as he is today.”
Shock and anger raged through me. Finding my voice I said, “I had the same concerns. This is exactly why I made the appointment two weeks ago, and on that day, my concerns were belittled as trivial. And now you’re telling me that if I’d not arrived with this paper this and called your attention to this AGAIN……or if someone else had checked us in that Ichabod wouldn’t have survived the operation?!”
Sidestepping the concerns I’d raised over the competency of his clinic, he got down on his haunches and inspected Ichabod’s teeth, confirming that the cleaning was necessary. He prescribed a dental enzyme cleaner, suggested Ichabod lose 20 pounds (which would make him thinner than he’s been since his days as a puppy) before scheduling the surgery at the end of summer at an office with more sophisticated surgical methods. All the while, Ichabod was crying piteously and trying to burrow out of the room. Glancing down at him I said, “Ichabod, you’re getting your wish. You’re coming home with us.”
I was so angry. I walked to the desk to pick up the medicine and the receptionist began to ask for payment for the consultation. I gave myself a moment to ensure I wasn’t about to lose my temper. As I stood collecting myself to politely inform her that I’d paid for a useless consultation visit two weeks ago and had no intention of paying for one today, the vet rushed over and whispered that there would be no charge. That was for the best because I’m fairly certain that situation was headed for an ugly turn.
The three of us left the office, and I buckled Carter into his seat before settling behind the wheel with Ichabod at my side. In the privacy of my car, looking over at the dog who’d been my best friend for more than a decade, the realization of what I’d almost lost hit me like a punch to the gut. Sometimes I think I focus too much on details, but the truth was, that if I’d simply taken the vet at her word, and not taken it upon myself to keep digging into this, I would have most likely lost him that morning.
Tears; tears of anger, frustration, and relief burst from me. I leaned over and hugged my old friend. Then, together, we headed for home.
Ichabod did not know what to make of us leaving the vet’s office with this new dog. He made a pest of himself the entire ride home, circling the cage, sniffing inside, and howling intermittently. At one point, I glanced over my shoulder to see him standing on top of the cage, trying to bite his way through the plastic. From the inside of the cage, Lucy barked constantly, with a shockingly deep, booming bark. It was a loooong ride!
An eternity later we arrived home, and the first order of business was to take Lucy straight to the backyard. To my relief, she seemed to understand, quickly finding a spot to do her business. She must be housebroken after all. With that out of the way, we opened the door, and allowed her to explore her new home. She ran around, sniffing everything, with Ichabod hot on her heels. After a short time, she leapt onto the armchair, cozying herself in for a nap. Before falling asleep, she raised her head, and her eyes seemed to warn us: “This is my chair, now!”
Steve and I both laughed at her antics. It was just unreal that she’d been a stray. She’d obviously had a home; she was familiar with the way everything worked. Again we wondered to each other…. What happened?
After a brief nap, Lucy was ready to explore, once again. While searching through Ichabod’s toy box she seemed delighted to find an assortment of rawhides buried in the depths. Though I’d gotten him many different bones through the years, he’d never shown much interest.
Chuckling as Lucy methodically removed the rawhides from the box before hiding them in some pretty obvious places, I briefly touched on Nanci’s warning; but quickly brushed it aside. “Lucy isn’t a bassety-basset,” I told myself. Actually, it was doubtful that she was even full-basset hound. Reasoning, it must be because of the thick, trunk-y necks of the basset hounds that they weren’t allowed to have rawhides, and gazing at Lucy with her slender, long neck, I discounted the warning. I hated to spoil her fun, so I told myself all was well.
As the day wore on, Lucy became my shadow. During the afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the mild temperatures and scoop some dog poop from the backyard. She walked every step with me as I combed through the grass in quadrants so as to not miss anything. It was like I’d predicted: This was a Mama’s girl.
I finished up and we headed back inside, where Lucy continued to hide rawhides. Eventually, Ichabod got close to one of her hiding places, and she bared her teeth and growled at him. Caught off-guard by her reaction, and suddenly sensing the danger, Steve and I walked around the house, gathering up all the rawhides and getting rid of them.
Because of all the fun and excitement with our new girl, I’d put off a necessary errand. Though I’d thought we already had everything we needed, there were a few things I wanted from the pet store. Gathering up an unopened bag of dog food I wished to exchange, I left Steve in charge of the two content dogs The last sight I saw before shutting the door leading to the garage was Lucy, trying to follow me and wagging her tail.
I felt very happy as I drove to Petsmart. We’d saved a life! Lucy was wonderful! It was a great day.
When I arrived at the store, I parked, walked to the back of my SUV, and hefted out the large bag of dog food. As I prepared to walk through the door, still precariously balancing the bulky bag, my phone began to ring. Awkwardly, I retrieved it from my pocket and saw that Steve was calling. In light of the burden I held, I was a bit annoyed as I snapped the phone open. (This was back in the days when phones still snapped open.) Steve sounded panicky. “This dog… I don’t know what we’re going to do about this dog….” He said, trailing off.
I felt the first stabs of panic in my gut. “What happened?” I asked.
“That dog” (he wasn’t calling her Lucy, he’d demoted her to ‘that dog’) bit Ichabod! When we threw away the rawhides, we must have missed one. Ichabod got too close to it, and she ran over and grabbed his ear in her teeth. Blood sprayed out and got all over the wall. And Ichabod cried. He didn’t do anything!”
My heart sank, and all the happy pleasure I’d felt only moments before evaporated. I’d thought we’d done a good thing here, and now this! “I’ll be right home,” I promised, snapping the phone shut.
Already inside the store, I hefted the bag of food to the counter. Not wanting to take the time to make the exchange, I just asked for my money back. As I waited, I thought of Ichabod’s bite. I decided to see if there was some sort of doggie-antibiotic cream I could get. I found the first aid section, spotted what I was looking for, paid for it and headed towards the car.
Feeling helpless, I called Nanci. As basset hounds sang their usual songs in the background, I explained the little bit I knew about what happened, and, very upset, she said, “I TOLD YOU THAT BASSETS WEREN’T ALLOWED TO HAVE RAWHIDES.”
I gave her my weak justification; how I’d thought that since Lucy wasn’t a bassety-basset that there wouldn’t be any danger. She cut me off: “That’s not why they can’t have rawhides. It’s because they can get mean defending them!” I suddenly remembered the rumbling freight-train noises from the morning I’d talked to her while she fried bacon. Things were starting to make sense.
With an edge in her voice she said, “Call me when you get home and have seen for yourself what is going on.” Feeling defeated, I snapped the phone closed.
I arrived home expecting mayhem. I parked the car, and took a deep breath as I opened the door leading from the garage to the house. Instead of mayhem, I walked into a brightly lit kitchen. Lucy, who’d been standing at the food bowl, ambled towards me, tail wagging, with a “Mommy’s home!” swagger to her steps. Ichabod was also in the kitchen, and he wagged his tail as well, making his way towards me. All appeared normal. There was no visible animosity between the dogs. “Steve?” I called out.
Steve appeared in the doorway. I couldn’t even form my question. I suppose my face contorted as though I was asking a question, and perhaps there were some questioning hand gestures, but I couldn’t find the words. What in the world was going on here? ‘Cause it seemed that the answer was “nothing”.
“Look at Ichabod’s right ear,” he instructed.
I sat down on the floor in front of Ichabod and began examining his ear. I saw nothing. I squinted and looked very close. Under intense scrutiny, I saw a slight, pink puncture. “You mean this?” I asked, indicating the miniscule abrasion.
“Yeah,” Steve said, and also pointed at a loose flap of skin running along the edge of the ear. I took Ichabod’s left ear in my hand; indicating an identical flap, showing Steve that this was not a cut… it was the way a beagle’s ears are formed.
“Seriously?” I asked. My facial expressions continued to ask silent questions.
Steve became agitated. “You weren’t here. It bled! Blood sprayed out all over the wall,” he added, pointing at the wall.
No blood spatter was present on the wall.
“I wiped it up,” he said.
“It doesn’t seem like this was that big of a deal. She shouldn’t have nipped him, but I don’t think she was really trying to get him. She must have hit a vein,” I surmised.
Suddenly, I remembered with embarrassment that I’d called Nanci. I really didn’t want to call her back now that I’d assessed the situation. Opting for the cop-out, I told Steve that I’d called Nanci, that we were supposed to call back, and that I was going to have him explain all of this to her. He tried to argue, but I was already dialing, and shoving the phone into his hands.
As he awkwardly explained what happened, I could hear Nanci haranguing him in the background, bassets growling in apparent agreement. After allowing him to flail for a few minutes, I took the phone back from him. “It doesn’t sound like it’s that bad…. Why don’t you see how it goes for the rest of the night… try to keep them separated, and then call me in the morning to let me know how it went?” she asked.
This entire time, Lucy had been watching me carefully, her tail slowly waving back and forth. I bent down to pet her. “What are we going to do with you, Lucy?” I asked. She head-butted my hand; her method of asking for more petting.
Steve and I headed upstairs, discussing the sleeping arrangements. As we talked, Lucy jumped onto the bed, made herself at home, and was quickly snoring. Loudly. I couldn’t help but be charmed. Despite the hiccup with Ichabod, she was taking to her new life with gusto. Steve was a bit more reserved, but I reasoned with him. “Look at her, I don’t think she’s really much of a danger.”
And she wasn’t.
The next morning I called Nanci, letting her know that all was well. She wheezed out relief as bassets snarled out their endless arguments on her end. “Oh, thank God! Last night, I was afraid you were going to give her back.”
Were we thinking of that? I wondered. I recalled Lucy, laying in the bed, peacefully snoring, seeming very secure for a dog who’d been through what she’d just endured. I supposed that for a moment… just a moment, I’d thought of that. But it had been wrong of me, so very wrong. This dog needed my love. “No, we’re not giving her back,” I said, finally.
And that was the end of my contact with Nanci and her wacky basset entourage. I wish them the best.
And so our new life as a family of four began. It wasn’t entirely smooth, there were actually many problems and frustrations as we moved forward. But also, there was love, and learning. As we would soon discover, Lucy was action-packed with issues. I believe God sent her into our lives with a purpose. I have no doubt I am the one meant to love and care for her, but in her brokenness, she’s also been a mirror to my own. She’s taught me that love = patience. In that, she’s been one of my greatest teachers. I’ll never know what happened in Lucy’s life leading up to her stint of homelessness, and my heart breaks for that poor, abandoned dog. But I’ll forever be grateful that she came to us. I hope the feeling is mutual.
(In time, there will be more of Lucy’s story to share. I promise, it’s a good one.)
When Steve and I had been married about 2 years, we began talking about getting a second dog. I’d gotten Ichabod from my sister when he was a puppy, and though he got along with Steve well enough, he was devoted to me. Steve longed for a dog whose first loyalty was to him, and though I knew that would never happen, (I’m too much of a dog person, and Steve is too little of a dog person,) I wanted a second dog, so I allowed him to believe it was a possibility.
Right after Christmas 2009, the two of us were walking around the mall one day, and decided to have a peek in the pet store. Staring wistfully at a basset hound, sprawled on his back without a care in the world, Steve said, “That’s what I want; a big, sloppy basset that I can carry around… like Flash.”
Though I had no problem getting a basset hound, I refused to buy a puppy from a store. I am passionate about homeless animals, and going through a rescue was important to me. But one of my major flaws is procrastination. Even when I’ve made up my mind about something, I am notoriously slow when it comes to acting on the decision. It didn’t’ help that I secretly dreaded beginning this particular task. Yes, adopting a homeless animal was important to me, but I hesitated to make a move. I knew that once I found myself confronted with the stories of these needy animals, my natural inclination would be to have a meltdown and try to adopt them all. I’m not sure how long I would have put this off if I’d not mentioned this to my sister Amanda. She took it upon herself to hop on the internet and find some local basset rescues; sending me links. On my next day off, I decided to stop putting it off, and delved into the first site on this list she’d sent me.
I spent a tearful afternoon looking at basset pictures and reading their biographies. All of their stories were so sad. I’ve always found some people’s carelessness and ill-treatment of animals to be shockingly heartbreaking, so browsing through all these pictures of animals in need was overwhelming.
As I went through this painful exercise, Ichabod lay loyally by my side. I’d been wondering how he would react to having a new dog in the house. I dropped down onto the floor next to him, putting my arms around him. In a faux-serious tone, I said, “Ichabod, you are going to be getting a new brother or sister. This isn’t because we love you any less, it’s because we love you so much, that there’s more than enough love to go around to a dog in need.” Not understanding that his time as the “Only Dog” was drawing to a close, he simply licked my face.
When Steve came home from work, I eagerly showed him the site. Together, we narrowed our list down to a few dogs we were seriously considering. I filled out the online adoption application, and a few days later I received a phone call from the rescue. Though we’d been approved for adoption, the dogs we were interested in had already found homes. Before I had the chance to feel the disappointment, the lady on the phone said, “We have a girl who is just now ready to adopt. Her name is Hope. Why don’t you take a look at her and then give me a call back and let me know what you think.”
Hanging up the phone, I quickly logged on to the computer, pulled up the site, and scrolled through the alphabetical listing of homeless bassets until I found Hope. As I looked at her photo for the first time, my heart leapt into my throat. This was the saddest hound dog I’d ever seen. Though she was a basset, she was skinny as a rail, her eyes radiated sadness; and yet there was something in her features that reminded me of Ichabod.
Reading through Hope’s story I learned that she was picked up by the Dog Warden as a stray and taken to the pound. She was very sick with kennel cough, and someone in the shelter called the Basset Rescue and asked them to come and get her.
When I read this, I was shocked. I’d always heard that if a dog with a contagious illness came into a shelter, they were quickly put-down, to avoid spreading the disease to the other animals. It was a miracle that this isn’t what happened with Hope!
I read further that Hope refused to sit quietly in her cage. Instead, she cried pitifully and unrelentingly until a volunteer from the shelter removed her from her cage and held her. She craved, (or perhaps a better word would be demanded) a touch from a person. And in demanding, she got it.
That same night, a volunteer from the rescue came to pick up her up. She was so ill that she was taken directly to a vet for treatment, and at the time I was reading this, (a month later) she was still there. After recovering from kennel cough, she was given time to regain her strength before being spayed. Now she was all ready for a home of her own!
In my heart, I knew that this was the one. But, I didn’t want to make a move until Steve had a chance to weigh in. I called him at work and left a message. By the time he made it home, I would already be at work, so I explained I was leaving a printout with a picture and bio for him to check out. I left for work, antsy to get his word on it, so I could get this moving.
When he called me later, he agreed that she seemed like a great choice, but he was a bit reticent. He wanted to meet her before we got too excited. I let him say these responsible things without putting up any difficulties. But, I knew she was the one. And he knew that, responsible words or no, I was already carried away.
The following day, I called the basset rescue, expressing our interest in Hope. The lady on the other end flipped through files, locating the contact information for Hope’s foster, which she passed along. I was also given a secret password to share with this foster, proving that I’d passed the background check and had been cleared to adopt. Our password? “Snowman”.
Eagerly, I tried to reach the foster by phone, but was forced to leave a message. It was all very clandestine. I had to leave the password in the message, and when she called me back, I had to give it again.
(At some point in my life, I’d like to start a program requiring the use of codenames and passwords. It was too much fun!)
Before meeting Hope, I would speak to the foster, Nanci, many times. She was scattered, and every single time I talked to her, she had trouble placing me and remembering which dog I wanted to adopt. And always, without exception, barking and baying basset hounds could be heard in the background. One morning as I was having a particularly difficult time hearing Nanci over the din, I finally asked her if everything was OK. She explained that she was frying bacon; and the seven (seven!) bassets she had at her house were getting a little nutty.
Nanci was only able to provide limited information concerning Hope. She was the one who’d picked her up from the shelter, but, due to the circumstances, she’d taken Hope (the name she picked) directly to the vet. She’d regularly gone to visit her, but because she sheltered so many dogs in her home, she wasn’t able risk bringing an infected dog near the others. She explained that Hope was very sweet, but very sad. Because she’d not had her in her home, she wasn’t sure whether or not she was housebroken, and she couldn’t say how well she got along with other dogs in a relaxed environment.
I wrinkled my nose a bit at this information… not so much for me, but for Steve’s sake. Still, I plowed on with the adoption process. Nanci explained that we would have to come to the vet’s office to meet Hope, and at that time we were required to bring any animals or children that lived in our house, to ensure compatibility. I checked our schedules against Nanci’s, and we fixed a time. I was so excited!
Steve kept cautioning me to keep my enthusiasm tempered. Still telling himself there was a chance this may not work out, he felt it was best not to get our hopes up. In words, I agreed with him, but I knew this was it… the missing member of our little family. In my mind I pictured the skinny and sad basset; only I saw her as fattened-up and happy. I wanted to call her ‘Lily’. I thought it would be a hilarious name… so delicate, for what I assumed would be a galumphing, stumpy creature. I even went so far as to get an engraved tag made for her with this name when I picked out her pink leash, collar, harness, and XL dog snuggie.
I proudly showed the new tag to Steve, and was a bit deflated when he quietly told me he’d thought she looked like a Lucy, and he was hoping we could name her that. It hadn’t occurred to me that Steve would have an opinion on naming the dog, but since I named Ichabod before I met Steve, I agreed.
As it turned out, Lucy wasn’t the galumphing’ creature I’d imagined, in any case.
The morning we were scheduled to meet Hope (or Lucy) I was elated. We would be driving nearly an hour to meet her, and were required to bring Ichabod. Generally, due to his natural excitement level, Ichabod rode in the cage while traveling in the car. We set off with him caged in the back of the SUV, with the understanding that he would have run of the car, should we be needing the cage for Lucy during the return trip.
We arrived at the vet’s office to find it jam packed with Saturday business! Not only was the waiting area filled with dogs and cats waiting to see the doctor, but a Labrador Rescue adoption event was also in full-swing.
A few years back, Ichabod and I had flunked out of obedience school. And on this morning, he wasn’t shy about showing everyone why. His obedience-school-dropout nature was on full display as he pulled at his leash and howled incessantly at all of the excitement. Minutes ticked by, and Nanci was late. I became increasingly tense as Ichabod continued to carry on like a wild animal. I was getting to the breaking point, and nearly asked Steve to take Ichabod and wait in the car, when finally, a scattered looking woman, covered in basset hair burst through the door. This could only be Nanci. She picked us out of the crowd, hustling over to greet us before heading off in search of someone to retrieve Hope from her kennel.
As Nanci disappeared through a door, we peered through the glass wall, gazing after her. In a moment she returned, struggling to keep steady hold of the leash in her hand. Without further warning, there was a sudden explosion of activity. On the other end of the leash she led a fireball of a creature; skinny, clumsy, and somewhat inhibited by a cone. In seconds, Nanci and Hope burst through the door. Much as I suspected it would be, it was love at first sight.
We would later learn that Lucy had spent most of the last month in a kennel cage, and she’d worn the cone for two weeks (!) after being spayed. Her stitches could have come out a week before, and she could have been released from her cone at that time, but she’d been left in this state. Nanci was annoyed, but explained that she wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it because this vet helped them out so much, and at a much reduced cost. I didn’t know any of this the moment we met Lucy, but looking back, I suppose that was why she was so boisterous at her moment of freedom. She burst through the door, ramming people, animals, and furniture with her cone. In her excitement, she dribbled a steady stream of pee. She attempted to jump onto a bench, only to find herself thwarted by her cone. Not letting this stop her; she backed up, tried again, this time managing to leap onto the lap of a lady waiting to adopt a Labrador. I watched in silence as she gained momentum, running across the laps of the people on the bench before jumping down from the other side.
Ichabod was beside himself trying to keep up with this latest development. I tried to get Lucy’s attention, and ran my hand over her back. I could feel her ribs, just under the loose skin. I wondered what had happened in her life prior to being picked up by the Dog Warden. After a moment, Lucy calmed down, and after removing her cone, and promising to go find some scissors to remove the stitches from her belly, Nanci suggested we take her outside for a walk and try to get acquainted.
For me, this was all a formality. I knew this dog was coming home with us. There was, however, still hesitation in Steve’s eyes.
The four of us headed outside. In the days prior, the weather had been cold and snowy; but this morning, we were treated to some sunshine and relatively balmy weather. Lucy was happy to stretch her legs and run. I couldn’t believe how skinny she was. Curiously, I put my hands around her waist. My fingers touched! And this was a basset hound!
I tried to stay quiet; to let Steve be the first to offer his opinion, but he remained silent, and I couldn’t contain myself. “What do you think?” I asked.
“I think you’ve already made up your mind,” he replied.
“Are you OK with that?” I pressed.
He stared at Lucy for a while. Ichabod hadn’t tried to attack her, and it seemed that, in time, they could be buddies. Uncertainly he said, “Yeah.”
I didn’t delve farther into the matter. I said, “Let’s go find Nanci!”
We re-entered the office and were directed to an empty examination room. Nanci joined us, and expertly removed Lucy’s stitches. This couldn’t have been easy considering that, though she’d calmed down considerably; Lucy was a ball of energy.
Now that we were in such close proximity, something became uncomfortably obvious. Lucy was ferociously stinky! Over the next few days I gave her multiple baths, and lovingly called her ‘kennel stink’. In that moment, however, I couldn’t believe that such a relatively small dog could produce so much odor. It didn’t stop her from believing she should be held and snuggled like a baby, however. She willingly and wriggling-ly jumped into my arms. Nanci grabbed a camera to snap an adoption picture of the two of us. Lucy pressed the side of her face to mine, attempting to lick me from the corner of her mouth. I couldn’t believe this was the same dog whose picture had cried out to me with such sad and haunted eyes. I couldn’t believe that after all she’d been through that she would trust people so easily, but she did. Perhaps she recognized that she was meant to be part of our family. I like to think so.
We finalized the formalities, paid the adoption fee, and were handed Lucy’s medical record. Through all this time, Nanci was giving us an endless list of instructions. I was only half listening. Lucy was leaping all over me, and it wasn’t like I didn’t already have a dog…. I pretty much understood what to do. I remember, however, her saying that bassets couldn’t have rawhides. This memory would resurface later that evening.
Finally, we were ready to go. Nanci stood, leaning over the dog she still called “Hope”. She looked into Lucy / Hope’s eyes, scratched her ears and said, “Hope, you are a very special girl today….” That’s all she said. She got a little choked up, and seemed to be fighting to hold back tears. During my time working with Nanci, I’d been a little annoyed by her scattered nature. I was suddenly very ashamed of myself. This woman volunteered her time, and opened her home and her heart out of love for these dogs. For goodness sake, she even had seven of them living in her house at one time! She saw a need, and she was doing the best she could do to help. Of course this would make her a bit scattered! And I’m glad she was.
We walked out of the vet’s office that day, a family of four. Placing Lucy in the cage, we let Ichabod roam the car, and headed for home.