For those of you who don’t know the story of Bailey, here is his “tail” 😉
September 2008 was a particularly difficult month for me: my 17 year old dog Teddy was on his death bed, work was crazy as usual, I spent a weekend believing a misdiagnosis for multiple melanoma, and a long term romantic relationship had just abruptly ended. With all that going on, and since I no longer planned to move to the Netherlands in 2009 to be with now-ex-boyfriend, I decided, hey, why not cheer myself up by getting a puppy. Good idea, right? Four days after getting aforementioned cheer-me-up-pup, he was hit by a truck….right in front of me…..on the leash.
Before choosing Bailey, I spent a couple of weeks researching various rescue organizations in order to find the perfect new puppy. Although Bailey’s predecessor, Teddy, came from a reputable Cocker Spaniel breeder in NC nearly two decades before and was a wonderful dog, in the spirit of volunteerism I wanted to rescue a dog this time. I also wanted a “low maintenance” dog; one that was young enough to be a puppy, but old enough to have moved past the potty training stage. Naturally, a nine month old, friendly, outgoing Cocker from a highly respected organization (Oldies But Goodies, based in Alexandria VA) seemed like a great fit. He was beat up, underweight, and a little surly, but I figured he’d turn into a love bug after hanging out with me for a little while.
The first few days weren’t great. Bailey was aggressive with other dogs and nipped me multiple times. I’d never had a dog like this before and so I second guessed my decision to adopt. Then, on day four, thinking I’d give the guy a little treat and take a long lunch to go on a stroll with him, Bailey darted in front of an U-Haul truck going about 40mph while I watched, horrified, and tried to pull him out of the path of the oncoming vehicle. As he tumbled in the undercarriage of the truck like an old shoe in a washing machine, I screamed. The truck eventually spit him back out; he hit the curb in front of me.
I will never forget the sound he made as he writhed in agony. Clearly I was in shock since all I could manage to do in the immediate aftermath was stare down at him. All I could think was “Stabilize him; don’t move his back” like you do with humans with neck injuries. We’d been alone on our walk, then seemingly out of thin air, an old woman came to my side and said, “Pick him up, honey.” She put her arm around me as we walked to the apartment building’s parking garage, we got in my car, she held Bailey in her lap, and I drove to the vet down the street. She came in with me, and as I began explaining what had happened to the vets inside, she must’ve left. I don’t remember. It’s like she sort of drifted out on the fog of the moment.
The next thing I remember hearing was “It’ll cost about $7,000 to save his life. What do you want to do?” I balked. I only had this dog for four days and I was supposed to drop $7k on him because he was stupid enough to jump in front of a truck? I felt guilty for being mad. I cried. They said they’d keep him alive overnight but that was all they could promise. I cried at the thought of him dying. I went home. I called my parents. I called friends. I cried again. I stressed. Finally, I called the rescue group from which I got him. They acted suspicious at first, as if to insinuate that I was purposely reckless with him; thankfully, we quickly moved beyond that as they could hear the genuine sorrow in my voice, and they agreed to hold an emergency board meeting to decide what to do. I prayed. Then, I tried to sleep.
The next day, Oldies But Goodies http://www.cockerspanielrescue.com/ decided to pay for Bailey’s emergency surgery. (Thank you!!!) Props to my friends Nora and Nate for driving down from Maryland to offer their emotional support right before the surgery and Megan and Francisco for their support throughout this time. For the most part, though, everyone else told me to get rid of the dog. I told myself I’d just help him get through the surgery, then give him back to the rescue group; it would be their problem to figure out and I didn’t have the time, money, or emotion for this.
Well, Bailey got put back together like Humpty Dumpty, and what I’d hoped to be a low maintenance dog turned into a massive time commitment. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t function, he couldn’t do much of anything but whimper and whine without my help. I, with quite the bad back myself, had to lean over him, supporting him with a makeshift sling, crab walk behind him just to get him “walking” outside to go to the bathroom. Fun times.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Intensive care turned into physical therapy turned into more questions as the fractures healed but nerve damage remained. I was just his “foster mom;” I hadn’t officially adopted him yet. Everyone was still telling me to get rid of the dog which, logically-speaking, made sense to me. I bought a dog to have as a hiking, running, adventure companion; he’d be better suited as the lap dog of some little old lady now, right? I didn’t have time for this crap! Yet I held on.
Nearly four months after the accident, the fractures had more than healed, the pins and screws were removed, but the nerve damage lingered. Even after all the physical therapy I’d done with him, trying different braces, difference exercises, etc, he still dragged his back right paw. But nerve damage is tricky….sometimes function can return late in the game. Was I going to amputate this young dog’s leg? What if he just needed more time? more therapy? What if I had his leg chopped off before it healed? I couldn’t deliberate forever, though, and at some point Oldies But Goodies gave me a week to make up my mind because if I decided to have the vet amputate, they’d pay for the surgery again; if after a week, however, I hadn’t opted for the surgery, and I’d officially adopted him, all costs were mine to bare. I consulted the vet. “It’s going to cost $5,000 to amputate.” Facts of life being what they are, I decided to take Bailey in for surgery that week. Turns out his entire right leg was dead. The vet said she’d never seen anything like it before – all of the muscles in the right leg were white and gray. Amputating ended up being the best decision after all. And a massive thanks to Oldies But Goodies for covering the second surgery.
The night I brought Bailey home from that surgery he wept like a person before finally falling asleep. He slept through most of the next day, and in the late afternoon when he awoke, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I took him outside to go potty and, tugging at the leash, he begged to run. So we ran. One day after losing his leg, we ran together.
|Bailey in the middle of a 12mi hike near Charlottesville, VA, June 2010|
Seeing him then, I thought there was no way he’d ever look normal again. His entire back right hindquarter was shaved bald and where his leg used to be, it looked like a drunk person had stapled his gaping skin back together. For months after the surgery, people stopped…stared….asked questions…pointed. I thought, well, I’d stuck through it with this little guy, but there was no way he’d be the outdoor buddy I’d originally wanted him to be.
Oh how wrong I was! Bailey has since gone hiking, running, and swimming to his heart’s content. I figure if I can somehow teach him to ride a bike, we can do triathlons together! 😉
Fast forward nearly two and a half years later……This past Sunday (June 26, 2011), what was supposed to be a hey-lets-just-check-out-this-trail trip at Alum Creek State Park in Delaware, OH turned into a Bailey-lead 6 mile single track all terrain run and swim. Bailey is not content to idly walk through the forest – he wants to RUN!!! 🙂 To see this three legged Cocker Spaniel pulling as hard as he can at the leash, running as fast as he can over hilly trails, with what looks like an actual smile on his face, I am INSPIRED by the purity of his zest for life. He is in the moment; he is happy; he is active and alive, and he has no concept of feeling sorry for himself.
Keeping Bailey is a decision I constantly reflect on because of the impact he made on my life… and because the decision went against the advice of nearly everyone I consulted. When everybody said “Get rid of him. You don’t have time for him. You have too much stress in your life already” (perfectly reasonable advice), my heart told me something else. My best decisions in life have been made this way: following my heart. For the heart is where God speaks to me, inspires me, fills my “gut” with the strength to do difficult things. I know the heart is where God reaches me, and I know God can reach us in creative ways…yes, even through our pets. I am thankful for that since Bailey teaches me to appreciate the little things in life. He teaches me patience. He makes me smile when I don’t feel like smiling, or run when I don’t feel like running. He can be the perfect cuddle buddy on the couch, or, once outdoors, the adventure animal he was born to be running alongside me while I mountain bike, leading me on a trail run, jumping into lakes to chase ducks, or even attempting to play soccer from time to time by running after the ball and pouncing on top of it. He shows me that unexpected set backs can’t keep you from pursuing what you love.
Bailey inspires me. What inspires you? Is there something in your life you’re ignoring as inspiration because it doesn’t fit within the preconceived box of motivational stories you think it should? or are you feeling sorry for yourself about something instead of being motivated by it to persevere beyond it or change it? I encourage you not to be limited. I encourage you to keep your three-legged dog 😉