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  On Saving Petey
Read about the rescue of Petey,
the Rat Terrier


On this page we are please to share a true story about the rescue of a Rat Terrier who came to be known as Petey. We feel this story provides some insight into the kind of open-hearted compassion commonly extended to the "animal" world by the people who perform these selfless, yet often thankless acts of mercy.
Please enjoy!

By Laura Hartley

Animal rescue is heartbreaking work, but it offers a chance to make a profound difference in an animal's life and, perhaps in some minute way, the world. People say to us, "But why try? There are so many?" Yes, it's like trying to save a single drop of rain from hitting the ground in a storm. "But what about that ONE we save?" we reply. "It makes all the difference in the world to THAT animal."

Besides, there is little more gratifying than helping a creature who simply, by force of circumstance and lack of thumbs, cannot help himself. Sadly, we are often afforded this opportunity, for we live in the country. You see, this is where neglectful and cruel humans, who know better, dump off their unwanted pets, on a daily basis. This is why we have nine dogs and 15 cats. This is why we don't take vacations. This is why we have six litter boxes just for our cats, and five acres, just for our dogs. This is why we live in the country. This is why, even as I type this story, there is barking and meowing, and there are at least two small dogs in this chair with me trying to move my fingers from this keyboard, to their fur, and one cat, purring beside me, on the stool I had to place here for the overflow.

So, driving down our country road last night, in pouring rain, and at nearly freezing temps, our headlights caught two enormous ears, apparently attached to a skinny, pale body. It's no surprise, really; we've come to expect it. In the year we've lived in Oklahoma, we've already rescued and placed seven dogs and one cat

As we always do, we stopped, for what caring human would not? (Most, actually.) We got out, and called the animal, still uncertain of its species. Then, through thunder, we began to hear ferocious, high pitched barking and growling, as our eyes adjusted to the pitiful sight of a short, bedraggled dog, hobbling away, with great difficulty, but fast. Terror enables that. He landed at a roadside pipe, and hid in it. We knew his gender by now, of course, because, as usual, he was not neutered, and would, one day, if he lasted, perpetuate this cycle at his first opportunity, by primordial design, by mating. All the more essential to catch him, we think.

But this would be a difficult catch. Some animals, desperate for attention, for human contact, come right to you, a little wary. Others hide a moment, then shimmy over, when coaxed, their tails tucked, looking like GI's, slithering under wire. Some won't come for anything, but then run after the truck, barking wildly, as soon as it begins to move. For those, we generally simply open the door, and they're IN. Some cannot move, because they have already been hit by a car or were formerly beaten. Those, we usually have to euthanize. Sometimes, there are two dogs; one, who has been hit, and the other, who fails to leave its side. Some, especially if not dumped for long, run right to you, jump happily onto your lap, and decide they've rescued YOU for life, and that's that, end of story.

But not HE.

Thrice, we tried to grab him, and thrice he dragged us through muddy ditches and fields, uncertain of our intentions and terrified. I returned home for dog food and laid it temptingly out near where he'd been, but still, he would not come. Soaking wet, all of us were growing tired; Jake, the stray, and I.

"OK," we finally decide, "He's small. There's always the feral cat trap." So Jake stays, while I drive a block or two home to collect it. I wrench it from under some boxes in the garage, and grab the ultimate trapping tool: succulent, stinking, canned dog food. Thrice, again, we set up the trap and left, and thrice again, returning, we see the little mutt has knocked the trap on its side, and scratches at it at the back, from OUTSIDE the trap.

The fourth time, I decide to attempt to lead the dog into the trap, instead of to the outside of it where he smells the food. Instead of putting the prized chow in the back of the trap, I open a couple more cans, and dribble the wet mess throughout the cage, leaving a massive clump at the rear. This is a smart dog, but he is, after all, starving. His ribs show clearly in the headlights.

By now, it's 2 AM, and Jake works tomorrow, but we're determined as ever. We've put way too much into this effort to turn away now. We are fully vested and in love with the idea of what this dog will become. The week will be cold and miserably damp, and we cannot bear the thought that this innocent creature should suffer in it, possibly getting sick and dying. So, off we drive, to return moments later.

AHA! As we approach, our headlights catch the sight of a furious and wiggling animal INSIDE the trap, door firmly snapped shut. Thank you, God!

I admit, I can be a sissy. I ask Jake to go out and retrieve it. You never now what you're going to find. As he gets out, wrangles the wildly swinging cage from the brush, and ambles my way, the frantic barking begins to cease, and the truck lights shine on a pathetic sight. The small, captured terrier is nearly completely hairless, and is covered in scabs. He is a pink mess with ears. I immediately sob, once again taken by the abject cruelty and neglect of humans towards animals, again and again. Someone who could not handle or treat this dog dumped him out here on the side of a busy country road.

Jake placed the cage quickly into the truck bed, and we rushed less than a mile home. During these moments, the dog has calmed, or given up, so that when we reach the garage, and take him inside, he is relatively still. Jake warns me to touch carefully, but I can sense this fellow will not bite me. I catch the faintest look of relief in his tiny, dark eyes; somehow, they are sparkling gems of onyx on a smooth, near hairless face.

I carefully open his cage, and coax him out into a garage towel Jake has stored for work on the 1957 JEEP. I cannot believe what I see. This is either the worst case of mange imaginable, or this pup has a terrible flea allergy. And this is no ordinary cross breed. It is obvious to anyone who knows dogs at all, this is a purebred Rat Terrier. And a well formed one, as well.

We immediately assess the dog, as we always do: Flea covered? Check. Tick infested? Not yet, thankfully, too early in the season. In tact? We already know that one; check. Filthy? Check. Boney? Check. Ear mites? Check. Ribs show, but belly round? Check, worms. Nail length? Oh my God! His nails appear never to have been trimmed. No one wonder the little bandit could hardly run from us.

The list went on from there. He had all the signs of perfect neglect. Worse, as we tried to walk him to the bathroom for his first bath, possibly EVER, he could neither walk properly on grass, on cement, on tile, on carpet, nor on a leash. And this wasn't just his nail length inhibiting him. Once we trimmed those right away, he still could not navigate like a dog. He had possibly lived in a cage, as many puppy mill stud males do, and had never really walked.

Prior to bathing him, as we always do, we brought him food and water and his inability to drink water from a bowl cemented our suspicions. Clearly, this dog had been caged, unable to walk or run, and forced to drink fluids from bottle by a plastic spigot, like a hamster.

I was so busy with his rescue, I could not get photos of this dog during his actual rescue. Also, he stayed so far from me in dim light, pictures would have been nearly impossible to take at that time. Then, there was the rain. And lightning. However, as I often do, I shot some photos of "Poor Pitiful Pete" at bath time, anticipating comparing them to the "after" shots I might be taking weeks later, after his rehabilitation. You see, for every rescue, there is the tactic understanding there will be a time when things are better. In the face of each saved animal lies the hint of what he will become. But only some people have this vision, for many are born nearly blind, or lose this sight over time. The camera, however, always sees it.

We took these photos of Petey before his bath. Observe the long nails in dim light. The flash frightened him so badly, likely due to its resemblance to lightning, I could not use it near him. We trimmed his nails, carefully handling him, speaking quietly and sweetly to him to aid in his acceptance of us. Still, the trimming was alien to him, and he yowled hideously. We would have our vet trim them better later.

Next, we made sure his skin could handle the bath we had ready, and put him in. We soaked him in anti-bacterial shampoo, then, in oatmeal shampoo, then gently dried him, and coated him with a moisturizing spray. Then, we dried him again. Until we knew the cause of his hair loss and his sores, we could not risk infecting our other animals with whatever he might have had, so he spent the night in a kennel in our bathroom, exhausted, fed, and warm. He slept, well, like a dog.

And in the time since, he has made remarkable progress. He is of a smart breed, and is a determined young lad. Today, he had his second car ride, perched in my arms, to the vet. They're great, and give us a ten percent "rescue discount," and yet, still, we're fairly sure we?re putting their kids through college! Three different skin scrapings revealed his skin condition is, Oh Heavenly Day, from an intense allergy, either to fleas, of to food, or to both, likely exacerbated by his unclean kennel condition while imprisoned at the puppy mill. These dogs are often left soaking in urine from the cages above them.

But without the diagnosis of mange, Petey can now interact with the general population, once home. We call them "the herd." And he has been greeted rather warmly by his fellow rescues so far, though as he is as yet unneutered, he does have a tendency to attempt to mount the cats and smaller dogs. He is being taught by his peers in no uncertain terms, however, that they consider this brash and crude behavior impolite, even for a guest, and he is learning to improvise. No sofa pillow, for instance is yet safe.

Happily, this coming week, Petey gets neutered and receives all of his shots at the wonderful low-cost spay and neuter S.P.O.T. clinic we have here in Oklahoma City, where they know us well by now. Meantime, Petey is on antibiotics, and I'm giving him soothing baths. He has begun walking better, especially with his paw nails shortened, and he is managing to get more water from his bowl to his mouth, instead of into his nasal passages. He is now greedily accepting excellent puppy chow, rich in Omega acids, for, believe it or not, this little guy is not yet one year old. He has learned what dog cookies and treats are, in only one day!

As we continue to rehabilitate him, we hold great hopes for him, especially since he is so young. We would absolutely love to keep him, but because we have so many dogs, and so many strays appear, keeping fleas off of him is not ideal here. He will also require plenty of one-on-one attention. So, we contacted the Ratbone Rat Terrier Rescue group, and Caroline Wood will come down in May and fly him to Florida, for further rehab and socialization. Then, he will be placed in a loving home.

Tonight, we are reveling in the joy of another successful rescue. As I type precariously around this charming Rat Terrier puppy, I know that we saved his life. As he looks up at me, a bit hesitatingly, now and then, I know he knows it, too. We lost sleep, and we got dirty, and we paid good money for his treatment at the Vet today that could've easily been spent on trinkets and gas and meals out -- lots of meals out, actually. But do those things really matter, ultimately? Heck no. We do animal rescue. It's our gig.

At the end of my life, I will be able to say, no matter the hedonistic days of my youth, all the mistakes I've made, and the greedy and self-indulgent behavior I have exhibited along the way: THIS, I did. This, WE did.

For now, Petey has moved from his kennel to our bed for naps and will likely cuddly up there with us tonight. He's a little scabby, but which of us is not without our flaws? I see in him greatness, determination, and a will to live. He is worth the fight; he is worth the struggle. Someone who could not see through his flaws and medical condition the way we did, threw him away. Probably because of our efforts, Petey is now okay. Likely, through his own efforts, Petey survived. But what lies at the bottom of the sink when all the water has drained at the end of the day is this simple truth, which belies any hassles and inconveniences along the way: Petey will grow up and older. Petey will adapt. Petey LIVES.


Click here to view pictures of Petey at various stages during his rescue


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