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How two pups overcame their rough beginnings and found forever homes.
It might be hard to believe that two of the handsome boxers in the photos above were once shelter or rescue dogs with severe cases of mange and little hope of finding their forever homes.
But Myles (left) and Merlin beat the odds, which is remarkable considering that according to the Humane Society of the United States, 6 million to 8 million pets enter shelters each year, and half of those animals are euthanized. Here are their stories.
Merlin’s path to his family began when Frank and Katie Rannou toyed with the idea of adding a third dog to their family. But plans took a back seat when Grace, their 8-year-old boxer, developed cancer and began a slow decline. Coping with the loss of a pet proved difficult for the couple. Their boxer Josie had an even tougher time adjusting to life without her constant companion. Once again, they considered adoption and contacted Atlanta Boxer Rescue (ABR) about a dog named Merlin that had been featured on the ABR website for more than a year.
“We were kind of called to Merlin,” says Katie Rannou of Smyrna, Ga. “He was 22 months old and Josie was about 7. That’s quite an age gap, so we were anxious to see how that would work.”
A rough start
The age gap paled in comparison to other challenges Merlin already had overcome. He was deaf, and when Merlin arrived at an Atlanta animal shelter, the large white puppy was malnourished and struggled with severe mange, a treatable skin condition that causes hair loss and itchy sores. Animal control called ABR after another rescue group gave up on the dog. Leg fractures led to $3,000 in veterinary bills that the nonprofit covered through donations and fund-raisers.
“There was so much stuff going on, and he was such a young dog when we got him,” says Dianne DaLee, vice president of ABR. “We didn’t know his bones were that bad. We just looked at the mange and said, ‘It’s treatable; this is a young dog that will grow up to live a happy life.’ ”
The home visit
Merlin’s foster family had taught him about a dozen hand signals for basic commands, and the Rannous were ready to give Merlin his happy ending — as long as timid Josie could handle an energetic, 75-pound male companion. His next big hurdle would be a home visit. On Feb. 11, Merlin joined his forever family.
“The best way to honor Grace’s legacy was to give another dog a wonderful home and lots of love,” Rannou notes on her blog. “There are a bunch of hidden treasures in rescues and I wish more would look at this as an option,” she said recently.
Settling in with the family
Boxers tend to be large, athletic dogs that require plenty of mental and physical stimulation to keep them out of mischief, so the Rannous take their dogs on daily, 6-mile walks. Merlin’s muscular build, square head and fine, white coat with dappled spots attract plenty of attention. People walk a wide path or approach to ask questions about the striking boxer. Regarded as loyal and protective, this popular breed also is known to interact well with children. Later this year, Merlin and Josie will help celebrate another human addition to their pack when the Rannous welcome their first child.
“While he would never take the place of Grace, it really helped heal our hearts a little bit,” Rannou says. “And he brought out such a playful side in Josie.”
Myles finds a home
Nichole Hess also chose to honor the life of her boxer, Bailey, by fostering another dog. She was all set to care for a female puppy when ABR posted photos of a male named Myles. At only four months old, his body was covered with sores caused by severe mange and Myles required daily medicated baths.
“It just broke my heart,” Hess says. “He was so sickly and so bad off and I knew he was going to need a lot of care. At that time, I couldn’t say no. I reached out and said, ‘Somebody else take this female who is healthy and will probably get adopted pretty quickly.’”
Meeting her new charge
On the day after Thanksgiving, Hess met Myles and worked on his recovery. Doubts began to creep in when she gave Myles his first medicated bath, treating wounds that spread from his muzzle to his paws. But Hess pushed those thoughts aside and focused on caring for the pup, administering pills and hand-feeding Myles until he gained strength.
“I honestly didn’t know if he was gong to make it or not,” she says. “He was on pain meds and didn’t come out of his crate for the first week.”
Healing brings a new challenge
After two months of treatment and a little coaching from George, Hess’ French bulldog, Myles finally was on the mend. Healing brought a new challenge. ABR had spread the word about Myles and adoption requests began to pour in for the boxer. Hess also had shared his story, driving people to the ABR site to raise money and awareness for rescued boxers.
“It was a double-edged sword,” she says. “I was happy that people were interested, but I had gotten attached and knew it would be hard to let him go.”
Foster mom gets second chance
Rescue groups help relieve overcrowding in animal shelters by giving pets a better chance at finding forever homes through adoption fairs, foster care and aggressive social media campaigns. Once prospective families are identified, reputable rescue organizations rely on a detailed application process to pair pets and people. Many find a love connection. Occasionally, things don’t work out and the pet returns to a rescue organization. Myles fell into the latter category.
Fortunately, Hess had fallen for the rambunctious pup and wanted to keep him. In addition to the occasional foster dog, her pack now includes George, Myles and a young boxer named Finn who was turned in to animal control shortly after having a litter of puppies.
To keep her pack occupied, Hess relies on frequent walks, obedience classes and interactive puzzle toys. “I’ve worked hard to get them on the same page,” she says. “We do a lot of team-building exercises.”
Help pets find a forever home
If your team is ready to foster a pet, Hess recommends researching local rescues and talking to other foster families about the experience. Of course, there’s always the chance that your foster will turn into a permanent resident. That’s not such a bad thing, according to Hess and Rannou.
“You can get a phenomenal dog from a rescue,” Rannou says. “We have had three phenomenal experiences. Dogs from rescues show their gratitude every day. Something in them knows you kind of saved them and they pay that back lovingly.”
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network
Caution, patience and preparation go a long way in helping a lost pup find its way home.
Q: Lately I’ve seen a lot of stray dogs wandering around my neighborhood. I’d like to help out, but don’t exactly know what to do. How do I safely approach a stray dog?
A: I don’t remember where I was going when that stray dog weaved across a busy street near my home. But I do remember turning the car around to rescue the white pup with large tan spots that looked more like stains, except for one heart-shaped patch on her side.
As cars sped past, I stood by the side of the road and waited for her to get comfortable around me. Eventually, she approached my extended hand and I was able to coax her into my car. I named the dog Honey and worked with a local rescue group called Atlanta Animal Rescue Friends (AARF) to find the sweet pooch a forever home.
Not every encounter leads to a happy ending. But with care, you can help a stray dog find its forever home.
Exercise caution: You don’t know the dog’s history, so it’s important to avoid getting bitten. (Dog bites aren’t that frequent, but they do happen — just ask a postal carrier.) That means remaining cautious as you approach the dog. If it has been roaming for a while, or lived chained outside, the dog may be overly skittish around humans.
“If it’s afraid, a dog’s first instinct is to run and the safest thing is to let it go,” says Mike Upshaw, a Georgia police officer who also trains dogs. “If the dog’s hackles are raised and its tail is up, turn around and walk away.”
He advises waiting for the dog to grow more comfortable around you, which may take some time. If you fear that the dog may be in danger of being hit by a car, place a call to your local animal control and provide a description of the dog, the area where you saw it and the location in which it was traveling.
If you have seen the dog in that area on a regular basis, try to build a relationship over time. Upshaw suggests keeping a few dog treats in your pocket so that they have your scent. Leave them in that area each time you pass it, and hopefully the dog will grow more comfortable with you. When the opportunity arises, stand a safe distance away from the dog and allow it to approach you. Extend your hand so that the dog can sniff out a greeting. If it tolerates petting, proceed with caution and move slowly.
Start the search: When I found Honey, our first stop was the neighborhood pet store, where I asked for help spreading the word about her. They kindly offered a leash so that I could safely transport her to my house. (Unlike my rambunctious dog Lulu, who hates car rides, Honey settled in and didn’t make a peep. If anything, she seemed curious about the next leg of her journey.) You should also visit your nearby animal shelter to drop off fliers featuring the dog’s photo, a general description and contact information.
Limit interaction with your pets: Until you have a better understanding of the dog’s health and temperament, it’s best to limit interaction with your pets. Honey’s first destination at my home was the tub, where she got a good long bath. Fleas dotted her white fur like pepper in a saltshaker. After the bath, we took a walk and I snapped a few photographs to post online. It took a few days before she got to meet my dog, Lulu. Upshaw says that your pets may take issue with others attempting to join their pack. During the first meeting, keep dogs leashed and limit interaction to sniffing until they become comfortable together.
“Even with dogs from the same litter, skirmishes will happen,” he warns.
Schedule a checkup: Since your new houseguest will be sticking around for a while, it’s best to schedule a checkup. Your veterinarian can provide clues about the dog’s age and breed. The vet also can check for the presence of a microchip, which could ensure a happy reunion. If your vet is closed for the day, see if a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic is willing to quickly scan the dog for a chip. Also, those chips are worthless without up-to-date information on file. Pet owners: Make sure you have submitted your most recent contact information to the chip company. Your vet can provide info on how to upload new information.
As for your stray, many vets offer discounted services. Consider getting a rabies vaccination, too. If you want to get it spayed or neutered, there are low-cost options available. Check the ASPCA website for programs that offer free or discounted programs in your area.
Once you get a clean bill of health, it is OK to gradually introduce the new animal to your pets. As I’ve shared in a previous column, kids should never be left unattended around animals, especially when you don’t know the pet’s history. Use extreme caution when allowing children to interact with the stray dog.
Start spreading the news: It can take time for strays to reunite with their owners, if it happens at all. Start building buzz about your new houseguest by posting fliers in the general vicinity of where you found your stray, as well as pet-friendly locations such as nearby dog parks, pet stores and veterinary clinics. Sites like Petfinder.com allow you to post a free classified ad that lasts 180 days announcing your found pet. If there is no response after a few weeks, you may need to secure a forever home for the dog.
Connect with a rescue group: Most county animal control facilities are packed with pets in need of homes, and they are reluctant to take in a stray. If you are willing to foster the dog for a while, a local rescue group may be the best way to help find a forever home. In a previous column, I described rescue groups as pet PR firms, focused on finding the perfect love connection between pets and people. Animal shelters happily work with rescue groups because it relieves overcrowding. In exchange, rescue groups set up adoption fairs and actively seek pet lovers to adopt.
Your stray is already at an advantage because you can provide valuable information to prospective owners about its personality, age and demeanor around other people and pets. All of these details can help this animal find a home more quickly. Under Lulu’s guidance, Honey also learned a few tricks such as how to pour on the charm during rescue fairs. The photo of Honey that I took after her first bath was the one that sealed the deal for her future owner.
Thanks to that white dog with a heart-shaped patch on her side, I now travel everywhere with a leash, bottled water and a few dog treats in my car … just in case life gets in the way. I encourage you to do the same. The next leg of your journey will never be the same. All the best.
— Morieka Johnson
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network.