I guess it would depend on how you look at things whether Queen’s story can be considered to be a rescue success or a failure. To really understand how far she came you have to understand where she came from. I know that many of you out there in rescue have done some work with puppy mill dogs either through direct rescue or through fostering and can understand how difficult they can be. But Queen was the worst case I have ever worked with.
Queen came to me shortly after her 10th birthday one of a group of 15-16 basenji’s rescued from a mill seizure in NE. She was the oldest lady of the group and therefore had been in hell far longer than any of the others. She had been so over bred that the skin on her belly was so over stretched it felt like very thin tissue paper. You know, the way the skin on the arms of very elderly ladies feel.
The NE group went to a vet in Topeka, KS to be vetted and during all of the routine care and the spaying and neutering we had glucose strips done on all and Queen was the only one who failed and was diagnosed with Fanconi after having her blood gases done. With her advanced age and the diagnosis of Fanconi and her absolute terror of people Queen was considered unadoptable so she came home with me as what we knew would be a permanent foster situation for her to live out the rest of her life in relative peace.
I took her home with me and settled her into a crate to start working with her and teach her what life in a home should be. I went into the situation with Queen armed with about 16-17 years of rescue work and also having two months prior having brought one dog out of a group of 100+ dogs from a hoarder. This dog too was completely under socialized but he was young and came around pretty quickly. My past successes left me completely unprepared for life with Queen.
After settling Queen into her crate I set about trying to teach her all of those things that we take for granted in most of our daily lives. She was terrified of everything, and I do mean everything. Just trying to take her outside to potty was a nightmare. I had to literally drag her out of her crate. She, of course, knew nothing of being walked on a leash and was completely sure I was trying to kill her. Because of her fear I had to use a 1” nylon choke to be able to make sure she could not back out of it.
Every noise in the house made her jump and cringe in fear. After several days of dragging her out of her crate and feeling like I was torturing her I began to wonder if it would not have been kinder to have had her euthanized but I soldiered on with her. However I decided to put a baby gate across my laundry room and put papers down on the tile floor and just clean up behind her until she got more used to me. I also put down a couple of the fake lambs wool kennel pads for her to lay on which she did gratefully but every time I would go to the door to check on her she would bury her head in them in such a way that I knew that she was sure that if she couldn’t see me then of course I couldn’t see her. That didn’t work because after 36 hours she still hadn’t pottied on the papers so I was left with no choice but to put her back on the leash and take her outside. Remember now, she was diagnosed with Fanconi, so I really didn’t understand how she could hold it for such a long time. When diagnosed she was put on the very minimum for the protocol.
I went on for weeks doing my best to get her comfortable with having me around with absolutely no success until I decided to see how she would do with one of my boys in the kennel. Queen, if not completely happy, was or appeared to be content. She went on and did start getting a little braver. When I went to feed her, she would hide in the beginning. In order to do anything such as trimming her nails or for vet appointments, it would take two of us to catch her because we had to trap her. She was like a little wild thing. We went on this way for a couple of years and with me trying, always trying, to get closer to her. As time progressed she started coming out of hiding when I went in.
A little later she did start coming closer to me as I fed her. Then after about two years came a day when she got close enough that I could reach out to her, but she jumped away. The next day the same thing happened. We went through this pattern for many more days until finally she let me touch the top of her head and give her scritches between her ears. Oh, how happy I was that day! After that she seemed to progress a little more quickly and didn’t run away from us anymore, but it took until she was 13 to get this far. Soon after Queen reached this point, her kennel mate became ill and we lost him to congestive heart failure, and that was a very hard time for Queen. None of my other boys would accept Queen so I ended up bringing her back into the house and even though she was easier with us we still had to trap her to bring her into the house because any strange moves would make her run from us.
Once I got her in, I settled her into a crate in the living room and proceeded to treat her as if she had just come to me. I walked her on a leash even though it scared her, but it really didn’t take long at all to get her used to it this time. I also put baby gates up so that she could be turned loose in the house under constant supervision. Once she was turned loose in the living room she would sneak around behind us and over to the side so that she could sneak peeks at us to see what we were doing and where we were going.
After a few weeks of this she started getting closer and closer and would sometimes pace a circle around and between the coffee table and the sofa. By this time Queen had been with me for around three years. There then came a day when during one of her circles she stopped right in front of me and looked up as if she was saying, “Well are you gonna scritch me or what?” I dropped my hand onto the top of her head and started scratching, and we never looked back.
To make a long story shorter I will just say that from that point on she became a completely different dog and firmly settled her self into the heart and soul of family life. There have been challenges during the last 3 years between her and my girl Scat, but she did wholeheartedly place herself as Queen of the house. Once she discovered how comfortable life as a member in the house could be, there was no looking back for her. I also want to say that I would have thought it would be hard to house break her since she was over 13, but it was never a problem so I guess you really can teach old dogs new tricks.
As I write this I am looking at the end of Queen’s story and it is so very hard. She has lived the good life for the last three years. About a year and a half ago Queen started having issues where we could see there was some weakness in her back legs when she walked, and after a vet appointment and x-rays we could see damage and arthritis in her back which presented itself with neurological effects. At this point she was treated with prednisone and anti-inflammatory drugs. The drug therapy kept her on her feet until the last couple of weeks. I had to make a painful decision to help her cross the bridge and so she has an appointment with my vet. Because of her previous history and her fear of strange people and places, her vet will be coming here to my home on Tuesday 11/3/09 at 5:00 PM to help her cross, just short of her 16th birthday.
For such a quiet, unassuming dog, Queen has made a huge impact in my life and her loss will be far harder than I would have ever thought it would be. She will leave a giant hole in my heart, and I will also have to make room on the fire place mantel for another urn since I sincerely believe she has earned her place there.
Please keep Queen in your thoughts and prayers, that Queen’s final trip be an easy one for her. Also should an old dog need you, please keep Queen’s story in mind. Old dogs can adjust to a new life too, and they will bring you an amazing amount of joy while you are bringing comfort and care to them.
Yvonne Simms Ricroft