I Had a Feeling That Someone Was Waiting for Me
By April Horowitz
(The Heart of a Horse Story, part 17)
I was very busy with the work of rescue. On the one hand I spent a lot of time out in the field attending to our horses, and investigating new cases. On the other I had to manage our office, where I paid one person an hourly wage to keep our records, answer inquiries and send out literature. In addition to our website I created a Facebook page where I reported the many activities we were engaged in, and appealed to our growing Heart of a Horse community to lend a helping hand in our efforts. I received calls for help and wishes of support from as far away as Japan and across the United States, and I was ever conscious of the gap between what I was able to do and what I felt I had to do.
In a short time our community had grown to nearly five thousand people, all interested in horse welfare. This community proved to be a potent asset in our efforts to help horses in need. An example of just how effective this asset could be was provided when a woman named Sheila Edes put a comment on the Heart of a Horse Facebook page about five animals that she had seen in a state of near starvation in Portersville. She had notified the local authorities about the situation, but they were dragging their feet and meanwhile the horses were without food. I posted the picture she sent me of one of the horses with its ribs sticking out, along with the phone numbers of the local authorities, and visitors to the Facebook page to call. Within hours a somewhat annoyed animal control officer was on the phone from Portersville, telling me they had removed one horse from the property and were working on the others. It was gratifying to see how influential and useful our organization had become.
I also had to think about how we presented ourselves to the public and how to create images that would reach others with our message. One image was provided by a little Chihuahua with a hanging tongue, who became our official mascot, traveling with me to the barns and the shows to put a rescue face on our efforts. Her story began on Christmas.
The holidays around Christmastime can open your heart if you let them. One December I was driving back from Calabasas where I had picked up some presents, when I was overcome with the feeling that I had to stop at the dog pound in Agoura Hills, along the way. I had passed the pound many times before but had never gone in. The only way I can describe the feeling that came over me on this trip was that it was a feeling as though someone was waiting for me.
Wherever it is located, the dog pound is an indescribably sad place. At the Agoura site, there were maybe seventy dogs in the cages, some young and spirited, some old and passive, all waiting for someone to take them away, and all destined to be put down if no one showed up. The woman who greeted me in the office was friendly and solicitous, and she walked with me through the cages to look at the animals. As we entered the holding pens, she told me that this was the final stop for the dogs that animal control had picked up. They had all come from other facilities, where no one had adopted them, and if they weren’t taken this time, within a few weeks they would be gone.
When I heard this, I asked her to show me the ones who were running out of time. In the very first stall she took me to, there was a little coffee brown Chihuahua with a white bib at her throat and two white accents over her eyes. The plate on the stall said her name was “Coco,” and the lady told me they thought she was 13 years old. Coco was standing on her hind legs and pressing her body against the cage netting, wagging her tail as though we knew each other. The tip of her tongue hung from the side of her mouth giving her a goofy look and her little black eyes called to me in a way that said, “Please take me. I may be old but I’m a very good girl.” I said, “Hello Coco, you’ve got a silly little tongue.”
When I picked her up there was a fearful odor coming from her mouth, which indicated that it was infected. I could see that she had some missing teeth, which explained why her tongue was sticking out. The woman told me that Coco had been found in a house in Belmont along with a pack of other dogs. The owner had died and the dogs were removed to another pound where they were held for several months. No one had taken Coco and so she was shipped to Agoura. The lady also told me that Coco had been used for breeding Chihuahua puppies. It was obvious why. Her markings were beautiful and her expression adorable, and had that spirit that made her stand up on her hind legs and try to catch my attention.
It was also clear from the state of her teeth that no one had looked after Coco’s health, and that her fearsome odor, in addition to her age, probably kept people from choosing her. Her beautiful coat had also been marred by two very large teeth marks on her rump, probably the result of a bigger dog attacking her. The fur that had overgrown them was gray rather than brown and looked like splotches on her otherwise sable-like coat. And perhaps it was also her goofy tongue drag, which spoiled the image that some dog owners were looking for.
When I looked at her, it was her indomitable spirit that spoke to me. She had run to the front of her cage the moment she saw us as if to say, “Hey me, adopt me. I have lots of love for you and if you look at me with kinder eyes you’ll see how cute I am.”
Out of courtesy, because I already knew what I was going to do, I asked the woman to show me the rest of the dogs, who were in the exercise yard out in the back. It was tough looking at all of them, knowing their fate, but I hoped that some would be saved. I could not imagine how the volunteers and workers in the shelter were able to come in day in and day out and be with the dogs who didn’t make it, and see them come and go. It was just too heartbreaking.
When I had taken the tour of the back yard, I went back to the stall where the little brown Chihuahua was. When her cage was opened I picked her up, and gave her a kiss, and said “Boy, Coco, your mouth smells really bad.” I put my fingers on either side of her jaw and opened and pressed them apart so I could see her mouth, and said, “Oh my God, your teeth are discolored and infected. That must really hurt. I am going to take you to the vet right away.” Then I said, “Coco, you might not be a horse but you have a heart as big as one. Would you like to come to live with me and my animals?”
On the way home, I called Kevin and discussed Coco’s condition with him. He told me to take her right away to Dr. Lori, our small animal vet in Ventura, which I did. After examining Coco, Dr. Lori said she had the worst mouth infection she had ever seen. There was a hole in her nasal cavity, her jawbone was eaten away and her teeth were so infected that if she didn’t have immediate surgery to remove them the infection would kill her. “I can’t imagine the pain this dog has been in,” she said. I told her, “Do anything it takes to save her.”
The operation took four hours. Coco’s teeth were so rotten they crumbled when Dr. Lori began to remove them. Eventually, she had to take out all but two and sew up the hole in Coco’s nasal cavity. Afterwards Dr. Lori told me that if I had brought her in a little later it would have been too late to save her. But she was going to be just fine. I was so relieved I just picked Coco up and kissed her all over. Then I said to her, “Coco, I’m your new mommy, and you are our new Heart of a Horse mascot, and now I’m going to take you home.”
(To be continued)