Rescue Me
The agonies and ecstasies of adoption
By Rhonda Reeves

It's not the large things that send a man to the madhouse. Death he's ready for, or robbery, fire, floodno, it's the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse. Not the death of his love, but a shoelace that snaps with no time leftThe dread of life is that swarm of trivialities-license plates or taxes or expired driver's licenseWith each broken shoelace out of one hundred broken shoelaces, one man, one woman, one thing enters a madhouse. So be careful when you bend over.

-Charles Bukowski, "The Shoelace"

I sat down Monday to write my big dog's obituary.

I don't know if she'll still be with me when you read this.

About two weeks ago, Martha started tripping over her feet. I diagnosed this as hip dysplasia; called the vet to let him know to prep his staff for a visit (it's a monumental undertaking); and treated her with glucosamine and chondroitin.

That went OK until last Friday, when she went from routine clumsiness, to losing all mobility in her back legs. By Saturday, she was paralyzed from the neck down.

I've never seen an animal go downhill this fast and recover, so I know what's probably coming next.

I support euthanization for animals under the same circumstances I support it for people: if you are suffering unbearably; if you have no quality of life left; and if you want to check out with a little bit of dignity and painlessness.

I'm not a big fan of life support if I think it involves prolonging torture.

The agony is defining where that line is.

Saturday, I thought I knew.

Today, she can almost make it to her feet, and I'm not so sure.

She's still eating. Still happy to see me when I walk in the door. Her face is as animated as ever. Unless you saw her try to get up, you wouldn't even know she's sick.

And yesterday, she went from total paralysis, to taking a couple steps.

We have the best vet in town, but his office and his neighborhood is without power, so I've been pretty much flying blind on this.

I've been hoping she could hold on for a warmer day to give her at least an hour or two of comfort-since she despises the cold-but given that the forecast has been wrong seven out of the last seven days, I'm not counting on it.

It's 28 degrees in my house right now. We haven't had power since the weekend.

I have a hot water heating system, and if the boiler doesn't come back on any minute (and I have no reason to think it will), the pipes will probably burst inside the walls.

I'm very lucky to have the friends I do-it isn't everyone who'll invite you, and 300 pounds of dogs-into their home.

But Martha can't walk; I can't carry her (found that out the hard way); and even on her deathbed, I'm fairly sure she still takes her job seriously as guard dog. So since she still has full mobility in her jaws, I don't want to risk somebody else carrying her. And since she isn't fond of strangers under the best of circumstances, I don't want to make things rougher on her than they already are.

We don't have much choice but to stay where we are and ride out the storm. Or the storm's aftermath. Now into our fourth day. For all I know, she may die from hypothermia while I'm 15 miles from home looking for a drugstore that has candles.

The neighbors have made us dinner every night. A couple of good Samaritans in an Expedition stopped and cleared the limbs off both my car and truck, and scraped off all the ice.

If it weren't for these random kindnesses (and dozens other like them), I'd be strapped to the table, asking the vet for a spare needle for me.

Right now, we're just waiting.

Gimme Shelter. Now.

Them's mean streets when you're a wiener dog in a cardigan.

-Norm MacDonald

Martha is a rescue dog who came to me from the Mastiff Club of America.

I don't know much about her history, other than that she was roughing it on the mean streets of Detroit when she was found.

She'd been beaten and starved.

Mastiffs are, generally speaking, about as sweet and docile as your average beagle, so it's hard to imagine what kind of monster would abuse one.

Unfortunately, because they're big, and scary-looking, they have a lot of fans in the drug trade looking for guard dogs.

They're also expensive (champion lines run into the thousands), which means they enjoy a certain popularity among rednecks who think of them as a get-rich quick scam.

I was only on the rescue registry for about a month (usually it takes up to a year) before Martha was matched with me.

I'd already passed my "placement" interview. Investigators had visited from Cincinnati to satisfy themselves (I guess) that I was not a drug lord.

They called to ask how I'd feel about a "dominant bitch" and I said I thought she'd fit right in.

She instantly made herself at home by trying to kill Travis (my other dog), and we all spent the first week camping out on the deck.

I slept uneasily between the two of them, idly hoping neither of them would decide to rip out my carotid artery in the middle of the night.

So yeah, we had some growing pains. But they all got worked out.

Animal Farm

When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.

-Ed Abbey

I've been involved in large and small animal rescue for years, and served on the Board of Directors of Home at Last Animal Sanctuary (a no-kill Sanctuary, which is a very distinct thing from a shelter, located about 20 minutes from here).

I'm an animal welfare advocate, and not an activist.

I'm not a member of PETA; I don't oppose ALL animal testing (just most of it).

I'm not a vegetarian.

I don't throw blood (real or fake) on people who wear fur (unless maybe they were especially sartorially challenged).

I'm an animal lover, but not a fanatic.

I don't dress my dogs up or anything. (OK, when William Wegman does it, it's art. But when other people do it, it's usually ridiculous.)

I'm also not a collector (well-meaning individuals who take in packs of animals that they can't afford to feed or provide for). Though I can easily see how it happens.

I'm holding at two, but it's easy to see how folks end up with half a dozen.

I try to pay attention to my limitations.

I learned the hard way, and my first rescue was an absolute disaster.

Quentin was a labrador puppy I saved from the pound.

She came with Parvo.

Most likely, she had been innoculated, and it didn't take. She was probably infected (and incubating) before she got there.

At the time, I had a careless veterinarian (who's no longer practicing), who didn't catch the diagnosis.

And as she deteriorated over one weekend, I was forced to take her to a 24-hour emergency service-where they promptly prescribed $3000 worth of surgery.

It wasn't extortion, but I think the language was something along the lines of, "well, you can put this on your credit card, or we can kill your puppy."

I paid them. She had the surgery.

And died about two days later.

Right after I wrecked my car taking her to the vet.

A few years later, I was making more money. I had a house near a park. I found a great vet. And it all started to feel like home when Travis and Martha moved in.

Travis was a puppy when I got him, and there's something to be said for raising your own dog (and taking all the blame for the terrible manners they grow up to have).

Martha arrived full-grown, dejected, and battered. And there's a lot to be said for snatching a dog from the jaws of death.

One good dog

Life is pain, Highness.

-The Princess Bride

My childhood St. Bernard lived into her teens, which is unheard of. I can't even remember all the indignities we put that poor dog through as kids, including, but not limited to, jumping off the porch and onto her back, based on an ill-advised idea my brother and I had gotten from Gunsmoke.

Eventually, she got cancer. And I nursed her through three surgeries. I was 14.

I took my sleeping bag out to the garage and set up camp with her.

When she stopped eating, I went into the kitchen and made the most ridiculous concoctions I could think of to tempt her appetite.

She finally settled on a steady diet of raw eggs and baloney sandwiches. (I wasn't much of a culinary master in those days, but I'm not sure it would've mattered.)

I'd spoon feed that to her three times a day.

Six times a day I'd clean her stitches with gauze and hydrogen peroxide, and then spray her neck and face with this foul iodine solution that came in a bright yellow can.

By the time I was done with her, Cujo would've been a more attractive dog.

When the time came, we called the vet and forced him into a house call (which was a farm-call), because she was terrified of cars (maybe because we'd accidentally backed over her with the family station wagon in her younger days).

I realize we don't really sound like a family of animal lovers, but I swear, our intentions are good even when our execution is sometimes inept.

Dixie died with her head in my lap, my head buried in her fur. She's buried at the top of a hill that overlooks my hometown.

My grandfather Bert told my Dad "you'll only ever have one good dog."

For him, it was a hound named Split.

For my dad, it was the last mastiff he had.

We're not exactly sure how he died, but he was bitten by a snake, and never really seemed to recover. Still, he went fast.

He was lying under his favorite tree, and my Dad knew something was wrong when he didn't get up to greet him.

Then he yelped, which isn't something you usually hear from a mastiff.

In the amount of time it took my dad to race inside and get the cordless phone to call the vet, and come back outside, the dog was dead.

My dad said from that point on, he'd never have anything with a pulse anywhere on the place, ever again.

I think that's crazy, and I've told him so.

I also think my grandfather's wrong about one good dog.

I've had several.

Right now I have two.

I may have others some day.

I don't know.

I will say that I don't think I'll ever have another dog who loves me the way Martha does.

She had a terrible life before she came to live with me, and she's spent every second of the time since expressing her undying gratitude (you should see the pile of wildlife skeletons at our back doorall tokens of her esteem).

If she could take a bullet for me, she would.

When she goes, and God knows I hope it's later and not sooner, I hope it'll be peaceful. And painless. With her head in my lap.

And after she goes, she'll be going home to my family farm, where my dad and my uncles will give her a proper burial.

I won't be there to see her go in the ground. Not if it's tomorrow. Not if it's next year.

I'm not that tough, and there are things I just can't do. Not for man or beast.

But I know it'll be someplace beautiful. On a hillside. With lots of rabbits and squirrels and deer.

And it'll be a long, long way from the mean streets of Detroit where she started out.

l Our Money Where
Our Mouth Is

We don't expect to solve the problems of animal overpopulation overnight, but as a locally-owned community newspaper, we're doing what we can: one puppy at a time.

Ace hosts the Bluegrass Bachelor Charity Auction every year as a benefit for Woodstock Animal Foundation.

All fundraising hosted by Ace is designed to benefit SMALL, grassroots charities.

We've discovered that in concentrating our charitable efforts on animal rescue, welfare, and adoption, we can make a real difference and impact.

A few thousand dollars here and there won't cure cancer, but it will buy a LOT of dog food, and blankets, and bedding, and an occasional chew toy.

Every week, in the Ace List, we also donate space to the Pet Pick.

All non-profit organizations that facilitate animal adoptions may submit descriptions and photos of adoptable animals for this space, at no charge, to

We also encourage our readers to participate more actively in these charitable efforts by donating their time, as well as their money. Each week, the Ace List also features a Call to Volunteers, available to all area non-profits, at no charge.

And finally, the Lost and Found section of our weekly Classifieds section is available at no charge to those who have lost or found pets. Email


Although I grew up in a house where we researched our family pets, and then purchased them through reputable breeders, I have an adoption-only policy at my house now.

Through years of animal rescue, I can personally recommend Home at Last Animal Sanctuary. The drive out there is beautiful, and you'll meet so many amazing animals there (many with wrenching stories) that you'll be tempted to bring home a car-load.

You can learn more about them at http//

I also know the folks at the Anderson County shelter put in long, long hours to avoid euthanization at all costs. They are extremely, aggressively pro-adoption and rescue, and again, the drive out there is nice.

If you have your heart set on a purebred, please consider adoption. Nearly every AKC registered breed has a rescue program. Go to the AKC site; select a breed; and then look to the left menu bar for rescue.

If you wanted to adopt a mastiff, for example, visit Click on rescue. You'll probably work with Gloria, or Norm and Ginny. Tell them I sent you.