The Shelter Pet Project -a collaboration between The Ad Council, Maddie’s Fund, and The Humane Society of the United States -has designated today “Celebrate Shelter Pets Day”on Facebook, encouraging its more than 21,000 (and counting!) fans to share stories of a shelter dog who changed their lives. The goal is to debunk the myththat shelter dogs are in some way “defective” – because they most certainly are not.
On behalf of all the shelter dogs I’ve loved in my life, I’d like to ask readers of this column to please go and “Like” The Shelter Pet Project on Facebook.
And I’d like to tell you about my dog Sam.
He was the second pit bull I ever adopted, and he entered my life in 1996, after I read a newspaper article describing the terrible overcrowding at New York City’s municipal animal shelter, Animal Care & Control. My then husband and I went to the shelter, where cages of sweet pit bulls were stacked two high. In one of the upper cages was a large, black pit with a white mark on his chest resembling the Batman symbol. This dog gently reached his paw out to me through the bars of his cage, and took my heart with him.
He came home with us that day, and would prove to be one of the greatest blessings of our lives. Because of the mark on his chest,we debated calling him Bruce or Wayne, but Sam was the name that stuck. This extraordinary dog would express joy by flipping over on his back and doing a Snoopy dance wherever he happened to be, whether in the apartment or out on the sidewalk. And when he needed your attention, he’d do that adorable thing with his paw.
He was full of joy, as affectionate as they come, and ridiculously intuitive. One night, while myex was out working (or whatever he was doing) late, I turned in but couldn’t get to sleep because the heat had cut out and the apartment was quite frosty. So I asked Sam to come to bed and keep me warm. He jumped into bed, spooned me, and nibbled gently at my ear, which instantly warmed me up because the earlobe is an acupressure point! I don’t know how Sam knew, but I do know this: With a dog that sensitive, who needs a husband?
Sam endeared himself to all who met him. About a week after we adopted him, we were out for a nighttime romp in the park when a man emerged from the shadows and unleashed his dog, who promptly attacked Sam, grabbing his head in a jawlock and refusing to let go. When the dog was finally pried off, Sam’s ear was almost severed and his poor head was bloody with deep puncture wounds.
He spent a week in the animal hospital’s ICU, followed by intensive home care. Vet techs marveled at how stoically Sam endured hydrotherapy and other painful convalescent maneuvers. At home, where we did low-tech hydrotherapy with our humble hand-shower attachment, he would lick us, as if thanking us for helping him heal.
He came through all that just fine, with just a few scars to remind us of what he’d survived. Survival was Sam’s greatest skill. He triumphed over root canal, emerging from the procedure with a flashy gold crown on his eye tooth that made him look like an extra in a James Bond flick. Later, Sam was diagnosed with cancer – but after several surgeries to remove mast cell tumors, plus a rigorous course of chemotherapy, he went into remission. Or so we thought: When the cancer returned, Sam became a poster dog for an alternative form of chemo, the plant medicine Neoplasene. This medication kept him in full remission until his last day of life.
No sooner had Sam conquered cancer than his legs collapsed fromcrippling osteoarthritis. The injustice of this motivated me to research a way to help him – and that’s how I learned about stem cell therapy. Under anesthesia, fat was surgically removed from my dog, then FedEx’d on ice to Vet-Stem, veterinary stem cell pioneers in San Diego. Vials of his own stem cells were FedEx’d back to New York City two days later, ready to be reinjected into his ailing joints. Three hours after the injections were administered, Sam began to show dramatic improvement. Not only was he walking with his old confidence; he even lifted his hind leg to pee, which he hadn’t had the strength to do in over a year!
This time, Sam didn’t just survive, he thrived. Like a K9 Benjamin Button, my 14-year-olddog began aging backwards. He resumed his puppyish behaviors, flipping over on his back and doing the Snoopy dance we hadn’t seen in years. He flirted aerobically with much younger female dogs. Life was good.
Because Sam was so special, and so showered with blessings, I commissioned a special portrait(see photo, above) toremember him by: a life-size bronze bust by the Philadelphia sculptor Jennifer Weinik. Sam sat patiently forJennifer (actually, artist and model had quite the love affair) and the result is a monument that -likethe dog it’s modeled on -is built to survive.
Sam died in March at age 17,and it’s still hard for me to believe he’s gone. It’s sad, but here’s something much sadder: There are literally millions of sweethearts just like him at animal shelters across this country who aren’t getting the chance at love they deserve. They may be behindbars, but remember – they are innocent! Please go to your local shelter and adopt one of them. I promise you’ll never regret your decision.