She had all but given up hope. Severely emaciated, infected with mange, and covered in sores, the dying street dog began staggering down the side of the road. Perhaps in one final attempt to find food, she had rallied every last bit of energy to crawl out of hiding and into the sunlight. Call it luck, chance, or destiny, it was at that very moment that everything changed for the desperate canine – she had been seen.
“My girlfriend Julie and I were leaving my house to go shopping and were driving down our block when we both saw the dog at the same time,” says Caron Comas, a longtime animal lover and devoted dog mom. “We hit the brakes, looked at each other, and said, ‘Is that a dog?’ The sight of her was just enough to make you fall apart.”
But when the women got out of the car and tried to lure to dog toward them, the frightened canine simply turned and ran the other way, quickly escaping under an abandoned house across the street from Caron’s home.
Shopping plans quickly forgotten, Caron ran back to her house to get something for the dog to eat and drink while Julie stood guard by the opening into which the sickly canine had disappeared. Eventually the dog’s intense hunger and thirst won out over her fear, and she began accepting water and nourishment from the women, who couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The creature was a pink, hairless bag of bones, with irritated, crusty skin, and deep, open sores around her hips and back legs, most likely caused from lying in one place for a very long time.
Knowing she had to act quickly, Caron jumped on Facebook and began searching for help. That’s when she discovered Pause for Paws, a nonprofit rescue organization dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding loving homes for San Antonio’s abandoned street dogs. She sent them an urgent message along with a snapshot she’d taken of the dog cowering under the house. The disturbing image quickly caught the attention of Pause for Paws Director Sharal Mackenzie, who immediately contacted Caron to determine the dog’s location.
As someone who’s seen her fair share of street dogs on their last legs, Sharal knew this one was in big trouble. Within minutes, she was in touch with Save Our Street Dogs San Antonio Texas (SOS-SATX), an all-volunteer group of dedicated street dog rescuers, to see if they had anyone in the area who could pick up the dog. But by the time SOS volunteers arrived at the scene, the dog was gone. As it turned out, the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services had gotten to her first.
“When I saw how bad the dog was, I knew we weren’t going to have much time to get her or she was going to disappear somewhere and never be seen again,” Sharal says. “Which is exactly what we thought had happened … but thank goodness ACS picked her up. If someone hadn’t gotten her, she would have been one of numerous street dogs who die under houses or in bushes and nobody even realizes they’re gone.”
As a city shelter with a good working relationship with many of the rescue groups in the San Antonio area, ACS willingly released the dog to Pause for Paws and an SOS transporter, who rushed her to Castle-West Animal Hospital and Dr. Bill McGehee, the rescue’s beloved veterinarian.
“She looked like a walking cadaver,” says Dr. McGehee. “We called her a zombie dog because she really looked like the walking dead, like there was nothing that could be done for her except to put her down. She had huge, open bedsores, and you could see bones, tissue, cartilage, tendons, muscle, and everything. Her body had no muscle mass, and her skin was in terrible condition. It was literally amazing to see a live creature in that kind of condition.”
After someone was overheard saying, “That dog looks like she could use a little sunshine in her life,” the canine was promptly christened Miss Caron Sunshine, in honor of her rescuer.
“When Pause for Paws brought Sunshine in, she could barely stand or walk,” says Castle-West Veterinary Technician Jennifer Rodriguez, who also fosters for Pause for Paws. “She was very pale, and by her skin color and her eyes, you could see she was at the last bit of her life. As soon as she came in, we started doing blood work, taking pictures, and figuring out what was going on with her so we could come up with a treatment plan.”
That treatment plan included an immediate blood transfusion, a procedure that produced miraculous results – by the next day, Sunshine was active, aware, and alert. But while it seemed the lucky canine had escaped death’s door, it was clear she had quite a road of recovery ahead of her, with a laundry list of physical issues needing to be addressed, including severe demodectic mange, hookworms, very dry and fragile skin, and those huge, open sores.
Along with antibiotics, iron supplements, and several de-wormings, Sunshine’s intensive treatment regimen included daily mange baths and hydrotherapy to wash away dead skin, dirt, and debris, as well as to infuse her wounds with oxygen to promote healing. In addition, X-rays revealed dysplasia in one of her hips.
“This showed us evidence of her age, which we think is about six years, as well as the wear and tear of being out in that kind of environment,” explains Jennifer, who developed an immediate bond with Sunshine and ended up managing the majority of her care. “For her hair to die off, her skin to be so frail, and for her weight loss to be so severe, we think she must have been on the streets for quite a long period of time.”
With the cost of Sunshine’s care estimated at $5,000 and climbing, Pause for Paws quickly took to social media, sharing her story and rallying supporters. Soon the lucky pup had her own Facebook page, hundreds of fans rooting for her recovery, and a generous community of donors.
“(Sunshine’s medical care) would not have been possible without the support of so many kindhearted donors who contributed to her GoFundMe campaign and directly to Castle-West,” says Sharal. “And, of course, anything not used for Sunshine went to help the other animals coming in to our rescue.”
Feeling better by the day and clearly on the road to recovery, Sunshine quickly settled into life at the clinic, becoming a fast favorite of the Castle-West staff and clientele as well as members of the community who had learned her story. As her body healed, her personality blossomed, and true to her name, Sunshine’s demeanor proved to be sweet and sunny, loving and affectionate. Soon she joined the privileged ranks of the staff dogs, enjoying free roam of the clinic and soaking up every ounce of attention she could get from visitors and employees alike.
“She picked up very quickly where she can go, where she can’t, and where she can lie down, and she was very well-mannered as far as socializing with the other dogs and animals,” Jennifer says. “She learned where the biscuits were and started trying to open that container; then she figured out where the dry food was and poked at it with her nose. We also had to watch every trashcan and countertop because human food is her No. 1 focus.”
After almost two months of top-notch rehabilitation and care, Sunshine was a transformed dog. While all of her fur had yet to grow back, her skin was improving and most of her wounds had healed. But after such a long stay at the vet clinic, it was time for Sunshine to graduate to a foster home.
“I already knew Sunshine was a great dog, she just needed to be shown where to be,” explains Jennifer, who is also an experienced dog trainer. “I knew that her hips were going to take a while to heal, and while everyone wanted to foster her, she couldn’t go into a home until they healed up. I thought, if she does okay at my house and learns things like how to use a doggie door, not dig in the trash, and be gentle and nice with the other animals at my house, it would be fine if I took her and still did the treatments she needed while giving her a different environment.”
Just as she’d done at the clinic, Sunshine immediately adapted to her new environment, this time in Jennifer’s home, where she quickly learned household routines and manners by following the lead of her five canine and two feline foster brothers and sisters. Watching her lounging on the couch, learning to play with toys, napping in comfy doggie beds, or running around with Jennifer’s dogs in their huge backyard, it seemed as if Sunshine the once-invisible street dog had all but forgotten her unfortunate past.
When it comes to the fate of most street dogs, Sunshine’s story is definitely the exception rather than the rule. While the number of stray dogs in the U.S. is unknown, there are an estimated 600 million dogs living on the streets throughout the world, according to the World Health Organization. San Antonio alone is home to approximately 150,000 stray dogs, a serious problem that several area rescue groups, including Pause for Pause, are working hard to fix. As it turns out, most of the city’s street dogs are actually lost or abandoned pets, explains Sharal.
“It’s primarily the lost dogs who are going to get picked up and rescued off the street, and most of them are very grateful dogs once we pick them up,” she says. “In general, most of the stray dogs we pick up are pretty nice dogs once we get them out of the street environment. In fact, a high percentage of them are house-trained.”
Three months after her rescue from the streets of San Antonio, Sunshine’s happy ending is within reach. The lucky pup has already captured the heart of a wonderful family, who has been following her story since the beginning and waiting patiently for the chance to adopt her. Once Dr. McGehee has cleared her for adoption and her prospective family has been approved by Pause for Paws, Sunshine will be ready to embark upon her next chapter — a safe, happy life in a loving forever home. But none of that would have been possible without the village of amazing people who worked together to save her.
“This was a case of the whole community coming together to save one dog,” Sharal says. “It was the good Samaritan; it was SOS-SATX getting someone out there in a hurry; it was having ACS being willing to work with us; it was our vet, Dr. McGehee, who is fantastic and can do miracles; and it was Jennifer for taking such great care of her. And, last but not least, it was the community, the people who were touched by Sunshine’s story and did something to save a dog’s life.”
If you’d like to help Pause for Paws save more street dogs like Sunshine, please consider making a donation to this incredible organization or becoming a foster volunteer if you live in the San Antonio area. You can also learn more about Sunshine and follow her amazing story by visiting her Facebook page.
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About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, Lisa uses her writing to spread awareness about animal welfare and cruelty issues. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work by visiting her blog and website. You can also follow her on Twitter.