Rescuing Rocky ( Update April 2005 )
As I held my breath, hiding by the side of a small waste dump: there he was, a medium sized dog with a smallish head appeared from behind the shrubs. There was very little fur left on him, except for a small patch on the back of his neck. His skin was raw; some mysterious looking cists were growing from the side of his belly. As he hopped around the dump, I noticed his front left paw was gone. The remaining paws were either mangled or damaged. I gasped; my heart jumped. Never in my whole life had I witnessed an animal in such condition. The furless dog scanned around cautiously to see if any human was in sight before approaching the food bait. The smothering humidity of June in Taiwan was relentless. I was already drenched in sweat at six o’clock in the morning.
My volunteer work with AHAN, Asians for Humans, Animals and Nature, a non-profit rescue in San Francisco had brought me to Taiwan. As an increasing number of rescuers in Taiwan contacted us for help, my curiosity for Taiwanese homeless dogs also grew. At AHAN, I came across documents and photos of mass killing of dogs by drowning, electric shock and poisoning in Taiwan in recent years. I also read findings by WSPA, World Society for the Protection of Animals, on the inhumane shelter conditions in Taiwan. For a long time, the countless faces of shelter dogs that were tortured to death haunted me. WSPA’s reports on shelter conditions lingered in my head: disease, stress, dogs eating dogs…I was sinking fast into a new reality that I was not prepared for. I had to do something.
I wiped the sweat with the back of my palms, and repositioned my digital video camera. I was out on a rescue mission to capture the furless dog with one of AHAN’s contacts in Taiwan. The rescuer had been here a few times before, but couldn’t get close enough to catch the dog. The dog had been plagued by mange for months and desperately needed medical treatment. This time the rescuer was prepped with a tranquilizer gun. Most rescuers in Taiwan do not call on animal control for rescue mission such as this. If an animal was captured by the local animal control, it was almost certain that the animal would die in agony from lack of water, food or medial treatment in the shelter. We kept ourselves very still, fearing that any slight move could alarm the dog. Silently we waited, my eyes on the dog. Then, I heard a sharp cry. The rescuer shot the dog as soon as he took the food bait. In a state of shock, the dog took off and ran back into the shrubs from where he came. We trailed behind him, hoping that he would not stray far. “It generally takes about 5 to 10 minutes for the tranquilizer to take full effect. During this time, the animal could run off without a trace.”, the rescuer explained. I followed closely behind the rescuer, struggling to stabilize my camera. On top of some wooden pallets behind the shrubs, we found our target. He was falling asleep fast. In five minutes, he went limp and didn’t move at all.
On our ride to the vet, I studied closely the newly captured dog. As he lay lifelessly on the seat next to me, I wondered how he had survived in a place like this with his condition. Was he someone’s pet at some point? Perhaps a feral dog all his life? His glassy eyes were slightly open, looking at me, as if pleading for mercy. The signs of hardship were imprinted all over his body: scar tissues, cists, swollen belly with heartworm, paws abruptly cut off by traps. An overwhelming sense of sadness welled up inside me. Couldn’t have someone helped him sooner with a little bit of food or clean water? Who on earth would use traps to hurt homeless dogs? There is no hope for dogs like him in Taiwan, even after they are rescued. The public shelters are known for their inhumane conditions, and private shelters are overcrowded. I visited a handful of private shelters and saw over 300 dogs cramped into limited space without adequate care. The adoption rates in these places are close to none. The furless dog basically had two options after his treatment: return to the waste dump, or live in permanent confinement in a private shelter. My heart was heavy. I didn’t know what I could do for him, but I knew he deserved a much better life. “You are ok now. I am going to take good care of you.” I told him quietly.
At the hospital, it took some convincing and pleading before the vet agreed to take Rocky in. Most vets in Taiwan are reluctant to deal with sick rescue dogs like Rocky. They fear their customers might complain about his condition or smell upon seeing the sick animal. I was distraught by what I heard, but was grateful when they finally took him. The vet estimated a two-month recovery time for Rocky, and told me his fur might never grow back fully. I knew Rocky had to stay in the cage for the next two months or more; no one cared enough to exercise him. He was lucky to be admitted. My trip in Taiwan was coming to an end; I realized Rocky’s only chance for a better future lied in my hands. Before I left, I made an arrangement for him to come to San Francisco as soon as his health improved. I promised to find him a loving home or adopt him myself.
Last December, after a long five-month wait, Rocky finally arrived in San Francisco. I was both nervous and excited, wondering how he would respond to us. The first night Rocky arrived in my house, he was in a complete mode of terror. When I took him to the backyard to release himself, he ran back into the garage and tried desperately to squeeze himself into a corner. His little bare body shook uncontrollably, terrified of any human contact. Eventually, I left him where he was, a little corner in my garage. I put down some blankets to keep him warm. That night, as I lay awake, pondering Rocky’s future and mine; I heard him go through the pet door into the backyard. I peeked through my bedroom windows and saw him there. Bathed in the amazing glow of full moon, the furless dog I first met in Taiwan was now exploring in my backyard. A little later, he howled. His howls seemed so full of sorrow and loneliness;
I trembled, "welcome home, Rocky, you are home now."
For the next 2 months, Rocky gradually came out of his shell and started to respond to us. After spending the majority of his time in the garage upon his arrival, one day Rocky finally decided to come up the stairs to us. All the while wagging his tail. He was ready to be with us. Despite missing two paws, Rocky had no trouble using the stairs. He became increasingly expressive with his gestures and made various sounds to communicate with us. He also whined like most dogs when he wanted attention, and loved going for walks. When I came home from school, he would run around in a small circle excitedly and lift his pawless front leg to greet me. His sweet gentle nature was shinning through. Rocky had come such a long way.
This February I accompanied my husband on a business trip to France for seven days. We boarded Rocky with Jean at Bonnie Brae in Petaluma. She is someone AHAN has worked with over the years. Boarding Rocky was a concern to me, since he was still shy around strangers. I was however comforted by the fact that with Jean’s experience, Rocky was in good hands. France was great, but I simply couldn’t wait to get home to Rocky and my two dogs. When I returned, Jean asked me if she could adopt Rocky. Jean’s own dog had passed away not long ago. Though she was not ready for a new dog, Rocky had unexpectedly helped her in the healing process. Rocky was also responding to her quite well. I had to admit it was a bit of a shock to me. In my mind, I had pictured Rocky living with us for the rest of his life. I told Jean I had to think it over. My love for Rocky had grown deeper than I realized. I was torn between my bond with Rocky and my promise to find him a home. The thought of not seeing his freckled face and his goofy circle dance again saddened me. I felt miserable. I was confused by my own emotions. Was I being selfish by wanting to keep him? I couldn’t deny that Jean had done a good job with Rocky while I was gone. Wasn’t it my goal, to find him a good home he deserved? There were so many dogs still needed my help, and my own two dogs.
One Saturday morning In Jean’s kitchen, the four of us: my husband Charlie and I, Jean and her husband Jim gathered around Rocky while we talked. I had agreed to Rocky’s adoption by Jean. At that moment, I wondered if Rocky sensed the love four people in that room had for him. As I hugged everyone goodbye, Jim said to me: "You will always be Rocky’s mom. He will never forget you and what you have done for him.” I smiled and looked into Rocky’s eyes. They no longer pleaded for mercy; they shined with hope and happiness.
See the original video of Rocky and the beginning of his journey.
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