Tuesday, July 6, 2010

To a Better Life Mahala...

6-years ago I was volunteering at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Control when one Saturday morning, a vet tech (Joy) came running down the hallway calling my name frantically. Earlier the night before, CMPD officers raided the home of an animal collector, a lady that kept taking in pets with disregard for giving them care and routinely abusing them. There were 10-dogs that were confiscated, all in bad health. 9 were beagles and 1 was an Australian Cattle Dog. Due to their health issues, the dogs were not sent to the adoption kennels and the beagles had been euthanized.

When the vet tech reached me, the Cattle Dog was being prepared to be put down. She suffered from malnutrition and a severe case of heartworms. Joy pleaded for me to try fostering the Cattle Dog to see if I could give her a second chance at life. When I started volunteering there it was to give me something to do on Saturday mornings in a city that I didn't particularly care to be in. Oddly enough, it was my volunteer work at the shelter that made me rediscover my love for photography by creating beautiful images of the abandoned dogs to bring in adopters and chronicling adoption events to help gain media attention to their cause. I never planned on fostering or adopting a pet.

I didn't consider fostering an option because of my roommates cats (I was renting a room temporarily since I wasn't planning on staying in Charlotte.) Joy told me that the dog was precious and she didn't want to see her put to sleep. Joy asked me to at least "meet" her. I was sitting in the side yard on a bench when they brought her out. She immediately walked up to me a rested her head in my lap. A second later, I agreed to take her in as a foster. I asked for her name and Joy said she didn't have one. Her gentleness and beauty reminded me of a friend I had in Winston-Salem. Mahala was fitting name and as soon as I said it she started wagging her nub of a tail.

The next six months were trying. Mahala was 20-pounds under-weight and required 3 rounds of treatments for heartworms. I almost lost her twice during that time before she was finally declared healthy. There were two other people that had called the shelter looking to adopt Mahala but Mahala made the decision that she wasn't going to leave me, so I officially adopted her and she became part of the family.

When I found a job in Virginia Beach, Mahala got to move to my hometown where she got to stay regularly with her grandparents and my sister's family. She loved it here and surprised us on regular basis with her intelligence and kindness. Mahala didn't easily get along with other dogs having been raised in the situation that she was in but she took my parent's aging Pepper dog under her protective wing. If Pepper was in pain, Mahala would pace frantically in front of us until someone got up to check on her. When Pepper passed, Mahala would search my parent's house for her endlessly each visit for the first year. I'd like to think that she helped them ease Pepper's loss in the way that only another dog could do.

A couple of year's later, I started dating Liz. We were careful bringing Mahala to her house because of her cats but were surprised to find that she eventually befriended one them, Mr. Biggs, and tolerated Nole and Liam. Mahala and Mr. Bigg's would hangout on the back deck sunning themselves in the afternoon warmth. We also discovered that Mahala had a love of water. As soon as getting to Liz's, she would head straight to the pool for a swim. I never would have thought that a Cattle Dog would love the water that much. Even more surprising was her love of the snow. With the above normal snowfalls this winter, she absolutely went crazy playing in it.

Mahala was the definition of a single owner dog. She liked others but seldom would she leave my side. At night, she curled up next to me on the couch. If I got up to go upstairs or to the kitchen, she would be right on my heels. She was seldom ever more than a few feet from me.

Mahala's one major hang-up was her her fear of loud noises - air compressors, motorcycle engines, power tools, thunder, etc. During storms, she would hide in the back of my closet upstairs. It was this fear and a bad decision on my part which is why she is no longer with me today. On July 4th, we decided to bike a couple of blocks down to Mt. Trashmore so that I could get an unobstructed view to photograph the fireworks. Liz asked me to put Mahala in the house but knowing her fear of loud noises, I thought maybe she would be better in the fenced in backyard where she could find a good hiding place.

It never occurred to me that in the 30-minutes that we gone, she would find a way out. Even when I discovered that she was gone, I was convinced that she was hiding in a neighbor's yard and that she would return when things settled down. When she didn't arrive by the morning, Liz and I searched the neighborhood again before I started posting fliers. Someone definitely had taken her in for the night and in a few hours they would call for me to pick her up.

While hanging a flier near Princess Anne Road, an Animal Control officer pulled up. I flagged her down thinking that someone must have called her for a stray (we didn't seldom saw AC officers around there), which was true - just not for my stray. After calling into her dispatch, she advised me that there were no reports nor intakes of a dog matching Mahala's description. Mahala was surely in someone's yard. She took a flier with Mahala's photo and told me that she would call me if she found her so that I wouldn't have to go down to the kennels to pick her up.

When the phone rang at 4:30, an Animal Control officer asked me if Mahala had been microchipped. I told her that she had one from Charlotte. That is when she said that she had some bad news - Mahala was found early in the morning on the road after being hit by a car and that she had passed.

I have lost many people and animals in my life but none hurt as much as Mahala. She was more than a pet. For 6-years she was my best friend and companion. I work from home and not having her curled up next to my chair leaves the place empty and cold. Mahala was an amazing dog, loved by everyone that came in contact with her. I'm sure that God has her in a better place now where she can swim freely and snack on milkbones to her heart's delight. I just hope that her and Bailey are on better terms. I am a better person for her being in my life. As strange as it sounds, she taught me the true meaning of unconditional love and long-term relationships. She will always be with us in spirit. Godspeed to you Mahala. You will be forever in my heart. Words cannot express how much we love you.