Dealing with the passing of a beloved animal companion is never easy. During the summer of 2013, we lost our oldest dog to natural causes and old age. Although it was tough to consider bringing another dog into the family, we knew that our surviving pup would do best with a companion. Intrigued by the concept of being a foster home, we reached out to You Lucky Dog Rescue—a local organization that works tirelessly to save dogs from high-kill shelters in the North Georgia area. As we started to consider what kind of dog we might want to adopt, we became intrigued by the many “bully breeds” we met through friends. I knew that these breeds had a bad reputation with many, and I was well-acquainted with the stereotypes. After interacting regularly with a friend’s pitbull-lab mix, I came to love many of the things that seemed to set these dogs apart. The bull breeds I met were some of the happiest, most loving creatures I’d come in contact with. As hard as it was to think of “replacing” the dog I had lost, I felt that, if I was going to bring another dog into my home, I wanted it to be a “bully”. I loved the idea of having the chance to not only get a great companion for our other dog but also to be an ambassador for a breed that is so often misunderstood. My vision was one of me helping a rescue dog and educating other people; I had no concept of how much the experience would end up changing me.
Not long after applying to foster through You Lucky Dog, I received a call asking if I would be willing to take on a challenging case. A young, female bully-mix pup named Dixie had been hit by a car and taken to a local animal hospital by the car’s driver. The caring staff at the hospital attempted to treat her injuries by putting both of her hind legs in casts. Unable to locate an owner for Dixie, the animal hospital reached out to local rescues for help. They were able to find a savior for Dixie in You Lucky Dog. Suspecting that Dixie’s injuries might need further medical care, she was taken to a partner vet for evaluation. It quickly became clear that Dixie’s situation was dire—she would need emergency surgery or risk losing her legs. Her right hind leg was most affected, and it could require amputation if corrective surgery was unsuccessful. Time was of the essence for this poor pup, and much depended on the skill of the doctors and staff charged with her care. After a challenging surgery, the doctor was hopeful that Dixie would regain her mobility and avoid amputation.
However, the battle had just begun. Dixie’s future quality of life depended greatly on her care during her recovery. Too much activity too early on, lack of proper wound care, or failure to notice and address small changes in her condition could mean the loss of a limb or life-threatening infection. Hearing the voice on the other end of the phone recount Dixie’s story, I became nervous. I was being charged with caring for such a fragile little life. No expense had been spared in saving Dixie’s life, and it was now up to me to make sure that she would pull through and all the time, effort, and funds had not been expended in vain. When faced with something that will demand much of us, we always have two choices: to back away and let someone else take on the problem or to invest ourselves, knowing that we will be asked to give in ways we may not be prepared for. All the love and care in the world could not bring back our dear dog companion who had passed, but they just might be enough to make sure this helpless creature knew a good life. With the encouraging support of my sister and the promise that I had the full backing of all the knowledge and resources of the rescue, I chose to rise to the challenge. I was ready and willing to fight alongside Dixie.
It was several days before Dixie was released from the hospital. These days were emotionally trying for me and my family. We were anxious to get Dixie into our home and begin the task of caring for her and helping her through her recovery to get her ready for her future forever home. The day finally came when Dixie was ready to come to our home, and I went to pick her up. It was one thing to have heard her story, but it was another thing entirely to see it. When I walked into that vet’s office, I saw a frail, emaciated young pup battered by neglect and life as a stray. Three of her legs were covered in protruding pins and needles that were literally holding her together. When she looked up at me, those eyes—oh those eyes. There was a world of hurt, betrayal, and confusion behind those eyes. As I gazed at her, those eyes told me her story over again, and I could literally feel the weight of all that this dog had been through sinking over me. At that moment, I welled up with an incredible sense of commitment and love. I owed it to Dixie to show her that there was so much more to life than what she’d seen so far.
Dixie’s road to recovery was not a simple one. For the first weeks in our home, she was in her kennel around the clock. One wrong move too early on in the recovery process, and she could easily reverse all the work that had been done to save her legs. She was a pitiful sight, huddled in her crate, unable to get away from all the uncomfortable, protruding metal pins that were providing the only hope for her future mobility. Our daily regimen included the tedious process of cleaning the rods and pins with Q-tips and peroxide and redressing her wounds. The rods would dig gashes into her shins, so I would carefully cover the tip of each one in surgical tape to protect her. This went on for several weeks, every day. It was a huge commitment, but I kept my thoughts on the ultimate reward of seeing her through to health and finding her forever home.
As I worked with Dixie each day, I could slowly see a glimpse of something new in her eyes. Little by little, she was learning to trust, and those beautiful eyes began to speak the words “thank you” as she realized she was in a safe and loving place. After several weeks, the doctors removed all of Dixie’s pins and rods. Though she was starting to look like a normal dog, her journey was far from over. Without the pins, we now had to keep our fingers crossed that her bones would begin to fuse properly. It was more important than ever that she stay calm and quiet in her crate as we waited patiently for her legs to heal.
Finally, after many weeks of anticipation, tireless caregiving, and hopefulness, Dixie was ready. The doctors gave her the go-ahead to do all the things a normal dog could do. This was a huge moment, for us and for Dixie. We had never seen her play, never seen her run, and never really seen her personality. We had spent weeks with a frail little creature that needed constant attention and supervision to heal and survive, and we suddenly had a healthy foster dog. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. What would she be like? Would we like her? Would she like us? All of our anxiety quickly passed as we got to know Dixie. She was everything I had hoped she would be—a young pup with a pure exuberance for life, a generous giver of kisses, and one the sweetest temperaments I’ve ever known. It didn’t take long for me to admit that I had found what I was looking for in a companion, and that Dixie had found her forever home. It was so incredible to think of all I had been through with Dixie and to be able to promise to see her through many wonderful days in the future. She was my bully breed “ambassador”—a lover of people and a happy, sweet soul.
Dixie taught me so much about life in those first few months. I never took for granted that her story was one that could have ended very differently. Every day is precious, and you have to live each moment to its fullest. As I started to spend my days helping Dixie live her fullest life, I started to question whether I was doing the same with my own. I was unhappy with my job, and I wanted to do something that would bring me joy each day. Life is certainly too short and too fragile to spend it being anything less than Dixie’s kind of happy. I started some soul searching on what I really wanted to do with my time and efforts, and I kept coming back to one thing—I wanted to give back to the organization that gave me Dixie, You Lucky Dog Recue. Figuring out how to do that and earn a living at the same time was puzzling at first, but I finally had an idea. My sister happened to be a groomer at a local dog salon. What would happen if I opened up a grooming shop and hired my sister as the lead groomer? We quickly realized there was huge potential in this seemingly crazy idea. After doing lots of research, we felt that the pet population in the area could support another local groomer. Best of all, I knew that I could offer free grooming to the rescue pups at You Lucky Dog to help them all look their best as they began their journey to forever homes. With a little work and some imagination, we made Dixie’s Pet Spa & Boutique a reality. We opened in May of 2015 and have over 100 clients that trust us to keep their pets looking their best.
It may sound strange to say that one dog was truly the inspiration for such a huge life change. However, I would tell you that Dixie has changed so much of how I look at the world, not just what I do to make a living. It’s incredible what you can learn when you slow down and really pay attention to the heart and soul of a creature as sweet as Dixie. There is no doubt that Dixie was dependent on me to some extent to make a full recovery, but I can also tell you that I was dependent on Dixie to teach me many great life lessons. Life will come with challenges, and getting to that greener grass may never be easy. However, anything can be tackled with a little bit of patience, hope, and support from our loved ones. Dixie doesn’t stay inside and avoid play because she’s afraid to get hurt again. We owe it to ourselves to get out there and do what makes us happy without fearing what might happen tomorrow. I can’t thank Dixie enough for being the inspiration to help me chase a dream and for enriching our lives for the better each and every day. Thanks, Dixie.