In September, the rescue called to ask if Mark and I could pick up a dog at the shelter and hang on to him for a couple of days before another foster could take him. Since we already had one foster (Belle), we said sure, so long as he wasn't permanent. We were briefed on him--older, friendly, overweight--and expected a dog much like our Belly.
That was the day we met Huey. While we were waiting for someone at the shelter to bring him out to us, we looked at his intake form. Under weight, it said 62.5 lbs. "Must be misprint," we said to each other. "Or he's a mixed breed. No way a beagle can be that big."
When he came through the door, we saw that we were wrong. I took one look at his rotund body and short little legs and smile, and christened him Huey P. Long (though the man himself was apparently not that fat, whenever I think of him I see him as portrayed by John Goodman, and that's what popped into my brain upon seeing Huey for the first time).
Huey P. had a lot of weight-related issues, obviously, but some fairy serious other problems as well. He had parasites, fleas, and the worst ear infection I have ever seen (there was, literally, black liquid coming out of his ears). Boy were we glad he was only going to be with us for a few days!
And then a few days became "a bit longer," as the foster who was supposed to take him ended up with another dog instead. And by the time "a bit longer" could possibly have rolled around, we'd already decided he was fine where he was. We are pretty centrally located and close to the vet the rescue uses, so we had less trouble than most taking him in for his numerous appointments. And he was getting along very well with everyone at our house, including Atticus, who is, in general, not that easy to love.
Not just easy to get along with, though, Huey also just made himself at home. Unlike a lot of fosters, he was almost immediately comfortable and at home at our house. He picked out his spots, attached to us, and moved right on in. He was too fat to get onto the furniture, but loved the dog beds, and made a special favorite place out of a basket intended for the much smaller Belle (much to her dismay).
Then, in late October, Huey suddenly started limping very seriously. When it didn't get better, we took him to the vet and learned that he had torn his cruciate ligament. This is not an uncommon injury in dogs, especially those who are very overweight and large breeds. It can be fixed surgically--often very successfully--but the surgery costs a lot of money and comes complete with a long recovery period. Before Mark and I called our rescue coordinator to tell her all this, we talked about it ourselves. We both agreed that if the rescue couldn't come up with the cash to fix Huey's leg, we could. These are the situations for which credit cards are invented.
Luckily, the rescue did come up with the cash. Some very generous folks (including some who came right from the button on this blog!) ponied up, and we were able to schedule Huey's surgery for January.
A few days before Huey's pre-surgical consult, he started limping on the other side. It looked bad. Mark took him to the consult and the doctor confirmed that he had indeed blown the other ligament. Since it would render the dog completely unable to walk, he recommended against getting both sides fixed at once. Rather, he said, he would fix the new injury, which was more serious, and Huey would continue to get around on his other leg until he was healed up from surgery and the second one could be done. We agreed to this plan.
While we were waiting for his surgery, Huey continued to endear himself to us in all kinds of ways. One reason we didn't adore him, however, was his insistence on trying to get into the cat boxes (which neither Leo nor Ata shares). To keep him away from them, we put a baby gate up in the doorway to our laundry room. Then, one day, we came home to find the gate knocked down and Huey running around with his head completely stuck in a cat box lid! (I blogged about that here.) Even though we ended up having to cut the box lid off him, we couldn't be too mad--it was just too damn funny!
As luck would have it, Mark ended up being out of town on the day of Huey's surgery. I worried myself into near hysterics and got horribly lost on the way to the surgical hospital (which is the same place where Chance had his post-bloat surgeries and died). By the time I got there, I was frantic, but I had to hand him over and hope for the best.
Early that afternoon, they called to let me know that it had gone fine and I could come and pick him up after work. When I got there, he looked a bit pathetic and out of it, but happy to see me. He had a couple of tumors removed as well as the ligament repair (including a large one in his tail), and those injuries were even nastier than the stitched up leg. With strict instructions to keep him still and coned, I took him home.
Huey was not the model patient. Always rambunctious (especially given his size and age), he had trouble understanding why he couldn't play fetch or roam outside. For the first few days, he had to be crated whenever I wasn't watching him, and he hated that. He also hated being taken outside on a leash only. But we survived, and his leg and other injuries began to heal.
After about a month of healing, we discovered something--Huey could now (with a little boost) get on the couch! To many people, this wouldn't be considered a good thing, but given how much Huey loves to cuddle, we thought it was excellent.
Now it's June. Huey's incisions are all healed up and he's down to around 45 pounds. He's still big for a beagle, but he looks very good. He's ready to have his other leg fixed, and I'm sad to say that we won't be the ones who care for him after that happens. See, we're moving across the country, and we can't take foster dogs with us. And, even after spending the better part of a year as part of our family, Huey is a foster dog. So, he's is going to be going to another foster family. It's probably going to happen sooner rather than later, in order to give us one less pet with whom we had to deal while trying to fix up and show our house.
This is the part people ask about most often. How do you let them go? It's a very good question. It's not easy. Especially after so many months and him (and by extension, us) having gone through so much. But even after all this time, and as much as I adore Huey, I don't feel like he's one of my dogs. I knew from the beginning that he was with us only temporarily, and I kept that idea in the back of my head all the time. Which isn't to say I didn't get attached to him--I did and I am--but it is still a very different thing than the way I feel about the dogs I know are staying with me until they (or I) die.
One thing that makes it easier is being very confident that he'll be taken care of. It is not unlikely that Huey will remain a "foster" dog forever. He's approximately 10 years old and he's beat up. He's got scars and a permanent limp and his tail, though much better, is still pretty mutant. As well as he's doing, he's still not a dog for someone who isn't willing to spend a lot of time and money at the vet over the next few years, or for someone who isn't willing to take on the possibility that s/he just won't have very long with him. Given those odds, and as many dogs as are in rescue right now, it may be that nobody ever picks Huey. But if they don't, he'll still have a home, just like the one he's had with us. One of the benefits of working with a small rescue, like we do, is knowing the other foster families. Because I know them, I know that Huey will be fine with them. It's a tribute to Huey's personality, as well, that I am so confident he'll make himself right at home and become part of someone else's family, just like he became part of ours. And if it turns out he needs to move between several homes over the remainder of his life, which may well end up being the case, he'll do fine with that. He's that kind of dog. I have absolute faith, however, that the rescue we've been working with over these past few years will do right by him, even if he costs more money than he brings in (which will be the case no matter what happens) and takes up valuable foster space. That day Mark and I, as representatives of the rescue, pulled Huey out of the pound, the rescue made a commitment to him forever. And they will see it through, even if Mark and I aren't here to help out.
Over the past few years, rescuing dogs has been among the most challenging and worthwhile things I have done. It may well be THE most worthwhile thing. It has been a fantastic experience that I absolutely believe has made me a better person. Having Huey here for this last year has been the perfect end to that experience, and has done nothing but cement my commitment to rescue, and in particular to rescuing old dogs and dogs with health issues. He is an amazing, resilient, goofy, lovable, loud, loyal, wonderful animal. Our lives have been vastly improved by having him, as I am sure his has been by being with us. The end our role in it may be making me a little bit weepy, but Huey's a very good story.