Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cora-Belle, The lucky Beagle

CoraBelle being carried, as always, with me.
There are those days in history that all of can recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news about a certain event. You know what I mean, the death of JFK, (although many of us these days are too young to use this anymore), the verdict for OJ, the tragedy of the twin towers, etc. For me, I remember exactly the date, time and place of meeting Cora. (Although I call her CoraBelle, because I found her, and I name all of my dogs after my favorite Southern cities; so, Corolla was her name with me.)
It was that way for me on May 8th 2011 when I was driving home from Washington D.C. I had just finished the five day long CVC Veterinary Conference. I had thought that 5 days at a “local” conference would be a great idea because I could immerse myself in all of the conferences activities and go to as many wet labs as my voracious heart wanted. In retrospect 5 days is 4 too many if I am going to stay there alone. I was bored to tears. I actually went to class from 7:30 am to 11 pm every day because there was nothing else to do. (Note to self; next time I stay a shorter time or find a partner in crime to go visit all of the local restaurants). Ok, once again I need to get back to my point. I was excited to be heading home after 5 long days and as I approached my driveway I saw a small timid looking beagle standing in the middle of the road right in front of my driveway. When I say standing I mean standing, frozen in fear standing.  I was happy it was “ME” behind the wheel because anyone else (almost) would have kept going expecting that she would move out of the way. I came to a dead stop and I assure you she did not budge. So I did what anyone else would do and I stopped my car dead in the middle of the road. Now thankfully I live on a very quiet road because I positioned my car to blocked the entire road so that no impatient passer-by’s could even think about sneaking around me, my car, and the frozen Beagle.
I got out of the car and slowly approached her, for fear that the frozen, would transform into fleeting, and gently said, “Hello little beagle.” She immediately lowered her head and gave a barely recognizable wag. I took a breath and said to myself, “Oh, thank god you aren’t running.” I whispered to her, “come here little beagle.” She lowered her head more and I approached her with my hand extended. She lowered her nose to the pavement and braced herself. “Oh dear,” I thought, “She is soo afraid that she thinks I am going to scold her.”
As soon as I was close enough I grabbed her collar and scooped her into my arms. I am very proficient in handling animals in all situations and I know that once you get a hold of an animal you better be prepared for a big change in their demeanor. Some pets react to restraint with a surge of fear and aggression (aka snarling, biting, and aggression) and some just give up. Either way I was not letting go of her. once you lose a grip on a pet you will not likely get them back. Because she was only about 20pounds I picked her up easily and kept her face away from my body so I could keep control of the fear weapon, the mouth. As I picked her up she went limp. She seemed to be the saddest case of absent self-esteem that I had ever met. She was the classic abuse victim. She had been afraid and neglected from any form of kindness for so long that she now expected to be abused so she didn’t fight. I think the saddest creatures are always the ones who have lost the ability to show any emotion short of “frozen fear.”
As soon as she was in my arms she relaxed and surrendered completely. She seemed relieved and almost expectant to be put in the car.
Putting an animal in a car is another dangerous scenario. Some pets have never been in a car, so for them it’s the equivalent of a space ship hijacking you. Would you go willingly? Would you be afraid of an intergalactic transport? Cora didn’t seem to be bothered by the car, the claustrophobia, the noise, or the vibration of the motors engine. But I have heard of owners putting their pets in the car and half way down the road the pet freaks out, jumps on their head, scratches their face, or dives under the brake pedal and then you can’t use your brakes. I ALWAYS tell my clients to NEVER transport anything without a protective carrier, for both you and your pet’s sake. If they are going to flip out let them do it safely in a cage. And don’t try to plea with your pet about staying calm in their carrier. Be prepared for a freak out session and put a towel, blanket, or sheet over the cage. Most pets feel safer with a closed, dark quiet place to hide. Whatever you do, don’t open the cage! A whole lot of worse things can happen to a freaking out pet lose in your car, then them just being stressed out. I also recommend that you line the carrier with newspaper, have some extra towels, newspaper and cleaning wipes available JIC you arrive at your destination and need to do a cleanup. This means that if you stop at a rest area in between you Point A and Point B and you need to open their cage do it inside your parked car, and don’t open any doors or windows until your pet is safely back in their now clean cage. Vomiting and diarrhea are very normal responses to most pets going in a car ride, so expect it and be prepared for it.
Cora made the short trip down the driveway sitting calmly and quietly in the passenger seat. As I parked the car she didn’t even lift an eyelash as to where we were. Her whole demeanor reflected nothing but absent minded Alzheimer’s. I opened the door to let her out on the leash and kept my dogs from scaring her with their overwhelming jumps of jubilation at the arrival of a new visitor. She looked right through them. She had no interest in them at all. Not fear, joy, or curiosity. I put her feet on the ground. She gave a few perfunctory whiffs and sat. she also refused to budge one step. That foreign thing around her neck was in no way tolerated and she had no idea what purpose it served. Many many attempts of leash walking, to avoid straying off, yielded fruitless tugs of war. If you have ever tried to convince an adult beagle of anything then you understand where the saying “old dogs and new tricks” comes from. That leash was not happening. The rest of her time with us meant that she needed a constant chaperone if outside. There was no directing her movements short of carrying her.  she was carried in and out every single time. Her new home list needed a fenced in yard for sure.
 She didn’t seem to have enough courage or will to be able to observe, contemplate, calculate, or form any sort of opinion at all. She didn’t even seem to have any semblance of innate survivor instincts. It was as if all of her natural god given ability to maintain any degree of self preservation had been lobotomized. She was like no creature I had ever witnessed. She threw me off guard at every turn. I kept trying to out think her, and thwart her at every intersection but I had no opponent at all.
I carried her to the house and once again put her down outside the front door. I opened the door and saw her first and only sigh of emotion. She was reluctant to cross the front door threshold. So I picked her up again and brought her inside. It was very apparent that “inside” was a completely foreign place to her. she was back to frozen in fear mode. She wouldn’t walk on the hardwood floors. So I picked her up again and put her on a dog bed and gave her, and my dogs, a few minutes to decide how they were all going to react to each other. Within a few minutes my dogs had given up on her being anything of interest, and she was walking around, nose to the ground, sizing up her new digs.

I called around to all of the rescues, neighbors, and veterinary clinics to try to find her original home. I knew it would be very unlikely that anyone would make much of an effort to find her. Beagles like her, (so prejudiced of  me to talk like that, but if you saw her you would agree) do not have “loving homes.” She came from a breeder, and she was just a number, a disposable $1.00 scratch off ticket.
My initial exam of her revealed an underweight, undermuscled, dirty, middle aged dog. She had a significant limp on her back right leg, terrible teeth that made her look older than she was, (I estimated 4, but she could be 2 to 6, estimates for dogs are difficult, think of them as ball park, then add or subtract 4 years from that ballpark). She was also covered in ticks.
The next day she came with the regular caravan to the clinic with me. No microchip, SHOCKER!, no signs or messages anywhere reporting her as “missing,” and 2 actual snickers when I called to report her as “found.” Yep, I was pretty sure on day 2 that she was staying with us for a while.

The first round of diagnostics revealed very strongly Lyme positive on the SNAP test, (a quick (8 minutes) in-house 3 drops of blood test that looks much like an in-home pregnancy test). Another big shocker there; a tick covered stray that’s Lyme positive! These dogs all have Lyme’s disease. When we get an in-house positive Lyme dog we recommend that a Lyme titer test be done to quantitate the degree of the Lyme disease. Our test only gives positive and negative, but some of these dogs have a very high titer and are at a significantly higher risk of clinical disease, so we run a titer to see how much of those little Lyme guys are swimming around. Cora’s titer came back very high, (I know, another shocker!) That meant 30 days of oral Doxycycline for Cora. The rest of her abnormalities would be corrected with time, a good food, and TLC.
As for her personality she was very slowly coming out of her shell. She started to figure out the routine. And I quickly learned that three beagles and feeding time is like a carcass in piranha infested waters. You had to be careful of infighting and protect your own limbs, and wear protective hearing devices. If my husband had any fears of me getting attached to Cora all I had to do was remind him how dangerous meal times were, and he rested easier.
Within a week Cora had discovered the joys of couch sleeping, decided that I was not like any person she had met before, and was adjusted to the routine at the household and clinic. After that first week with us I started to look for a permanent home for her. (After 30 days on the “found” lists at the shelters she is considered abandoned and allowed to be placed). I left her at the clinic for Friday and Saturday so she could be up front with the receptionists and give her some “client exposure” time. That Saturday one of our very long term second generation clients walked in with their beagle “goofy”. Goofy was a regular because he had multiple medical issues that required almost monthly visits. He was a big sweet boy who despite being a frequent flyer was still gentle. Every person at JVC could pick Goofey out of a 10,000 beagle line up. they saw her that Saturday and they called me right away to ask me all I knew about her. They loved her from the start but because of  Goofy they felt they may not be able to handle another beagle with long term medical problems. I assured them that I would help them with any problems that arose and that I would make sure she was treated for all of her pre-existing conditions. Which in essence meant she needed a full dental and to figure out that lame right leg. I asked them if they would like to foster her for the three weeks she had left to be “claimed” and then after that we would decide when she would be formally adopted. That would give all of us time to sort out her needs, and reassure them that she wouldn’t need long term, expensive care. 

Cora and her new mom, this time she's on a leash.

The dental was scheduled for a week later and a few extractions later her estimated age went from a possible 6, back to a more likely 4, years old. And the idea of her giving you a kiss, not that she would ever be so bold, was not so offensive anymore.
The limp I suspected was most likely due to the Lyme disease, and since we got her titer down to an “acceptable level” she has not been lame at all.
Within those few weeks Cora’s visits to the clinic became outings to show her off. She walked in on a leash like a Westminster pro, pranced around to say hello to everyone, and begged for treats in the jar she knew lived on the front desk. Her new family also told me that she refused to not be a part of the social gatherings at their house. They had closed her in a bedroom while company was over and she dug her way out, by way of removing the door frame) to join the party. She also decided she liked their sons bed best out of everyone else’s.

The foster period for Cora was officially over on June 8th. That morning her family woke up to find Goofey had passed in his sleep. None of us had any indication that he was in any way this ill. He had not given his family or us any reason to suspect he would not live another 4 plus years. All of his medical concerns were in no way life threatening, and his passing caught everyone off guard. To Cora’s new family they feel as if Goofey knew that Cora was theirs and he could leave them in safe hands. For Cora’s family they are grateful to have a beagle to share their life with who got to know their first beagle Goofey.
Life works in mysterious and sometimes magical ways.

Cora with Santa, 2011

Cora and her new family, at Pets With Santa, 2011


  1. D'awwwwww. I've seen animals with this description of having been abused into nothingness before. Used to have a dachshund that was from a rescue; was terribly afraid of feet. Some things only time can mend, although it didnn't seem to take a lot of time in this case under your care, doc!