In early November, Macon Animal Control and Shane Smith of Paws for Hope and Faith agreed to a week of no-kill at the shelter. With the help of local rescuers and adopters, that week stretched into the next week, and Macon Animal Control held its first Saturday adoption event.
But while staff, volunteers, rescuers and animal lovers celebrated the continuing reprieve and the lives saved, a dog nobody knew existed was dying not far away.
The dog lay on the ground beneath a pile of trash in a poor neighborhood where a dog’s life often means nothing. Too feeble to raise his head, much less stand, the dog was still as death.
He was just a bag of bones, as emaciated and wasted as Patrick, the bulldog left to starve in New Jersey. Instead of being stuffed in a garbage bag and thrown down a garbage chute as Patrick was, someone apparently threw dirty diapers, empty beer bottles and other trash on top of the suffering animal. Buried beneath the garbage, the dog’s emaciated brown body blended in with the cold earth, rendering him invisible to the casual eye.
Out of strength and nearly out of time, the dog was too weak to shiver from the cold seeping into him from the ground. He could see people moving about in the neighborhood, hear the happy cries of children playing in their yards, smell the delicious aroma of food cooking. But no one stopped to help him, no one came with a kind word or a table scrap. The dog lay there, alone with the trash, and waited to die.
As the Saturday adoption event at Macon Animal Control continued, word of the dog whose life was slowly, cruelly ending reached Nathan Millwood, the animal control officer on call. Someone, perhaps worried that the dog might spread disease as it decomposed, had called the police.
Millwood reached the abandoned house quickly, but found nothing. Children playing nearby came over and led Millwood to the all but flat body of the dog lying beneath the trash pile.
“I honestly at first thought the dog had already died,” Millwood said. On the slim chance the dog wasn’t beyond help, Millwood determinedly dug into the trash pile and uncovered the brown pitbull. The body was ice cold, but Millwood noticed the dog’s protruding ribcage moving ever so slightly. He wasn’t breathing much, but he was alive.
“You could see his heart beating slowly,” Millwood said. “His gums were white and his eyes had sunken into his head.”
Millwood gently scooped the dog up, carried him to the animal control truck and laid him down.
“I tried to get him to eat a little food,” Millwood said. “He smelled the food and tried to eat, but couldn’t lift his head.”
Knowing that a starving dog may accidentally bite in his desperation to take food, Millwood nevertheless used his fingers to place small drops of water and bits of canned food in the dog’s mouth, on his tongue and around his teeth. He rubbed the dog’s throat to help him swallow. Finally, unwilling to risk overfeeding him, Millwood wrapped the furry skeleton in a blanket and rushed back to the shelter.
“He was literally hours from death when I got to him,” Millwood said. “There’s no doubt he would not have survived another night out there under the trash.”
Although he tried to get the dog discreetly into the shelter to avoid disrupting the adoption event, one of the volunteers, Tracie Vanderwalker, saw what Millwood had brought and rushed to assist. They wrapped the dog in fresh blankets and worked on getting a little more water and food into his shrunken stomach.
Van Vanderwalker, interim director at Macon Animal Control shelter, his wife, Tracie, and Nathan Millwood made sure the dog was as warm and comfortable as possible before they left that night.
The next day, the Vanderwalkers went to the shelter to care for the animals and perform the sad chore of removing the body of the emaciated pitbull.
On that Sunday at the end of Pardon Week, the starved dog lay on soft blankets in the kennel and blinked as the Vanderwalkers walked in. Surprised and delighted, the couple got busy. A dog with that much will to live deserved all the help they could give him. They warmed blankets in the dryer to bring his temperature up and spent hours pushing tiny amounts of food and water into his mouth and down his throat, holding his head up to help him swallow.
The starving dog had conquered one night, but his condition was still grave. Often, starved animals die when their organs become too weak to function and begin to shut down. Death for a starved animal is a long, torturous, painful process, and it can happen even after a dog is rescued and begins treatment. This pitiful, thrown-away pitbull was off the street but a long way from safe. The city’s budget does not allow for heroic – and prohibitively expensive – veterinary care. The emaciated dog’s future was dim.
But this sad, starved but undefeated dog had additional miracles coming to him.
Read more about this miracle-in-the-making here.