The Story of Levi
I have been involved in the rescue of both my breeds since I began showing dogs almost twenty five years ago. I also am very selective about who gets one of our puppies. We stress to the new owners that if they are ever in a position where they cannot keep the dog, no matter how old or what may be wrong, we will take it back.
One day I got a call from good friend and fellow Airedaler, Lori Valentine. They were about to attempt to rescue a dog and there was a possibility it was from my breeding. When I fit the pieces together, I called the owners. Seems he had “a bunch of hereditary problems” and “come Friday her husband was going to see that both dogs were gone” and she hadn’t asked any questions. Being a concerned breeder, my first questions were about the hereditary problems. Skin allergies and demodex. I have never had this before in any of my dogs but explained that anything could happen and even offered her a free replacement (shudder!!) until she said “The really weird part is that we got a dog from the pound and within a few months he had all the same ‘hereditary’ problems as Levi!! Yes, they both have fleas and No, they just don’t want to deal with them any more. I asked if I could please take Levi back and see if he could be helped. A meeting was arranged as soon as possible. I was not prepared for the dog that got out of that car. A three year old male who’s bones you could count from across the parking lot, (he weighed 36lbs, should have been 50-60) in spite of the hundreds of matts. He walked slowly, with head hung low and an expression that I have only seen before in footage from the Holocaust camps.
People that know me and my own terrier temperament always ask what I said or did to that man that did this. I surprise them and myself, as I write this, by saying, I simply shook his hand, thanked him for giving me a chance to help Levi and walked away. I knew if I allowed even a portion of the storm to surface, I would have pummeled him into the asphalt and had to call Margo Dupre or Diana Fielder for that bail money we always joke about. Instead, I gently helped him into my van and sobbed the whole way to my vet.
I called the clinic on my way and they were ready for me. Both with medical care specialists and a box of Kleenex. After determining just how bad his condition was, my vet advised euthanasia. His hemoglobin was so low as to be life threatening, he was in end stage malnutrition. The mange was demodectic, most likely due to his health being so deteriorated that his immune system was shot. She doubted he could handle being treated for all the parasites. It’s almost funny now, but I was sobbing so hysterically when I got there that one of the vet techs who has become my friend, immediately ushered me out the back door of the building.
I had decided if he was heartworm positive, that would be my sign to put him down. Surely, he could never survive the treatment for that. When I went back in and Meryl, my vet back then, told me he had every conceivable parasite that a living creature can have, she then laughed and added, except for heartworms. She said ‘I honestly think he’s too anemic to support them!’ As if to confirm my answer to prayer, I began to notice something. In spite of the way he had been treated, in spite of his horrible condition, being so sick, in pain, every time the door would open and someone would come back into the treatment room, his head would lift, ever so slightly, his eyes brighten just a little and his tail would wag a slow, gentle greeting. Almost a question, really. Terri, the vet tech saw it too and decided the question was ‘Are you the one that is going to help me?’ I sobbed some more, gave him a big hug (bugs be damned!) and told Meryl to treat him for internal parasites, Frontline him for fleas and ticks but NOT to dip him. I was torn between overloading him with toxic treatments and knowing he was thoroughly depleted and still LOADED with parasites.
I picked him up three days later and began the ‘restoration’. Levi became a full time job for me. He was so malnourished that he had to be fed six tiny meals a day. He also had to be bathed every single day with medicated shampoo, which needed to be rubbed into his sores until they bled. Even as I hurt him, he smiled into my eyes, wagged and kissed my hands. Feeding him tiny meals was the hardest part. He was SO hungry and SO happy to be getting food. I cried until I thought I couldn’t cry any more. Then came the day that he finally only ate half of what was in the bowl. He walked away, thought about it, came back and repeated the process several times. Then I realized the problem and sobbed anew. He was too full to eat anymore, but couldn’t bring himself to walk away from a dish with food in it, being unsure that he could count on another meal. Then I went upstairs, only to be pestered by my own dogs. In spite of full dishes, they were overdue their morning ‘cookie’ and let me know it. I cried with happiness this time and said ‘Oh, you big brats! You have no idea.’
I hit all my friends and the internet for how to handle this dog. At first, I fed him six very small meals a day, consisting of boiled chicken breast and cooked rice. I gradually added some powder from PHD, made specifically for old or debilitated animals. Eventually, I switched him to the same diet as the other dogs. It was weeks before he was comfortable enough to walk away from food. He didn’t eat because he was hungry. He ate because he will never again be sure that food will always be put into his dish.
It took months of rehabilitation, especially to fight the demodex, which we ultimately DID get rid of. Rebuilding Levi became a full time job for me. I was driven by the light that still burned in those wonderful, warm Airedale eyes.
God’s Hand was definitely in this one and an angel named Walter came just to see what Airedales were all about. His visit had been scheduled before Levi arrived and he came only days after I had Levi. When he saw him, he thought he was a Weimeraner, because he had been totally shaved down and was completely blue/gray in color due to the severity of his anemia and the deteriorated condition of his skin.
Walter looked into Levi’s eyes and it was all over. I actually tried to talk him out of it and assured him it would be months before I could even think about placing him. Walter visited with all my dogs, came back to Levi, looked into those eyes again, got tears of his own and said, “I’ll wait.” He visited Levi several times during the rehabilitation process.
Levi is now the shining star of his neighborhood and the light of Walter’s life. Walter says walking him is difficult because he can’t get 50 yards without a neighbor running out to give Levi a cookie. To this day, the reminders are still there. He stunned us by growing a gorgeous, rich in color coat, however his legs are crooked from malnutrition during puppyhood and his tail is just a stump, we assume chewed off in frustration from being chained to a tree, starvation or both. He gets very worried if Walter is out of his sight. He hates cats, which made me laugh and say “Hey! There IS an Airedale in there!” Walter describes him as his best friend. They are both so lucky.