by Amy E. Murphy
It feels weird to quote myself, but I think it is the best way to start this story…the story of a very special dog. On the day I met him, I came home and started a blog of sorts, for the rescue where I volunteer. This is what I had to say:
“I met ‘One Of Those Dogs’ today. I’d tell you his name, but he doesn’t have one. I can, however, tell you that he has one of the most amazing spirits I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. I can also tell you that his capacity for love and forgiveness warms my heart….and shatters it into a million pieces.”
It all started in May of 2008, with an email from a friend. She herself had gotten a very disturbing email from a pound in a neighboring state. The email contained information on all of the dogs who would be put to sleep that week, and on that list was severely injured and underweight Pitbull. My friend could not stand the fact that this poor dog would have to go through the pre-euthanasia waiting period, enduring horrible injuries that would go untreated. She contacted me in hopes that North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue, the dog rescue with which I volunteer, could help.
As is always the case with rescues, we were beyond full, beyond broke, and beyond exhausted. This dog looked like a major project, requiring funds we just didn’t have. But the founders of the rescue made me a deal…if my friend would put in the 2.5 hours of driving to retrieve the dog and bring him to our very favorite vet’s office, they agreed to pull him from the pound. They truly believed that we would receive such bad news at the vet that the only option would be to put him to sleep, and save him the extra 5 days of pain. I explained to my very responsible, reliable and rescue-savvy friend that there was no money for surgeries or any major interventions…that this would most likely be a mission of mercy to end this dog’s suffering. She expressed her understanding, and arranged for a very early morning pick up.
Next came all the phone calls. “Amy, the vets don’t want to put this dog to sleep. He is the most wonderful dog, I just can’t believe it. Everyone at this office, including me, is madly in love. Will the rescue let us save him if I promise to help raise the money?” At that point, countless calls went back and forth, between me and the founders of the rescue, me and the vet who would ultimately have to perform surgeries, and me and my friend. I asked her endless Pitbull-specific questions, as the only familiarity she had with the breed was my dog Oscar. I had her gather as much information about this dog’s temperament and behaviors and attitude as I could. She got me all the right answers, except for the ones where they said that this guy was going to need a leg amputation as well as throat surgery for crush injuries to his neck. Due to my firsthand experience with her knowledge of, her skills with, and her intuition about animals, I just had to trust her. I agreed to foster this dog in my home pre and post surgeries. She got to work on some fundraising ideas. The rescue started worrying that we might be in over our heads.
Once again, it is easier for me to quote my writings from that first day:
“When they brought the little guy out to me, I thought ‘Oh wow, they put a big, squishy purple wrap on his wound…oh wait, it looks like a full-thickness cast…that’s odd, why would they cast his leg until his amputation?’ But as he hopped closer (with a great deal of agility and a huge “smile” on his face I might add), I saw that there was no cast. That was his LEG. It was three to four times the size it was meant to be, the skin was so damaged and swollen that this chocolate-colored dog had a purple leg. His coat was atrocious, patchy and flaky, with odd colors and textures mixed throughout. I was sure he had some sort of skin disease. By the time he reached me, he leaned against me and licked my hands and my legs. He rubbed along my shins like a cat. He wagged his tail so hard it went in circles. It was then that it dawned on me how emaciated this guy was. I have seen photos in magazines and on websites, but I have never in my life seen such a thin, sick dog in person. And the tears came.Tears for what this dog had endured and was still enduring, but also for the spirit and the love that he so obviously had in spite of it all.
While I waited to speak with the vet who had cared for him that morning, I got to look at him more closely. I got to see the love and hope in is eyes. I got to see the innumerable cuts and rips and scars mixed in with his awful-looking coat. I saw that his head was enormous, yet his body was miniscule. I saw every outline of every bone in his skeleton. I saw the drainage that dripped continuously from the 3 inch wide and 1 inch deep pit of a wound in his leg. I saw the fleas climbing in and out of his fur. And the tears came.
When the vet came into the exam room, she looked down at this poor, pathetic dog and she absolutely BEAMED with the most loving smile. She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Isn’t he just beautiful?’ And the tears came. ‘Don’t worry’, she said, ‘he has made all of us cry today.’ Then she handed me a tissue and continued, ‘I am certain that this dog is here to be an ambassador for his breed. He has scars that will never go away. He managed to escape true Hell, but not without losing a leg in the process. Yet, he smiles and he wags, and he loves us strangers without a second thought. All day he was poked and prodded and x-rayed and positioned. He was handled by the entire staff, just to see what baggage you rescue folks would need to know about. No matter what we did to him, all he did to us was give us his belly, wag his tail, and lick any face that came close enough. This dog is an ambassador. He loves life, and is willing to fight for it.’ And the tears came. It took me a minute to truly grasp what I was looking at. I asked the vet about his skin condition and she said it was pure, unadulterated, filth, grime and crud, mixed in with the absence of nutrition. I couldn’t take it all in. Like I said, I have never been in the presence of anything like this before…not in real life. I looked at his skin. I looked at his torn ears. I looked at his scars and his wounds. I looked at that grotesquely disfigured leg. ‘Was he a bait dog?’ I asked quietly. She nodded her head and said ‘I would bet everything I own on that…yes, he was a bait dog.’ I asked if his leg was the result of a kick or a car, and the vet told me that it was also the result of a dog bite…a bite that became so infected that the bones of his legs were being eaten away and were crumbling. That his joints had fused, and that his leg had been that way for months and months. He had puncture wounds that were much more recent than the leg injury. She told me that, in other words, he continued to serve as bait, with only 3 good legs, while other dogs ripped him apart. And the tears came.
I met One Of Those Dogs Today. And he still has no name. I can’t think of one that even comes close to being good enough for him. And the tears are still coming.”
The next few weeks and months were a whirlwind. It took over a week to find a name that could ever do this dog justice, but finally, a decision was made. During a visit from my parents, my Dad—who served in the Marines during the Korean War—came up with the answer. He suggested we name this dog Gunny. Gunny is the term of immense endearment that Marines have for their Gunnery Sergeant…a Marine who fights side by side with his men, a Marine whose bravery, strength and loyalty knows no bounds.
Gunny fit into my home in ways that shocked and amazed everyone who witnessed it. Of course I did everything incredibly slowly and incredibly cautiously, as this was my first experience with a “fighting dog”. Unbelievably, there was not one single issue. Gunny seemed thrilled to be surrounded by my Pitbull mix, Oscar, as well as all three of my cats. Oscar was patient, generous and gentle with Gunny. Linc The Cat, who truly believes he is a dog—and most likely a Pitbull at that—held a vigil beside Gunny’s crate all night, every night. When Gunny had to be kept quiet before and after surgery, I kept him on a leash whenever he wasn’t in a crate. At times, Gunny would be tied to a sturdy kitchen table while he napped on piles of blankets and I washed dishes or completed other mundane tasks nearby. Without fail, Linc The Cat would curl up on those blankets, a foot away from Gunny, for as long as Gunny stayed there. My other two cats, Millie and Tobbles, took turns washing Gunny’s face and cleaning his ears. I kid you not, the experience was like something out of a Disney movie.
We all started the fundraising efforts from day one. The excerpts I quoted earlier went out in an email I sent to the animal people in my life. Before I knew it, that email was circulating like wildfire. Donations started pouring in, from all over the state, as well as some far reaching parts of the country. Gunny received one letter from a fourth grader, with two one-dollar-bills in the envelope. She apologized that she has already spent the rest of her birthday money, but wanted to help Gunny with what she had left. Months later, she sent him another two dollars from her allowance. Gunny went back to the vet for a pre-surgery checkup a day or two after he arrived from the pound. I noticed a woman walk into the office in tears as I was leading Gunny into an exam room. A few minutes later, the receptionist knocked on the door and asked if someone could come in…I thought she meant a staff member. That crying woman, who I had never even heard of, came in. Apparently, my email had been forwarded to her at some point in the chain, and she was reading it on her Blackberry at stoplights while driving. She said she realized she was close to the vet’s office where Gunny was being treated, and wanted to stop by and leave a check to be applied towards his bill. It was just a coincidence that Gunny was there at that time, and she was absolutely thrilled to meet him.
That same kind of support bubbled up all around our community. The visits to the rescue’s website and Gunny’s blog were off the chart. Their daily emails quadrupled, and fan mail started rolling into their post office box addressed to “Gunny c/o Amy” from people I had never met.
Just a week and a half after his amputation, Gunny made a very brief appearance at a radio station’s volunteer event to tell his story. After he recovered from his first two surgeries, the rescue hosted a Meet and Greet so that all of Gunny’s fans could come and meet the Celebrity. The Charlotte Observer ran a front page, two page article with photos telling all about Gunny, and inviting the public to the party. Local businesses donated cakes and decorations. The TV news came to the party. It was incredible. Several times I have been out walking The Boys, only to have people stop and ask me “Isn’t that the dog I saw in the paper?”.
A few months after his first two surgeries, Gunny had to go in for a third, very invasive procedure to be performed by a specialist. The more conservative first surgery was a place to start, but we all knew that there was a significant chance that the results did not work long-term. We decided to take that risk, hoping we could spare Gunny more involved surgical procedures and recovery routines. Unfortunately, Gunny’s body “over-healed” the surgery site, and the damage to his throat began to give him trouble again. It was at this point that I started researching funds and grants to help find more money for Gunny and the rescue. Pitbull Rescue Central and United Animal Nations both responded to my applications, and their grants helped to pay about one half of the surgery costs.
Although I went into this as Gunny’s foster Mom, it became clear that I was anything but a temporary home for Gunny. It was obvious that it would absolutely kill him to leave us. When he was scared, he stood behind me or behind Oscar, whoever was closer. When I was out of his sight, he SCREAMED at the top of his lungs, sounding like a human who was being ripped apart. It was heart-breaking. For a long time, he had to be touching either me or Oscar at all times, and I had a second shadow.
Gunny’s celebrity continues to this day. Recently, when a new program designed to prevent dog fighting was announced on the news, I called to volunteer. When I explained that I had a rescued fighting dog and would love to be involved in public education for the program, the Director quickly asked “You wouldn’t happen to be Gunny’s Mom, would you?” She had seen a video I had made of Gunny’s story, and told me that she donated money for Gunny’s bills and told her husband “My dream is to meet that dog someday.” Gunny is now the Official Spokesdog for the program, and Gunny’s favorite reporter from The Charlotte Observer ran another story—this time about the program and Gunny’s involvement. We had TV news cameras present at the community orientation, and of course Gunny was on camera multiple times. Oscar is also involved in the program, as a Demo Dog, showing kids who own Pitbulls all the things their dogs can learn to do INSTEAD OF FIGHTING. Oscar shows off his advanced obedience skills, does Frisbee demonstrations, and runs agility courses. I talk of his Therapy Dog title with Delta Society, and how Gunny will also try for that title once his obedience is up to par. My goal for Gunny’s therapy visits centers around soldiers returning from war, maybe even those who have also lost limbs.
Gunny continues to make guest appearance at events for the rescue, and when people walk through the door, their first question is usually “Is Gunny here today?”. People ask if I will take their photo with Gunny and their family. Many people have told me “I keep a photo of Gunny on my desk at work.” Just the other day, a friend told me that she called a random heating company to come fix her broken furnace. The repairman was very friendly and soon the conversation turned to animals. At some point my friend asked if he had ever heard of Gunny. He told her he has a photo of himself and Gunny, taken at some rescue event, on his coffee table. When she showed him her photo of Gunny on the fridge, he gave her a big discount on her service bill!
So, the vet hit the nail on the head the day she met Gunny. He did turn out to be an Ambassador. Ironically, Oscar’s very favorite trainer told me the same thing about Oscar when she met him as a five month old puppy. He proved her right as well. Gunny and Oscar continue to give back to their breed, and have educated more people than I can even count. Untold numbers of people are now aware of the absolute lies being spread about this breed, just because of the time they have spent with The Boys. These same people come back to me and tell me of the conversations they have had with other people, defending the breed with first-hand experiences and facts. Both boys also help to socialize homeless dogs from the rescue, modeling perfect social skills and helping to instill trust in timid dogs. They love people, especially kids. Oscar has played ball for hours on end with kids as young as 18 months old. Gunny’s first Halloween entailed escorting neighborhood 2 year olds from door do door, sporting a wizard’s hat.
Amazingly, Gunny is completely at ease with other dogs, even when he is surrounded by huge Pitbulls that must remind him of his days as a bait dog. He holds no grudges, he passes no judgments. If only we could convince the humans to have the same attitude towards him and his breed, the world would surely be a better place.