Rescue

She was found wandering the streets of Gainesville. She had probably been on the lam for months. More than half-starved, she was also pregnant, the babies eating her alive as she unsuccessfully sought food. Someone brought her into the shelter and the veterinarians did a hysterectomy to save her life. That’s what they told us the day we met her at the Alachua County Animal Services shelter.

When we first laid eyes on her, she sat in a corner of the kennel, wide-eyed and silent as the cacophony of barking dogs broke all around us. Her belly had been shaved, you could see the long scar and her ribs, and her coat looked dull, but she got up willingly and touched our hands with her nose in a gentle, friendly manner.

We took her from the kennel to the small yard outside, and she followed us obediently. She wagged her tail. She passed by children and greeted them, friendly and calm. We took her by the cat room and she sniffed their scent with interest but showed no signs of excitement or aggression.

We decided to adopt her.

We named her Shadow, because she’s a black lab, because she follows us around like a shadow and because she has a shadowy past. When we got her home, she slept for several days. Sometimes we had to look at her carefully to make sure she was still breathing. In addition to healing from her surgery, starvation and pregnancy, she had mange, ear infections and worms. We got her medicine for everything, and she recovered.

Slowly she began to gain weight. She regarded the dog door with suspicion, but learned to use it. She got used to the cats.

My husband and I wondered about her past. It seemed clear that she had been owned by someone — she was too comfortable with people to have grown up feral. She showed no fear of people, dogs, cats or sudden, loud noises. But Shadow remained silent on the subject.

She took a while to warm up to walking. I would put the leash on her and before we would leave the front of the house, she would plant her butt on the sidewalk and look at me reproachfully, refusing to move. I began to coax her with pieces of dog food, getting her to move slowly down the road one bite at a time.

After a while, she discovered that she loved walking. Now when she sees me put on my tennis shoes, she gets excited. The longer the walk, the better. When I walk her, I often wonder where she has been and what she has seen. Does she ever think back to that time? Does anything remind her of that dreadful experience of nearly starving to death?

Time passed by. Her coat became shiny. She discovered tennis balls and squeaky toys. She became more joyful day by day. And her joy is contagious — to us and to everyone she meets. Everywhere we go, people go out of there way to tell us what a lovely dog she is.

Shadow is my heroine, a living role model of resilience. She has overcome adversity with all of the openness and love and joy possible, and is living her life to the absolute fullest.

We are so lucky that she rescued us.

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