When Jessi and I first walked around the dog runs at the Jacksonville Humane Society six months ago, I didn’t know what to think. Here was this dog with mutilated ears, a growth on her leg, and a thick coat of flea dirt over her black-and-white spotted fur. She was malnourished and had heart worms. Her teeth were chipped, ground down, or even missing. She had a sensitive mange around her collar line. And as this pup with so many problems smiled at us and wagged her tail, Jessi knew we needed to meet her.

IMG_1927The staff at the Humane Society brought us into a small room with this dog who continued to smile and wag. We tried “sit” and “shake” and a few other basic commands with no response. The pup looked nervously around the room as the attendant told us she had just been brought in by animal control. They didn’t know anything about her besides what was on her chip (spayed, vaccinated, etc.). Jessi knelt down close to the pup’s face and whispered, “Do you give kisses?” The question was met with an immediate flurry of canine tongue, and wiping her face, Jessi turned to me and said simply, “This is our dog.”

It took multiple baths to get rid of the flea dirt and mange. The heart worm treatments required months of antibiotics and bedrest. We watched the growth on her leg with concern until her vet could inform us it was benign. We’ve had fearful moments over her stomach and back— not to mention some of the things she’s found to eat. But throughout the whole journey, Cowbell has been sweeter than anyone could have predicted, enduring every bath and every vet appointment with a smile and a wagging tail. She’s learned to sit; she’ll even shake now; and she still gives lots and lots of kisses.

This morning, it hit me just how far she has come.
As we began our morning walk, a car slowed and lowered its window. “Your dog is beautiful,” said the driver. I thanked her as she rolled up her window and continued up the street. Cowbell smiled and wagged.
IMG_2027We continued around the corner, and another dog owner saw us and exclaimed, “Cowbell!” (At this point, the Cow has much more of a following than either Jessi or I do.) This neighbor brought her own dog closer, and the two pups exchanged the customary canine greetings: sniff, sniff, lick, wag, sniff. Her dog is still just a puppy, and when I said Cowbell was five, she misunderstood. “Five months?” “No, five years.” My response was met with disbelief. “But she looks so young!” She didn’t look so young six months ago. Cowbell smiled and wagged.
As we continued up the street, a woman with a stroller and a dog of her own jogged by. Seeing Cow, she exclaimed, “What a cutie!” Unsurprisingly, Cowbell smiled and wagged.
We’re home now, and as I write this, she’s curled up next to me on the couch. Her breathing is slow and rhythmic, and her eyes drift slowly open and shut as she listens to the gentle pattering of my keyboard. As always, she has one of her paws extended so it rests against my leg.

IMG_1992“Your dog is beautiful.”
“But she looks so young!”
“What a cutie!”

I wonder if any of the people this morning (myself included) would have thought those things six months ago. Cow has gotten a second chance not because she’s lucky, not because she was perfectly behaved and knew a bunch of tricks, but because someone saw her and immediately loved her.
“This is our dog.”

If you’re thinking of getting a pet, rescuing is one of the best decisions you can ever make. Organizations like First Coast No More Homeless Pets and the Jacksonville Humane Society and Animal Hospital make it achievable and affordable.

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