By Janet McAfee
Vanessa Ruggles and Curtis Sweesy, Loving All Animals’ German Shepherd foster parents, spotted the shelter dog’s photograph and video on Facebook. The German Shepherd appeared gaunt and distressed, listed by the San Bernardino City Shelter as “rescue only” due to numerous issues including “emaciated and fearful”. The couple grew more alarmed when a second video appeared showing the dog unresponsive, laying hopelessly on the kennel floor. Vanessa recalls, “I cried when I saw that second video where she wouldn’t even lift her head to look at the videographer.”
Meanwhile, I was returning by plane from the East coast when I spotted the same German Shepherd dog called “Chanel” by the Facebook networkers, and shared her photo. I wondered if Curtis and Vanessa would see the posting, but realized they already had a foster dog. I was surprised to get Vanessa’s message, “We will foster her!” Knowing she was in imminent danger of euthanasia, I telephoned the shelter, and in the first of many miracles, reached a “live” person and let them know our rescue would be there tomorrow.
We ran into huge traffic jam on the 10 freeway, nervously watching the clock tick towards shelter closing time. The desolate urban sprawl of San Bernardino, a low income community overwhelmed with stray animals, finally came into view. A front desk clerk admonished us we could not take this dog, but Curtis was having none of it. A worker accompanied us to the kennel where Chanel was laying on the ground, wedged against the back of her kennel, her body shaking with rapid tremors. The worker entered the kennel only to report, “She’s not moving, I can’t get her out so you can’t take her.”
We sat on the ground, Curtis trying to coax the dog. Eventually I turned away, my heart sinking, but knowing there would be other canine souls there to save. Curtis would not give up, repeating, “Come on, come on. You’ve got to get up, or you’re going to die here.” Finally the dog started to crawl towards him. When she stood up, we were shocked to see how much her bones protruded from her frame. Her tail was devoid of fur, and her coat was dull with many bald spots. It was heartbreaking to realize the cruelty inflicted upon this animal included starvation. But she was free, and we promised her a better future.
Dozens of rescuers followed Chanel’s status through social media, and alarm spread as the closing hour approached. We were impressed when a Los Angeles rescuer checked back, but not sure anyone other than Curtis could have saved her . Another snag developed when another staff person said we must have a large crate, but common sense finally prevailed. Usually the freedom ride out of the shelter is a joyful trip, with the dog gratefully wagging their tail and surveying the scenery. However, this dog remained frozen and wedged herself on the floor behind our car seats, still trembling with her head hidden ostrich-like under the seat.
Niya means “breathe of life” in Lakota Sioux, her new name reflecting the better life she was promised. With quality food, veterinary treatment, and loving care, Niya gained weight and started to trust. But her journey to become the dog she was meant to be was not over. In the beginning, Niya did not get along with the other large dogs at her foster home. She snarled at their “dog friendly” human visitors. After 2 weeks, she began to play with their other German Shepherd dog. Niya adored Curtis as did all the fosters, but she positioned herself as Vanessa’s special home office guardian.
Rocky Randall, local animal lover and entertainer, emailed Niya’s beautiful photo to her brother Bill in San Francisco, hoping he would adopt a second German Shepherd. The lovely photo taken by Alicia Bailey touched their hearts. Rocky asked to meet Niya, but it was a struggle to get the skittish dog into a car. She balked at going into the Loving All Animals’ office, and barked defensively at everyone. I was heading over to pick up Niya for another socialization session when Rocky excitedly telephoned. Bill and his fiancé Tricia unexpectedly drove overnight from San Francisco and were waiting to meet Niya. I was apprehensive, as Niya still seemed so afraid of new people.
Rex’s large frame swaggered down the Indian Wells street, the largest German Shepherd I’d ever seen. Bill assured me his dog Rex would lay on his back like a teddy bear if Niya became aggressive. Niya snarled once, and then “gave it up”. The two dogs walked seamlessly down the street as if they were lifelong companions, and Niya responded warmly to Bill and his fiancé Tricia as if she’d always known them.
When the right “match” occurs in your life, whether it’s that perfect job or meeting your perfect love, there is a sense that you are finally “home”. When Niya met her perfect family, she transformed before our eyes, her taught muscles relaxed, and her face softened as she posed for a happy adoption photo with her head cocked playfully to the side. There were tears of joy when Rocky and I watched the two dogs driving away looking out the rear of their SUV that had the name “REX” on the family’s license plate. Later the dogs slept side by side in their hotel room.
Today Princess Niya lives in a large estate in San Francisco playing with her handsome Prince Rex. Bill provides an update, “All of us are one happy family. Niya is almost completely over her past traumas.” The dog that was once afraid to travel by car now has a private airplane at her disposal. From a sad beginning of abuse and starvation, from hopeless to “home at last”, Niya is an amazing survivor who shows us that all things are possible.
Contact Loving All Animals at (760) 834-7000 and www.lovingallanimals.org.