2012-03-29 / Columnists

Pets Pets Pets

Like a mini-Marilyn Monroe, our Michaela, a mysterious matted Afghan Hound, was a candle in the wind, a fragile beauty who won the adoration of people throughout the world but whose tortured life ended too soon. Images of both blondes radiate a special aura and vulnerability that continue to captivate many.

Michaela surfaced as a pathetic stray at a NJ shelter; and for some unknown reason, someone had put a purple jacket over her mound of mats. A coat atop a neglected Afghan hides nothing. It’s as worthless as a band-aid on the Titanic.

She arrived at Helmetta Regional Shelter on Feb. 26 in the truck of someone who supposedly chased her for two days around Sayreville near the wetlands by the Garden State Parkway. Chasing Sighthounds is rarely successful, so if this is true, he must have pursued her to the point of exhaustion. She was in such a horrifying state of mats and malnutrition that Michal the shelter director, also a cruelty investigator and the Afghan’s namesake, came in that Sunday evening to shave her down under light sedation, a delicate project that took over 90 minutes. But first she had to remove the tangled Velcro straps of her purple coat. A CD with 34 photos of the shave-down provokes nightmares. I will spare you.

Craig’s List photo of Michaela. Inset, the purple coat. Craig’s List photo of Michaela. Inset, the purple coat. The walking skeleton Afghan had bleeding paws. Michal believed her pads had chemical burns, partly because of the area where she’d been found. Rescuers see bloody feet on panic-stricken Afghans, Sighthounds and track Greyhounds that run miles. The next day the poor dog went to the vet and returned to the shelter with meds.

A Craig’s List ad seeking information about possible owners alerted Afghan Hound fanciers. Her matted mess photo grabs you. The shelter was besieged with bothersome calls so Afghan Rescue requesting that I be the shelter liaison, and everyone else refrain from calling. On March 6, Bonnie (Babylon Shelter retired) and I went to get Michaela after her stray hold was up. She seemed perky, found the chicken nuggets hidden in the car and scarfed down pizza on our return trip. Anna (Afghan guru) would foster her in Westchester. We even had a potential home lined up. You’ve heard of the boy raised by wolves? Anna was raised by Afghans. Her sister is a veterinarian in Sweden while Anna is a pivotal person in the breed world wide. Michaela was in the best of hands.

The next day Michaela began sneezing and coughing. Anna had her isolated from her dogs but URI’s tend to be airborne. Her fever was monitored; appetite OK; vet appointment postponed because of contagion; antibiotics and foot cream changed. By Saturday at midnight when Michaela’s temp spiked to 106, Anna whisked her to the full-service specialist hospital nearby in Bedford Hills.

Here’s Anna’s excerpt from the first report: “Radiographs showed pneumonia but also air in the chest. Her painful loin, groin and right rear were actually slightly bruised per the veterinarians. Most likely Michaela had a run in with a car. (She was captured by a man that had chased her for two days with his car. God knows what she went through.)To save us money we did not go crazy on x-rays since no broken bones were visible in the first ones. She was admitted immediately and I got to sit with her while they hooked her up. She fell asleep. A bit of air was drained from the chest and we discussed lung lobe torsion. I went home feeling very drained myself. Poor baby.”

Pneumonia plus lung torsion in a deep-chested, debilitated Afghan are not good signs. Lung torsion itself could prompt a sad decision. If she had been clipped by a car, there could be further internal injuries and infection. Michaela spent four days in the ER until stabilized. We thought she was on the mend.

The bill would be thousands more than regional Afghan rescues could absorb. At this point Michaela became a special needs dog of Afghan Hound Club of America Rescue (www.afghanhound.net) which set up a Paypal account. Anna sent an appeal to Afghan Hound lovers across the globe. We posted updates on Facebook. The response was astounding. The first night I read a dialogue between Afghan owners in Taiwan comparing her photos to a dog they had saved. (Facebook provides translations now.) Michaela spawned a following of well-wishers. Donations came from as far as Britain, France and Australia. Michaela had scores of people rooting for her recovery. Later, a kind soul offered a plot in Hartsdale pet cemetery.

Michaela would need a new foster home without any dogs since she could still be contagious. Ronna, an artist who cares for Afghans at a glorious LI home, has only cats and offered to take her into her apartment. Michaela made herself at home, sprawled out on the sofa surrounded by Ronna’s fanciful pet paintings. Michaela soaked up room service, love and constant attention.

Then she stopped eating abruptly. Afghans can be drama queens yet none of our secret tricks or menu choices enticed her. We wanted her back at the Bedford Hills ER because they knew her. Bonnie gave her subcutaneous fluids on the couch before the drive. We were convinced the heavy duty antibiotics were making her nauseous on an empty stomach. We were wrong.

Michaela improved a bit before we left the hospital, her lungs appeared better, and then the downward spiral began. Diagnostics didn’t give a definitive answer; a plasma transfusion couldn’t stop the inevitable. It seems a pervasive infection had invaded her frail body. While soft music played, someone at the hospital stroked her 24/7, and on March 21, Michaela died in Anna’s arms.

You may wonder why there was so much fuss for just one dog. Michaela became the rescue catalyst. Her plight united and mobilized the Afghan Hound community. Days after her death, a rescue is underway in Indiana. Fifteen Afghans, most heartworm positive, have been surrendered by a hoarder. Hopefully the generous momentum will continue for their care.

Michaela became the rescue puzzle. Where did she come from? Her mats weren’t filled with sticks or leaves, suggesting she may not have been out long. No one reported her missing. She wasn’t a discarded show dog, brood bitch or runaway lure courser. She was someone’s pet, and that person put a purple coat over terrible tangles. Why?

Michaela became the rescue paradox. In the matted photo, she has the look of a queen with great dignity in spite of what she has endured. How can a dog survive so much suffering, only to perish once embraced by those who love her, a great medical team and admirers from afar? This type of tragedy happens too often.

Epilogue: There may be an explanation for the purple coat. A year ago the feisty Afghan Hendrix came to Pam in MA when he was 14, after his beloved owner died of cancer. He didn’t stay long enough to see his life celebrated in this year’s rescue calendar. He died last month. Hendrix owned a “Purple Haze” coat. “Rest assured, Michaela was greeted by a handsome dude in a purple coat today. Rest assured, he will show her the way,” were Pam’s words of comfort. Might such a colorful welcome be why pet heaven is called the Rainbow Bridge?

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