Willow, a fawn-colored pit bull-type dog, was hours away from certain death. She was literally starving.
"She was skin and bones and could barely muster the energy to stand up," says Kira Robson, supervisor at Chicago Animal Care and Control. "You could count every rib and see her bones." With no body fat to protect her, Willow was freezing, as the temperature had dipped into the lower 30s when she was discovered Nov. 3, shivering in an alley, by an animal control officer.
The harsh reality is that big city shelter employees see animal victims almost every day. Municipal open intake shelters only have so much space. In most cities, including Chicago, the law mandates a holding period (during which dogs can't be euthanized or adopted) of several days in hopes the owner may show up to claim the dog.
Some dogs arrive in such poor shape that immediate euthanization is the most humane and appropriate outcome.
"Willow was right there; honestly, she could have been euthanized," says Robson. She pauses to take a deep breath, holding her emotions in check. "There was something, something about her. We had to give her a chance."
Robson said that, at best, Willow had only a 50/50 shot, even with medical care, of making it through the night. She did survive -- at least that first night. Willow weighed only around 22 pounds, about half of what she should have. Looking into the dog's eyes, Robson says she saw and felt Willow's soul.
Big city animal control facilities are frenetically busy and have limited resources, Robson says Willow's only real chance for survival would be a rescue or shelter that would commit to saving her life. The first organization to express interest was Felines and Canines in Chicago.
The shelter occasionally has taken in other neglected animals. Still, Abby Smith, the executive director, vacillates between anger and sorrow as she talks.
"Willow was different. When I looked at her, I knew all she wanted, all she needed, was to feel safe, and to be loved -- and she has begun to love right back. At first, she was afraid and didn't want to leave her crate, but now look at her."
Willow walked into the room eager to meet a stranger with a camera, pen and pad of paper, gently wagging her tail.
"She's moving in the right direction," Smith says. "I don't know how this happened to Willow. But it's not only Willow -- these dogs are everywhere -- and we need to stop looking the other way when we see them. We've initiated the Willow Fund to help other dogs just like her who deserve a chance to live, to be loved and to love."
Dr. Joanna Krol says Willow was anemic and suspected she might require a transfusion. But then, her blood count began to move toward normal.
"As a veterinarian, I am always shocked to see dogs in this condition," she says. "The first week is the most crucial, and Willow continues to improve and gain weight (exceeding 27 pounds at the time of publication) so I am pretty confident that Willow is going to recover, though it's not going to occur overnight."
Smith adds, "Whatever happened to Willow didn't happen overnight. Someone must have seen this. Why didn't anyone speak up, take her to a veterinarian, or call the police, or an animal shelter?" Our message is, 'Say something,' implores Smith. "Don't allow this, don't accept this. Say something, do something."
You can do something by giving to the Willow Fund (http://www.felinesinc.org), or contact a local shelter or pet rescue organization and contribute money, or create a similar fund. "We can make a difference -- we need to," Smith says.
Smith walks to the other side of the room and Willow follows, only inches from her, as if they're attached by an invisible leash. Smith sits on the floor and Willow moves into her lap and stares at her.
After only a few days at a veterinary clinic, Willow was just moved into a foster home, where her recovery continues, as she romps with the other dogs who live there.
"Willow did nothing wrong," says Smith, now holding back tears. "She's something, isn't she?"
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)
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