Dog tales offer lessons in humanity

The story you are about to read is about Ken and Sue DeVries, who have managed the Mecosta County Animal Shelter for the past 22 years, and about other local individuals who have helped care for Mecosta County’s animals. I have worked with Boxer Haven Rescue and MidWest Boston Terrier Rescue for the past 10 years helping stray and abandoned animals, taking them to the vet if they need to go, assisting owners who struggle with behavioral issues and lastly making sure as many pets as possible are spayed or neutered. The story that follows is about five of the many stray dogs Ken has called me about and allowed me to bring in to rescue. Ken and Sue are retiring this year, and I am proud to call them my friends. I have looked into their kind eyes and I have seen much compassion. They deserve our recognition and thanks for having saved many lives over the years.

By Debbie Szot 

A good dog tale always begins with a wag.

The story then often centers on the eyes, the kind eyes that save a life. The best part of the story for me is in the end where the loving heart of a rescue dog and a family meet. The circle is complete for what has truly begun is a family.

My personal tale begins in 1989 with the wag of a small Scottish Terrier named MacKenzie.

I, along with a team of four girls, worked at The Pioneer Group for Jack Batdorff. Our boss in the advertising room was Linda Stevens, who started a program for my group in which we all stated a bonus we would like if we reached our sales goals.

I wished for a Scottish Terrier puppy.

One day at a staff meeting, a box with a red ribbon was given to me. As I opened the box it barked and I looked down into the blackest eyes I have ever seen. She was 12 weeks old and had been flown in from Kansas for me because I had achieved my sales goal. It was a difficult time in my life and the life of my young daughter. We were alone.

 

MacKenzie: Life saver

In many ways, the unconditional love and devotion of that small Scot with the coal black eyes saved my life. I took her home and she was there to help not only me but to help guide my daughter through those teenage years. Eventually, I met a wonderful man who would become my husband. Soon after I met David he met MacKenzie and she won his heart; then she chewed up his Guitar Player Magazines, thus making it very clear she loved him, but he needed to know his place in the family. Such is a Scotty.

She was the light of our lives until June of 1993. And then for me, and everyone around me, things changed. It was a warm and muggy day and MacKenzie was having a difficult time breathing. I called her doctor, Don Hitzemann, and we talked. She had this happen on other occasions and he had given her medicine. He asked if she appeared to be in pain at all and I said no. He was there for us; he always is. We sat with her, David and I, and for the very last time in my life those coal black eyes closed. It was very peacefully when she drew her last breath. Rarely does this happen without assistance. I always felt like it was the last gift she gave me as I don’t think I could have made the choice ever to end her life.

I wondered then, how does one go forward when a dog has been sent when you needed them most and saved your own life?

MacKenzie was what I call a “heart dog.” Heart dogs become a part of you. When they cross over, a part of your heart leaves with them and they in turn leave a part of their heart with you for all of time. I think that few heart dogs ever touch our lives. Most people who are fortunate to ever have a heart dog in their life have only one. I was fortunate enough to have not one but two heart dogs.

 

Riley: Therapist

Riley was my second. His life intertwined with mine in a different way than MacKenzie’s. When he was a puppy, I trained him and at one year old he became certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International. We spent many hours as a therapy dog and handler team visiting people in nursing homes, people in hospitals, and children in schools. His life was about saving others. To many, he became Dr. Riley. He touched people’s lives as a therapy dog in ways I never dreamed possible.

It was because of Riley and MacKenzie and what they did for others that I realized I owed them and their kind that same favor — the saving of lives.

 

Returning the favor

And so in 1993, our life with rescue dogs began. The rescue dogs lived in our homes, and Riley helped them to become balanced and whole, to heal and to move on to lives and families of their own.

There were more than 50 rescue dogs who graced our lives, lived with us and became balanced and ready for new homes. Lacy, the Boston Terrier who we called the dumpster dog, was found in a dumpster in Lake County. After she got her forever home she visited AIDS patients for hospice.

There were many more. Ruby from a Kentucky puppy mill, Lexy born into rescue, Zoe and Britta were from broken homes, Traveler was from a shelter in Holland and Mandy was from a shelter in Chicago, just to name a few. Each and every foster dog became special to us.

There were other special shelter dogs who have my heart because they were Mecosta County shelter dogs. Their tales begin with a man I call my friend and for whom I have much respect. This tale I decided needed to be written as my friend and his wife, who have run our shelter for 22 years, have saved thousands of dogs.

 

Kind eyes

Shortly after we became involved with Boxer Haven Rescue and Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue, I decided I should make a trip out to the local animal shelter and let the man who ran the shelter know that I could help him by taking in one of the breeds I now worked with if that would be acceptable to him. Often I joke about my own Dutch heritage and my strong willed manner. So I wondered just what Ken DeVries, who ran the shelter, would be like.

I expected because he was Dutch, like me, he would be strong-willed and tenacious, but when I arrived what I did not expect to see were the kind eyes that stared into mine. I should have known he would care deeply about animals and yet it had not occurred to me. I suppose I thought he would be all business having to take care of so many. I realized instantly how wrong I was.

A short time later, the first call from Ken came. The following are the tales of five of the dogs Ken called me about. Three special girls and two little boys would grace our homes along with all the others who had come and gone before them.

 

Time to heal

It was the day after Christmas and Ken said, “I have a young boxer girl with a broken leg. Can you handle that?” I told him I could, and when I arrived at the shelter I knew from the look in Ken’s kind eyes there was pain. It would be my first time to walk around the corner of the kennel and look into dark eyes of a dog who needed my help. She was small and brindle in color, about a year old. She had survived north of Big Rapids eating garbage and finally was hit by a car. A kind deputy brought her to the shelter. Ken scooped her up and loaded her into my car and off I went to Dr. Gordy Gilbert.

They kept the brindle boxer girl for several days. Dr. Todd Gilbert preformed her leg surgery and the staff cared for her. Then it was time for her to come to our home and become yet another foster dog. David named her Koa because she was the color of Koa wood from Hawaii. Over the next two months Doc Gordy would change her cast sometimes several times a week. She thrived and grew strong. Her buddy and healer was Riley of course. Soon she became well and found a forever home of her own.

 

Lady in red

The next call from my friend with the kind eyes would be about Samantha, a fawn boxer about five years old. Ken did not call me right away about Sami but rather ran her photo in the Pioneer. I was surprised by that, but when I spoke to him at the shelter he said, “I was going to call you but I had to give her family an extra-long time to find her; I think you will understand when you see her.” Like so many of the other family dogs that end up in the shelter, this dog had been kept by Ken longer than the law required him to. Over the years, I have watched Ken and Sue often take the extra steps to make sure that the dogs they take in have the best chance possible to either get back with their family or find a new family.

That day, as we walked toward her kennel, I wondered what was so unusual about this little stray girl that Ken had put her in the paper rather than call me right away. Then he introduced me to Sami and I knew what made her different. As I looked down at her, Ken spoke in his steady voice and said, “Now you know why I had to give her family a chance to find her – look her toenails are all painted red.” Clearly at some point in her life, she was somebody’s dog.

However, no one came for her. That kind of situation is the hard part of rescue; every dog was originally part of a family. So home came Sami to be another foster dog and Riley’s playmate. Then a family from Sand Lake applied to adopt a boxer. They were approved, met and fell in love with Sam and she had a forever home and went to work with her human dad every day for all of her life.

 

Sign language

The next call I would receive came in the evening. “I have another boxer girl; this one is white and she is deaf. Would you like her? She is just a pup, maybe six months old.” So once again I traveled to pick up another boxer girl from the Mecosta County Animal Shelter. Ken had left for the day and his helper Debbie Anger took me back to the boxer pup. When I picked her up she was so happy. I am sure it was confusing. I think it is confusing for any dog to be in a shelter no matter how well they are cared for, but for a deaf pup I wonder if maybe it would be worse. And this shelter girl had a case of demodex mange too, a condition that has to do with an overpopulation of mites on a dog’s skin.

Boxer Haven had just approved a family who had become friends of mine as volunteers. So on my way home, I called the Bunce Family and asked if maybe they wanted to foster this boxer girl. They said yes, and for Millie life began. When I dropped her off, her foster dad said “Oh, you would bring a cute one!” Right there on the spot I think Todd’s heart melted. Millie thrived and got on well at the Bunce’s. She has a human sister, two human brothers, two cat sisters, a boxer brother, a German shorthair sister and two very patient human parents. Millie learned sign language quickly and she learned not to chase her 10 chicken brothers and sisters too!

 

Finding hope

Recently I received yet another call from Ken. I had just left my dear friend Carly Schuberg’s funeral when my phone rang. Ken said he had a pup in very bad shape. “I think he is a Boston Terrier,” he said, “but he looks so bad I am not sure.”

We walked into the shelter and there just around the corner was the puppy. He had demodex mange so severely that he was just one big scab. I had never seen a case so bad. He was snuggled up in a bed with an afghan made by some kind local soul and donated to the shelter. As I looked down at the pup I thought both of us were going to just break into tears. He was so sick, I wondered if he could even be saved. Once again the man with the kind eyes scooped up yet another lost soul and loaded him into my car and onto my lap.

As I left the shelter on that very emotional day, I was not ready for the events that would unfold. My heart was already fragile having just been through Carly’s funeral, but I headed back to town and then at the corner of Mill Pond Road I saw them. It was like a scene out of a movie, Carly’s entire family walking down the road with the antique horse-drawn hearse pulled by the big work horses, Bert and Ernie, gently carrying their master on his last journey. There I sat watching them and thinking of my friend Carly and how he loved his dogs, horses and cats all of his life.

I looked down at the little pup into those sick little eyes and said quietly: “From now, your name will be Carly; you are destined to be someone special. You will be someone’s very special forever dog.”

He raised his head up at me as if he knew something good was yet to come. I knew then I would do my best to help this dog child, although in my heart I thought Dr. Hitzemann might say we needed to end this one’s suffering.

As I pulled into the clinic, Cathy, my veterinary technician, met me at the door. She took us in right away. When Doc came in to check the pup out I saw that same edge in Doc’s eyes – I realized it was the look of anger and injustice; that look of a kind man that said no one should have to be this ill, this misused and neglected.

I asked if we would have to put him down. He immediately eased my fears and said, “No, this is the worst case of demodex mange I have ever seen but he will be OK.”

I believed him and there was hope.

On one of the hardest days ever there was hope.

Little Carly stayed at the clinic for 24 days and received treatment.

During that time a friend of Boxer Haven and the Riley MacKenzie Fund sent in a donation. In her thank you card, I told her about the pup. She called me when she received the card and said, “Debbie, if it is OK my husband Mike and I think our boxer girl Sophie is ready for a brother. Could we adopt the pup?” We were all thrilled! So many had watched his recovery and now a forever home was just over the horizon for the pup.

Mike and Marilyn came and met the pup and of course fell in love with him as did his boxer sister Sophie. He is now named Louie and has a forever home where he is loved and cared for. Every day he looks into the kind eyes of his family and is warmed by the love of their hearts.

 

Coming home

It was Feb. 16 and again the phone rang. I looked and the familiar number of the Mecosta County Animal Control Officer came up on the caller ID. The familiar voice of Trent Livermore, our animal control officer, said, “I just dropped off a sick boxer at the shelter and Ken is expecting you to come and look at him.”

For me, this rescue was like coming home. That’s what we do, all of us who are involved in the Riley MacKenzie Fund and the world of rescue – that’s what it’s about – the saving of lives.

Once again my friend with the kind eyes would have that look of anger and injustice as he walked with me through the shelter door. There would be yet another white boxer pup with demodex mange so bad that he was missing nearly all of his hair. But he had a tail, a real long tail! And as I stepped into the kennel it was as if he was about to explode. He was so sick but he was happy, oh so happy.

Officer Trent took him to Doctor Gordy to have him checked out. The pup, now named Charlie, stayed for a week with him and then went on to a foster home. Soon he will have a forever home, all because of my friends with the kind and caring eyes: Trent, Ken and Sue. I realize how fortunate I was to have had my life cross the paths of these wonderful people and for that I am forever grateful.

My dog tales end here with just a few of the many tales I could have told you.

I believe it has come full circle. Many will never understand the kind eyes of the strong willed Dutch man I have grown to respect who has saved thousands of lives over 22 years. I have learned much about kindness and the love of a dog from this man, and I am proud to call him my friend.

So, Ken, as you and your wife, Sue, retire in the year of 2012, I wish you both many happy days and I thank you for the lives you have saved and all of the happy tails you have been a part of.

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