My husband and I never have had a conventional relationship. He was an active-duty soldier for the United States Army stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas, while I lived at home back in Kentucky to be with family in the event that he was deployed. This meant a few weekend trips to Fort Bliss a few times a year and even fewer two week leaves for him to come home.
On a short weekend trip to Fort Bliss in late October 2011, we decided that, given the fact that I was home alone and having a difficult time coping with the emotional struggles that were a part of being a military wife, I should go to the humane society back home and get a medium-sized dog to serve as a guard dog and companion. So the day after my plane landed back in Kentucky, I drove to the McCracken County Humane Society in hopes to find a new best friend. I found so much more.
If you’ve ever stepped foot in any animal shelter, you know how absolutely heartbreaking it is. All of the dogs crying, barking, and shaking out of pure fear will give you the most helpless feeling in the entire world. This was no exception. There were so many dogs caged together in such small chain link fences. I walked down the cold, concrete corridor making sure I took my time observing each and every dog to my left and right. I wanted to adopt every one of them, but I knew I could only choose one, and I needed to make sure I had the perfect fit.
I walked all the way to the end of the corridor and still hadn’t clicked with any specific dog. Some were hyper, some weren’t friendly, some were just terrified of humans. I reached the very last cage and saw it was full of four large dogs. Then, a wet nose nudged my hand through the chain link fence and there stood the largest dog in the whole humane society. To say that this mastiff was gigantic is an understatement. He was practically a horse! All of the other dogs were barking and growling and jumping around, even jumping on him to try to get my attention. But this dirty, underweight mastiff stood still. He focused on me and wanted nothing more than to give me his love and for me to return the favor. This was the one.
I walked back to the front of the building to try to find some help. One of the workers was busy and another was just plain rude. Finally, I came across a man in another kennel tending to some other dogs and asked for his assistance. He was so polite and stopped what he was doing to help me immediately. As we walked together back down the corridor, I explained to him I was interested in the mastiff in the last kennel. He instantly gave me a look of surprise. I asked why it was so shocking for somebody to want this sweet and loving dog. He then told me that the mastiff had been there the longest of all the other dogs and was soon to be euthanized. Oh no, he wasn’t! Not my new dog! He figured he had been there so long and had been looked over hundreds of times simply because he was so large. I attempted to acquire more information about the gentle giant I had fallen in love with in a matter of minutes, but the humane society knew absolutely no details on this dog. They didn’t know if he was housebroken. They didn’t know if he knew any commands. They didn’t know his age. They couldn’t even remember how he ended up at their facility. This man proceeded to tell me that the sweet fur-baby was the only dog there that didn’t have a name. As you can imagine, I was crushed into a million pieces.
We fetched a leash and collar so I could take the majestic and calm dog for a walk. He walked perfectly around outside with the helpful employee and me for about twenty minutes. The longer we walked the more I realized that this dog really cared for the employee. I told the man that it seemed like the mastiff really loved him, to which he replied by saying, “If I were the only person who gave you food for the majority of your life then I guess you would love me, too.” Yet, again… my heart was crushed.
I took the gentle giant back inside so that I could fill out his adoption papers. I could not help but cry for such a sweet animal that had so much love to give, but had such a hard time finding love to receive. I cried out of sadness. I cried out of joy for the new life he was fixing to be given that was beyond well- deserved. Tears saturated and wrinkled the adoption paperwork. The final step of my adoption process was handing the lady behind the desk a twenty dollar adoption fee. On our way out the door I turned around to the employees and told them, “By the way, his name is now Zeus.”
Zeus and I left the humane society and went straight to PetSmart. I was going to make sure this loving, laid back, drooling new best friend of mine was spoiled. We spent our time in the store. I let him test out the giant beds, try the different treats, sniff around for his favorite dog food. He was so well-behaved. He didn’t mind the other animals in the store and stayed focused on walking as close to me as possible. We filled up a whole cart full of goodies and both quietly enjoyed our ride to his new home.
I must say, his first few days home I was nervous. I was afraid he might have had some bad habits such as chewing or having accidents in the house. After several days, still no accidents. I was impressed. I soon discovered this dog didn’t need much training at all. He was already housebroken, he knew how to sit and stay, he wouldn’t get on the furniture unless invited, and he was so smart. Within just a couple of weeks he had already learned to lay down, roll over, shake, jump, crawl, speak, and my favorite…snuggle in bed!
Zeus was becoming less and less of a dog and more and more of my child. I found myself happier and more occupied after Zeus’s adoption. I wasn’t afraid of being in my own home alone and he gave me a reason to look forward to a new day. I was coping better with the difficult situation of being away from my husband and had Zeus to make me laugh and smile with his silly tongue sticking out and rolling around if I was having a bad day. He may not have been the medium dog I had set out for, but he was the only dog for me.
One night just a couple weeks after our life-changing adoption, Zeus and I were sprawled out on the couch sharing our Cheeto Puffs watching the local evening news like we always do when a story came on about the McCracken County Humane Society. The kind and helpful employee who helped me gain my furry companion was on the television speaking about some horrible act he had recently discovered committed by the humane society. The news then played a graphic video taken secretly by the worker from a cell phone video camera of the animals in the humane society being illegally and inhumanely euthanized. There were bodies of cats and dogs piled up on the floor. It was evident that they had suffered an agonizing death from being put down without sedation. Others were still suffering and struggling to breathe. It was gruesome to say the least.
I turned to my Zeus and I cried. He was next. Had I not taken this caring creature in he would have been euthanized in the same disgusting manner in just a matter of hours or days following my visit to the humane society. Nobody else wanted to give the housebroken, partially trained, caring cuddle bug a chance because he was so big. It was so horrifying to me that my sweet, gentle giant was almost one of those poor, innocent dogs in the video. I mourned for the dogs that nobody gave a chance and I was not able to save. I held Zeus the rest of the night just grateful that such a great dog got the loving home he deserved, just in the nick of time. As if being euthanized wasn’t bad enough, it was in such a violent and painful way. A day later would have meant a much more tragic ending for my furry sweetheart.
I still tear up thinking about how much Zeus continues to help me, gives me unconditional love, enjoys his new life, and gives my recently-returned husband and myself so much joy and happiness. I most certainly continue to mourn for those animals that suffered and I hug Zeus so tightly knowing I was probably the only person willing to give him a chance and rescue him when it mattered most. We saved each other’s lives more than either one of us could ever begin to explain. To this day I can honestly say that spending twenty dollars on what everyone else saw as a nameless, drooling, filthy mutt was the best money I ever spent. He’s forever my gentle giant.
Original News Story:
Courtesy of WPSD Local 6 News Channel, Journalist Jason Hibbs, Paducah, KY, Nov. 18 2011