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Offering an Underdog a New Lease on Life

February 6, 2008 by Tails Magazine in February 2008, Inspiration with 0 Comments

A glimpse at a pooch with a past and the people who granted him a future

by Katie Marsico

Nearly every animal-rescue group has a tear-jerking, heartwarming account of a homeless pet that has passed through its doors and undergone a kind of rags-to-riches experience that ends in finding a new home. There’s nothing quite as touching or inspiring as the story of a dog or cat who has survived less-than-ideal circumstances to transition into a more stable environment, complete with caring, affectionate guardians. But most pets don’t just find their way to an adoring family thanks to mere fate or luck. Chester, a blind, aging Cocker Spaniel, was no exception. His fantastic journey from cruelty to compassion highlights the dedicated men and women whose commitment to animals improves the lives of both humans and four-legged companions alike.

Finding sanctuary after a painful start

When Sheila Choi first met Chester in December 2005, she was “reduced to tears.” Choi is the president and founder of Fuzzy Dog and Cat Rescue, Inc., a nonprofit, no-kill animal-rescue group based out of Long Beach, California. When she arrived on the scene of a hoarding situation at a ranch in Palmdale, she discovered approximately 300 cats, 300 rabbits, and 150 dogs. The majority of these animals were suffering from varying degrees of neglect, but Chester’s predicament was particularly pitiful. The Spaniel was locked up in a pigpen by himself and was coated in feces, dirt, and urine. He was plagued by ticks and fleas and had little means of escaping the scorpions that were native to the area.

“He was literally a huge knot from his matted fur,” Choi recalls. “His eyes were not even visible, and he smelled [awful]. But behind the mess, I saw a very sweet, patient, and forgiving little boy who passively lived in a filthy pigpen without a single complaint.” After she retrieved Chester from the hoarder’s home in January 2006, he lived with her for three months and was treated for problems related to his skin and fur. Several of the vets Choi dealt with didn’t hesitate to recommend that he be euthanized. For starters, they reminded her, he was approximately 10 years old. He was also clinically blind, wasn’t used to walking on a leash, and hated cats. They noted that his chances at adoption seemed slim at best, but Choi refused to listen. Instead, she contacted Liz Finch, an animal help specialist at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah.

The sanctuary houses an average of 1,500 animals and was better equipped to deal with a canine that presented some of the medical and behavioral challenges that Chester embodied. It was up to Best Friends, however, to decide whether he was a good candidate for admission to the program, which is understandably only able to accommodate a limited number of pets on an annual basis. As an animal help specialist, Finch routinely deals with requests from members of the public who seek assistance with their pets and was especially touched by Chester’s situation.

“Based on the information Sheila told me about him—including his very sad background—I submitted him for admission,” Finch says, “and he was accepted.” Shortly after Chester’s arrival at the sanctuary in April 2006, he was added to Best Friends’ Guardian Angel Program, which offers interactive website updates related to the stories and progress of a selection of the organization’s special-needs animals. Meanwhile, staff began to put in overtime to prepare him for a new and better life at what it hoped would be his forever home.

The road to adoption

As the medical director at Best Friends, Dr. Michael Dix estimates that he sees about 10,000 animals every year, but Chester sticks out in his mind. “He had an incredible amount of exuberance for an older pet with no vision and little hearing,” Dix says. “He is further testament to how well dogs actually adapt when they’re blind.” In addition to being treated for dental problems, ear infections, and a condition known as dry eye, in which tear glands produce an insufficient amount of moisture, Chester also worked with behaviorists.

Specifically, Best Friends trainers Ann Allums and Pat Whitacre tried to modify his antipathetic attitude toward felines, using humane methods such as citronella spray and time-outs to show the stubborn Spaniel that his aggression was unacceptable.

“What I was reminded of in dealing with Chester,” Whitacre says, “is that quality of life and the ability to feel excitement or joy is not always related to obvious physical characteristics. When Chester was happy, he was as happy as any dog could be. When he was excited—especially by cats—he seemed about to burst! When he was tired, he slept. There was no need for sympathy for the poor blind dog. Chester would have none of that.”

Nor was there much time for sympathy. Much to the delight of everyone at Best Friends, Chester had already captured the hearts of a couple who had visited the sanctuary shortly after his own arrival there in April. Floyd and Martha Lampart of Lake Clear, New York, had previously adopted Cocker Spaniels from Best Friends and were returning for a burial. When Best Friends adoption specialist Kristi Littrell introduced the Lamparts to Chester, they were moved but hesitant. The family had another dog and two cats back home in New York, and they were concerned about how he would handle these prospective housemates. While Littrell had knowledge of and personal exposure to Chester’s dislike of felines, she was nonetheless optimistic.

“My job is mainly to place special-needs cats and dogs in their lifetime homes,” Littrell says. “I also foster most of the aforesaid animals, so I had previously taken Chester into my house. He lasted a total of one night with me, however, as he literally was trying to climb onto my kitchen table to get to my cat. At the same time, he was such a love, and the situation he came from was so incredibly horrid. Luckily, Floyd and Martha fell for him, and I knew they could offer him an amazing home. I’m truly fortunate to have many repeat adopters who welcome these special-needs kids and adore them no matter what.”

Homeward bound

There was no denying that the Lamparts did indeed have a soft spot for Chester, and they consequently started the formal adoption application process in early June 2006. The decision was risky but reflected their commitment to the dog, especially as no one could truly guarantee that he’d be instant friends with their felines. After applying to become the Spaniel’s guardians, the Lamparts continued to maintain frequent contact with Littrell, who waived the standard home visit from Best Friends in light of their previous experience with the couple as adopters. Chester finally began his journey to his new parents several weeks later. Best Friends intern Kristi LaValley was responsible for his transport to New York and made the drive from Utah over a period of four days.

“Chester will always have a special place in my heart,” she says. “I knew his history, and I understood that his life was absolutely horrible before he came to Best Friends. But then when I met his new mom [Martha], I was also reassured that he would never have to worry about anything ever again.”

The Lamparts greeted Chester on July 16, and their worries about any potential adjustment issues were ultimately assuaged. “Today, he is full of energy and the joy of life and living,” Martha says. “He has made friends, or I should say the cats have made friends with him. In fact, he loves my special-needs cat.” While the now 11-year-old pooch initially bumped into furniture and had to become accustomed to navigating steps outside the Lamparts’ house, he has learned to cope and is flourishing as a valued member of the family.

Chester’s story is more than an example of a pleasant ending to a rather unpleasant beginning. Nor is it just an account of working through challenges and overcoming odds—a proverbial tale of an underdog who had enough people believe in him to turn out all right. His existence is a reflection of the much vaster network of compassionate, giving experts, volunteers, and animal lovers who spend their time and resources to enrich pets’ lives, as well as those of their two-legged parents. The conclusion to Chester’s journey is a credit to all that they do and an inspiration for all that they will undoubtedly accomplish in the future.

“Now he chases chipmunks and patrols the perimeter of the yard, barking intermittently for the joy of barking,” Martha proudly says. “His tail is never still. It goes constantly and is, like Chet himself, pure happiness in motion.”

For More Information:

Best Friends Animal Society
BestFriends.org

Fuzzy Dog and Cat Rescue
FuzzyRescue.org

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