Anyone living in the Lowcountry this winter has surely missed the typically pleasant, sunny weather to which we are accustomed. I (Henri Bianucci) am from Chicago, so I'm not complaining, but these prolonged, and sometimes deep, bouts of cold give me a general sense of dread for the animals that have to get through them unassisted.
It was during one of these cold snaps in January that I was driving home one evening. As I neared home, I saw something from the corner of my eye. It was a white puppy with black spots standing in a gravel driveway, shivering.
I pulled in to take a look. There were nine puppies in all, and they looked like there were probably three or four different fathers. There were at least five adult dogs roaming about, keeping their distance. The owner of the property saw me and approached. I asked about the puppies. His explanation was that he fed the dogs that showed up there and allowed them to stay. That was the extent of the care he provided. The puppies appeared to be about 5 weeks old, and these weeks had not been easy ones.
From the moment they are born, something is trying to consume them from the inside and out. They were infested with intestinal worms, fleas and ticks. What strength the parasites were leaving was being rapidly consumed by the cold. I could see that they would not last long here.
I asked what he planned to do with the pups. He said his grandson wanted one and his son wanted two, but he was not sure which ones they would want. I pointed out the one who first caught my eye. She was white with black speckles and black patches over each eye. She looked emaciated, with a distended belly, indicating worm infestation. She didn't have long, so I asked if I could take her. He reluctantly agreed to let me take that one. We later named her Birdie for her resemblance to a pointer.
As I was leaving, I saw another one, apart from the group, sitting under a car, shivering. It was a little black male, about half the size of the others. He had cuts on his head, which I learned were bite wounds from his father. His distended belly dragged on the ground and his thin gaunt look and sunken eyes combined to give the appearance of a sick, baby, hyena.
"Surely neither your grandson or son would want that one," I said. The man agreed. "No, I expect not, you can take that one, too," he allowed. We called him Blackie.
When I arrived home, my wife and daughters immediately enveloped the puppies with motherly affection. They were given multiple rounds of flea baths, deworming medication, heaping quantities of food and, of course, love. The next day they were back at the mans' driveway to bring the rest home. In the end, he allowed them to take four more. All six were afraid and semi-feral at first, but their response to our care was almost immediate, and the transformation complete. They became absolute darlings.
We enlisted the help of our friend, Page, the best non-professional puppy placement service I have ever seen. She is a pure advocate for the pups. Discriminating to a fault, and unafraid to wrangle, if not offend. She single-mindedly pursues one goal: To place the puppies in the best environment possible, taking seriously the idea that she is responsible for their one shot in life.
I am happy to report that all were placed in wonderful forever homes. Blackie now resides beachside on Sullivan's Island; Birdie lives with another sibling in the Crescent.
What is important is that Blackie will never be cold again and they will all be loved and cared for.
I have gotten the property and defacto dog owner to agree to allow me to spay the mother. But as I was discussing this with him, a sweet hound/lab mix hobbled up. Her front leg was badly damaged and had healed crooked. I asked what happened and he explained that someone had shot her. He couldn't really afford a vet, and it's really not his dog, he explained. I took a second look and realized that she was pregnant.
So, in a couple of months, we will be doing it all over again. The moms mentioned here will be spayed, and the puppies will all have nice homes, but this scenario is being played out all over the place, and as spring approaches, it will get worse.
Unwanted and stray animals are synonymous with suffering. If you have dogs or cats, have them neutered or spayed. Sponsor a neighbor who cannot afford the procedure. Support your local rescue organization. The problem of pet overpopulation is man-made, and so is the solution.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to email@example.com.