For My Sweet Vanya

It was dank and rainy. Muddy puddles and piles of soggy kibble surrounded the small ramshackled structure. An angry, disheveled teenager named Amber reached in through an opening in the wall that appeared to have been chewed away by some animal. One by one, she pulled the puppies out and handed them to us. When she got to the last one – number 7 – she shot me a dirty look and scowled, “I’m keeping this one.” She turned and walked away.

We thanked her parents for letting us onto their property, hopped back into the vehicle and drove away – disappointed that we couldn’t convince them to give us the pups’ undernourished mom, too. She would remain chained to the doghouse, a ready target for the next male dog who wandered by. The unnecessary, unending cycle would continue.

I was to become the ‘foster mom’ of these six shivering, filthy shepherd mix babies. They looked barely five or six weeks old. Just two days after they left those deplorable conditions in WV, I welcomed each of them to their new, clean and warm – but temporary – home with a close inspection and a thorough bath. There were three girls and three boys, all darling and fluffy, like tiny Russian brown bears. I named them appropriately: Katya, Sonya, Anya, Kolya, Zhenya and Vanya.

Sweetest little Vanya. He was the runt of the litter. Rather unsteady on his feet and more emaciated than the other pups, his sad little eyes just melted my heart. As the week progressed, the pups gobbled up more and more good food, lots of clean fresh water, nutritional supplements and medications to combat the parasites they all were carrying. They were rallying and developing into happy, playful little pups – all except little Vanya.

Despite all the support and attention, Vanya remained shaky and was becoming increasingly lethargic. I swung into emergency mode. He was now dehydrated. I started giving him subcutaneous fluids, feeding him frequently in very small amounts with a syringe, holding him to keep him warm and speaking softly to him to encourage him to catch up to his much more active siblings. He showed little improvement.

I bundled Vanya up, carried him to the car and held him in my lap as I raced more than 30 miles to the home of the rescue group’s President. She had much more experience with failing pups than I did and had even saved several from the throes of Parvo . . .

Under her expert care during the next couple of days Vanya rallied. He basked in the sunshine on the deck and tentatively played with several of the other foster dogs in the yard. Then, just as quickly as he had improved, he crashed. His tired little body couldn’t combat the next onslaught as another round of those insidious parasites hatched – nor could he tolerate another dose of the medication designed to suppress them.

Just two short weeks after being rescued from those bleak, contaminated conditions so very far away . . . Vanya died.

Those two weeks may not have been enough to save you, but they sure were enough time to begin to love you. Be a happy, healthy pup in that place on the other side where we will, indeed, play together again someday.

Today, on the day set aside for all the world’s homeless animals, I lit a candle and remember my sweet Vanya.

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