Mutual Rescue: The BookGet Your Copy Now
By Finnegan Dowling
“Who is going to adopt that dog?” thought Stephanie, a volunteer at Animal Farm Foundation in upstate New York. The older pit mix was in terrible condition. Emaciated, she was missing fur on both sides of her body. Her deflated breasts sagged towards the floor, one of them hosting a huge tumor. Sherryl had arrived on a transport from Miami-Dade County. Unable to be adopted out in Miami due to area breed bans, she had been transferred to Animal Farm Foundation. Whatever had happened to Sherryl before the shelter was written all over body. “She wore her story,” says Stephanie. “She didn’t need to tell you.”
As broken as her body was, Sherryl’s spirit didn’t reflect it. From the time she arrived, Sherryl loved everyone. On the same transport with Sherryl was Eta, a cute little firecracker of a dog and Sherryl’s best friend from the shelter in Florida. Watching Sherryl, so traumatized from years of neglect, happily playing with Eta touched Stephanie but broke her heart. How could an animal in this condition still be so loving and trusting?
Stephanie had her own pain, too. Lily, her beloved dog of 12 years, had passed several years before. Stephanie and her husband had adopted since then—Pike, a lovable goofball—but were hoping to have more dogs. Stephanie took Sherryl home to foster and promised Eta she would be back for her, too.
Several days later, Stephanie picked up Eta and the two friends were reunited. After five hard years of living, Sherryl was relishing the soft furniture, her new friend Pike, and the joy of being in a home. When Eta arrived at Stephanie’s house, Sherryl was delighted to see her friend and they immediately got to playing like puppies. Sherryl had surgery for her tumors, which came back as mostly benign—she could potentially live a long life. A home, a family, a good diet to put weight on her bones. Life was good.
When asked to describe Sherryl, “grateful” was the first word that sprang to Stephanie’s lips. The battered dog was so incredibly happy with everything and everybody. While Eta and Pike mostly ignored the bin of toys Stephanie kept for the dogs, Sherryl dove in with both front paws. She would spend hours playing by herself with the stuffed toys, throwing them in the air and catching them with her mouth. The sofa was a never–ending delight. So soft. So big. So comfy. Stephanie and her husband laughed that despite Sherryl’s skinniness, she seemed to expand to cover the whole thing. “It was like she had always been there, always lived with the other dogs. And she was so happy.”
Her happiness made Stephanie happy. She delighted in giving Sherryl everything that she had never had before. For the first time since Lily died, Stephanie brought her bed out for Sherryl. “I wanted her to have pretty things, nice things.” Sherryl was still learning about stairs and opted to sleep on the sofa instead of braving the staircase to the bedroom with the other dogs.
Every night Stephanie tucked her in before going to bed, only to find Sherryl gleefully playing with the toys by herself in the morning. Sherryl’s joy was infectious. No matter how badly it had treated her in the past, the worn white dog with the sagging chest loved the world. Loved her yard. Loved her canine friends. Loved her toys. When Stephanie would go volunteer, Sherryl stayed home. Animal Farm Foundation is a wonderful facility with frequent play times and lots of love and attention but it made Stephanie feel good to see Sherryl’s kennel empty and know that she was being loved and spoiled at home.
“Sherryl didn’t let her past define her,” Stephanie marveled. Whatever had happened in the past was the past. She lived entirely in the moment. “I promised her a Christmas, a nice sweater for the winter. I wanted her to have everything.” And no one would have appreciated it more than Sherryl, who seem to have forgotten about the before-times, about Florida, from the time her paws hit the soil off the transport.
Two weeks after she came home, Sherryl figured out the stairs. She was incredibly proud of herself. From that night on, she slept in the bed with Stephanie, her husband and the other two dogs, her expanding body filling all the space.
A week after that, Stephanie noticed Sherryl’s stomach was bloated. For the first time she didn’t want to eat and seemed lethargic. Stephanie sent a picture of her stomach to Animal Farm Foundation, who scheduled a vet appointment as soon as they could, though it was a holiday weekend. Despite her fatigue and pain, Sherryl wouldn’t stop being Sherryl. She tried to play with the other dogs and cuddled with Stephanie and her husband.
Then Sherryl started throwing up. A vet who was a friend of both Stephanie and Animal Farm Foundation opened their clinic despite the holiday just to see her. The news couldn’t have been worse. An undetected tumor on her spleen had burst. “How much do you want to put her through?” the vet asked kindly. There was no respite from the pain and disease.
Sherryl passed in Stephanie’s arms that day. “We only had a month.” Stephanie said “but she taught me so much. She came into my life for a reason. I look at life differently because of her. I cut out the woe-is-me. She came into this world under horrible circumstances and left knowing love. I told her every day she was beautiful. Because she was. Even in the beginning.”