This beautiful lady has obviously been through so much. I'd like to tell you the portion of her story that I personally know. You see, I was one of the shelter workers who tried so hard, for so long, to gain Topanga's trust.
I saw her for the first time one cold morning as I was coasting down the shelters driveway going to work. There is a little house that sits off the driveway just a few hundred feet from the shelter its self. As I passed the house, I saw the most broken but sweetest looking dog standing between the house and the driveway, quietly trying not to be noticed. Her teats were hanging and still had some milk in them; I knew she had just come off a litter of puppies. I felt so sad for her and I wondered where her pups might be. She turned around when she saw me so I stopped to watch her, hoping that she would head for home. As she turned though, I noticed a gash on her shoulder, about 6 inches long, and it looked pretty deep. I wanted to go to her but when she noticed that I had stopped she trotted off, away from my truck. And that is how our journey with Topanga began.
For weeks, I, along with other shelter employees attempted daily to win this white pit bull's trust. She hung around the shelter and a neighbors place because there was an abundance of food at her disposal. We always kept cat food outside, to feed the feral cats that were a part of the TNR (trap neuter and release) program, and the neighbor had pets of his own and began leaving food out for Topanga as well. One afternoon the neighbor called the shelter to tell us had coaxed her into his barn, with the help of his Jack Russel Terrier, and that she was warm and safe. The next day we brought her into our kennels and began treating her wound and get her on a healthy track to start a new life.
I was the adoptions coordinator and behaviorist at the shelter. I must say that Topanga is one of the softest dogs I've ever met in all of my 28 years of working with dogs. She literally had a look of doom on her face, as if she expected the whole world to come crashing down on her at any second. It was painfully obvious to me, in seeing both her physical scars and her emotional state, that this poor dog had lived a completely sad and highly probable abusive life.
The picture to the left was taken during one Topanga's daily trips to my office. As part of her therapy, I would bring her up front with me to hang out and gain her trust. It took some time, but eventually Topanga began to look forward to our time together and she grew comfortable enough with me to actually look at me when I had that big scary camera covering my face. (I promise that isn't poop by her tail in the picture. It was a treat that I had given her. She did not like it and she was apparently letting me know!)
The day Topanga went home with her foster mom, she actually had to be carried to the car. You see, there were a few people that she trusted at the shelter and she would walk along happily with those few. She had a couple of "doggie friends" who were confident and open to playing with anyone, and they helped make Topanga feel a little bit better about herself. Their energy seemed to empower this angel enough to help her take walks and she even began to play with her trusted shelter employee friends. With people she did not know however, Topanga was still very shy and unsure of what to expect. When I sent her off with her foster family, my heart broke and I was (admittedly) afraid for her. Not because I did not trust the family whom we chose to care for her and show her what the life of a beloved pet should be, I had every bit of faith in these folks. I was afraid for her because I knew how extremely hard this next step in her road to a better life would be. I knew the obstacles that Topanga would have to overcome, and I knew how afraid SHE was to be leaving the place she had come to call "home" and the people she had learned to trust. The shelter is no kind of home. It's boring, it's cold, it's noisy, it smells funny and it is a very scary place for an animal whether their time is up or not.
A few short weeks ago, we posted an update with pictures of Topanga and myself. We had an event at a local pet store and Mrs. Topanga stopped by for a short visit. Very much to my surprise and pleasure, the dog I saw that day was not the same dog that I said "good bye" to at the shelter. I watched as Topanga approached our table with her head held high. Her tail was still tucked between her legs, but she had a new confidence about her that brought tears of joy to my eyes. This is all because of and thanks to her new foster family and their devotion to helping Topanga through whatever fears she might face, and to their patience in allowing Topanga time to process the new world around her.
I really enjoyed spending time with Topanga that day at our event. I think her favorite part of the day was going into the pet store and getting to choose her own treats from the smorgasbord of dog treats and toys on the lower shelves. The highlight of my day however, was when it was time for her to go home and I watched as her foster mom opened the door to the truck and Topanga jumped right in and took her seat, anxiously waiting for the ride that was to come!
Some of you may have attended Pet Fest at Mount Pleasant Palmetto Islands County Park over this past weekend. If you were lucky, you stopped by our table on Sunday and got to meet Topanga in person. I, unfortunately, was not there on Sunday, but Alicia (our director) sent me the most fabulous pictures and a truly wonderful update! Topanga walked through a massive crowd of people and dogs, with noise and smells coming from all different directions and she did it with more confidence and a great big bully grin! She's still got a good bit of rehab ahead of her before she is ready to move into her forever home, but just look at the pictures below and tell me that opening your home to a dog in need is not worth it...
Become a foster for Pit Bulls in need.
Fun Fact: Topanga is a Shoshonean Indian word or name that means 'above place', and is often used in reference to the sky or heaven. I can't think of a better name for this little lady, because she truly is an angel sent down from heaven above.