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RedCloud’s Journey: From Abandoned to Beloved

Every rescue dog’s story is different, but the theme is the same: it takes a village, sometimes a global village, to come together to save those in need. Just how does that happen, and what are all the steps along the way? If you have ever wondered, read on and RedCloud’s story will give you a pretty good idea of a typical rescue.

RedCloud showed up in the Miami-Dade animal shelter in October 2010, skin and bones and all smiles. The 16-month old male Belgian Malinois was a stray, found running the streets, riddled with hookworms and weighing under 50 pounds. He looked like an anatomical model of a dog with some fur glued on. His head was several times too big for his body, and his stature left you wondering if he were part Shetland pony. But his spirit was totally unbroken: by all accounts he was a goofball, through and through.

At the Shelter
Preliminary veterinary care included identifying the intestinal parasites as hookworms and getting Red neutered. Terribly overcrowded, Red was placed in a cage with a terrier who, despite being about one quarter RedCloud’s size, bossed him around something fierce. Mr. Terrier jumped up placing his paws on Red’s shoulders and growled, bullying him into the back of the cage.

A volunteer from the Malinois rescue organization met with Red and checked him out. Young, mouthy, and ill, but sweet and goofy with lots of potential was how she characterized him. Within a day or so his photo was listed on the “Needs Foster” page of the organization’s website, which has worldwide visibility.

On the Web:
A middle-aged writer and owner of two Belgian Malinois shepherd dogs living in the Catskill region of New York saw Red’s picture and sent out some emails, “just checking” to see if anyone local had stepped up to help out the poor skinny dog with the big doofy grin. We can call her Maya. No one had. Florida is inundated with strays, the shelters are struggling to manage with overcrowding and meager budgets, and the problems just seem to pile up: dogs seized in drug raids, dogs turned in by owners unable to afford their care, owners forced to relinquish dogs due to illness or death… The shelter and rescue worlds in Florida are the front lines for this battle and Red was caught in the cross fire.

Emails ensued. Red was ready to roll once transport could be arranged, but he needed to be moved 1500 miles. A transport coordinator stepped in, calling upon her cadre of volunteers up and down the East Coast, seeking folks who could give Red a ride for about 100 miles or so, until the next volunteer could be found. A few key legs of the journey were established this way, when Maya got on Facebook. Posting a request for help, people came out of the woodwork. A college buddy, a hiking companion, a friend’s older sister’s college roommate… soon every leg was filled from Miami to the Catskills, and Red was on his way.

Into the Woods
Maya cried when she first saw him: he looked like it must hurt to exist. His ribs, hips, chest, legs… all bones and fur. No muscles, no flesh anywhere. He had wicked diarrhea: he was quickly nicknamed “Firehose Butt.” The writer’s own dogs avoided him, giving him only polite, cursory sniffs and then a wide berth.

Days of tiny meals of mashed yams with white rice and boiled chicken, fed every two hours, and then four hours, and then adding a sprinkling of dry dog food slowly yielded some weight. Those first few days were a blur of frequent short walks and lots of rest. Fear, lack of familiarity or just plain weakness rendered him unable to climb stairs.

The turning point came sometime during the second week when Iske, one of the writer’s other Malinois, approached Red and groomed him. She washed his face carefully, bathing his entire muzzle with strong, motherly licks. She was accepting him into the pack, and letting him know that she would take him on as her charge. After that, hiking with his foster mom and her dogs on Catskills trails helped him develop muscles and balance, strength and self-confidence. Going for lengthy runs with her daughter, who is on her high school track team, helped him gather his wits and get his “ya-yas” out. He was still a goofy boy, but over about six weeks or so, he started to learn about settling down and following the household rules.

Back to the City:
The canine equivalent of online dating, many rescue sites maintain a profile and photo database of the dogs available for adoption. RedCloud was listed and applications were received by his coordinator in Florida. One family stood out: they had owned a Malinois before, and understood the breed. They had no other pets and were ready to adopt. They were looking for a young dog with a happy-go-lucky personality. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a match!

His foster mom walked him alone that last morning before his forever family came to pick him up. On their solo walk, she remembered his first few days with her; emaciated and ill, weak and needy. She looked at the fine young dog before her and threw the stick for him one last time. Her job was done and now he was ready to live with his forever family. On some level, Maya was ready to have him leave but it is difficult to forget a special dog like RedCloud. He hopped into the back of his forever family’s station wagon as if he knew where he was headed. Weekly correspondence gives Maya confidence that RedCloud is doing extremely well in his new home and continues to gain weight and more self confidence.

From shelter to forever home in less than three months: good boy, Red!

Similar in both temperament and looks to German Shepherds, Malinois make excellent dogs for homes with or without children. They are protective, loyal, sweet, extremely intelligent, attentive and respond well to training. Although not as well known as their cousins the GSDs, it is difficult not to fall in love with them.