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The winters in South Texas, although typically mild, do on occasion find themselves in freezing temperatures. One of those rare nights found its way to rural Texas in mid-December of 2012, draping everything in a blanket of frost. A bouncy puppy of no more than 3 months old, her fur scraggly and marbled, wandered onto a ranch where she burrowed her way underneath a barn; an attempt to keep warm. There she stayed until the sun arose the next morning.
The ranch owner was an elderly man named Oscar. He made his way outdoors that morning, as he did every other day, and the little pup underneath the barn awoke to hear him chatting with his brood. And with ears that pointed straight up towards the sky, Oscar spotted the tiny face that appeared from underneath the barn. He worried a fox had made its way onto his land and feared for the safety of his chickens. But with paws far too big for her tiny frame, this little puppy tumbled out and clumsily ran in his direction. His fears quickly diffused as he realized she was no threat at all.
An animal lover himself, Oscar knelt down to her level as she approached. Assessing his movements however, she quickly halted to a stop and made sure to keep a safe distance between them. Worried she belonged to a family who might be missing her, Oscar and his wife decided to feed her in an attempt to gain her trust. And so the daily ritual began.
Every day she’d make her way out from underneath the barn where she’d then follow her new friends around the ranch; making sure never to come too close. They resolved to call her Foxy because of her tall, pointed ears and it would be months before they made any progress with her. One morning in early March of the following year, Oscar was sitting on the front porch sipping coffee with his wife. They chatted as they watched Foxy chase a grasshopper which lept away any time Foxy came too close. When suddenly, Foxy came running up the stairs and plopped herself down at Oscar’s feet as if she’d belonged there all along. From that moment on, Foxy felt right at home.
After determining she was not chipped and seemingly belonged to no one, Oscar and his wife had Foxy spayed, vaccinated and gave her a forever home. She was the best girl. Smart as a fox and eager to always please her humans. She learned basic obedience quickly and was housebroken within the first day of being an “inside” dog. She loved a good nap on her humans too.
Less than 4 weeks later however, Foxy suddenly retreated back to her former self. There was no warning, no signs of any kind; she abruptly seemed to fear the couple who’d taken her in and loved her without question. All those months of progress and hard work were gone in an instant. Within 12 hours, Foxy had disappeared. Oscar had let her out as he’d done so many times before and she took off running without looking back. Dumfounded, her family was crushed. They didn’t understand. And they searched for days. Calling out to her constantly, they’d left food, water and her cozy bed by the front door in case she made her way back. Everything went untouched and Foxy never returned. Roughly 10 days later, they stumbled upon her lifeless body in an unused trench at the base of the property. Brokenhearted, Oscar carried her home and they mourned. Her life cut short unfairly.
Foxy passed away from Canine Parvovirus, an autopsy confirmed weeks later. Parvo is a highly contagious illness commonly found living in the soil of southern, rural areas in the United States. And although dogs can catch Parvo anywhere in the country, the rate at which it’s seen in southern America is far greater than anywhere else in the country. It attacks very suddenly and without immediate medical attention, it is almost always fatal. Foxy truly never stood a chance. She was just a puppy when she found her way to her forever home and because it took her so long to trust her humans, it was likely already too late. She had been exposed to the virus and the vaccination was ineffectual. As quickly as she’d arrived, she was taken from the only family she’d ever known and likely suffered greatly in her final hours; she passed away all alone.
Foxy’s story is a tragic one, but her humans had been there before. Since 2002, Oscar and his wife have taken in over 60 stray dogs that have found themselves on their land. It’s a growing problem in rural areas, where dogs are seen as something to own rather than members of a family. They live as outdoor dogs; never being fixed, vaccinated or even receiving basic veterinary care. They roam freely, impregnating dogs at every turn.
There are definitely exceptions, Oscar and his wife for example; people who genuinely love their pets as if they were bred of their own flesh and blood. But this is the exception, not the rule. It’s hard to say where Foxy came from. Was her mother another stray dog who was still roaming about somewhere; desperate to survive? Or did she belong to someone who never bother to have her spayed? We’ll truly never know.
Of those 60 stray dogs Oscar has taken in, at least 10 have passed away from parvo before they’d even had a chance to fight it. In puppies the mortality rate can be as high as 80%, even with aggressive treatment. And treatment is very expensive, ranging anywhere from $500 to upwards of $3000.
In the United States alone there are an estimated 6 to 8 million homeless dogs and cats entering animal shelters each year. Of those, roughly 2.7 million are healthy pets euthanized simply because they don’t find homes and because shelters don’t have the resources to care for them all. These high numbers can be attributed to a number of factors, but unplanned litters, like Foxy’s, are high on the list; a problem that can be tackled and prevented by spaying and neutering your pets.
If we break this figure down even further, we’re looking at roughly 5,400,000 to 7,200,000 unfixed animals entering shelters each year. On the most conservative level (because fixing your pet can range anywhere from $50 to upwards of $250 depending on the size and age of your pet), we can estimate that it would cost roughly $405,000,000 to spay them all on a yearly basis. And let’s not forget that most shelters and rescues are state funded and/or donation based. It’s easy to see why so many animals are euthanized each year. There simply isn’t enough money to end the cycle.
The responsibility absolutely falls on us. We must spay and neuter our pets to prevent unplanned litters and to prevent unnecessary deaths like Foxy’s. Sure, if Foxy’s mom had been spayed from the start, Foxy would have never existed and she would have never blessed her family even with the short amount of time she was on this earth. But it also means she wouldn’t have suffered so tragically. Foxy, despite her life ending suddenly, was lucky. She found a forever family that showed her what true love was, no matter how brief it may have been. Imagine the hundreds of thousands that die in the same horrific manner who weren’t as lucky; who never knew love or had a family in their final moments.
Oscar and his wife, to this day, believe that Foxy chose to leave to spare them the grief of watching her suffer. But the truth is, she didn’t have to suffer. Just like this couple who’s done so much to help dogs in need, we can be a part of the change; a part of the progress. We must step up and be responsible. Spay and neuter your pets. That is one major step in ending the overpopulation of animals in this country, and one that will save thousands of lives down the road.