Rescue Tails / The Journey of a Lifetime
By Cathy Baier

One of the best things about working in an animal shelter is the opportunity  to meet many wonderful animals AND people! We form friendships with both, and often those friendships extend long past the time these animals leave the shelter. We receive updates from around the country and beyond. Knowing the animals who left us went on to have wonderful lasting lives with their adopters is what sustains us. It’s what feeds our passion to continue the work we do.

Sometimes we receive an update that is bittersweet, but still meaningful to us. We recently heard from an adopter from long ago. She let us know that her beloved companion Charlie had passed from a sudden illness at the age of 15.  But it’s the story of Charlie’s life that we want to share.

Charlie was originally brought to the shelter in 2006 by someone after they saw him get hit by a car.  He survived the trauma but no owner came forward to claim him. He was a very feisty Pomeranian mix, a great big spirit in a small furry body. We named him Chucky Cheese. His favorite game was to run after people, barking and biting legs if you dared turn your back on him.  This and his overall reactive behavior did not win him many fans, in spite of his small size and adorable looks. Not surprisingly, although he was available for adoption, there were no takers. But then Fate stepped in, in the form of a hurricane. We needed foster homes for our animals.  A wonderful woman named Donna came forward and offered her home as a safe haven for a dog. You guessed it; we sent her home with Chucky Cheese (with full disclosure, of course!)  As expected, he didn’t start off being easy. But she kept him just long enough to fall in love, and when it was time to bring him back, she couldn’t do it.  Donna adopted him and renamed him Charlie.  That was the beginning of a life none of us, including Donna, dreamed this little dog would have.

Donna eventually left the Keys eventually, but we stayed in touch. With the positive influence of Donna, her sister, and the companionship of their other dogs, Charlie mellowed and his old habits melted away. Donna sent us pictures and updates through the years on birthdays and other occasions.  We learned Charlie was picked to be featured on a calendar of Top Dog Models. She let us know when he got his certification to be a therapy dog, giving love and joy to those in need.  Our biggest surprise came when we heard Charlie had taken up the sport of dock-diving. It turned out that he had Olympic-style talent and soared to heights as a dock-diving champion, winning titles around the country. His fan base grew with each passing year and he made friends everywhere he went! Donna told us Charlie literally changed her life! He   took her places, both geographically and personally that she never imagined.  He was her “best friend”.

Each update we received lifted us and helped maintain our faith in both dogs and people. While Charlie’s story is quite unique, updates from all adopters bring us joy. It could be a photo of a once-feral kitten, now an adult, stretched out on someone’s bed relaxed and comfortable. We  see pictures of our dogs hiking mountain trails on a family vacation or paddle-boarding right here at home. We get anniversary updates and anniversary visits from adopters, reassuring us that the animal we adopted is doing well. Few things are more satisfying than that!

When we take in an animal at the FKSPCA, we make a commitment to that animal which extends beyond their time with us. When we know they are still safe and happy and well-loved years after their adoption, we know we have done our job!