She…. was… ugly.
Ugly to the point where I just wanted to look away, but I couldn’t’. She was in the middle of a busy Houston boulevard and in immediate danger. Cars were rushing past but she was steadfast and focused in a turn lane, wild eyes pointed towards something on the ground.My hero complex kicked in and I knew I had to do something. Not wanting to scare her deeper into traffic I assumed a very passive and approachable posture as I crept nearer..
I checked for traffic and crossed to the median, turned my back to her to be less threatening, and lowered my poster down to her level. I called to her in what was not as soothing as a voice as I would have liked, the noise of the traffic required a bit of a shout. To scare her out into traffic would be tragedy so I took minutes for every inch toward her.
Finally between the roar of rushing cars I heard the dry summer grass crunching under her feet as she came closer to investigate… crunch, pause……crunch, pause… and so on until I felt a wet nose on my hand that was stretched out behind me and toward her.
I turned and saw that ugly fell short of describing this creature. From this closer perspective I saw that her skin was covered in angry red spots, her hair was only in patches of 10 or 12 follicles trying bravely to find purchase on her thickened skin. After a couple of sniffles (hers not mine, I wasn’t a crier yet in this stage of my life) she rolled over on her back with her tail between her legs; doggie body language for, ‘you’re the boss, I trust you.’ I reached out to rub that disgusting belly and hardly cringed when I found her skin sticky with fresh blood. My heart was breaking and I was falling in love even as she swallowed the last gulp of her dehydrated flattened frog.
The joy expressed in her eyes while I rubbed that sticky, rough belly infected me and I hardly had to repress a gag in my throat at all. Right there in the midst of the chaos of cars rushing home in the hot Houston traffic I made friends with the ugliest dog in the world.
At this time in my life I was working as a veterinary technician while I was commuting to finish the last couple of hours of my Zoology degree. My dreams of going to Vet school had gone down with my GPA, which had gone down with too many pints of Sam Adams (I was still drinking then, not crying, still drinking, I know it’s hard to keep up, sorry) I was above the 2.75 minimum requirement for Texas A&M Vet School, but far below average GPA of those select few they accepted.
But I still loved Vet Medicine and working as a vet tech helped me grow in areas of customer service and real experience in the medical industry. It also helped me with my obsession with rescuing animals ( I also had a diabetic Russian Blue cat and would later get a 3 legged kitten.)
I put a towel in the back seat of my car (the upholstery was vinyl so it was actually to protect the dog not the seat) and took the dog with me to work.
I walked in with her and the first thing I heard was, “Que Fea?!” or “How Ugly?!” from our Venezuelan vet tech. She was right, one language was not enough to describe the ugly on this dog, not only that but she inadvertently gave her a name…. Fea.
We gave Fea her shots and checked for worms and did the skin scraping to test for mange. The demodectic mange (demodex) test consists of scrapping the skin with a scalpel blade in order to get down to the follicle where the mange lives. Then taking the material and smearing it on a glass slide for inspection under the microscope. It feels about like what you might think a scalpel blade scraping on your skin would feel like scraping on your skin…. little Fea just took all the needle jabbing and poking and scraping and other offenses to check for intestinal parasites. She just kept looking at us with those big brown trusting eyes.
Luckily Fea was negative for all the other worms or diseases other than the mange. Unluckily (I didn’t know that was a word until spellcheck just ok’d it!) demodex doesn’t respond to topical treatment and is tough to get rid of. When one of the young associate Veterinarians suggested we try a new experimental treatment I was encouraged at the possibility of a faster and more effective treatment. I knew that our Vets always stayed current and at the leading edge of the latest techniques and I was always impressed with their care and concern for animals so I trusted the plan completely because I trusted the doctor completely.
Fea looked like an old boot that someone had spilled red paint on and then tried to get the paint off with a blender, (I don’t know why anyone would put a boot in a blender… it’s artistic license) but after she trusted us through all of the indignities we put her through I knew I had an amazing and special dog on my hands.
The experimental treatment went well, a low dose of heartworm preventative was given every day over a period of time. Conceptually this would bring up the level of the medicine (toxin really but…) in her blood to make any sustenance that the mites took from her would result in a last meal. (I didn’t feel bad at all for the little mangie suns a guns at all!)
The treatment wasn’t without side effects, it would occasionally cause nausea and Fea would barf up breakfast (not until after she moved off the tile kitchen floor onto the carpeting of course.) She was also basically a wild dog and had no concept of inside or out. Combine that with the fact that her upset tummy sometimes took a southerly route of evacuation and you get a dog who would happily look you in the eye, squat and add to the stains on the rug.
The potty training progressed at about the same rate as the treatment and soon the spots on her smooth, shiny fur coat outnumbered those on the carpet.
Most of all, now her outside appearance matched her friendly and beautiful puppy personality, and the name Fea (Spanish for ugly remember?) became shortened to Fe, pronounced like the end of Santa Fe.
What never changed was her brave spirit or her soulful eyes that would look at me with so much tust as she pooped on the rug…. Her spirit inherited from her unknown pit bull parent. Even with that heritage she was always gentle to those she loved, her only aggression was out of protection for those she loved. We used to go to a dog park on weekend mornings and if there was a new or strange dog there she would stay close and do a doggie mean mug until she could tell that the other dog wasn’t a threat, then she’d be off playing and running carfree to find something smelly to roll in.
Her favorite game was to dig up crawfish from near the pond and eat them al la cart in their shells. When I think of her I still see a crawfish hanging from her mouth with one pincher on her nose and the other on her eyelid. She acted like she barely noticed as she crunched away.
Pit bulls can also be stubborn and she was no exception, it gave her the upper hand in several of our battles of will. Especially when it came to bedtime, she thought her place was right next to me and I thought her place was in her $100 dog bed. I would walk in from brushing my teeth and there she would be… head on pillow and wagging just the tip of her tail.
“Down!” I would command standing straight to add dog body language authority.
Her eyes would reply, “O.k. but we both know I’m just getting back up after you fall asleep.” (she had very expressive eyes by the way)
I would drift off to sleep congratulating myself for outwitting a dog only to wake up later absentmindedly patting her soft little ears as she lay right next to me…. Dang!
Her breed gets a bad wrap and I’m not going to argue one way or the other, I do know that I never worried about her, she always seemed to take up for the underdog, or undercat as the case may be. At some point I obtained a three legged tiny little kitten, he was black and white and had black fur over his eyes so obviously I had to call him Bandit (one armed Bandit? anyone?) Fe decided to adopt Bandit as her own as Bandit couldn’t get away from our other dog’s rambunctious playfulness or the other cats’ clawful dejection of his attempts at play.
Bandit would run (well sort of, he only had three legs so… ) to Fe and stand under her for protection and even started nursing from her when she would lie down (it was sort of interspecies creepy and adorable at the same time, but who am I to judge right?)
When my kids came along she was a playmate, jungle jim, and or a pillow depending on the occasion. On our walks through the woods of Bastrop Fe was always walking point for us and would range back if she heard another dog, or leaves (I said she was brave and loyal, I never said she was smart) that could be a threat.
In her about 12 years she showed me something about gentle toughness; living through being a bloody mess and eating dried frogs to survive, staying happy through nausia of treatment for painful skin mites, and her protection of her loved ones showed me that she was never Fea and always Fe. (Fe stands for iron y’all)
Ugly to Iron and always beautiful.
You know, that’s how God sees us, always beautiful, never perfect, but beautiful just the same. No matter how ugly I see myself God sees me beautiful and that thought puts some Iron in my spine as I take each step on my journey toward healing.
Fe always had a strong spirit but not me. My spirit has been crushed and the Lord was there for me. Just as in Psalm 34:17-19
“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
This is an old picture of Fe and my son having a little nap together. Taken before everything was digital and the photo has taken some damage, but not my memory of that sweet dog.