How a puppy taught my family to take that great leap of faith.
Posted in , May 1, 2007
That afternoon there was the usual mid-week mayhem. My two daughters were making a ruckus in the living room. I was in the kitchen, taking a break from job hunting and rustling up dinner. The front door slammed. That meant Reuben, my 17-year-old, was home. "Mom!" he called.
Reuben loped into the kitchen. He was cradling something against his football jersey. Oh, no, what is it this time? I wondered. He was always bringing home some poor stray, as if we were the town animal shelter. Last time it had been a turtle.
I had enough on my mind without adopting another pet. Mainly, how much longer could we keep the house we rented if I—a single parent—couldn't find work?
"Look, Mom," Reuben said. He uncurled his hands. In his palms was a tiny ball of fur. A puppy that wasn't more than three weeks old.
"Honey, we can't," I told him, shaking my head. "The landlord has already warned us about pets."
Reuben held out the puppy to me. "There's something wrong with its left leg in the front," he said. There certainly was. It was badly deformed, as if a child had taken a piece from a jigsaw puzzle and jimmied it into place backward and upside down.
The dog's troubles didn't end there. It had no right foreleg at all, just a nub of a paw that protruded from its chest.
"I rescued it," Reuben said. "Its mother was sitting on it, trying to smother it to death. I jumped over a fence and grabbed it away."
I patted the dog's tiny head and looked at Reuben. "That's what mother animals do when they know their babies can't survive," I explained.
Reuben wasn't going to take no for an answer. He had that look in his eyes. "Okay," I said. But I thought, This is crazy. We have no money. The last thing we need is to take in a dog that most likely will die.
Laura, 13, and Caity, 12, who'd been watching from the sidelines, rushed into the kitchen to get a good look at the pup and to help. I carried the tiny thing to the sink and gently cleaned her. She was a mutt, but seemed to be at least part chow.
When I turned her over, she looked up at me, silent. On top of everything else, something seemed to be wrong with her vocal chords. This is hopeless, I thought.
Then the puppy looked at me with her big, brown eyes. I tried to resist. We had too many problems already. Lord, don't do this to me! A wave of pity washed over me. "Mom, you look all choked up," Laura said.
"If you want to save this dog, we've got to get to work," I said. "Now."
The kids took turns cradling the pup. I opened a can of Milnot, dissolved it in water, then rummaged around the kitchen, looking for an eyedropper. I figured it was the only way to feed her. It didn't work. She wouldn't—or couldn't—swallow.
The next day I called a vet. By now it was early evening, after working hours. I finally reached her at home. "Bring the dog in first thing in the morning," she said, then added, "if she makes it that long."
The kids and I stayed with her throughout the night, working in two-hour shifts. We kept trying to feed her. No luck. When it was my turn, I laid on my back and let her sleep on my chest. I could feel her tiny body rise and fall with each shallow breath.
It reminded me of when my own children had been newborns, so utterly helpless, so completely dependent upon me. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to care for someone who needed me so much.
In the morning I wrapped the pup in a hand towel, laid her on my lap and drove to the animal clinic. The vet wasn't optimistic. "If she lives, she'll only be able to get around by dragging herself on her belly," she said.
"Eventually, she'll rub a hole in her chest. Besides that, her throat and voice box are damaged. Normally, people put dogs like this to sleep."
I carried her back to the car. Maybe the vet's right, I thought. Maybe the kindest thing would be to put her down. But how would I tell the kids? They'd never understand. Besides, something in the way the dog had hung in moved me. Was God showing me that I'd be okay too, if I just hung in there?
The vet suggested we try feeding her a special pet formula through an infant's eyedropper. She lapped it up. The kids and I continued our round-the-clock feedings. We could tell she was getting stronger.
"Let's call her Faith," Laura suggested. Faith, I thought. That's perfect. Soon she was eating mashed-up Puppy Chow off the floor and scooting around the house on her belly.
I went on the internet and found a company that makes wheelchairs for dogs without rear legs. But nothing for an animal missing its front legs. One day I tried strapping Faith to a miniature skateboard. But as soon as I let her go, she wriggled free. Faith hated to be tied down.
I phoned the vet, desperate for help. "Maybe you can teach her to hop like a rabbit," she suggested.
Yeah, right. I sat in the living room, circling possible job leads. It seemed so hopeless. I glanced at Faith, trying her darndest to get around. Okay, maybe helping her would help me get the energy to keep looking. Hop like a rabbit? Well, why not!
I spent the next days, in between phone calls, putting one hand under Faith's belly, then sitting her upright with my other hand bracing her back. "Come on, you can do it," I urged.
But she couldn't. Each time she tumbled forward onto her chin, but she never stopped trying. Her chest hair had almost worn off, but she would do anything I asked.
Lord, I sat and prayed one day, thank you for Faith. I'm not sure how I would have gotten through these last few days without her. Please keep helping us.
Winter came on. We had our first snow. The kids went outside to play. I carried Faith outside and set her down. She burrowed her nose in the wet, white blanket that covered the ground. Laura and Caity tossed snowballs at Reuben and chased him around the yard.
Suddenly we heard a bark. Then a second one. We stared at Faith. She barked again. It was the first time she had managed any sound. And at that same moment she pushed herself up onto her rear legs and stood there, then hopped around. We looked on in disbelief.
"Mom...?" Reuben said, his eyes wide.
"Yes," I said. "That dog can do anything." Anything she sets her mind to.
Back inside I opened a jar of peanut butter and put a dab on the end of a spoon. I held it out to her, just beyond her reach. "Come and get it," I said. Almost immediately, she did. Within days she was romping round the house.
That would have been good enough, a dog that hopped like a rabbit. But one day I took her outside to play with another puppy about her size. I handed each of them a rawhide bone. Within minutes the other dog snuck up on Faith, wrested it from her and sauntered away.
I watched to see what Faith would do. To my amazement she didn't hop after that dog. She ran, one foot after another. It was a startling thing to see. A dog walking—running—like a person would!
Faith has made quite a name for herself ever since. The kids and I made a video of her and posted it on the website a fan of Faith's had made. It was just something I figured people would want to see.
Well, to my surprise, millions have logged on and hundreds have left messages telling us what an inspiration Faith is to them. I've written books about her, and Faith and I have started making visits to school children, helping them with their reading.
Sure, money is sometimes tight, but our family is doing just fine and my job situation is much improved. We've got faith.
Watch this video about Faith's inspiring victory over her disabilities.