On the Death of a Rescued Mastiff

By Alan Haskvitz, national teachers hall of fame

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It was a very sad story.

A huge Mastiff wildly was running along a desert freeway in the scorching summer heat. A chain imbedded in his neck, ears filled with dirt, and teeth that were broken and shattered. His hearing impaired, his eyesight nearly gone, in desperation he blindly ran towards a road crowded with fast moving holiday traffic.

Only a person with great compassion would stop a car and offer a chance for safety to a huge drooling skeleton of a dog, even at 150 pounds. But, it happened. A local area veterinarian assistant pulled to the side of the freeway and coaxed the franticly fleeing animal into her car.

At the veterinarian’s office, the dog’s condition was examined in detail. Cleaning the dirt packed ears that had left him nearly deaf, revealed that the Mastiff had to dig under a fence to escape. But, first, he chewed through the rusted chain that held him prisoner. The now splintered teeth had to be cut away, making it impossible for him to hold his tongue in his mouth. After digging into his neck, the vet was able to cut the chain away, revealing a scar that would never heal due to the deep imbedding of the links.

Southern California Mastiff Rescue was called to help find him a new home once he was on the mend. In the safety of their care, they found that he had probably been used to bait fighting dogs and this constant teasing made him aggressive towards other canines. It would be a difficult placement for this aging, nearly sightless and deaf escapee.

A few years earlier in a quiet Los Angeles community, a family of our four bought and raised a female Mastiff. They named it Kitty. With typical Mastiff devotion, she spent all of her life tending to the needs of the family. Between sneaking on the couch and snoring so loudly no one could sleep, she served as a neutralizing agent. She tucked everyone in at night, guarded the property when she was awake, and arbitrated all arguments by placing a paw on the loudest participant. She treated everyone differently. To the teenage daughter she was a confidant. To the young male, she was a protector, and fetcher of errant Frisbees. To the mother, she was a comfort when alone at night. And, to the father she was a fellow unsuccessful gopher hunter.

In her tenth year, she developed an infection that could not be medicated and Kitty was put to sleep. There was a long period of mourning, the framing of pictures, and a poem written. Eventually, the family healed, but emptiness remained.

It was about two years after Kitty’s death when a call came from Mastiff Rescue. They had a dog. Sad case. Runway. Male. Blind. Would you like to meet him?

The husband took the call from rescue. “Okay, “he uttered almost despite himself.

He was unprepared for what happened next. The rescue van pulled up and out sauntered a large, reddish dog that immediately set to marking his new territory. The scars on the dog’s neck, the dead retinas, and missing teeth all made him question his decision. After the van disappeared, the two strangers sized each other up. The father was starting to regret his decision. This dog had absolutely no personality.

The husband walked the Mastiff into the back yard, gave him fresh water, and a doggie treat. The Mastiff refused all peace offerings.

When the wife returned home she looked out the window and said to her husband, “Why is there a dog in our backyard?” She knew the answer: gophers. She walked outside and the once sullen dog got up, licked her hand, and ate the dog cookie she offered. The Mastiff was polite and gentle. The couple starred at the strange dog with mixed feelings. He was nothing like Kitty.

And then, magic. The teenage son came home from school and spotted the dog. He rushed out the door and the Mastiff came alive. He jumped, pranced, fetched, and chased the son. The dog was transformed from a moody, sulky stranger into a friend and companion. The two became fast friends. A new leash, collar, dog food dish, and toys of all types were hurriedly purchased. The Mastiff quickly gained weight. He slept in the son’s bed and they battled over the covers and the pillow.

Five years have passed since the Mastiff found his new home. He is now completely blind and deaf. The scars on his neck are still visible. His tongue still hangs from his mouth. He moves slower and his guard duty is now largely symbolic. Gophers are ignored and only movement around the food dish generates earnest interest. In reality, he is retired from his job of reinvigorating a family and relishes the joy of being loved.

This dog, like thousands of others, has been saved by the noble efforts of volunteer rescue groups around the state. The animals that they treat and offer to potential owners bring joy to both the pet and new family.

Sadly, but after a few great years, Ender was put down when he could no longer walk. He ate one last hamburger, which he unwrapped with the great patience he had always shown, and rode in our station wagon to the vets. He died quietly with dignity. Ender was a credit to his breed and a loss to humanity.

A year later he was replaced with a female rescue we named Haiya. A small, brilliant mastiff, she was saved by the rescue services from death after being beaten and kicked by previous owners who couldn’t handle her intelligence. She was beautiful and full of issues due to her previous inhumane treatment. She overcame her horrible early start to be the star of every dog training session. Her smartness enabled her to learn tricks instantly and to quickly ascertain each family member’s mood and needs. A treasure. Unfortunately, Haiya developed cancer and was put down when just four years of age. She too was greatly missed. As always the death of a dog serves to remind a family of the joy you should find in each day. It is too bad that it has to be such a harsh lesson, but at least for those who rescue animals there is the deep satisfaction of knowing that they helped, and isn’t that what a heaven is for….