Sarita Andrews — wife, mother, teacher, guardian to three rescue dogs — had no plans to bring a fourth dog into her family. That changed on September 21, when a senior named Maiti (renamed Maddie) was listed for networking by the Fulton County, Ga., animal shelter. Andrews, a shelter volunteer, was online that Saturday night, crossposting and networking dogs on Facebook. “When I saw Maddie’s picture, her eyes haunted me, and for some reason she reminded me of my first dog, Coco,” she says. “Then I read her story: thrown from a moving car in the shelter parking lot. Not only are you abandoning your pet, but you don’t even have the decency to walk her through the door? I just couldn’t comprehend it.”
Maddie’s picture showed a sad, dejected dog with a gray muzzle, overgrown nails, and a look that seemed to have lost all hope. Then Sarita Andrews saw the blanket. “She was on a knitted blanket that I recognized from volunteering,” she says. “A few weeks before, a run housed two elderly dogs whose owners had moved and abandoned them. One was left tied to a porch outside the home the owners left; the other was an owner surrender. One of those dogs was on that blanket in the shelter, and that dog did not make it out. I said, ‘Oh my god, we can’t have another one be that story!’ I started networking Maddie, and a lot of people said they would foster or adopt her, but hours later, it was a lot of talk and no action. Older dogs with health problems have a 0 to 1 percent chance of getting out. The shelter is overcrowded — sometimes they have ten dogs to a run; people drop off thirty to forty dogs a day — and they kept putting out the list of dogs that were going to be put down. Those dogs have a day, two days, sometimes only hours. I kept checking on Maddie. People were making promises and then backing out. How can you do that when a dog’s life is in your hands?”
Andrews adopted her first dog, a 7-year-old chow mix named Coco, in 2002. Five years after moving in, Coco was diagnosed with bone cancer. Given her age and the rapid spread of her condition, Andrews and her veterinarian agreed that it was best to eschew surgery and keep Coco comfortable for as long as possible. She lived another year and passed quietly with her guardian beside her. Andrews, then seven months pregnant, was heartbroken.
“They say that a dog finds you, and that’s what happened,” she says of Macie, a Humane Society rescue who joined the Andrews family as a 3-month-old puppy. When the couple was ready to come home from the hospital with their newborn daughter, they presented her baby hat to Macie, who carried it in her mouth as if in anticipation of her new human sibling. “Macie has always been amazing with my child,” says Andrews. “They napped together. They’ve grown up together. I walked them together — dog and stroller.”
Milo, a Labrador retriever/Newfoundland mix, also from the Humane Society, moved in at 2 months of age. He was followed by Moe, a 7-pound dachshund/Chihuahua mix adopted from a rescue. “I’m sure that people thought I was the neighborhood ‘crazy dog-lady,’” Andrews laughs. “I was walking two big dogs, a little dog and a baby in a stroller. When Moe would get tired, he’d hop in the stroller with my daughter.”
Around this time, friends from high school encouraged her to join Facebook. One night, while online, she saw a post titled “Death Row Dogs.” She clicked on the link and a new world opened up: she began networking, crossposting, assisting with transports twice a month to relocate dogs from high-kill Georgia shelters to rescues or forever homes. Mother dogs and puppies, a blind cocker spaniel, pit bulls — her first exposure to the breed. “I had heard so much about pit bulls and how scary they were,” she says. “But those dogs were the sweetest things ever. Every one of these rescue dogs, the minute they get in the car for their ‘freedom ride,’ you can see their bodies relaxing and almost a smile on their faces.”
She began volunteering with a rescue group, and when her daughter started school, she decided to volunteer at the Fulton County shelter, “where I might be the dogs’ only hope.” She convinced her sister to volunteer with her, and together they took dogs from kennels to the interaction yard, photographed them for networking, and helped at adoption events. “It comes down to the wire sometimes for these dogs,” she says. “It never stops. They never stop coming. I try to network them all over the country through Facebook. There are days when you just want to cry because you didn’t get that one dog saved. I see ‘Rest in peace, euthanized,’ and it haunts me. The ones that you do save keep you going.”
And so it was with Maddie, who languished in the shelter from September 12 until Andrews picked her up on September 23, two days after she was listed for rescue or adoption. “According to her records, she was in a run with three young, active dogs,” says Andrews. “She was in pain and could barely get up. She wasn’t eating. The other dogs were stepping on her. When I went to pick her up, they brought her into the office and I had never seen such a sad thing. She could barely walk. Her eyes were glassy and bloodshot. Her tail was bent and hanging between her legs. She had fleas. She had kennel cough.”
Andrews brought Maddie home, concerned about how her three dogs would react to the newcomer. She anticipated a lot of barking and perhaps keeping Maddie in a separate area of the house. “I brought my dogs to the back yard one by one to meet Maddie,” she says, “and I couldn’t believe it. They were as calm as could be. I think they could sense that she was not well, so they sniffed her and gave her space. I took her inside and gave her two baths to get rid of the fleas. She was very thirsty, but she would not eat for a day and a half, which really worried me. Her ribcage was all bones, she had loose skin and she was lethargic. Her nose and gums were dry. I was afraid that she wouldn’t be alive the next morning.” Additionally, Maddie has a severely rotten tooth that must be extracted, and she has problems with her legs, which do not straighten, but instead are permanently bent at the elbow joint. Her right rear leg shakes when she stands. “Our vet believes that she was either tied to a tree or crated for long periods of time,” says Andrews. “I know she was abused. When I go to pet her, she backs off, but when she sees that it’s for love, she comes.”
Most surprising was Maddie’s immediate attachment to the family’s young daughter. “They walk together,” she says. “Maddie is happiest when my daughter is with her, and with my daughter’s friends and little cousins. It’s unbelievable. There were times when she would not take her medicine from me, but she would take it from my daughter.”
Maddie moved in with the Andrews family as a foster, with the understanding that, although temporary, her stay could last anywhere from several months to a year. The Fulton County shelter was in contact with a Virginia-based rescue, but nothing was definite. Two weeks later, the shelter sent an e-mail notifying them that the rescue was arranging transport. “My heart sank to my stomach,” she says. “I could not let her go. I did not believe that she could adapt again, and I knew that moving would kill her. I said, ‘I cannot do this to her.’ I wrote to the shelter and said, ‘I have fallen in love with this dog. She has done so well here, and as lovely as this rescue sounds, I don’t think that she will do well on the transport.”
Today, Maddie is a happy girl on the mend in her forever home. Although she refuses, understandably, to ride in the car, she enjoys daily walks, eats well, and suns herself outside with the other dogs. “She’s the sweetest dog,” says Andrews. “She’s very smart, and she made herself at home quickly. She was unsure at first, but now she knows that she is home. Her eyes light up when you walk into the room, and her tail wags in circles.”
Many people have called Sarita Andrews an angel and a hero, but she refuses the titles. “It was just the right thing to do,” she says. “No one was stepping up, and her picture kept haunting me. And the blanket — that colorful, knitted blanket. Maddie has had a hard life. We think she’s about 10 years old, but she has a lot of gray in her face and aged much quicker because of how she was treated. She’s a great dog and she deserves a great life. We don’t know if she has months or years, and it doesn’t matter. We’ll cherish what we have and give her the life she should have had a long time ago.”
While Maddie no longer requires cough medicine or eye drops, she takes Rimadyl and Tramadol as needed for her arthritis pain, and she is in need of dental work to have a tooth extracted. Andrews would also like to have her X-rayed to determine the cause of her shaking leg and in case of other medical conditions that may require treatment.
As a private adoption, Maddie was not eligible to receive any vetting pledges made for her rescue. Several individuals have stepped up to assist by donating directly to Maddie’s veterinarian in a fund for her care.
If you would like to contribute to Maddie’s medical expenses, you can do so here: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/maddie-s-medical-needs/94075
Sarita Andrews crossposts and networks regularly on Facebook. You can connect with her here: https://www.facebook.com/saritasaveslives