It started out with promise. With hope.
I took the day off work to spend it at a vet’s office so I could start documenting their new lives. Lives where two dogs - nicknamed Mountain Man dogs - would be given the chance to live like dogs. They had come from a place where they were left to their own devices. No exposure to people, other than the one man who tried to look after them, despite mental health challenges. [read their story here].
I had met them the weekend before their surgery when visiting their foster home with Penny Stone, Executive Director of the Victoria Humane Society. The VHS had partnered with Crooked Leg Ranch to help over 50 Mountain Man dogs - from pregnant moms to puppies to seniors - in late 2014/early 2015. I was familiar with their stories having done a feature on three Mountain Man dogs last year - Simon, Gracie and Maggie May - so I had a good sense of the fear and disconnect these dogs. The two female dogs I saw in the barn were curled up so tight together amongst hay bales that it was difficult to tell there were two dogs there. We moved some of the hay so we could get a better look and the one I could see, who was brave enough to look at us, gave a very low growl when I got too close with my camera. I backed off.
We got some photographs and then left them alone. On the drive back home Penny and I were trying to come up with new names for them. They had to be special names. Dynamic duo names. The names of two females who we would root for. Underdogs whose stories would get shared in the hopes a loving, patient foster home would eventually come forward to help. And then when they were ready, a permanent home.
I proposed Laverne & Shirley, and we both knew the names fit... the words of the theme song to their sitcom resonated with their story. These dogs were going to have a chance to 'make it', but it would be on their own terms.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
Schemeel, schlemazel, Hasenfeff Inc
We're gonna do it!
Give us any chance - we'll take it
Read us any rule - we'll break it
We're gonna make our dreams come true....
Doin' it our way
Nothin's gonna turn us back now
Straight ahead and on the track now
We're gonna make our dreams come true...
Doin' it our way
There is nothing we won't try
Never heard the word impossible
This time there's no stopping us
We're gonna do it
On your mark, get set and go now
Got a dream and we just know now
We're gonna make our dream come true
And we'll do it our way - yes our way
Make all our dreams come true
And do it our way - yes our way
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you
Kind of corny? Maybe. But each animal is unique and has its own story and trying to help tell that story and share it with supporters - to get them to pause while scrolling through their facebook feeds and take notice. To care enough to share and to help - it's easy with the cute puppies and happy-go-lucky dogs, but it can be difficult when you're helping the fearful ones, the harder ones.
But the words of this song would take on a whole new meaning very soon.
I would see Laverne & Shirley one week later when they arrived at the vet, squished up together in their kennel filled with familiar hay. They were terrified from the get go - maybe only the second time they'd been inside a building that wasn't a barn. But it was a busy veterinary office and the girls were there for dental surgery so the staff had to get to work.
First thing to do was get one of them out of the kennel. They wouldn’t come willingly, so the one in front, Shirley, had to be pulled. When she came out, Laverne came after and ran right into a small room. The staff turned of the light and closed the door. She would be safe in there until it was her turn. Shirley was on the floor with a blanket over her to help calm her. Both dogs had lost bowel and bladder control.
When Shirley calmed down, she was sedated. The dosage was higher than usual for a dog her size because of the adrenalin rush she was experiencing. The same would prove true when it was Laverne’s turn.
Shirley was lifted onto the table and went under general anesthetic. A breathing tube was inserted and she was hooked up to machines to monitor her pulse, heart rate and temperature during the procedure.
It was barely 10am.
I photographed every step of the surgery and once the technician was able to look inside her mouth to asses, there was concern for a section that looked to be swollen. X-rays were done and thankfully came up clear. Then there was the discovery of a sebaceous cyst on her back. It was removed and the hole it left was stitched up. Shirley had six teeth removed. During the surgery staff trimmed her nails and had to shave her hind end and tail to remove the myriad of mats.
At about noon it was Laverne’s turn. Into the quiet room the staff went to get her and I waited at the door. They had to sedate her multiple times before she relaxed enough, then she was prepped for surgery. Her turn on the table wasn’t as long - only two teeth out, but they were double and triple-rooted teeth. More photographing.
When she was done, she was taken to a quiet recovery area and placed in the kennel next to Shirley so that their exposure to the busy goings-on of the clinic, were limited. Staff checked on them periodically.
While Laverne & Shirley were in post-op and I waited for them to be ready for the trip back down to Victoria, there were other distractions. I got to meet Skittles and Shadow - two dogs who came into the clinic after being surrendered into the care of the VHS and were quickly adopted by staff at the clinic. And I got to visit again with Gus (a miracle unto himself), the VHS spokes dog who, despite a very dodgy start to life, is living like a black lab should - all fun, games and adventure... and food.
When the girls were almost ready, we cleaned out the kennel they arrived in and stuffed it with clean blankets. Then, the girls got back into the kennel together [after some gentle wrangling] and were loaded into the back of my car. It was a nerve-wracking trip. "What if something happened on the way? Damn these bumps in the road, Damn these windy roads."
I got to Penny's house when it was dark. We unloaded the kennel and took it to the penned area and let them out. We were cautious, watching them closely as they still were groggy from surgery. They had a sniff and then went inside and chose to lay down under the table as other Mountain Man dogs had done before them. Penny put some food out for them and then we sat and chatted quietly until we heard Laverne snoring.
They were asleep.
Plans were made for me to come out the next weekend to check on their progress.
But that wouldn’t be the case.
The next day at work I got a call from Penny. The dogs had escaped, not just the pen, but her yard.
Five acres of fully-fenced, chain-link deer-fenced property and these girls jumped a 5-ft x-pen fence, ran through property they’d never been in to find a way out, less than 24 hours after surgery. Laverne squeezed through a 4-inch gap in the front gate and ran up the rural road, and Shirley… well, we’re not sure. No one saw her leave the property but a couple holes were found that she could have easily wiggled through in the hopes of catching up to Laverne.
So now it’s a week later. There were a couple sightings in the first two days, but nothing concrete. We’ve walked and walked and drove around - even with an infra-red scope, but nothing. Nada. Zip.
PetSearchers is now helping. Volunteers are postering and their story has made the local news.
So many people have championed for these dogs. From those who drove through the snow to the middle of nowhere to rescue them, to those who have worked with them help get used to humans, to the staff at the vet clinic who showed compassion and patience when handling them, to the volunteers who are stepping up to help in the hopes that someone, anyone, gets a sighting so we know they’re still ok.
Laverne & Shirley aren’t your usual family dogs. They’re quite the opposite. But they could be. And they deserve a chance at it. They deserve to live in a warm house, to be fed regularly, to be able to sniff around a yard and maybe, just maybe, play with a stuffie. They deserve to live pain free and have love and care surround them for the rest of their lives.
I will try not to lose hope. I know it's possible to find dogs lost and missing in territory unfamiliar to them because this time last year I was in Sechelt helping a friend look for a dog who had been missing for 4 months. On March 1st 2015, he was found. And although his situation and connection to his foster home was different than Laverne & Shirley’s, his difficult life before coming into care had provided him with survival skills that enabled him to live in the woods through the winter. His resilience along with the sheer determination of an entire community helped Find Apex… now it’s time to Find Laverne & Shirley.
Please help by sharing their story and getting the word out. Although they went missing from the Highlands area of Greater Victoria, they could be anywhere. There is a Find Laverne & Shirley facebook page (which you can view even if you're not a facebook member) which will be updated with any sightings, areas to be covered, posters for printing and sharing and ways you can help.
These two have endured so much already and need to heel. They need their post-surgery medication. They're on their own and without each other for warmth and comfort. They need to be found.