Friday, August 14, 2015


Five years ago this month I adopted my rottweiler, Raven. Little did I know at the time what a “unique” and even scandalous background she had. 

I realized when it came to buying anything from Craig’s List online, that “buyer beware” should apply. But I tossed all common sense aside when I saw an ad listing rottweilers for adoption. I’d recently lost my 10-yr.-old rottweiler, Sabre, and the house was feeling empty without her. Also, my other rottweiler, Willow, who was only two at the time, had been moping around, mourning the loss of her good buddy.

The woman who placed the ad lived somewhere in the Hopkinton area, so I contacted her and she gave me directions to her house.

I’ll never forget my first impression when I saw her dogs. They were chained to metal stakes out in a very overgrown field – no shelter, no water, no food. There were about five dogs, only two of which were rottweilers, and I could tell they all were sick and malnourished. My first thought was to get out of there and report her to the authorities. But I immediately was drawn to Raven. For one thing, she looked the sickest. Her eyes and nose were running, she was covered with ticks, and she was skeletal, with her skin just hanging off her.  She also had scars, lots of scars, particularly a very noticeable deep one that went all the way across her breastbone.  I walked over to her and she looked up at me with huge, sad brown eyes and gave me her paw. At that moment, I knew I wasn’t going to leave without her.


I had to bite my tongue to keep from confronting the woman, because I knew if I showed her how upset I was, she might sense I was going to report her and she would end up doing something rash to hide the dogs…perhaps even permanently.

“I’ll take this one,” I said to her, indicating Raven.

“She’s a sweetheart,” the woman said. “She’s a stray my sister brought up here from down South. The adoption fee for her is $350. I’ve had her spayed and she’s had all of her shots. And I have a health certificate for her. Of course, all of that cost me money, you know.”

When she handed me the health certificate, I immediately could tell it was fake. For one thing, no veterinarian in his or her right mind ever would have declared Raven healthy.

The minute I got home, I reported the woman, and then I rushed Raven to the vet’s. She was diagnosed with an eye infection, upper respiratory infection, heartworm, malnutrition, anemia…and, contrary to what the woman had said, she’d never been spayed. The vet said Raven probably wouldn’t have survived the week.

It took time, patience and a small fortune, but Raven finally began to thrive. Unfortunately as she grew stronger, she also grew more vicious. I was the only person who could touch her. And every time I went to pat her, she cringed. Her actions told me she’d been abused – and that her scars hadn’t been acquired accidentally.

Soon, she became very protective of me. If my husband tried to hug me, she lunged at him. If company came to the house, she stood between them and me and growled. She wouldn’t even allow Willow to set foot (paw?) in the same room with me.

“I think she could be rabid,” Nancy, her vet at the time, said after Raven nearly had separated her fingertips from her hand.  “If she’s a stray from down South, as you say, then who knows if she ever had any of her shots? And who knows what animals she might have come in contact with while she was running free? Take her home and keep her isolated for the next 10 days. If she dies, then you and your husband will have to undergo a series of rabies shots.”

I thought it was strange the vet would send home a dog she suspected might be rabid. I mean, I’d assumed she would quarantine Raven, not just for my husband’s and my safety, but for my entire neighborhood’s.

So my husband and I lived in fear for the next 10 days, thinking Raven might attack us in our sleep and rip out our jugulars. And she growled so often during that period, my husband nicknamed her “The Kraken.”  But as it turned out, she didn’t have rabies, she had a hormonal imbalance – kind of like a really bad case of PMS.

As time passed, Raven became less aggressive and even learned how to play with Willow without trying to remove any of her body parts. Still, despite her improved disposition, whenever I took her to the vet’s, she rapidly transformed into a snarling beast that made even Cujo seem like Lassie in comparison. During one particular visit, Raven became so agitated, growling and lunging at everyone in the examining room, the doctor and her assistant went dashing out of the room.

As I sat there alone with Raven, the door suddenly creaked open and a hand holding a muzzle appeared. A voice then said, “Here, please put this on her.”

I took the muzzle and said, “I don’t dare!  Even I’m afraid to touch her right now!”

But Raven allowed me to muzzle her, and after that, the muzzle was securely in place whenever I took her for checkups.

Sue, the vet who was examining Raven one day, said to me, “Normally I’d also check her teeth, but I guess the only way I’m ever going to see hers is when I’m pulling them out of my arm!”

I had to laugh.

And I’ll never forget the time my aunt and uncle came for a visit. My uncle had gone out to the garage to fix something for me, and my aunt and I were having tea at the kitchen table. Suddenly my uncle called me out to the garage to help him find some tool he needed. I went out there and ended up staying longer than I’d intended.

When I returned to the kitchen, the first thing I noticed was how stiffly my aunt was sitting. And when she spoke to me she didn’t move at all, not even her lips, as if she were talking through her teeth.

“Thank goodness you’re back!” she whispered, still not moving. “I’ve never been so scared!”

That’s when I noticed Raven, circling the table like a shark stalking its prey, a low, guttural growl coming from somewhere deep in her throat.

“Raven!” I scolded. “Leave my poor aunt alone!”

And off Raven trotted.

After I’d had Raven for about a year and had been posting tales of her antics online, I received an email from a worker at an out-of-state animal shelter. The letter said the shelter had been trying to track down several dogs that had been taken without authorization from there a year before…and they were certain my rottweiler was one of them.

The email explained that the dogs had been brought to the shelter after being confiscated from an illegal dog-fighting ring.  The animals had been deemed too vicious to be adopted, so they’d been scheduled to be euthanized. But, it later was discovered, a volunteer at the shelter had decided to save the dogs. She’d taken them away during the night and brought them up to her sister’s in New Hampshire. The email suggested that I euthanize Raven because she was considered to be a “loose cannon.”

Well, there was no way I was going to kill a perfectly healthy dog. Sure, she had issues, but at least I finally understood why she had them. The poor dog had been raised specifically to be a killing machine, nothing more.

Raven slowly learned to accept affection and not be afraid of the human hand. She switched from being a dog that was terrified of cars, to one that enjoyed going for rides. She learned how to play without trying to “kill” all of her toys. And she actually learned how to socialize with other dogs.  It took her nearly a year, but one day, she, the dog that never had shown any outward signs of affection whatsoever, finally licked me.

I was so excited, I rushed to tell my husband.

“She’s probably just tasting you,” he said flatly. “I’ve always had the feeling when she stares at us that she’s picturing us smothered in gravy.”

Shortly after my husband passed away, I was sitting on the sofa and crying one night. Raven came up to me and put her head in my lap, then looked up at me and whined. I knew right then I’d done the right thing by saving her. She hadn’t needed to be euthanized…she’d just needed to be loved.

Raven passed away last month, on July 28.

I feel as if a huge part of me has been torn away. But I also feel good inside, knowing I was able to make her last five years so much happier than her first.  I can only hope I was able to restore her faith in humankind.

Rest in peace, Raven.
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