Saving Anabelle

Short-listed Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: Lisa Morris

The sounds of the gun shot rang loud and clear in her head. Bolts of pain seared through her neck and then came the peace of numbness. As her vision began to blur, she caught a glimpse of the old faded jeans and work boots. She felt the blow to the ribs again and again as she gasped for a breath-then the darkness embraced her like a welcoming blanket. She was ready to die. But Anabelle didn’t die. As the founder of a Labrador rescue, I was often asked by the local Sherriff’s department to assist in rehabilitating lost or injured dogs. Anabelle was no exception. She was a beautiful black Lab–complete with soft mouth, triangular velvety ears, and a charming disposition. It was incredible that she had survived her horrific abuse.

I didn’t know much about the why, where, or who in this case. I knew more about “the how and the what” it would take to give her a second chance at life. Sylvia, the deputy who handled these types of cases was the one to contact me first. Even though this phone call occurred many years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday.

“Lisa? Hey this Sylvia from the Sherriff’s department. How are you doing?” I knew her well. We’d worked a few cases together.

“Hey back. I am doing great, just having my morning cup of coffee. What do you have for me?” I knew that if she called there was a need and I liked getting to the point.

“That’s what I like about you”, she chuckled,” no time is ever wasted. Anyway, I got a call around 3:00 this morning regarding a dog out on County Road 22 that had been shot in the neck and left for dead. I picked her up and rushed the poor gal to that ER over there on Smith Street. Do you know the place?”

“Yes I do.” I replied “What’s the prognosis? A direct shot to the neck sounds pretty definite to me…but I hope I am wrong.”

“Well, so far so good.” I could sense the hope in Sylvia’s voice. Sometimes hope is all a Lab rescuer has to keep going.

“Well then I’d better get on over there.” I hung up the phone, poured out my remaining coffee, and jumped in my car.

The ride to the ER vet was filled with mixed emotions. Anger was the first to rear its head. It always amazed me how people can be so cruel to an animal. And I may be a little biased-but especially a Lab. The gentle nature and disposition that Labs have is so pure and good. Sure, as puppies they chew everything under the sun and dig holes to China…but that is surface. The deep consists of the loyalty and undying love they have for people is unconditional. Labs are a breed that simply loves.

As I approached the ER my anger turned to apprehension. I wasn’t too sure what I would find and I knew that the staff was expecting a miracle. Well, if their expectations were set that high, then mine would be too. “The power of positive thinking”…that would be my motto as I walked into the front doors of the clinic.

Entering the lobby, my eyes were immediately met by Jill, the receptionist. “Hey! What brings you here?”

“Oh like you don’t already know.” I laughed. “I came to check out the clinic cat. I think I have found him good home.”

This sarcastic attempt at humor made us both laugh. At that point, Bob the kennel cat strolled over and meowed as if to say.”I’m not going anywhere…I have it made right where I am.”

“Don’t worry Bob” I said as I gently rubbed his silky fur, “I am here for someone a little larger than you…besides, I save Labs not vet- clinic cats.” Feeling satisfied, Bob sauntered over to his usual spot and curled up to take a nap–what a life!

“So Jill, be honest with me, how does it look for the back Lab brought in last night?”

Looking me straight in the eyes Jill replied, “If you had asked me at 6:00 this morning when I came in, I would have said ‘No way’ but now I can see signs of fight in her. This girl wants to live.”

“Well then I’d like to meet her” I said as I gave Bob one last glance—still curled up in a ball but now with one eye open.

I never really enjoyed the “behind the scenes” of a vet’s office. The cold metal tables, jars of chemicals, needles –all screamed “medical” and that was my least favorite part of the rescue business. Sometimes you lost a dog you had so vigilantly tried to save and it was from no fault other than that’s what sometimes happens…but death isn’t ever easy to face.

“Good morning my favorite Lab rescuer!” came a resounding voice behind me. Dr. Jones always greeted me this way. I was quite sure that if I had been a Mastiff rescuer, the greeting would have been the same, except for the subtle replacement of the breed’s name. Dr. Jones was the type of veterinarian I would want to be…if I wanted to be a vet.

“Hey back at you,” was my reply. “I guess you know why I am here. Let me see this feisty girl with the will to live. I was wondering if you’d given her a name yet?”

“Superstition won’t allow it, you know that. Nah, I’ll let you take on that task.”

I laughed. “I know-I know. I was hoping you might have made an exception this time.”

It was well-known that Dr. Jones never named the endless number of strays that were brought to his office. He was afraid that if he named them and lost them, his emotions might get the best of him and he wouldn’t be as effective at making the pretty radical decisions that had proved, in the past, to save countless animals in need.

As we went to the back, where the Lab was recovering, I got the chance to find out a little more about what had happened.

“What can you tell me about this case and her surgery?” I prodded.

“She was brought into the clinic during the wee hours of the morning while the ER staff was here. They called me and I came out to assess her injuries. It appears someone took her out to those back roads, shot her in the neck and just left her there to die. Tire tracks on the dirt road suggest they dumped her and drove away.”

I could feel my anger rising, but a good rescuer has to put their emotions on the back-burner and get the job done.

“And what is the extent of her injuries…?” I let the question trail off there.

“Well, she received a solid gunshot to the neck that shattered part of the bone structure and grazed her jaw area. It was pretty bad.”
“Will she be paralyzed or permanently handicapped?” I could hear the trembling in my voice.

“Actually I don’t think so. Several hours after I performed the surgery, she was allowed to move around a little and I was pleasantly surprised to see that she could walk and stretch and seems completely aware of the fact we want to help her. It looks pretty good. So thank goodness we aren’t looking at a spinal injury.”

“I can’t wait to meet her.”And I meant it. I loved what I did and each new rescue was a new chance for a new beginning.

When I was first introduced to this precious Lab, she was curled up on a blanket that was decorated with bright red poppies. She was lying peacefully beside her kennel. I was hesitant to approach. An injured dog is susceptible to becoming frightened and acting out due to that fear. Not her. The moment I heard the thumping of her tail, I knew she was fine. Well as fine as a dog just shot in the neck could be.

I sat on the floor beside her and spoke to her like an old friend. “Hey beautiful lady, I am so sorry this happened to you but I am going to take care of you now and find you a wonderful home. Would you like that?” The thumping got much louder.

Carefully rubbing her side I let my hand trace the path of her spine. She was thin and malnourished to add to her list of needs.

“How long before I can take her home?” I asked Dr. Jones.

“I think by the end of the week. It’s important to watch her extra carefully for the next few days and then she’s all yours.”

I bent down and whispered in this Lab angel’s ear, “How do you like the name Anabelle? It’s a beautiful name for a beautiful dog. Does that sound good to you?”

This stray Lab with the horrific life of abuse and neglect became Anabelle the moment she looked into my eyes and gently licked my nose. This was going to be a very special rescue.

Anabelle soon came home with me. To say she fit right in would be an understatement. My own five Labs thought she was part of the pack and the twenty foster dogs I had at the time were gentle and accepting of this newcomer.

Anabelle did not walk away without physical scars. Her precious head was permanently tilted to the right and her right jowl hung a little lower than the other. When Anabelle got up to play, to follow me around, or simply want to stretch…she had to perform a ritualistic 360 circle to “get her bearings.” She’d then straighten out her path and proceed like any other Lab.

The mental scars, however, were non-existent. She held true to the breed…loved completely and with everything she had. After a few months of recovery, it was time to find Anabelle a forever home.

The day Anabelle found her new family is one that still brings tears to my eyes. It was a crisp fall morning when my phone rang and a gentle voice welcomed me at the other end.

“Hello is this Lisa with the Lab rescue?”

“Yes it is and who may I ask is calling?” I was juggling coffee and Milk-bones but managed to sound ready and efficient.

“This is the Oliver family and well, we are looking to adopt a Lab. We have been visiting your website everyday for the past two weeks. We are very excited about adding to our family.”

“Oh how exciting! And who did you have in mind?”I loved adoptions for two reasons. The first being that a great dog found a home and the second was that I could save another Lab that was in need. My rescue business had an open-door and frequent visitor policy.

After the typical question-answer interview, the Oliver family made arrangements to fill out an adoption application and make an appointment to view the Labs. When they arrived, I was ready. I knew, from our conversation, that they were interested in a female, about two to three years old, and good with kids. That was easy; I had about ten of those that fit the bill. For selfish reasons, I had not put Anabelle on that list.

It’s exciting to meet new families and share in their joy of bringing home a new family member. After a standard “How are you?” it was time to go searching. I showed the Oliver family each of the females that I thought would make a good fit for their family. Each potential Lab was loved on, talked to and “oohed” and “ahhed” over. But no real sparks were flying. It was then that a little voice inside my head told my heart that I had saved the best for last. I explained the story about Anabelle and her appearance and unusual 360 routine. I admit I was waiting…perhaps even hoping… to hear a “No thanks” but it never came.

“We’d like to see Anabelle please” was all Mrs. Oliver said. I brought the family inside to my office area, where Anabelle liked to nap. There she was, on her favorite poppy-covered blanket, the one I had first seen her lying on at the vet’s office. She gently rose, did her 360 turn around and walked over to us. The mother and dad had tears in their eyes as they stroked her glossy coat. Their eight year old son pulled a doggy treat out of his pocket. He had not offered this to any of the other Labs they had met that day. Anabelle, being the lady that she was, sat up nice and pretty, placed her paw carefully on his knee and accepted the treat. I knew that I had just found Anabelle a forever home. Actually I didn’t find it, a power that is far more knowing than I, a simple rescuer, brought Anabelle and her new family together.

I received many letters and pictures from the Oliver family on Ms. Anabelle. She proved to be the angel I knew she would be. Her favorite place to sleep was right on top of their son and he didn’t mind in the slightest.

Anabelle was cherished and lived a life filled with love. Eight years later, when I received news of her death, from natural causes, I cried as if I had just lost one of my own Labs, and in a way I had. My heart hurt just the same.

Two weeks after her death, I received a package–no return address listed– in the mail. I couldn’t remember ordering anything, but that was nothing new. As I tore open the package and peered inside my hands began to tremble. Carefully folded was a well-loved blanket with red poppies on it…Anabelle’s blanket…and a simple note that read:

Dear Lisa,

After much thought, we decided to return this blanket to you. We want you to use it to comfort another Lab who needs it like Anabelle did. The joy she brought to our lives has made forever imprints on our hearts. Thank you for what you do.


The Olivers

I kept that blanket and used it, like Anabelle would have wanted, to pass on her love and spirit, for many years. When it became so old and tattered that it was literally falling apart at the seams, I cut out and saved a single square of cloth– one filled with red poppies, burned the rest of the blanket, and spread the ashes in my field of sunflowers…the place Anabelle loved to frolic and play and feel like a dog should feel-appreciated, cared for and adored. Ms. Anabelle taught me to believe in the goodness of people again–and she has forever made an imprint on my heart as well.


9 thoughts on “Saving Anabelle

  1. There should be a law…against posting stories like this without including a warning to have a box of tissues handy!! Wonderful, terrific, heart-warming story and very well-written!

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  3. This is the most beautiful, heart warming story I’ve ever read! I have a lab named Annabelle that was abandoned and she is the LOVE of our lives! The world needs more peopkle like the Oliver’s!

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