It was a beautiful day as we started out. The sun was shining and I was reminded of the many Sunday drives we took with my grandmother when I was a child. This drive was different though; it was a mission, a rescue. There were two Kerry Blue Terriers in need in a backyard mill. The boy was six and the girl, three. They had been bred to breed, nothing more. The closer we got to our destination in Pennsylvania, the more ominous the sky. Was this an omen?
We told each other to be stoic, not controversial, and even complimentary for the sake of the dogs. Time has elapsed the memory of Mick winning Westminister and Kerries are no longer the dog de jour except for those of us who know and love the breed. This mill breeder was interested in a new breed, a popular breed whose puppies would line his pockets with money. We were prepared; I was prepared, until I saw the dogs. At first look, they didn’t resemble Kerries at all with round heads of long thick fur and bodies to match. They were overgrown, but the sight of their legs is what caught my attention and disgusted me. They were caked to the shoulders in thick, matted fur combined with mud and their own feces. We showed no emotion in deference to the dogs. Our mission was to get those dogs, and get them we did. We talked, we listened, and we flattered the “breeder.” He proudly informed us that his profit and more had been made from their litters of puppies. Asking about immunizations, we were told to go to the local Tractor Supply Company and get the 8 and 1 vaccine once a year. He kept no records. These two had probably never seen a veterinarian. Again, we showed no emotion and the two Kerries were ours!
We would have been ecstatic, had it not been for the condition of the dogs. There is no polite way to describe it, the stench was horrific. We drove in the rain with the air conditioner on and the windows open. There was going to be much work to do to transform this breeding pair into pets, work that would begin with washing and clipping. As we made the two and a half hour drive home, the skies cleared. It was the end of their former life, a life of filth, puppies, and little human interaction. A new life now waited for them.
The boy was clipped and legs cut layer by layer, then bathed, but it was only the first of several sessions. His head was so overgrown that I had to cut carefully because at first, I couldn’t find his ears. When his ears were finally found and his beautiful head trimmed, I was reminded of a little airplane, ears resembling wings, as he held them straight out from the side of his head when he was alert. At that moment he was named for the national airline of Ireland, Aerlingus, but affectionately just called Lingus.
Then it was the girl’s turn. She was the more overgrown. I clippered where I could and cut much of her hair away. Beginning with her face, her eyes were beautiful but frightened. I cut one mat from under her right eye that was the size of an egg. Moving to the legs, she lifted each one seemingly trying to help. Each matted disgusting section that fell away was a victory and I promised her, “never again, never again will you have to live this way.” At times I thought I was on an archeological dig. Each layer often revealed sticks, leaves, and seeds, along with unidentifiable debris long ago embedded in her hair. There was blood under the layers of her left leg at the shoulder. Cutting ever so carefully, I found a small stick that had embedded itself in her flesh and had caused an open wound. Balls of mud were cut away from the bottom of her feet. How was she able to walk? As I bent over her, she tried to lick my face or latex gloved hand. Moving to her back, the long straggly hair was cut away revealing a mat, not just a small mat, but a mat that covered her entire back and sides. Cutting through a small portion, I estimated it to be about one inch thick. I cut the top half of it away. Between the two dogs, it had been five and one-half hours. They and I were tired. She was bathed, both were fed, and sleep was in order for all.
The next day, I refined the boy. He had to loose most of his beard because of mats and hair glued together with I don’t know what smelly concoction, but the beard will grow back. Under all the filthy, long hair was a beautiful Kerry boy with wavy dark charcoal hair highlighted with strands of silver. His face, feet and tail are black. His disposition was friendly and loving. As he began to trust us, he would stretch up with his front paws just to be petted and hugged. That was all he wanted, just to be loved.
I dreaded starting on the little girl. How was I going to get that mat off? I wished I had the shears and skill of a sheep farmer. Cutting at the neck, I finally was able to get the clipper head under a tiny piece of the mat. Section by tiny section, the clipper struggled under the tightly matted hair. As her back was finally exposed, I could see her beautiful light silver coat. Until the mat was removed, I had called her Sweetie. Now I told her she had “no more mat”, no mat, Maddie. Her family will have the fun of deciding on the perfect name for this little girl, but to me she will be Maddie, forever free of that horrible mat covering her body under which several hot spots had formed from the trapped moisture.
Maddie and Lingus have been transformed from overgrown disgusting smelling mill dogs into Kerry Blue Terriers, ready and waiting to be loved and love in return. Their new families will need to be patient teaching them how to walk through a door, play, chew on a bone, and just be a dog. They are clueless about the world and life in a home; they were after all, livestock. Without the Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation, its many volunteers, and those who financially supportefforts to improve the lives of these animals that cannot control their own destiny, this rescue would not have been possible and that would have been a travesty.