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In the last installment of this story, Nitro was hitting the road with his angel, Vinessa, her puppy, Laela, and Vinessa’s four small children. The drive was from Orange County California to Shelby (northern), Montana. This sounds like a long drive even without the crew. I couldn’t imagine doing it by myself with all those little faces on board. With all her free time (getting four children and two dogs packed and settled in the car, clothing for the trip, all kinds of assorted dog food, crates, beds etc.), Vinessa started a Facebook page “Nitro’s Journey Home.” Please feel free to check it out, and be sure to “Like” it!
Vinessa told me that she makes this trip – Huntington Beach, CA to Michigan four times a year. FOUR TIMES A YEAR?!?! Holy smoke! That’s a lot of miles. She told me that she has a big Ford Expedition, so there’s plenty of room for all the kids and Nitro would get a double seat in the passenger area. Her young pup, Laela, would have to learn to ride shot-gun. She cranked up the DVD player and off they went.
The first stop was in Las Vegas. It was completely dark, but the dogs needed to stretch their legs, take a potty break, and the kids all needed to eat. The photo is of Nitro at the Las Vegas stop. He already looks better. He must know that he is now with friends and safe. He was driving along with his head out the window enjoying the ride. Apparently, he taught his new friend, Laela, to do the same. I can imagine the looks on passers-by. With two German Shepherd Dogs in attendance, no one would mess with that car.
There was one moment that really startled poor Vinessa. She thought she’d “lost him” for a few tense moments. She stopped for a short nap, and when she woke up and turned around she didn’t see his head. She felt for his body and lifted his head. Poor Nitro was stiff as a board. She panicked and jumped into the back and shook his hind-end. Old Nitro just looked up at her like “I am SLEEPING! What is your PROBLEM!!!?” Poor Vinessa! After everything, she feared old Nitro had passed away while she slept. It took her a walk and several minutes to get her heart rate back to normal.
While I was laughing at her story, I started realizing that the reason he was so soundly asleep was probably because this was the first time in a very long time that he could just relax and sleep. This wasn’t concrete or asphalt; it was a soft back seat. He didn’t have to worry about being chased by anyone or anything. He could just sleep and totally relax. He was with people who truly cared about him.
One of our main concerns was what to feed Nitro. Goodness only knows when his last decent meal was. He was more than 40 pounds underweight. We were concerned that feeding him high-quality puppy food (higher fat content and high vitamin/mineral values) might give him diarrhea. Luckily, he didn’t suffer any of that. He was thriving and growing stronger with every hour and mile.
The next stop was in the snow! It appeared that Nitro hadn’t seen snow in a very long time. He sure saw plenty in his life in Michigan, but he had apparently been in California for some time. From the photo here, you can see he was certainly enjoying the cooler weather and the snow.
One thing that really made me sad was that people were giving poor Vinessa really nasty looks. Yes, Nitro was in horrible condition. He had fly-bitten ears, he was completely emaciated, and was just a shell of his former self; but he was being cared for for the first time in way too long. People didn’t bother to ask. They just assumed that Vinessa was the person responsible for his terrible condition. Nothing could be further from the truth. If it weren’t for her, Nitro’s days would have been very few and very sad. I learned a thing or two, myself. Don’t prejudge. Don’t assume. The story could be quite different from what you are thinking.
Once the troop finally got to Montana, Nitro wanted quite badly.to jump up on the bed and cuddle with the family. (That’s one of the more endearing memories I have of the time Nitro was with us. He dearly loved to be on the bed with us.) Poor guy, he still was too weak to jump. This sad photo shows Nitro when he realized he couldn’t make it onto the bed – yet.
We learned, further, that Nitro’s life, after leaving us, must have been pretty rough – especially the last few years. His emaciated appearance wasn’t the only evidence. He has terrible calluses from sleeping on concrete and a leg that became quite swollen and made him limp pretty badly. Of course, this really worried Vinessa. This is something that will have to be looked into once he gets to an area with good veterinary care. We were able to talk to our niece who is a veterinarian in Colorado. Her educated opinion was that this was probably an old injury that was swelling and arthritis. If it had been new, he would have been very vocal and unable to walk at all on it. We will have it checked with our vets once he’s home, but after a long rest, Nitro seemed to be doing much better. The swelling went down quite a bit. He even felt well enough to “play” with Laela a little.
Another thing we learned about Nitro during his journey home is that he’s VERY protective. When the 3-month-old baby cries, Nitro will run, check the baby, and then look at Vinessa as if to say, “What did you DO?!? The baby is CRYING!” Of course, that is very endearing. There’s a whole lot to be said about a dog, who – while still not in the best of condition – will be the protector of his “pack.” It’s also important to keep that behavior within acceptable levels. This may be something worth watching for. We do know that Nitro’s person must the alpha-being. He needs to have a strong, yet calm, leader.
After only eleven days, Nitro got weighed again. He had gained 10 pounds. This is an amazing feat. Yes, there’s a long way to go, but he’s taken such huge steps so far. At each turn, I’m reminded that God surely has a plan for him. Now it’s been two weeks since he left the shelter and he’s a stronger, happier, healthier dog. All of that in such a short time!
As of this release, plans are underway to get Nitro home by December 8. The family will be leaving Montana and heading for Michigan. I hope everyone who reads this will think warm, happy thoughts for the family on their drive. They will go straight to family and rest for a week or so before getting back in the car to bring Nitro to us. I know it will be hard for them to say good-bye to him. They have given so much of their time, energy and hearts into saving this amazing dog. Their sacrifices have been so selfless. Every time I think of all they went through, for total strangers and a completely unknown dog, it renews my faith in human beings. The world would be such a better place if more of us followed their examples.
Up Next: Nitro – The Story of a True Survival Miracle – Part 4: Home At Last