How one dog made Calgary home with the help of Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation’s adoption program

Last November, Boxita, a mixed breed dog from Cancun, Mexico, quivered in fear as she was lead up the snow covered lawn of the home she now shares with Calgary resident Melody Grant.

Ribs clearly visible beneath her thinning black fur coat, Boxita collapsed into the brand new dog bed that had been purchased in anticipation of her arrival, exhausted from the long trip to Calgary she had endured the day before.

Boxita lies in her favorite spot in the house – on top of the couch where she can watch out the window for the mailman.

Photo by: Tanis BrownBoxita was one of many dogs brought to Calgary by local non-profit organization Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation, which finds homes for dogs facing life-threating conditions in shelters across the world.

“We wanted to save as many dogs as we could,” says Pawsitive Match co-founder Mirella Montgomery. “When you get into rescue and you hear horror stories you think these dogs could have a better life.”

“It is important because of the lives saved. There are a lot of dogs out there in wonderful homes, some of whom were taken off of the euthanization table.”

Found in a dumpster at just five weeks old, Boxita was taken to a local rescue in Cancun where she lived with 200 other dogs in extremely poor conditions. Here she faced several medical complications, including the highly contagious distemper virus, a life threatening condition in which the dog contracts flu like symptoms that can lead to seizures and paralysis. Boxita overcame the disease, but was left with a nervous tick; a fact that tugged on the heartstrings of Melody Grant.

“They told me that Bo had lived in the shelter for three years, was a distemper survivor and was suffering from depression,” Grant says. “I picked her because of that. I wanted to give her a chance.”

After receiving an email from the shelter in Cancun the night before Boxita’s arrival, Grant began to get nervous.

“I just didn’t know what to expect,” says Grant. “I was nervous about what shape Boxita would be in when she got here.”

Partnering with Cambrian Animal Hospital, all dogs brought to Calgary by Pawsitive Match are required to undergo a medical examination and quarantine. After 24 hours in Calgary, it became clear that Boxita suffered from severe anxiety, a potentially lethal tick bite, and demodex – an infestation of mites that had killed all of her hair follicles and left her nearly bald.

“This poor little thing, she is underweight and she has no hair,” Grant recalls thinking at their first meeting. “I was quite concerned because we were having a blizzard, and it was -42 degrees Celsius when she arrived.”

With the support of technicians at Cambrian, Grant was able to address Boxita’s medical needs and heal the tick bite that threatened her life upon arrival. Regular baths and special medication halted Boxita’s demodex, and she slowly began to regrow her jet-black hair.

While progress was being made, Boxita’s emotional trauma was the hardest challenge for the pair to overcome.

“She quivered for several weeks until she got adjusted to her surroundings,” says Grant. “We had to do things in baby steps.”

Slowly she began to venture beyond her dog bed to explore the rest of the house. Like many of the dogs rescued from Pawsitive Match, Boxita had to work through canine culture shock and adapt to having a caretaker.

“Learning that they are going to have food regularly provided to them, learning to live in a home and trust and learning to bond with their caregiver is a challenge for some of the dogs,” says Pawsitive Match foster coordinator Jennifer Frank.

It wasn’t until a month after her arrival, when Boxita finally had the conviction to bark at the mailman, that Grant felt she was doing something right.

“I didn’t even know if she knew how to bark,” recalls Grant, a smile on her face.

For Grant, the simple things Boxita would find the confidence to do became major triumphs. Watching her barrel across hardwood floors flinging herself desperately towards a small blue hippopotamus that was asking to be torn apart, Grant would feel triumphant as she cleaned up the white stuffing strewn around the room.

“She just started playing, it was so amazing to me. She had been through so much and now she was this happy dog playing,” Grant says.

“You have to be prepared to work with them, and to be very patient. Each small step is so rewarding, and you just feel so happy for the dog that they are becoming normal.”

Pawsitive Match adoptions are booming as more and more Calgarians hear stories like Boxita’s.

“There are really wonderful people out there who will give the dogs the best chance, and who will stick with it,” Montgomery says. “Some rescue dogs do have issues, they do have baggage, and there are people out there who will give it their all.”

Since three passionate women formed the rescue operation in 2007, Pawsitive Match has successfully found homes for more than 1,800 dogs in need with no bias as to their geographic location.

“If it’s local and we know of a dog in need, that’s what we are going to do, and if it is outside the area that’s what we are going to do too,” states Montgomery.

While adoption fees and fundraising efforts cover a good portion of medical and animal care costs, Pawsitive Match relies on partnerships with other organizations to help fund the dog’s transportation. Airlines such as Air Transat and WestJet support the operation by providing flights for the dogs at little or no cost, while rescue organizations across Mexico and California help to fund ground transportation.

“People realize that a lot of the dogs have no other hope,” says foster coordinator Jennifer Frank. “Bringing them in is helping to save a lot of dogs, and helping to stop the promotion of backyard breeders in Calgary.”

For Grant, the experience goes beyond just giving a dog a home.

“The thing I think is most wonderful about Boxita is that she is a survivor,” she explains. “I think it is an inspiration to all human beings who have a tough life as well, to be a survivor rather than a victim.”

Today as Grant watches Boxita prance up her leaf covered lawn, she reflects on the year they have spent together, saying, “I think what is remarkable on a personal level is that Boxita has given me much more then I have given her. Just seeing her everyday puts a smile on my face.”

tbrown@cjournal.ca