As the holidays approach and another year comes to a close, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle. I challenge you to sit down, relax and take five minutes to reflect upon some of your favorite memories from the past twelve months.

Contributed by Melissa Gable
Public Information Officer
Maricopa County Animal Care and Control

At Maricopa County Animal Care & Control (MCACC), we care for nearly 35,000 homeless and unwanted pets. With an average of 100 animals entering our shelters every day, it can be difficult to find time to be grateful.

I hope you’ll allow me some time to tell you about one of my happy shelter memories from 2016 …
In March, a petite, solid white American Pit Bull Terrier mix was brought to our West Valley Animal Care Center as a stray. The dog arrived with a puncture wound to the back of her head and a horrific injury to her eye. The injury was so severe; the eye had to be removed by our veterinary team. The dog was placed in one of our clinic kennels to recover.

I often walk past these kennels and try to make a point to say “good morning” or “hello” to as many dogs as possible. With her stitches, drainage tubes and big plastic Elizabethan collar (e-collar), the Pittie mix’s appearance was a bit shocking. I went to her kennel, kneeled down and was immediately greeted by a rapidly wagging tail. The dog leaned into the kennel and tried to give me kisses. I grabbed a pen and wrote on the dog’s kennel card, “My name is Lizzy.”

The next day I brought a leash with me to visit Lizzy so that she could spend some time out of her kennel. It took us several minutes to reach my office because Lizzy had to stop and greet everyone she met.  Once there, Lizzy immediately curled up on the fluffy pet bed under my desk. She never barked, never fussed, and only moved to get up and meet my co-workers who stopped by to say hello.

Over the next few weeks, Lizzy continued to recuperate and spend time in my office. It became her home and as soon as we approached the door, I’d drop her leash and she’d go right in to curl up on her bed. She had a stash of stuffed dog toys which she would groom, lick and care for. She’d delicately pick them up and carry them to her bed. It was the cutest thing ever.

Another one of Lizzy’s favorite things was our regular lunch outings. She’d hop into the front seat of my car and sit quietly; never trying to interfere or jump from front seat to back. We always got the same thing – a diet soda for me and a plain hamburger for Lizzy. The staff at the drive-thru began to recognize us and Lizzy would always wag a happy hello.

As I prepared to head out on a week-long vacation, I found myself worrying about Lizzy. What would she do while I was away? My co-workers quickly stepped in and brought Lizzy to their offices. Occasionally I’d get text messages with photos of Lizzy at the drive-thru.

When I came back from vacation, I knew it was time for Lizzy to find a home. She’d fully recovered from her injuries and was adjusting well to life with one eye. She was such a sweet dog; surely she’d get adopted in two seconds! And then we tried introducing her to another dog.

She didn’t like dogs. Any of them. We introduced her to male dogs, female dogs, calm dogs, playful dogs. Lizzy wanted nothing to do with them. We began to wonder if perhaps her injuries were the result of a dog fight. Was that why she didn’t like other dogs? Whatever the reason, her behavior drastically reduced her chances for adoption.

We featured Lizzy on social media. She made multiple trips to TV stations and was in the newspaper but no one came for her. Lizzy was such a great dog with people. It wasn’t fair. I began to get angry. What could we do for her? And then we had an idea …
Why not stage a Pit-In? A nod to the 60s sit-in, our event would bring attention to Lizzy and other dogs like her. Shelter pets who are overlooked due to their special quirks or behavior. One week later, Camp Lizzy was created. Lizzy and I would “occupy” one of the small play yards at our West Valley Animal Care Center. Thanks to wonderful volunteers, we had a tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, camping chairs and ice chest filled with treats. Camp Lizzy was decorated with peace symbols, streamers, signs (“Give Pits a Chance”) photos of other long-time shelter residents in need of loving homes. My plan was to stay until Lizzy was adopted.

I thought the shelter would grow quiet after dark, but there was always a dog barking somewhere. Lizzy never made a sound. I zipped us into the tent, fired up my Kindle and prepared for a restless night. Lizzy however, slept like a log and took up most of the bed space. I couldn’t believe how cold it was and at one point I wrapped my arms around Lizzy. She nuzzled into me and snored softly.
The next day, media came out to share Lizzy’s story. We did interviews from our tent. We posted updates on Facebook and Lizzy’s fans were extremely supportive. We worked from Camp Lizzy and co-workers came to visit throughout the day. I was dreading the thought of another sleepless night.

And they came. A wonderful couple who had seen Lizzy on television that morning. They had two children and a home without pets. Their son had special needs and they were in search of a dog that would be gentle but not afraid of his wheelchair. Upon meeting the little boy, Lizzy immediately licked his hand and sat down next to him. 

When the adoption paperwork was complete, I packed up Lizzy’s favorite toys and walked her out to the front parking lot. In the past few weeks the thought of Lizzy getting adopted was bittersweet – I wanted her to find a wonderful home but I knew I’d be devastated to not have her with me anymore. However, as she jumped into the car of her new family with her wagging tail and happy smile, I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t cry. I felt pure joy. This was the family Lizzy was supposed to have and they loved her as much as I did.

It’s funny how you can see 35,000 animals each year and find one who has such an impact on your life. This happens every day. Our staff and volunteers each have their favorites. They work diligently to make sure they find loving homes. I can’t wait to see what wonderful dogs and cats I’ll meet in 2017!