Long-time Irvine Animal Care Center volunteer Sally Flora visited Best Friends Animal Society last year in Kanab, Utah.  This sprawling, 3,700-acre sanctuary has been home to a variety of animals that were abused, abandoned, neglected or simply found their way to the doorstep of this stunningly beautiful refuge in the red rocks of Angel Canyon.  The place was founded on the “Save Them All” principle:  Every animal either gets a good home, or they have a home for life at Best Friends.

Flora was taking a break from volunteering in the Dogtown area when a 10-year-old-black lab mix came up and rested his head in her lap in that “pet me now, I’m yours” position.  “He was so mellow and sweet.  That was it; I knew I had to get him,” says Flora.  She learned that “Coach” came from a possible hoarding situation in Texas where many neglected dogs lived with chronic hunger and sickness.  “High school kids would throw food into the field for the dogs,” says Flora.  “It was a free-for-all to get anything to eat.”

She filled out the adoption papers and had to return home to Orange County without Coach.  But in two weeks she made the 8-hour drive back to Kanab to pick up her new buddy.  Flora didn’t know how the 52-pound lab would fare with “Missy” and “Wilbur,” her two tiny Chihuahuas that run the house.  The first day, she tried to keep them separated, but Coach managed to meet his new roommates and, remarkably, all was peaceful.  “Coach thinks he’s a Chihuahua,” she says.  He tries to get into her lap with them until Missy growls and Coach gives in and lays on the floor next to the sofa.

With his history of missing a lot of meals, Coach often guards his food.  Feeding the dogs in different rooms solves that issue, says Flora.  Coach easily makes friends with other dogs and people.  “He greets everybody like he’s known them forever,” she says.  He walks well on a leash; sits on command and comes when called.  He loves to snuggle on soft pillows with his people, and take long walks on the local dog beach.  Seriously, Flora couldn’t have picked a better companion if she’d ordered him from Match.com.

He did, however, pose a challenge for the Best Friends clinic staff.  When he was rescued, he so badly reeked from skin and ear infections that the vet staff gagged.  He threw himself on the ground and screamed when they tried to treat him, and restraining him only made the screams louder.  The drama all stemmed from pain and fear.  And to add another insult, he had 12 bad teeth pulled before he left the sanctuary.

It could only get better for Coach.  He went to his “forever home” in Lake Forest with eight medications covering everything from infections,  to pain , to arthritis.  He’s down to about two meds now.  But Flora had a problem putting drops in his ears to treat the lingering infection, especially in his right “cauliflower” ear which is gnarled and lumpy like a prize fighter’s from shaking his head too much.  “He sees the bottle and runs,” says Flora. 

It’s such a common issue that most vets are willing to give instructions or even a demonstration.  But what if the dog decides to go to battle?  According to Worcester, Vermont Veterinarian Connie Riggs, severe infections are painful and should first be seen by a vet who will sedate the dog and flush the ears to get them super clean.  Then the vet can administer a long-term medication that lasts a week or two, after which the pet goes back to the vet for another treatment. Meanwhile, says Riggs, you can prepare for any home treatment by getting the dog used to having her ears touched as you feed treats.  You’ll also find lots of tips on the Internet, such as:  Ask a helper to give the dog treats throughout the process and praise the dog liberally.  Wrapping the dog in a blanket may help to calm him just enough to get the job done.  Usually, after the dog realizes that this ear procedure means less pain, (and you become better at it), the whole scenario gets easier.

With further vet care, Coach’s ears healed and his problems are all behind him now.  “He’s a real dog.  He farts, burps and hates taking a bath,” says Flora as she watches him rearrange the sofa pillows for maximum nap comfort.

Fran Tardiff

Fran Tardiff is a freelance writer. She retired as a public relations writer after working 20 years for both UCLA and UC Irvine.She also has been a volunteer at the Irvine Animal Care Center for more than 15 years. She lives in Laguna Hills with her two dogs and husband.

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