The Arizona Republic, Pat Shannahan) MAGS OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press
PHOENIX — To get through the beginning, you need to know how it ends.
And it went through a chain of Arizona generosity that stretched from Tolleson to Phoenix to Scottsdale to Paradise Valley to Fountain Hills to the online community and back, providing food, water, transportation, surgery and $17,000 worth of hope.
All of it inspired by one tiny dog.
It started Jan. 3, as Cedric Conwright was on his daily afternoon walk not far from his Tolleson home. Little of note ever happens on his usual route, except on this particular Tuesday, when a car slowed and pulled to the side just ahead. Conwright saw something thrown from the car's window into a field, and then watched as the car drove away.
As he got closer, Conwright saw a black trash bag, knotted at the top. He started to walk by, but then the sack moved. He approached it slowly.
"I thought maybe it was a snake," Conwright said. He nudged it with his foot and heard a whimper.
"I thought it sounded like a dog," Conwright said. "But who would do that to a dog?"
Ripping open the bag, he found a small, injured dog curled up inside. It was alive, but Conwright wondered how that was possible as he looked more closely.
"His eyes were closed and covered in slime," Conwright said. "He was really thin, too. I couldn't believe he wasn't dead."
Gently picking up the dog, Conwright carried him home, set him down on the floor and gave him food and water. He was surprised that the dog stood and was able to eat and drink.
For the next two days, Conwright cared for the little dog, but it became apparent that there was something wrong with his eyes.
"I knew he couldn't see, because he kept bumping into stuff," Conwright said. "He needed more help than I could give him."
On Jan. 5, Conwright called Maricopa County Animal Care and Control for help, and it took the dog in. Shelter workers considered euthanasia because of the dog's severe injuries, but they hesitated because he was able to walk and eat. Maybe there was a chance.
The eyes were beyond saving and were removed in surgery.
Despite the odds, the 4-year-old (or so) miniature pinscher persevered. After another two weeks, Animal Care and Control officials notified Valley rescue agencies that a special-needs dog was available for fostering. But he would need more medical care, and there were still hurdles ahead.
Among those responding to the call was the Feathers Foundation, a Paradise Valley nonprofit specializing in the care of injured and neglected animals.
On Jan. 20, Susy Hopkins, a Feathers Foundation member who had heard the dog's story and wanted to foster him, waited in a north Scottsdale parking lot for the volunteer bringing him from the Animal Care and Control shelter.
Hopkins feared the worst. But even so, she was not prepared for what she saw. The dog was smaller and thinner than she imagined. Fluid leaked from his eye sockets.
"I just couldn't believe this dog was alive," Hopkins said. "He was a skeleton. Green and yellow liquid was draining down his face."
Hopkins put the dog in her car and then stopped at McDowell Mountain Animal Hospital in Scottsdale. Though she had little money at her disposal, Hopkins asked the staff if they would see Andre — the name the volunteer who transported him had given the dog — with only the promise of payment.
Andre was rushed to a room for immediate treatment. But the scenario did not seem hopeful. After veterinarian Candice Emerson examined Andre, she told Hopkins what she feared was the best course of action.
"I thought euthanasia was in order," Emerson said.
Hopkins asked Emerson to try to save Andre anyway. The vet would go on to find that in addition to Andre's eyes, which had become infected, he also was anemic and had diabetes. She also detected what she thought may have been a BB pellet under the skin. She started tending to his needs.
There was never a question about money.
And Emerson was as shocked as anyone when Andre began responding to treatment over the next few days.
"Even the next day, he was doing so much better," Emerson said. "It was a miracle."
Carrie Seay, a veterinary assistant, said she and others in the office were drawn in by the small dog's plight.
"As soon as we saw him (Andre), our hearts went out," Seay said. "All we wanted to do was help."
That would establish a pattern for the next month. Person after person, one after another, anyone who saw Andre only wanted to help, opening their hearts and wallets.
Deborah Wilson is a Scottsdale medical doctor who works on behalf of Feathers Foundation to help animals in need. She set up a page for Andre on FirstGiving, a website that allows non-profits to post causes that need donations. She has posted several such pleas for animals in need over the past four years.
But she has never before seen an outpouring like the one for Andre.
Hundreds of people visited his page, donating $5 here, $60 there. Rescuers set up a fundraiser at a downtown Scottsdale pizza restaurant. Fliers were posted and word of mouth spread, and on Feb. 9, more than 250 people showed up. Roughly 100 of them had to wait outside. More than $3,500 was raised.
On its own, that $3,500 was huge — it took the group most of the way to accomplishing its $5,000 goal. But no one expected the more than $13,000 that would come from the Web page. All told, Andre's cause had raised nearly $17,000 in donations.
Feathers Foundation later announced that the additional funds would go to other animals in need.
"I think this indicates we are a society that will not tolerate animals' abuse, just as we do not tolerate people abuse," Wilson said.
Susy Hopkins was overwhelmed.
"People just wanted to see Andre, to hold him, to hug him," she said. "And no matter how many people wanted to pet him, Andre never resisted. He was so calm, so gentle. It made me wonder even more why someone would treat him so badly."
There were signs Andre once was a family pet. He had been neutered, and his tail docked (a customary practice with the breed). He was friendly and very comfortable around people. The mere idea of someone mistreating such a dog drove Hopkins crazy.
So instead of focusing on the past, she concentrated on the future, and that meant finding Andre a loving home.
That's exactly what happened on Feb. 11.
Sandy Powers saw Andre's story unfold on a local TV report. She was horrified to hear the details.
As soon as Andre's face popped up on the screen, Powers was entranced.
"It was love at first sight," Powers said. "I had never adopted a rescue dog before, but I knew I wanted to care for this one."
And so Andre now has a home, two loving owners in Powers and Annie Belatti, and even a new canine companion — K-Bela, a 90-pound Rottweiler mix Powers inherited from her brother-in-law.
Andre has learned to step slowly and carefully, following nearby voices to guide him through a world he can no longer see. But despite what happened to him a few days into the new year, the dog still leans into the human touch and seems happiest when held.
"When I talk or sing a little, he stays right with me on my heels," said Powers, Andre's No. 1 caretaker. "He just had his first bath, and now he's snuggled up with a blanket, falling asleep on my lap."
Andre's struggles are not quite over. His eye infection flared last week, and he is back on antibiotics. Powers also must continue treatment for Andre's diabetes and make sure the dog puts on some needed pounds while getting exercise.
Powers hopes to have Andre well enough for a picnic arranged for the many fans who contributed to his cause or could not see him at the fundraiser. She also wants Andre's fans and the 1,000-plus visitors he's had on his Facebook page to know that the miniature pinscher is in a safe place.
Andre is still tiny, weighing about 9 pounds. An underdog, to be sure. But one person gave him a chance, and then another, and then another. Word got around, and soon hundreds of people were donating thousands of dollars. And instead of being a dog that cost $5,000 to save, he became a dog that raised $12,000 extra for injured and abused animals down the line.
"It's amazing how a tiny little spirit can touch so many hearts," Powers said. "I want to reassure everyone he is well-cared for and loved. Everything he needs, he will get. He will have the best possible life from now on."
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com
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