Keusch: “Fireman” Finds Forever Home

By Kristy Keusch

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Fireman and Chloe, Photo by Abigaile-Hénrietta Sailor Alcamo

On March 30th 2015 a small 3-pound Chihuahua was found hiding behind a plastic children’s swimming pool in the play yard at Antioch Animal Services.

He was found by a volunteer named Diane Denning. Diane saved his life that day, because you see the play yard had been locked up and was under quarantine due to a Parvovirus outbreak in the shelter. That play yard had not been accessible for at least a week.

We don’t know how long the tiny Chihuahua had been in the play yard but we know for sure his life changed for the better the day he was found.

He was in the shelter for two-days before I saw him for the first time and it only took me a matter of seconds to decide that I had to take him home. I could not fathom him laying all alone, scared and shaking for another night. When I first saw this tiny Chihuahua puppy he was laying on his side, I later discovered it was the only position he found comfortable as his then unknown injuries were so painful he would not move even to go potty.

The tiny Chihuahua was assumed to be approximately 4-6 weeks old. Upon further examination it was determined that this little pup had chemical burns to his chest, tummy and ears. All of these burns seemed to be at different stages of healing. This, and his extreme distrust of people led us all to believe that he had not been harmed once, but perhaps multiple times.

When I got him home I knew he needed to not just get to a vet, but go to a rescue right away.

My good friends at Fido Alert, Candi and Cat suggested I contact Umbrella of Hope Rescue. Umbrella of Hope had been sponsoring vet care and doing surgery, such as spays, neuters, dentals and specialty surgeries on dogs we felt needed extra attention while waiting to be adopted via Antioch Animals Services. So, it was not uncommon for us to reach out and ask for help with such matters of care for the animals.

I picked up the phone and I called the Founder of Umbrella of Hope, Dee Peterson, to let her know about this little burned Chihuahua puppy. Without hesitation Dee told me to bring him in to her rescue and straight to Well Pet Veterinary Hospital in Pittsburg to be examined more thoroughly.

I will never forget walking through that door unsure about what this tiny Chihuahua’s future would hold. Never imagining how many lives he was about to touch and the journey that he had ahead of him.

fireman-1There where gasps and sighs and even tears as the hospital and rescue staff surrounded his tiny scalded body.

Immediately they started to evaluate him, doing blood work and giving vaccinations. Our worst fear was the threat of exposure to Parvo. The vet determined that this little guy would need emergency medical attention and so he was scheduled for surgery the next day. They sent us home with a small medicine cabinet’s worth of medications.

On the morning of his surgery Dee announced that this little burnt up puppy would be named “FIREMAN”.

That day they amputated both of Fireman’s crusty, charred, crumbling ears and scrubbed his scaly, reddened belly and chest, He was also neutered and micro chipped.

I assumed the next few days would be a world of pain for this little guy whilst he recovered, but as it turned out, he perked up almost immediately even attempting to play with his foster sister and brother.

Despite his post surgery enthusiasm things where not going to be as easy and carefree as first thought with little Fireman. Fireman didn’t like being forced into anything including taking his much needed medication. He became very fearful of being handled and disliked being pressured, his reaction was to bite. Fireman’s physical body was healing, but inside his little mind was in turmoil.

Fireman’s story had gained unfathomable attention from the local media & social networks not only in the US, but worldwide. People instantly started to come forward wanting to adopt Fireman. Once the number of potential adopters exceeded the 1000’s Umbrella of Hope volunteers had to stop counting and it became apparent that the majority of people where falling in love with the idea of saving him or they were falling in love with his sad story yet none knew the real Fireman.

We had to come up with a plan to find the right home for Fireman where he could be loved for all of his imperfections inside and out, but that was a task to deal with later. In the weeks to come Fireman’s physical body continued to heal very quickly but not his heart. Luckily I, as his foster, have a pet savvy 7 year old son who knows how to respect boundaries and I was the only one who sustained most of the damage from Fireman’s outbursts of anger, hurt and distrust.

Fireman didn’t like to be touched too much, he would walk into your lap, but the moment he felt even a touch on him he would snap and bite. He wanted to be held and loved so badly, but had no idea how to trust enough to get the love he yearned for. It was a constant struggle of what he wanted versus what he was capable of accepting. We made an appointment with a highly recommended certified behaviorist to see what we could do to help work him through these issues.

The behaviorist diagnosed Fireman with PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder.

Fast forward 4 months and Fireman is continuing to work through his issues, which will be with him long term. I can hold him and cuddle him he gives me kisses and finally trusts enough to let down his guard. We have worked on communication and I have to keep constantly alert to watch for his cues. It’s very much like having an infant child because he is unable to speak, but he will communicate with signs and signals to let us know when he is feeling unsafe or overwhelmed.

We finally had got Fireman to the point where we felt he was adoptable.

The next hurdle that Umbrella of Hope had to consider was finding that perfect family/adopter for Fireman.  The reality is that not everyone will have the ability to continue his therapy and have an understanding of his PTSD. He could not go to just any home no matter how much they felt he would “fit right in”. So, our quest began to seek out the perfect family for Fireman.

We felt he would do best with someone who had been through what he has been through, someone who could understand his pain, his continued recovery, and his insecurities, someone who would be on the same level as him forever.

Umbrella of Hope reached out to KTVU News the first station to cover Fireman’s story.

After a couple of weeks we got word back that they had found a potential family. We decided to meet for the first time in mid-July. Chloe is a burn survivor and like Fireman she was injured when she was just a baby. Chloe was placed in a medically induced coma for weeks so that she didn’t have to be aware of the pain that her tiny body was in. Since then she has endured 7 surgeries.

fireman-2Today, Chloe is a vibrant, 12 year old girl and unlike other preteens her age she has conquered a few more uphill battles and maybe more than most men and women have to in a life time. Charismatic and full of life this little girl holds the world in the palm of her hand. In a lot of ways she reminds me of Fireman with her continued awareness of what she went through, how it has affected her and yet she will not let it define her in a negative way, but rather she uses her experience to help others understand what it means to be a burn victim.

I have always felt Fireman had a greater purpose than just being a family pet, I always felt he would somehow change a life or even the world and I feel that he will do that for Chloe and with Chloe. Together they can help other burn survivors see there is a rainbow after the storm.

As my family and I say “Good bye” to Fireman today we find great comfort in knowing he is going to a family that is perfect for him. Chloe can help him in ways no other person can. Her understanding of his struggle is something most families cannot offer him.

Fireman’s life did not begin the day he was born or even the day I got him, his life begins today, the day he truly goes home. If you would like to be part of a happy ending like Fireman’s please consider fostering for a local rescue and tell them “Fireman Sent Me”.

Love & wishes for an amazing life, your foster Mom & family, Kristy.