I have always been a firm believer that storytelling changes people's lives. It's a way to share real-life conflicts and issues that are happening in our own backyards, and promote ways for change. Sage is one of those dogs whose story started off horrific but has been one for inspiration and hope. Her story should be told, so buckle in because it's a long one but more than worth the read.
On January 19th, 2022 around 5 pm we got a disturbing message to our website here. A woman sent a plea for help as her dog was "suffering". She wrote, "The pet is in a cage in a very cold place laying in her poo and pee. [She] lost weight she needs to be some place my number is ***-***-**** please please help". When I read this, I thought surely this can't be real. When I asked if it was her dog, she said yes and continued to beg for help. Without knowing if we actually could help I asked for her address because at the least I needed to alert the police to go check on this dog. She sent it immediately. Within an hour we were on the way to this random location in an area many will deem as dangerous: Harvey, IL.
When I read "Harvey", I thought about Arie, a dog I untied on the train tracks there 3 years prior. I had flashbacks to this night and something kept creeping into my head telling me we needed to go, but we should ask for help. We called Harvey dispatch and relayed the situation to the woman who answered. She asked for the phone number and address and did some typing before asking permission to call the woman. We both said the same thing: this could be a scam. A few minutes later, she popped back on the line in disbelief and just said "She claims to have this dog and is asking for help." She self-incriminated herself as well stating this dog had been locked in a cage for at least 2 weeks, but she was looking for help. The dispatcher advised us to come to the police station and be escorted to the property, for safety reasons, and of course, we agreed. A wave of relief swept over me, but not because of the escort - because it sounded like they cared.
Around 7 pm we arrived at the police station and an officer had us follow him to the address, which was only 10 minutes away. When we got to the property, the woman was outside in the freezing cold waiting for us. She offered us every piece of information we asked for and led us to the dog upstairs. With the officer leading the way, Samantha and I followed up two flights of stairs. The smell met us immediately like a punch to the face and lingered as we tried to speak without inhaling the fumes. There, next to the door of the apartment was a dog crate covered with a dirty comforter. As soon as the woman lifted the front of the comforter from the cage, the officer shined his flashlight and brought his other hand over his mouth and nose. Inside that cage was an emaciated dog covered in feces and urine. she had feces on her entire body, paws, and even on her face and muzzle as she most likely had been consuming her own waste to survive.
As another variable to all of this, the owner claimed that the dog was aggressive. So when we arrived at her cage we couldn't immediately just open the door and take her out, but looking into her cage and seeing her cautious but calm demeanor there was something that just didn't add up. After a few minutes of chatting, I grabbed my leash and went for it. With the owner's help, we looped the lead around her head down to her neck and made a beeline down the stairs and outside. In my mind, I just thought that if she was moving she was less apt to bite me.
Sage had no interest in biting me or anyone for that matter. As soon as we got outside, she dug her nails into the ground and started stabbing her muzzle into the snow getting as much water as she could. We grabbed a water bottle from the car, but we didn't have a bowl so we slowly started pouring it by her face and she looked at us worried but started drinking it directly from the pour. It was heartbreaking, to put it quite simply. After a few drinks of water, she squatted to pee then went immediately back for more water. She had a desperation to survive that broke us all, including the officer who watched nearby and was still speaking to the woman.
Since it was a cold night, we got my car ready for her with the heat blasting. Still unsure if she would bite us or lash out at any moment, we draped 6 blankets around the backseat and tethered her lead to the headrest so she could not jump into the front to potentially hurt us or distract us while making the hour drive back to the emergency vet. Luckily, she jumped into the car willingly and Samantha distracted her with treats while I tethered her leash. As soon as we got her settled I had one final conversation with the woman. I asked her why she did this and why she allowed her to live like this. She said her daughter was supposed to watch her but after a few incidents, she was scared of her. She claimed she had been reaching out for help for weeks but one replied. She didn't know she could ask the police for help and she didn't know about the local animal shelter that takes in all dogs for her area. Despite this, I told her what the dog had been through was wrong and I asked her to never get another dog again. She plead her case stating she wasn't a monster but agreed that she would not get another dog.
At the end of the conversation, I walked back to the car looking ahead at Sage in the backseat, and just kept wondering if this was a mistake. We were about to head out for an hour car ride with a dog soaked in feces and urine, who also may be aggressive in the back seat of my car and no place for her to go. At that moment, I will tell you that none of that mattered. We did what we had to and what were we lucky to be able to and whatever happened next we would figure it out with our team. We started driving away down the pothole-filled street, the car bouncing every which way and just going as slow as we could to keep her calm as well as ourselves. As soon as we hit the highway, we took the deepest breathes we could without inhaling the smells from the back seat and set out for the emergency vet to get her wounds treated as well as some fluids and medication.
We noticed that she also had this deep, fluid-filled cough and it sounded like her nostrils were blocked. The fresh air was almost like a shock to her system and we worried her breathing may be affected. We warned the vet about this as well, since we had no idea if it was a spreadable disease or just feces packed into her nostrils so they prepped an isolation room for her in advance to protect their other client's pets.
About halfway through the car ride, we came up with the name Sage. Sage was the name of my own dog Miley before I got her. I felt that was a good sign as so much about her already reminded me of Miley and that small token felt like a little bit of luck for her. We also thought about this as a cleanse for her life and since we couldn't "sage-out" what she had been through, we would give her a name that represented the same. It was at that moment that Sage then nudged Samantha's arm and we waited to see what was next. Samantha took a chance at that moment and put her hand out and without missing a beat, Sage nudged her hand to pet her head. We both laughed and finally breathed fully as we realized this dog was not aggressive, she just wanted to be scratched and pet.
We spent the rest of the car ride rubbing her face and helping her get as much crusted fecal matter off herself. When we couldn't do a good enough job she helped herself to the seats and rubbed her body back and forth. There was nothing left to do but laugh and worry about the soaked upholstery later! She deserved this moment to feel what she was feeling and allow her body to move as she needed.
The rest is history. Sage entered the vet, greeted everyone with excitement and love. She was kept on IV fluids all night to help her dehydration and she was fed nourishing food to help her body regulate after weeks of not eating. Of course, we warned the staff and doctors about the claim of her aggression so they would proceed with caution but every single person said there was no way. Finally, in the morning with all of Facebook and the staff aware of her being there, we were sent a video of her with half a dozen vet techs fawning over her adoring every moment they had with her in her isolation room. The cheers and praise just excited her more and she went into each staff member's lap to make sure she got pets from everyone. She was also fully bathed and clean and looked like a whole new dog. We knew at that moment that she knew she was safe and that feeling has never left.
Sage found a wonderful foster home that same day that welcomed her with open arms and open hearts. As I am writing this now Sage is currently in a foster home learning what life as a companion animal should be like as she waits to find her forever people. She has a resilient soul and a happy disposition every day, and her foster mom reports that one of her favorite things to do is look out the window at the outside world. We will never know exactly what Sage went through before her life with us but I will never forget the night of her rescue with that look of awe on her face when the dirty comforter was lifted from her kennel and she finally saw us there to help her. It makes me think she never had anything to look at in the world before and the darkness around her was all she knew because seeing her so meticulously watch the world outside has been a beautiful sight for us to see.
To all the Sages of the world and rescuers around us, we hope her story inspires you to Never Lose Hope, no matter how daunting life may seem.