Bought from a shelter, sold to a lab, pet found a new life
By Michael Mountain
Rexy lay silently in the truck for the entire 350-mile journey. He wouldn’t eat and he wouldn’t move. When my colleague, Paul, lifted him out of the car for a quick walk, he didn’t seem to know what grass was.
Paul had been away at a workshop, and a woman who worked at a research lab at the University of Utah and had smuggled Rexy out had asked Paul if he could take this dog back to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where I worked as president.
She’d told Paul that since Rexy’s useful life was over as a subject for their experiments on different kinds of anesthesia, he was due to be killed. That’s still standard practice at laboratories like the one where Rexy had been held. But she’d grown attached to the dog (at the lab, he’d just had a number) and she wondered if we could care for him.
Back at the sanctuary, his caregivers said he seemed like the saddest dog they’d ever seen. Rexy was an English setter/boxer mix, about 5 years old. That meant he’d almost certainly once been someone’s pet. For whatever reason, they’d given him up and dropped him off at a shelter. Rather than simply killing him, the shelter had sold him to the University of Utah for experimentation. (“We can use the money to save more animals,” they would have argued.)
After having been subject to so many different kinds of anesthetics, Rexy was, by now, practically catatonic. He insisted on sleeping on a cold floor – which he’d probably been used to. He would cower and freeze whenever a hand moved toward him or a door slammed. And he kept falling down.
Once he started eating, he became obsessed with food and chewing. When he began to move, he would constantly pace. He couldn’t relax. He would stumble into furniture and fall over easily. During the second week he was with us, he had a seizure. All this time, he had yet to make a sound. And his expression never changed from a blank stare.
After about a month, Rexy was sleeping on his favorite dog bed instead of the bathroom floor and had begun to play like puppy. Still no sound, though.
About six weeks in, the veterinary team said he was well enough to go to a good home. Rexy was still having the occasional panic attacks when outdoors, but was clearly enjoying being out in the fresh air.
Four months later, Rexy found what would be just the right home. Sarah and Coray Cooper were a young couple that came to the sanctuary to meet him. They took him for a walk. When they returned an hour later, they said they’d had to carry him back. Amazingly, they said, “We really want him.”
The Coopers took Rexy home to see how he would get along with their cat, Monroe. Monroe took it all in stride. Rexy continued his obsession with chewing things up, including plants and even water sprinklers. (Sarah simply said they were planning on re-landscaping anyway.)
Two months later, Rexy had destroyed some doors, but by then the whole family was totally bonded and they couldn’t imagine giving him up.
On Day 250 after we first took him, Sarah reported that Rexy had just barked. Three months later, Sarah’s grandmother moved in with the family. Rexy became totally attached to her and wouldn’t leave her side. The Coopers decided to adopt another dog to be his friend.
Rexy didn’t live a long life. The experiments he’d been subjected to had taken a heavy toll. But he had a good couple of years as a happy dog in a loving home, and at least, by the end, he’d come to know what it was like to be a real dog.
Last week, on Feb 28, 2011, the University of Utah, where Rexy had come from, announced that it had ended its policy of buying cats and dogs from animal shelters. The decision was precipitated by press reports about a woman who, having come upon hard times, felt she could no longer care for her dog, Sheena, and took her to a shelter in hopes that she could find a good new home. Days later, when she asked how Sheena was doing, she learned that her dog had been sold into research. With help from PETA, she launched a successful campaign to get the dog back from the university and Sheena is now in a new home.