Feb. 2017 update: Sanctuary dog Maliha has been a part of the SCARS family since August of 2010. Maliha’s medical problems were extensive and she has required special care from the time of her arrival. Her damaged face prevents her from eating the way dogs usually do so she is hand fed twice a day. She has learned to tilt her head up and catch food that has been cut to a size she can swallow whole. The large holes in her pallet and her poorly functioning jaw prevent her from trying to pick up any food herself. Food getting into her nasal cavity is a constant risk. Many different foods have been tried, but only one, Rollover brand dog food, seems to be easy enough for her to swallow, yet it is firm enough to hold together, can be cut to size with minimal risk of food going into her airways.
Maliha has lived with her foster family from the time she came to SCARS. Seven years later, she will turn 10 this year. Her unique, goofy personality hasn’t changed over the years. She is quirky and always wants to be the boss of everyone and everything. Her chronic sinus infections limit her energy level and the activities she is able to do. Although she would love to go and meet people her sinus issues prevent her from doing any SCARS events. She lives a quiet happy life where she spends the majority of her time moving from one comfortable sleeping spot to another. As a sanctuary dog, Maliha has been sponsored by Instabox for many years and we are grateful for their continued support.
Sept. 2010 – Hi, I’m Maliha, a SCARS sanctuary animal. My early life was not unlike that of hundreds of nameless dogs that exist in the world today. It probably began simply enough, a lab husky cross pup born in a litter in a northern Alberta community. At some time I must have been cared for and even loved, as I regard humans with kindness and love their attention. I had freedom to roam and explore, but there would have been hardship as well – food and shelter hard to find, the risk of dog attacks and unfortunately the unkindness of people.
It has been said that life can change in an instant and that is true of me. Although the story of what happened to me was never officially confirmed, my rescuers could tell from my injuries that much, if not all, of what they were told had to be true. I do not know what demons filled the lives of the people who felt the need to hurt an innocent like myself, but I knew that I had to forgive and move on, or I would have been eaten up by hatred. My very survival depended on my ability to forgive and not judge the many by the actions of the few. My story is one of challenges and heartbreak mixed with faith and hope, perhaps my will to survive will help you face the challenges in your life.
Aug. 2010 – I am a friendly dog and in some ways that would have made me an easy target. One day I was approached by a group of young people and captured, for whatever reason, they tied a plastic bag over my head and started tormenting me with sticks. The tormenting accelerated to hitting, focusing on my head in the bag. How long the attack went on is not known. Eventually a community elder intervened and ended the attack and freed my head from the bag. In terror I ran away—broken and in pain. I hid myself and could not be found, although it isn’t clear how hard anyone looked for me.
Days went by, I was alive, but my face would have been unrecognizable. My nose and jaw were broken, my face swollen, my teeth broken and some smashed through the bone into my nasal cavity leaving gaping holes in my mouth. I was in pain and so terribly alone. Days turned into weeks and probably months. Some of the bones healed leaving my face misshapen and, of course, raging infection set in. I could not eat or drink properly and as my body fought for survival, it wasted away to a skeleton of bone and skin. I guess I should have died, beaten, unable to eat properly, alone and unloved, but somehow my spirit carried me through the dark days. Knowing I needed help, I came out of hiding. Someone working in the area caught a glimpse of me and, horrified by my condition, took action. That glimpse by a stranger was the moment when my new life began.
My story could focus on the negatives, neglect and abuse, and end in anger and accusation, but my real story is one of great kindness, by an amazing team of people, some of whom have never met me. People who help the voiceless and change our world one rescue at a time. The kind stranger, who first saw me, contacted a rescue organization called Prairie Animal Rescue Society (PARS). As usual PARS was full and at the time the group’s leader was about to leave on holidays. Even though PARS couldn’t take me in at the time, they were determined to help. There was an animal in great need and a solution had to be found. PARS decided to ask SCARS to help. The two groups worked closely together and the call for help was answered with an immediate “of course.” With those simple words my world changed forever.
PARS went out to the location I had last been seen and found me. Equally shocked by my story and my condition and not knowing if I might be aggressive or scared of people they set out to catch me. That day it was a good thing that immediate trust is a part of my personality. Without much hesitation, I let them catch me. The kind stranger who first found me volunteered to bring me to the nearest vet clinic for assessment.
It is a couple of hours of driving from the community I was found in to the Westlock Vet Center. It was late in the day when I arrived after being captured, transferred to another driver and finally delivered to Westlock. The vet clinic was an extremely busy and frightening place with many animals needing care and people everywhere. I was terrified, starving, in pain and with a face so damaged and so infected everyone’s initial reaction was one of no hope. The vets and staff were very kind to me providing water and food immediately as they assessed my condition. I would have been forgiven had I acted out, but I never did, I just stayed calm and waited.
The person who would become my foster Mom came to the clinic to meet me. She expected the worst but was still unprepared for how disturbing my condition was. She approached me with caution expecting me to react with either fear or aggression, but I just looked at her with my poor broken face and then started to slowly wag my tail. The more she talked the more it wagged and I slithered towards her on my belly. Broken, abused and in pain, my spirit — that had kept me alive through this trauma — shone through. I know there were tears in her eyes as I taught her a lesson about trust and forgiveness. She sat with me and talked to the vets about what should happen next. A decision had to be made of what to do for me. My life literally hung in the balance. Humane euthanization or an attempt to heal. I kept slowly wagging my tail and listening to the voices. I know they are talking about me.
It is bad, but we can’t tell for sure how bad.
Is it fixable?
We don’t know because she is too weak to sedate and take a look.
She is in such terrible condition.
… but she seems to be able to eat and drink.
She has survived for some time without care, she is so emaciated.
… She has to be resilient and strong.
The infection is severe.
…The smell is dreadful.
The trauma is like nothing we have seen before; it may not be something that can be repaired.
It is going to be expensive requiring specialized care.
… but she has the right attitude.
The right attitude.
..…. so we’ll try?
Yes, we will try.
That is the day my new life began – I was named Maliha as it means beauty and strength — characteristics that my foster family saw in me. Nothing would be easy about my recovery. There would be many hurdles and challenges ahead of me as I began this journey to health, but for certain the worst days were behind me. The infection was so bad that each morning my eyes and nose were mostly caked shut and the smell was almost unbearable to those around me. The trauma to my face combined with the sinus infection made it very difficult to breathe and I struggled to eat and drink. It took some time and experimenting with different foods, plus the benefit of antibiotics and pain medication but gradually there was some improvement. Small meals, time to heal in a quiet environment and lots of love gave me the chance I needed. Through the network of SCARS supporters, word of my neglect reached many people, even catching the interest of one of the local TV networks. I went from being a little dog whom nobody wanted or cared for to the focus of a news story on television, touching people’s hearts with my story.
When I had arrived I weighed less than 18 kg. I gained 2.5 kg in the first 10 days. The infection became more manageable and my red blood count improved to the point where I could be sedated for an assessment. The news was not good from that first examination. I had multiple holes between my mouth and nasal cavity. The force of the blows to my head had broken some teeth at the root and forced others through the bone into the nasal cavity leaving massive holes in their wake. My lower jaw had been broken and healed and my remaining teeth stuck out at odd angles, like a warthogs’ tusks. The vets who saw me first knew the repair job, if there was to be one, was beyond their expertise and referred me to a specialist in Edmonton. An appointment was made to see what, if anything could be done for me.
In the meantime, I continued to improve, gaining weight and confidence. When I first arrived at my foster home I preferred the quiet comfort of the shop and days relaxing under the trees in my outdoor pen. The house, with its noises and shiny floors terrified me. It took a lot of coaxing, but eventually I discovered the advantages of life as a housedog and took up residence inside.
My story continued to gain attention and at SCARS’s Gala fundraiser, only 7 weeks after I had been rescued, and prior to any surgery, I was the star attraction. My foster Mom was one of the speakers and shared my story – bringing many people to tears. I then went around the room to meet and greet my supporters. I have never been patted and massaged so much in my life. I still wasn’t healthy, I still smelled because of the sinus infection, but I had been groomed, including that hateful bath and did my best to thank everyone who met me. In a few short days I would undergo my first surgery in an attempt to repair my mouth.
My foster Mom always says my real story is one of generosity and the great kindness of humanity, not the abuse that got me here. At the gala, some long term SCARS supporters met me and, touched by my story, decided to donate all my surgery costs to the society. My dental specialist, had already decided to donate his professional fee, so what could have been a tremendous financial burden to SCARS was limited.
The first surgery took place in late September. I couldn’t keep any of my teeth. They were all too badly damaged. It was discovered that one of the sources of the infection in my nose and part of the problem with my breathing was a molar lodged in my nasal cavity. The tooth was removed, but it is yet another very disturbing part of my story. The holes between my mouth and nasal cavity were repaired as well. It was a difficult four hour surgery. The holes were much larger than anticipated and although it seemed to go well, only time would tell how things would turnout.
Over the first seven days of recovery I continued to improve. It seemed that the surgery was a success as I was able to eat and drink without choking or having sneezing fits. However, ten days into my recovery we knew something had gone wrong. I developed an abscess and we later discovered that the carefully sutured tissue covering the holes in my mouth had not been strong enough to hold. My mouth was once again infected and the holes were still there. I have to say the people on my team were more upset than me. When you are a dog you just take each day as it comes and life goes on.
After the first surgery failed, my dental specialist called in another expert from Vancouver. Together they reviewed my options. They decided that there was another surgery that they could attempt. The team would remove cartilage from my ears and transplant it into my mouth to form bridges to replace where the bone had been destroyed. The cartilage would then support the tissue that would cover the holes. Before this surgery could be attempted my mouth had to heal and I had to be free of all infection. The specialist from Vancouver agreed to come and participate in my surgery at a nominal cost, just to give me the best chance at recovery. A date was picked and all that was left to do was wait. Everyone knew that this surgery was my last chance at complete recovery. There were no other options available to me.
In the meantime, I busied myself living the good life. I practiced my little happy dance when it was my turn to go for a walk, tried to steal the stuffy toys from the other foster dogs, visited the schools my foster kids attend, and taught myself how to open gates so I could sleep on the most comfortable couch. Everyone who met me was impressed with how kind and lovable I am after being so badly abused prior to my rescue.
Late February 2011, just about 6 months after I arrived at SCARS, I had the final surgery to repair the remaining holes in my mouth. The surgery was long and difficult. One of the holes was 7 cm long and the other one was 4.5 cm long — no wonder so much food kept getting up my nose. Everyone was so hopeful that this surgery would be a success. Whatever the outcome, I knew everyone had done the best they could for me.
Such great hope for a better future and then came sadness and disappointment. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved and all the good wishes in the world my surgery did not work. There was no one thing, but likely a combination of the extremely large holes, the previous surgery, and most importantly the way I breathe with my broken nose that led to the failure of the cartilage bridges. From the beginning we knew my complete recovery was a long shot and we came to the end of the road with an unfortunate outcome.
The question of course was—What next? With no more surgeries or interventions available my future was once again uncertain. The funny thing about being a dog is you’re not disappointed by these setbacks. The truth is I didn’t know anything had gone wrong. I had holes in my mouth before and I still had them. This is my reality. The surgery healed, the infection cleared and my foster family figured out a plan to keep me as healthy as possible for as long as possible. I will always be at a high risk for infection and you can only take so many antibiotics before they no longer work. There is always the chance I will inhale food and choke, and I have some trouble when it comes to eating and drinking. Even with these issues, anyone meeting me cannot help but be charmed by my happy attitude.
Life doesn’t always have a Hollywood ending, but the rest of my story is unwritten. I remain in foster care and have become a SCARS Sanctuary Animal. Although it is sad that my rescue story does not end with me being completely healthy and adopted by a wonderful family, there must be something else I was meant to do. I have become the poster girl for all that is good and all that is challenging about animal rescue. I have come a long way. Whether the remainder of my life is measured in months or years, I have been blessed to know the kindness and love and companionship humans and dogs can share. I know my story has touched the hearts of many people and I hope that in some small way I am able to give back as much as I have been given.