Fostering Healing

We’ve all seen those Who Rescued Who? bumper stickers, right? and You’ve probably also heard that having a pet has health benefits like lowering blood pressure and helping us live longer. As a veterinary assistant at OHS, I’ve met many pets and their people, and have seen time and again how pets make our lives better.

In my five years working at OHS, I’ve also been a foster parent to more than 30 animals. I loved every single one of them, but I couldn’t say that one of my foster pets had “rescued” me. That is, until this year, when a tiny dog made an enormous impact on my life. Sometimes, helping someone else heal—physically and mentally—helps you heal yourself.

Ponderosa at OHS with her matching pink casts

Due to a serious car accident in late 2015, I had been forced to take time off from providing animals with foster care. I suffered debilitating physical injuries from the accident and spent the next four months working my way back from them, relearning to walk, navigate stairs and more. Although I was regaining some of my strength and coordination, I was still dealing with emotional trauma that I had not anticipated. From the day of the accident on, I was too terrified to drive, and taking the bus often made me late for work. In short, I was only a ghost of my former self.

When I arrived at work one fateful Monday morning, a coworker was excited to show me a new patient in our hospital: a young Italian greyhound named Ponderosa. She had fractured both of her front legs three weeks prior, but her owner (who was ill) had been unable to care for her, so Ponderosa came to OHS to get the help she needed. I found myself drawn to this little broken dog, not yet realizing just how much we needed one another.

Italian greyhounds are known for being aloof, but this dog’s behavior went even further—Ponderosa was so unresponsive that one of our volunteers actually asked me if she had brain damage! Every day she curled up in her kennel with a blank stare, hardly sleeping and rarely eating. I couldn’t imagine the pain she’d experienced for so long, and I hated seeing the empty shell of a dog she’d been reduced to as she retreated from the pain and stress. As soon as her fractures were surgically repaired, I took her home to foster her.

For two weeks after Ponderosa and I first met, she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. To allow her injuries to heal, she had to stay still, on cage rest, which made it difficult to build her trust. Even when I removed her bandages, I had to be the “bad guy”—she kept trying to pull out her sutures, so I was forced to make her wear an Elizabethan (cone-shaped) collar.

In order for her legs to heal properly, I had to act as a physical therapist—that meant pushing her to the limit by holding her paw in my hand and moving her legs in a cycling motion twice a day. But through all the necessary discomfort, I did everything I could to gain her trust. I hand-fed her at every meal, massaged her shoulders, and spoke to her in a soft and gentle manner. Finally, one afternoon when I came home from work, she looked up at me and wagged her tail. Seeing the gradual but unquestionable progress she was making flipped a switch in my mind.

Shannon and Rosa
Shannon and Ponderosa

Watching this tiny, broken dog recover made me realize that I could heal, too. Helping Ponderosa heal distracted me from my own illness. From that first tail wag on, she made amazing improvements. At long last, she started communicating with me: whining for attention, yipping at the sight of food, and finally, looking into my eyes.

After feeding her dinner one night, Ponderosa stood on her hind legs and asked to be picked up for the first time. I knelt down to her and couldn’t stop smiling. As I lifted her up, I felt incredibly blessed to have witnessed her transformation. If a six-pound dog could go from a listless lump in a kennel to being truly alive, then there was no reason that I couldn’t get my own life back.

Ponderosa progressed to the point that she was ready to go home with an interested family who had experience with Italian greyhounds. The morning I planned to meet with Ponderosa’s potential adopters at the shelter, I sat in the driver’s seat of a car for the first time since September. Feeling my knees brush against the steering wheel made me sick with fear, and in my mind, all I could hear was the sound of those four cars crashing into mine months ago. I was shaking when I turned the key and crying by the time I put the car in reverse. For a split second I thought, I can’t do this.

But then Ponderosa whined at me from the passenger seat. She stared right at me and wouldn’t look away. I grabbed her nose, gave her a kiss, and pulled out of the driveway with her as my copilot. It was scary at first, but a few miles in, it felt like I was just cruising around with a good friend. Together, we met her amazing new family at the shelter. I cried my eyes out, and let her go—she to her new life, and me to mine.

I feel so lucky to work for an organization where I help save lives every day, and I couldn’t be happier to take my work home with me as a foster parent. By helping Ponderosa with her trauma, I was able to work though my own. For that, I will be forever thankful to her and to the OHS foster care program. And when there is another pet in need, my door will be open.


Contributed by Shannon Phillips, OHS Veterinary Assistant and Foster Care Volunteer


More Information

Become an OHS volunteer »

Learn more about our foster care program »

More about the OHS Holman Medical Center »