Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA CSAT
His story began on my birthday, March 26, 2011, months before I knew he even existed. A young woman who worked at a vet clinic was driving a back road in rural Southeast Texas when she saw an animal, a dog maybe, or what was left of a dog. I won’t post the pictures. He was eaten by hunger and mange, bent under death’s shadow. The young woman scooped him up and took him to the clinic where she worked. The vet speculated that death might still be near, a day, hours if it took him that night. The woman gave him the simple honor of a name. If he didn’t make it to morning at least he’d leave with that. She called him The Abandoned Dog, the acronym – Tad.
Her name was Tiffany Dieringer (pronounced like Derringer). It’s McKinley now, but she still has the pistol tattoos. When she saw Tad the next morning he was very much alive. He’d survived the night as he would the hundreds of nights that followed. Tiffany is a consummate storyteller, and tell it she did. She wrote about Tad and shared his pictures and before long he had thousands of followers worldwide. She raised money for his medical bills and then started a charity in his name for other dogs. Tad recovered. He grew stronger. The hard lines of his hips and ribs disappeared under muscle and fat and fawn-colored fur.
Weeks turned to months and as his physical wounds healed the emotional signs of Tad’s trauma became more apparent. He barked at people coming in the clinic. He charged and threatened. And eventually he bit someone. He bit hard. It was late Summer when I first met Tad.
I work with aggressive dogs. Tad’s case was not particularly difficult nor was it particularly easy. The truth is his case should have blended in with the hundreds of others. It’s important work, of course, especially to my clients. But, it’s work nonetheless. Just the facts. Here’s the plan. I’ve got your back. Text me tomorrow. I don’t fall in love with my clients’ dogs. Not most of them. Not many of them. None really like Tad. Maybe it was his unfolding story of redemption, the longing we all have for second chances. Maybe it was the fame. So many people around the world loved him and here I was with him, up close, in the room. Whatever it was I remember the moment and I wrote it down the day it happened. “We all know how easy and wonderfully alluring it is to fall in love with Tad online. It is something altogether different to be with him in person. For just a few seconds Tad tucked his head into my arms and pressed his forehead against my chest. I scratched him behind the ears and kissed the top of his head.”
We don’t know what happened to Tad or how he ended up on that rural road dying. We don’t know for sure but it was bad. Tad’s body healed but the injuries to his psyche, some of them at least, were permanent. Tad was often slow to trust and fast to react. There were setbacks. Bites. Days when Tiffany questioned again whether the night ahead would be his last. Aggression in dogs can be fatal, rarely to humans, too often for the dogs themselves. Tiffany cried. I cried. We looked across that threshold more than once and damned if that Abandoned Dog didn’t always pull us back. Tad did what so many folks thought he would never be able to do. He grew old.
Tad settled in as we all hope to when the years start to add up. Tiffany got married. She had a daughter. She started her photography business and left the vet clinic (she took many of the photos on this web site including the banner photo of Stewie). We remained friends, though I hadn’t seen Tad in far too long. She said his last year was the best, no blow ups, no bites. It was a hard year for the rest of us, most especially Tiffany. Covid. Personal shit, and too much of it. Hard all around except for Tad. Somehow, some way, he’d softened and just in time.
It was a week ago as of this writing, November 4th 2021. Tad, slower and heavier, settled down to sleep. Who would have known he would settle so gently under death’s shadow. Who could predict, no one really, that this would be the night he would not survive. It was a mass that ruptured, probably cancer. The blood moved quickly from where it is supposed to be to where it is not. Quickly. It was fast. When Tiffany woke up he looked like he was still asleep. Like nothing had happened. Like the story hadn’t ended.
Tad died a good boy, an old good dog. He slept and then died as if in a dream that was nearly impossible to imagine those many years before. He died in his own home in his own sleeping spot warm and safe on a cold Fall evening. He died not far from the people he loved, not far from the woman he loved most of all.
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