King Tut: A Tale of Foreclosure

Tut, in his abandoned home, and realtor's email seeking help for him. Click to enlarge.

Sometime before December 9, 2010, one El Sobrante, CA family – victims of foreclosure — abruptly vacated their small home, leaving behind food, clothing, furniture and a houseful of personal effects:  A sentimental  greeting card on the mantle;  a certificate of ‘thanks’ on the coffee table;  a magnetized business card on the fridge for the local veterinary office …

And the family pet.

The dog was discovered on December 9th by a realtor, Saleem Buqeileh.  Elderly and arthritic, the male dog was left in the home’s attached garage, left with only access to the backyard.  Left with no soft, warm bed to sleep on–only a thin blanket on the cold, hard concrete floor of the unheated garage.  Left with no food, no water. Left with no understanding of where his family had fled to or why he was left behind … left to be added to the growing epidemic of heartbreak and homelessness wrought by the foreclosure crisis presently and perniciously gripping our nation.

Sadly, this dog is just one among thousands.

How long the old dog had been left to survive on his own, braving cold, loneliness and hunger, is anybody’s guess. From property records, we know the home was purchased in a public auction on September 14, 2010 by Wells Fargo Bank.  There was an eviction notice still taped to the home’s front door when Saleem arrived that day on December 9th.  Beyond these spare facts, little else is known about the old dog’s family or his period of abandonment.  What we do know is that this dog was extraordinarily lucky that it was the realtor, Saleem Buqeileh, who found him.  Over the course of the next four weeks, Saleem would provide food and water for the dog to ensure his survival.

The dog, Saleem learned, had a name:  Tut.  And Tut, it would seem, was not about to leave his home, at least not without a fight. Understandably,  the black, somewhat scruffy mixed breed of indeterminate ancestry, was extremely frightened of strangers and fiercely protective of his home — it was, afterall, the only remnant left of his family.  Tut proved cantankerous and defensive, growling and snarling at anyone who got too close for his comfort.  Numerous attempts of capture made by Saleem and others whose help Saleem enlisted, all failed.  Days grew into weeks as Saleem desperately sought help for the dog.  Time was running out for the unwanted canine.

With each passing day, Saleem could see Tut’s health and temperament deteriorating.  December was a particularly cold month in the Bay Area, with freezing temperatures on many nights.  Tut’s hind quarters were atrophied and unstable due to his arthritis–no doubt exacerbated by the frigid days and nights spent alone in that garage.  He was clearly in pain:  Physical pain due to his arthritis.  Emotional pain due to loss and longing for his inexplicably missing family.  Dogs respond to pain in a number of ways, one of which is fear-based aggression, and so it was with Tut.  Sadly, the old dog’s worsening health and mounting pain was working against him as well as the efforts of those trying to save him.

Increasingly, Wells Fargo pressed Saleem to call Animal Control to have the dog removed from the property.  Saleem knew, however, that the county Animal Control would most likely euthanize Tut due to advanced age, poor condition and grouchy temperament.  So Saleem stepped up his pleas to various rescue groups, beseeching their help in saving old Tut.

Finally, on January 5, 2011, Saleem sent out one last, desperate email to several dog lovers and rescuers, pleading for someone–anyone–to help ASAP, as Wells Fargo insisted on calling Animal Control the next day.  Forwarding upon forwarding, the email eventually landed in my mailbox.  With little hesitation, my spouse Ananda volunteered to take the day off work and make the one-hour drive from San Jose to El Sobrante …

When she arrived, Tut was soundly asleep in his garage.  Ananda simply walked up behind the slumbering beast and snapped a leash on him.  Wow, she thought, that was easy…

But as soon as Tut awoke, sheer panic erupted and he defended himself and his abandoned home in the only way he knew how:  Thrashing and growling, lunging and snapping — Ananda, quite literally, had a tiger by the tail.  A battle of wills ensued over the course of the next hour, but my ever-so-determined spouse managed to loop a second leash around the old boy’s muzzle, eventually succeeding in loading him into the car.

Next came a tenuous, hour-long drive to a Menlo Park, CA with Tut cross-tied in the back seat to prevent him from lunging at Ananda.  It was with a sigh of relief when she finally arrived at Mid-Peninsula Animal Hospital where Tut was to be temporarily boarded.  Another volunteer, Holly Still, awaited Ananda in the parking lot, ready to assume responsibility for the next phase of Tut’s care and fate, but certainly not without the help and generosity of others:  A second volunteer from Utah, Valerie Porter, offered to pay Tut’s boarding and basic medical bills;  yet another volunteer from Houston–Cheryl Lang with No Paws Left Behind–was instrumental in rallying people from far and wide, while a rescue group–Central California Labrador Retriever Rescue–began accepting donations earmarked for Tut through their online PayPal account.  Liz Marshall, a devoted dog lover, created an incredible slideshow chronicling Tut’s desperate situation, while still others began donating and networking to secure a happier future for Tut.  The saying, It takes a village, was never truer than in Tut’s case.  So many kind, caring and generous people have stepped up to help save this unfortunate dog.  Collectively, they have become known as “Team Tut.”

With Tut safely at the Mid-Peninsula Animal Hospital, the tags on his collar could be examined.  A call to the issuer of the rabies tag (expired in 2009) revealed more information about Tut:  His full name is ‘King Tut’ and he is 12 years old.  Next, the examination turned to Tut, himself.  The vet’s findings confirmed what we already knew:  Tut was in pretty sad shape, perhaps explaining his touch intolerance and fear aggression:  Tut presented with several large fatty tumors, painful arthritis and significant muscle atrophy of his hind quarters.  The old guy also had debilitating cataracts and was most likely deaf.  But the tumors are all benign; the arthritis is treatable with pain meds and the atrophied muscles can be strengthened by daily walks.  Despite the cataracts, Tut can see well enough to thoroughly enjoy his outdoor walks and navigate safely through his surroundings.  Tut’s degree of deafness is uncertain.  It is as yet unclear if his sometimes aloof nature is due to an inability to hear, or simply a facet of his personality.  Not the least bit unclear, however, is that Tut still had plenty of life, love and loyalty left in him.

Tut is now on a schedule of meds for pain management and Holly has been walking him daily.  With each passing day, Tut continues to rapidly improve, both physically and emotionally.  The photos below were taken on January 23rd–just 17 days after his rescue.  Tut has come a long way:  He walks on leash with enthusiasm and enjoys his outings tremendously. He’ll take treats gently from your hand with a surprisingly soft mouth.  He greets people with a wagging tail and friendly sniff of their legs, showing no sign of aggression so long as you don’t try to pet him.  He is able to walk for much greater distances and his hips have improved dramatically — all thanks to the meds, regular exercise, a warm, soft place to sleep each day and night, and to the many wonderful guardian angels who comprise Team Tut.

Tut, 17 days after his rescue. Click to view slideshow.

While Tut still has some issues about being touched, he now accepts a soft pat on the head or gentle stroke on his back while he’s being walked.  Once inside, however, he still doesn’t tolerate much touching before sounding a warning growl.  His touch intolerance could be due to some pain he still feels due to arthritis, or to his limited sight and hearing, or a combination of both. We feel in time, Tut will accept more and more gentle touching from one with whom he is allowed to build a bond of trust and affection.

On Sunday, January 23rd, Ananda and I visited with Tut and Holly at Mid-Peninsula Animal Hospital to take some photos and video, and to observe his reaction to us.  When the vet tech first brought him out to the lobby, Tut immediately came up to Ananda and I to sniff our legs and give us a friendly tail wag. No aggression at all.  He didn’t seem to remember Ananda or the somewhat traumatic time they spent together during his capture — or if he did remember, he certainly showed no signs of hard feelings.  It was my first time meeting Tut and he showed no signs of apprehension or uncertainty toward me — all good signs.

Together, the four of us went for a leisurely walk outside the hospital grounds.  It was a gorgeous day — warmth and sunshine abounding — and Tut was relaxed and content.  During our walk, Tut took treats readily from both of us — such a soft mouth!  He cared not a wit when Holly handed Ananda the leash — Tut was more than happy to continue his walk at Ananda’s side.  Another very good sign!  Both Holly and Ananda carefully petted Tut without any aggression on his part.  However, after a while of Ananda gently pulling some of the dead tufts of fur from his back, Tut suddenly whipped around and snarled at her.  She had either hit a sensitive spot or perhaps the tug on the fur, even though slight, might have frightened him, due to his limited eye sight.  So there is still a need for caution when petting Tut.  That said, it is a huge improvement over just 17 days ago when Tut wouldn’t let anyone touch him in any capacity.

Holly, Ananda and I discussed the next step for Tut. This Thursday, January 27th, will mark three weeks for Tut being kenneled at Mid-Peninsula.  Though he is in one of the larger kennels, it is still too small for him to stay there much longer.  Holly suggested the possibility of moving Tut to a pet boarding and daycare facility in Sunnyvale, CA, one which would offer Tut a larger space to stay in until we can find a foster or permanent home.  Holly has a specific facility in mind, one she has worked with before.  She will be calling her contact there to see if they have the space to accommodate Tut temporarily.  As Sunnyvale is closer to our home than it is to Holly’s, should Tut transfer there, Ananda and I would assume the responsibility of daily visits and walks with Tut, giving Holly the break she so deserves.

In time, Ananda and I would like to bring Tut to our home to see how he responds to our cats (in a very controlled and safe meeting, of course), but that will have to wait for a few days — a day when we do not have any client (daycare) dogs staying with us (we can’t risk the liability should Tut prove aggressive with other dogs).

In the meantime, Team Tut will continue working to find a foster or permanent home for this guy, with the understanding that Tut requires an experienced dog guardian.  After all Tut’s been through, the least he deserves is a soft bed and loving home in which to live out his last years.  Because of his lingering intolerance to touch, no children, other dogs or cats should be in the foster or permanent home, at least until Tut has had a chance to be further assessed behaviorally and given time to gain the trust of his new people and environment.  Due to his limited eyesight, hearing and arthritis, Tut is considered a ‘special needs’ dog, as he will require meds to manage his arthritis for the remainder of his years.

Please feel free to contact me if you can help with Tut’s fostering, socialization or donate toward the cost of his boarding and/or veterinary bills. Lastly, be sure to check back in a couple days to see the video we shot of his majesty, King Tut.

King Tut: A Tail of Foreclosure. Click image to view slideshow.

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