Oliver T. Airedale

written by Connie Versagi

The phone rang late that night and I looked at the caller ID. I didn’t recognize the number. “Hello, is this Airedale Rescue?” asked the nice voice. I acknowledged that he had contacted the right number. I listened for the information that I needed. “Did you know that there is an Airedale at the animal shelter in Coolridge?”

Heck I didn’t even know where Coolridge was, little less that they had an Airedale! Was it really an Airedale? How many calls had I received about Airedales that weren’t Airedales. I listened as he explained how he loved dogs and had several of his own and couldn’t believe that the shelter had an Airedale.  He said that he was pretty sure that it was a purebred and he had gone to the internet looking for a rescue group and found ATRA.  He said that he would go to the shelter the next day and take some digital pictures of the dog and send them to me.  I promised I would pick the boy up after the pictures were received IF he was an Airedale. I asked him to find out what he could about the dog; where did he come from, how old was he, if he had received shots or any vet care, was he neutered? I had a lot of questions that I needed answers to IF this dog was an Airedale.  We exchanged cell phone numbers and promised to talk more the next day.

I didn’t hear back from the nice voice again until late that morning. I had been busy at work most of the morning and had forgotten about the nice voice and the dog until my cell rang.  “Hello, yes, it is an Airedale and he looks bad. What can I do?”  asked the nice voice.  My mind raced back to all the times we had picked up Airedales from shelters and the horrible conditions that we have found these dogs in.  I prayed that this dog was just dirty and matted and just needed some polishing up and didn’t have any health problems.  “Will you send me those pictures?” I asked.  He did and when I opened the pictures I saw a small dog, obviously dirty, peering through the chain link kennel with desperate eyes. I looked into those eyes and saw pain and suffering and desperation.  I knew we needed to move quickly. 

I called the shelter and made arrangements to pay the adoption fee and pick the dog up.  The nice voice had offered to pick him up after work as he worked very close to the shelter. He would take him home and keep him overnight until I could meet him in the morning. It sounded like a great plan to me and how I appreciated the nice voice’s help. 

He called me after he got home. He said that he and his wife had given him a bath because of the dirt and stench.  They said that he just sat there and hadn’t moved. He wasn’t sure if he had enjoyed the clean up or was if he was so de-sensitized to care.  The nice voice told me that he had some large areas of missing hair but his eyes were clear and he had wagged his tail when the bath was over and a big bowl of food was placed before him.  He devoured the food and then had a long drink of water.  The nice voice mentioned one more thing that made my blood run to my head,  “this dog is skin and bones and the shelter has had him 31 DAYS!  His previous owner had given him up to this kill shelter!

I don’t know why the city  had kept this dog for so long – perhaps because he was a purebred, perhaps because they weren’t full of dogs--who knows?  I did know that this dog needed ATRA and he needed to be in rescue.

I met the nice voice the next morning at 6AM in a small city between us. I saw a skinny black and tan dog on a lead walking around with the man attached.  I jumped out of the car and was surprised when the dog barely wagged his tail upon seeing a stranger.  He looked up at me with those beautiful empty eyes and I knew then he was near the end of his hopes for going home.  I reached down to touch his head and back lovingly and I was horrified to feel every vertebrae on his back in detail, the black fur hid the ribs and hip bones that protruded out by inches.  He had huge feet but his growth must have been stunted by the lack of nutrition. How could he be so thin if he had been fed at the shelter?

I helped him into the back of my blazer where towels and bones and treats were waiting for him.  I thanked the nice voice for his kindness in helping save this boy.  What would have happened to this dog IF he had not called? 

I jumped in the car to take this boy to our groomer to get him cleaned up and shaped up and then on to our vets office. My mind kept racing back to the feel of his bones protruding out of his skin.  I was very surprised when he showed no interest in the treats.  He seemed more interested in staring out the window.  I called to him softly with happy sounds and he slowly moved to the front of the car where he gently smelled my hair and my neck.  I cupped his head with my free hand and pulled him toward me where he nuzzled my neck.  It was a moment of pure bliss for both of us and I explained to him that he would never suffer again and that I would make sure of that promise!  He slowly went back to staring out the window as he had been told promises before- you are such a cute puppy , we will care for you, we will love you, we will provide shelter, food and water and play time and toys for you. We will teach you how to be a great companion and include you in our lives as we want you to be part of our family- yea right, whatever!
We arrived at the groomers and the skinny boy jumped right out of the car but did not want to go inside with all the barking dog sounds.  I am sure he thought he was going back to a shelter of kind but with some gentle encouragement he went inside. 
I left him with my groomer with instructions to clean him up and trim him up. She said he looked thin and then reached down to greet him. Her hands jumped back as she felt those bones.  She looked at me with inquiring eyes but I had no answers for her.  She promised to be gentle and would call me when he was finished.

When I returned, he was trimmed up and had a pleasant smell to him. I was greeted with 2 paws on my legs and a kiss to boot! She said he had been wonderful but was afraid of the clippers. She had a hard time running the clippers on him without believing that she was hurting him as he had no flesh under that skin. She also pointed out several spots of missing hair and dark colored skin.  I thanked her for her kindness and we jumped back in the car to travel to my vet’s office.

At my vets office, we were greeted by people and dogs and cats.  The skinny boy seemed happy to see the people and the dogs as he barked with a high pitch bark. He looked and sounded young as he pulled me all around the vet’s office to introduce himself to everyone.  Everyone thought he was cute but THIN- no kidding!

I put him on the office scale and was in disbelief when the numbers indicated 39.5 pounds. Oh my God!!  This little boy should be at least 50 pounds perhaps 55-60 lbs with muscle. The skinny boy had no muscle – nothing extra on the bones.

He was then taken for examination and she said she needed to keep him for awhile.  He was seriously dehydrated due to diarrhea and needed to be fed intravenous fluids and a high caloric diet to start his weight gain.  She would call me later after his complete examination.

She called hours later with the news- he had intestinal worms- whips and hookworms, he was Heartworm positive, he had several areas on his body that had demodectic mange, he was not neutered- and he was severely underweight!  She said that he would not have lasted much longer in the condition that he was in now but they would begin treat of the intestinal parasites first and take his treatment slow and easy.  She also indicated that he was a very sweet boy, friendly and easy going and seemed to like the attention.  He especially liked the small, frequent meals as this is how they introduce regular intake to a starved animal.

Two days later I received a call from the office telling me that he was ready to move to a foster home. They had treated his worms and he was gaining weight but no further treatment could be completed until he was of normal weight.

I made arrangements with his foster home and then picked up the skinny boy up at the vet’s office.  I was greeted by a smiling, sparkling-eyed boy who was still terribly thin.  He greeted all the clients and said goodbye to the vet staff. They were sad to see him go but said what a brave fighter he had been! 

I transported him to his new foster home where he was promptly named, Oliver T. Airedale (for Oliver Twist- the story of the starving orphan child living off the streets.)

Foster mom had the same reaction that we all had when she touched his thin body but promised to get this youngster fattened up with good nutritional food and lots of treats to include kibble and peanut butter stuffed Kongs.

One month later, he remains in foster care in Arkansas- learning the ropes of living inside and learning to be loved by his foster Mom and brother Airedale.  He will be skin tested again for mange but all the missing hair has grown back in.  He now has some additional weight on him but  continues to believe that there must be more awaiting his discovery!  He will search and destroy any food found in bags, on shelves, in cabinets or on countertops.  He loves the backyard IF his foster Mom is with him but the minute she turns to go back in, he races to the door for fear of being left alone.  He has begun to learn how to play with his foster brother and toys and he has become more insistent that his Mom pet and love on him every time he returns to her. His eyes sparkle with life and he has a bit of a prance when he walks.  Life is good now! 

And I continue to worry about all the other Airedales that languish in small shelters all over the country. Will there be another nice voice to care?

By the way - I initiated an investigation by the Humane Society of America into the general welfare of the animals in this shelter.  Please believe that we all need to do our part to help needy animals all over the country.


The name of the town in Arkansas has been changed but the story details are true. 


I have been living with Oliver for three weeks now and he is becoming very, very house friendly.   We've not had an accident in the house for about two weeks and I am able to leave him and Ace in the house loose while I go to work and at night/bedtime.  He never has been "destructive" toward inappropriate things even the skeins of yarn he ran off with he didn’t actually chew, they just become sort of "unraveled"  as long as knitting project not attached to said skein of yarn, no harm done.  He has a healthy appetite, will be happy to eat anything.  Does a lovely sit for treats with one paw kind of up, very cute.  He has an inquisitive nature, he is a happy boy, non dominant and loves to play.  He shows signs of having a good prey drive however and I would be cautious around interactions with cats.  Loves all people, seems very playful around strange dogs at the vets.  He learns quickly, very smart boy and he wants to please.  He would be wonderful I would think in obedience as he is so smart.  And hold on to your hats here, he doesn’t seem to have the famous terrier stubborness!  That’s not to say he isn’t terrierish, we just have not had occasion to bump heads about anything yet.  Trash cans and counter tops are considered fair game btw, so I keep counters clean and kitchen trash inaccessible.  He does want to try and escape out the car door or front door and caution and further training is called for here.  I  have him go to the couch when I leave for work to keep him from trying to leave with me, but trying to get back into the car during errands was funny!  He was hell bent to leave that car when I tried to get back in! EXTREME CAUTION with doors around him.  Its not that he wants to run away, but the whole world is just so new to him, so exciting, he wants to explore it.  We believe he was kept penned up most of his young life and so all these experiences are quite new to him. 

For his tender age Oliver is a fairly mellow dog, and quite loving. He will come over to you, put his head on your lap and just "sigh" while you tell him what a wonderful boy he is and pet and stroke him. He will go into his crate for a nap, or find a comfy spot on the floor.  Occasionally I've had to crate him when it was time for me to go to bed and he wasn’t ready yet.  A few protests after door is closed but he settles in rather quickly and goes to sleep.

Physically he is doing great.  Growing into those big feet of his.  He is looking very good, gaining weight, and he has just the loveliest head.  He is gorgeous but I may be biased (cough).

So this is Oliver Twist after one month in rescue, and he just keeps getting better.

Here is Oliver’s latest picture that is just a hoot!  He would not leave his incision alone from his neutering so guess what... he got the collar and look at the face!  I told Marcia, if he had a bottom lip, it would be way out pouting!  He is so adorable!!!

UPDATE - 10/10/05

Oliver now lives with his 2 brothers, one human (Oliver is smitten with his human boy!) and a Airedale fur brother, Stewie.  (see photo)  Oliver is this family's second ATRA rescue adopted dog!!
Oliver loves his new family and they love him!  The 2 fur brothers act like they have always been together and are wreaking havoc through the new families' household. You can hear the walls shaking as they rough and tumble through the rooms!  He couldn't be happier!  What a happy ending chapter to Oliver's story! 
Thanks all who have written and inquired about Oliver.  Special thanks to those that have contributed to his medical needs. There are many more needy dogs that we will feature here. Please love them like you have loved our Oliver!  

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