When Diane Malo and husband John adopted 3½-year-old Zoë, the South Surrey couple knew that the mini-Dalmatian needed to heal from a life of neglect.
The dog’s journey from fearful to fun-loving in the months since her rescue last summer was recognized last Friday with an Animal Courage Award, and the dog lovers’ role in that progress is undeniable.
But Malo never predicted just how much of an impact Zoë would have on her own healing. In March – six months after adopting Zoë, and on the Malos’ 36th anniversary – John died unexpectedly at age 68.
“It’s been tough, but I must say, Zoë is just so tuned in,” Malo said Tuesday. “Anytime we need a bit of affection, she’s just right up there.
“When we first had her, those first six months, we were just trying to do everything to help her adjust, to gain confidence and to face some of her fears. I think she really did a lot of healing in that time – now, the roles have just kind of reversed.”
Zoë was among 35 dogs rescued last August from what BC SPCA officials described at the time as “disgusting” conditions – including improper access to food, water and shelter – at a south Cloverdale property. Sixteen horses and six cats were also seized that day. All of the animals were in various states of malnutrition, and horses’ hooves were “grossly overgrown.”
Zoë had been kept with other dogs in crowded cages, with no room to turn around. When rescued, her head had scabs from rubbing against her crate.
She was fearful of anything new; afraid to even go for walks, through doorways or on stairs.
SPCA senior animal protection officer Eileen Drever told Peace Arch News in August that the individual associated with the seizure had been familiar to investigators “for 20 years.”
Animal-cruelty charges were recommended in connection with the seizure, however, as of this week, none have been laid.
Malo said it’s distressing to hear that people continue to subject animals to such conditions.
“What breaks my heart is with all of these apprehensions, you keep hearing on the media that these people have had previous dealings with the BC SPCA,” she said. “It’s just so unfair to these animals.”
BC SPCA chief prevention and enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty explained this week that the issue is a complex one, and that it could be helped by regulations around the puppy-mill industry.
She said she is encouraged by ongoing consultation by the provincial government to change that.
“The way the current act is worded… we’re required to give the person an opportunity to relieve the distress,” Moriarty said. “Over and over, these people, they will comply. They just sit on that line… they know the law.”
She said the public can help by buying animals only from breeders who can demonstrate compliance with regulations.
“The solution to the suffering of dogs and cats in puppy and kitten mills lies in public education, regulation… and ensuring we aren’t supporting these operations with our dollars,” she said.
At last week’s awards ceremony, the courage and resilience of animals like Zoë in overcoming their suffering, along with their capacity for forgiveness, was described as “so inspiring.”
Malo said Zoë is still shy around men, and is startled by sudden movements or noise, but she has come a long way. If a visitor approaches with that in mind, “she’d probably lick your hand.”
On walks and at the dog park, Zoë’s appreciation for her new-found freedom is obvious.
“To watch her, she loves to just run, and she prances when I take her out on the trails,” Malo said. “That sense of freedom – think about for yourself, if you never had any freedom to get up and walk around, get outside…”
Zoë is Malo’s fourth rescue dog, and Malo admits it was her husband who convinced her to take the Dalmatian on.
“I really wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through that again,” she said, referring to the heartbreak of losing her three previous dogs. “It didn’t take us any time before we were thoroughly in love with her.”
Malo said she doesn’t hesitate to share how Zoë came into her life, “because it’s just such a success story for her.”
“She should never have been put in the barn situation to begin with, but she’s been resilient,” she said. “It’s just so rewarding to see that tail wagging. When we first got her, that tail was always down between her legs.
“Most of the time now, it’s just wagging as fast as it can.”
And just as Malo was there when Zoë needed her, the pint-sized pooch continues to return the favour when needed.
“Every once in a while there’s something that just triggers a tear,” Malo said. “Even before… I can turn and look at her, and she’s already focused on me. I don’t know what it is, but she has some sense that I need her, and she’s right there.”