Before they left, Nala's former owners explained that she didn't like to go inside. She also didn't take food from your hand. She cringed when you tried to pet her. Which you didn't try too often because she smelled like a garbage dump.
We offered her the inside and a rug of her own. In she came. Suspicion confirmed: they'd never let her inside their house. Then they'd moved to an apartment and she couldn't climb the stairs. That one we believed. So she'd been living in their van. Full time.
First stop: the vet. Nala's heart seemed O.K. She could hear. Ran some tests and sent them to the university. When they came back, no sign of disease or illness. "How old do you think she is?" I asked. The vet looked at her teeth and estimated, "Between 5 and 10." Right. We don't know.
There were three obvious problems: Her eyes were pouring dirty, yellow mucous; she could barely walk and she stank to high heaven. For the first, we were referred to an eye specialist. For the second, we were advised to wait and see. For the third: "She'll probably have to be shaved," said the vet. "I know a good groomer." We'd never used the services of a groomer before, but, I thought, I am never going to get this dog clean on my own. She had black stuff caked into her fur like brick. Cement, I wondered?
We took her to the groomer, who agreed: "She'll have to be shaved." Two hours later, I returned to the groomer, sulking over having a bald Chow. But she wasn't bald. "When we put her in the tub," said the groomer, "it turned out to be caked mud and started melting. I've never seen a dog so dirty. The bathwater has never been so dirty. I had to change the water 3 times." Nala wasn't exactly beautiful, but at least she wasn't bald. When Io Jima had been shaved to operated on her displaced hip, it had taken nine months for the hair to grow back.
Actually, Nala wasn't too bad looking, except for her pathetically sparse tail. She was a rather nice red.
Next stop: the eye specialist. Nala had entropion, her lashes scratching her corneas, and dry eye: she didn't manufacture tears. She was so good with the specialist. She sat there, sad, while her eyes were washed and papers stuck in them and needles in the rest of her. I don't like thinking about the pain and discomfort she had endured during her 5 to 10 years. We returned home with several sorts of eye drops and an appointment to tack her eyelids.
After the surgery and regular eye drops, she was a new dog. Minus the pain in her eyes, she was happy. She could see. When we reached for her lead to go "walkies," she danced! And collapsed. But after two months of regular walkies, she could run. It seemed that she had been crippled through lack of exercise. My guess is she was only let out of the van to "do her needs," as the French say, and then shut up, again.
Two more months passed and she began wagging what passed for her tail when I came down in the morning. Then I could pat her head. It took a year for her to learn how to take food from my hand.
We're 18 months into our adoption now. Nala has had a second plastic surgery, more thorough, on her eyelids. She walks and she dances. She stumbles from mild dysplasia, but it doesn't seem to bother her. She takes treats from my hand, she's learned to be brushed, and her tail looks like a real Chow's. She is, and has been from the beginning, the most loving and loveable of dogs.
And she's gone from age 13 to age 9.