Our dog Giselle by Eric Nuzum


The following was written by PoP contributor Eric Nuzum.

French Bulldogs rarely show up in shelters and rescues. They are expensive dogs and difficult to breed. Anyone who goes through what it takes to get one usually isn’t very quick to let it go. Those that do come up for adoption are usually seriously ill or disabled.

That’s why we were so surprised to see Giselle listed for adoption. A four-year-old Frenchie, rescued from a high kill shelter in South Carolina. Besides testing positive for heart worm, she was described as good with kids and dogs, didn’t have behavior issues, and seemed otherwise perfectly fine.

More than a hundred people applied to adopt her, but we were the ones told she would be coming home with us on December 3rd. The only thing we really knew about her history was that her previous owner gave her up for financial reasons.

I was instructed to pick her up at a transport drop–where rescue volunteers bring more than 40 dogs in stacked crates, bungee corded together in the back of a large cargo van for the ten-hour drive from South Carolina.

Giselle was one of the first dogs off the van and almost immediately I could tell that her time in the shelter had not been good. She was caked with dirt, had a mangled ear and scabs on her face from a fairly recent attack by another dog, had infections in both ears, and was constantly straining to poop, probably from stress. She was disoriented and nervous, yet still desperate for any comfort or affection. I placed her head in my hands after putting her in the backseat of the car. “Don’t worry little girl,” I whispered to her. “The worst part is over.” She licked my nose and we drove home, already pretty much bonded.

Continues after the jump.

The next morning we took her to the vet for a check-up and almost immediately the doctor noticed something unusual: Giselle’s gut was rock hard. As she examined the dog, the expression on Dr Rusk’s face got more and more serious. An x-ray confirmed her fear–Giselle had a distended colon. A section of her colon had lost its motility and stool had been backing up there for weeks.

Dr Rusk also said Giselle was nowhere near four, but more likely at least nine or ten-years-old. The colon issue was more than likely the result of a neurological disorder, arthritis or some other age-related complication. It might be treatable with medication, but for now she was in immediate need of treatment to remove the hardened stool.

Giselle was admitted to the hospital and received multiple laxatives and four enemas over two days. She had racked up a two-thousand dollar hospital bill with little sign of anything actually helping her. Dr. Rusk said we were running out of options, our choices for our new dog were suddenly limited to a six-thousand dollar surgery or euthanizing her.

And all this for a dog we’d had for less than three days.

Though we had nothing to prove it, a probable narrative for Giselle started to emerge in our minds. We knew that this colon issue had been going on for some time before she was given up. More than likely her previous owners had learned of her situation, pained over the same dilemma we were now facing, were unable to make a decision, and decided to turn her over to the shelter. Little did they know that by doing so, they were condemning her to the living hell and misery in that shelter.

Regardless of the true story, there was little doubt that this can had been kicked down the road a few times and had landed squarely with us.

We’d been wringing our hands over the situation we were in and which terrible option to chose when Dr Rusk called. Giselle had pulled off an eleventh hour miracle and was starting to pass the old stool. We weren’t out of the woods yet, but at least she’d have a chance to come home. The doctor told us that, even with medication, this would eventually catch up with her again, but it could be months or years–nobody knew.

Now we faced what felt like an even bigger challenge: knowing how this would end up, did we want to let this dog into our lives? She was sweet and personable. If you didn’t know what was happening to her, you’d never even guess this dog was sick. She had every reason not to be, but she was a trusting, affectionate dog who obviously yearned for love, safety, and belonging. We were already in love with her, but pretended we weren’t.

We really didn’t make a decision, if there was ever was a decision to be made. We just went to the hospital and brought her home. She was obviously feeling much better than when we first picked her up. She was calm, relaxed, and immediately made a place for herself in our family. She got along well with our other Frenchie and our two-year-old son quickly fell in love with her just as much as we did. Even though she was on eight different medications, she seemed to get perkier and stronger every day. She started learning the routines of our household and was even picking up a few commands and tricks. It started to feel like things were going to be okay. Her days were filled with belly rubs, long walks, treats, and the sounds of laughter.

We saw bits of her personality start to emerge. She loved to chase and tease, as well as snatch the baby’s toys so he would run with her. She spent every evening sleeping in my wife’s lap. Here is a dog that should have no reason to trust any human being, yet she was so accepting of any love or attention anyone gave to her. She was not just a survivor, but a survivor with grace.

Then a week later, I was walking the dogs when I noticed Giselle was straining to poop again. Over the next two days, she stopped pooping entirely. A visit to Dr Rusk confirmed our worst fear, that Giselle’s colon was starting to back up again. It had probably been backing up since we left the hospital.

Now we were faced with a third terrible choice–do we hospitalize her again, knowing the cost and chance that it will only be another temporary fix?

Dr. Rusk loaded her with fluids and laxatives, and we decided to give her another day to get things moving. Despite now being on ten medications, Giselle’s colon just wasn’t cooperating.

We believed that God had given Giselle to us because others had not been able to make the right choice for her. Our job was to make her feel safe, loved, and part of our family. We also had to admit that part of loving her was being able to say enough was enough. It was our job to prevent any more suffering.

After one last game of chase with the dogs and baby, plus a long extended belly rub and fistful of treats, we took her back to Dr. Rusk.

We both wanted to be there with her when she was put down. She felt just as much a part of our family as any other member. The last thing she felt was our hands petting her. The last thing she heard was us telling her how loved she was.

At times, when I think of Giselle, I feel a little silly. I mean, we’ve been mourning her longer than we had her. Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to grieve over the loss of a dog you had for ten days?

My wife plans to spread her ashes in Rock Creek Park, along a trail that she regularly jogs along. Not only so that she is reminded of the sweet little French Bulldog who so easily convinced us to love her, but also as a reminder of what this taught us.

When hearing this story, people understandably ask if we regret adopting Giselle. They often are surprised when we quickly answer “no.” Many people, including us, idealize the concept of “rescuing” a dog. We romanticize our role as saviors, bringing a dog back to its “furever” home. With Giselle, that obviously worked out a bit different. We were called to make a decision that no one else could or would make for her. We also could have never imagined we’d have the strength to make it through that two-week gut-wrenching ordeal, and yet still willingly give ourselves over to falling for a dog we knew was not going to make it.

In the end, we did rescue her, just not in a way we ever thought we could.

76 Comment

  • Thank you for this beautifully written story of true true love..

  • There is a dog in the Parkview neighborhood that looks a bit like Giselle, at first I thought this story was maybe about her. I’m sorry it’s not. Thanks for sharing this, it was touching and reminds us how being pet owners is sometimes cursed but always a blessing.

  • bfinpetworth

    Eric, thank you for sharing that beautiful, heartwrenching story. As someone who has both rescued dogs and bought purebreds from a breeder, I know that the risks involved in rescuing are great, but so can be the rewards. I’ve loved all my dogs and when they’ve passed, mourned them deeply. You and your partner gave Giselle a precious gift by allowing her to pass with love and dignity surrounding her. I hope that knowledge helps your family heal.

  • thank you for sharing. im sorry about your beautiful french bulldog.

  • You and you wife are good souls for Sheparding Giselle through her final days.

  • As sad as this story is, I’m really glad it was people like you and your wife who were able to give her a comfortable last couple of weeks. I’d much rather the situation ended with good animal people, than an apparently tough shelter.

  • me

    Jesus, I’m crying at work.

  • Crying at work. Glad I have an office door to close, and wishing I was home to give my dog a belly rub.

  • Your story gave me chills. My boyfriend and I adopted a dog in DC and in less than 24 hours we were rushing Monty to Friendship Hospital for Animals. We learned that he had a collapsed trachea and that he was already headed downhill. With the options of either an extremely expensive surgery that might not work, or having to put him down, Dr. Rusk help us put him down – less than 48 hours after we had adopted him. We helped Monty out in the last two days of his life too and I like to think that we made it a little more comfortable for him.

  • Amazing story. You made the right decisions. I’m so glad Giselle got to be part of your loving family for the time she had.

  • Thank you for sharing this. Having adopted a frenchie myself from this same rescue last May, I definitely feel for you. I remember seeing Giselle on the site a few months back and fought everything in me not to put in an application to get her to be sisters with our Sophia.

    As heart breaking as it surely has been, I am so glad that you were able to give her a home, and show her the love that she deserved.

  • omg too early for tears! but, it is such a sweet story. thanks for sharing.

  • Crying at my desk. Thank you for sharing. Wish all pets could experience this kind of love and kindness.

  • I read this last night….thanks for making me cry! Very touching and sad.

  • Beautiful! Your life will always be richer thanks to Giselle!

  • Very moving story. I bet those were some of the happiest ten days of Giselle’s life.

  • I’m a veterinarian (although not in practice) and one of the best things a mentor told me was along the lines of…it is a privilege to be able to make this decision to end discomfort and suffering for our animals. Thank you for sharing your story and giving Giselle so much care and love and dignity. I’m sure she enriched your life and I know it was a difficult decision.

  • Thank you for sharing this– it’s a beautiful story of selflessness and unconditional love for an animal. Giselle came into your life for a reason and purpose; in those 2 weeks you forever changed her life, and yours.

  • Good for you for making the brave choice to let your dog be at peace. Friends of ours had a miniature pinscher which was in a car accident in November. They couldn’t afford the vet bills so their friends and family pitched in of 4K for surgery, etc. That poor dog died this weekend of it’s injuries. Seems to me that manning up and letting it go right after the accident would have been kinder, and saved their friends from being guilted into making donations to keep the poor thing alive.

    • Sure, it would have been the better decision IF THEY HAD BEEN CLAIRVOYANT and therefore known the surgery wouldn’t succeed. I’m assuming they were ordinary people without super powers, and wanted to give their beloved pet every chance to recover. I had one cat operated on after a car accident, and one ferret undergo surgery for adrenal disease. Both recovered beautifully and lived into old age. If I had “manned up”, I would have deprived them of long happy lives. Every situation is different. Quit judging people for their decisions.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Giselle was so lucky to have you guys.

  • It takes a special person to adopt a pup with special needs, then giving them the love that they so deserve, want and need till the end. She will be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge.

    We must remember to ADOPT not Shop for our next four legged family member. Give these loving creatures a second chance, what you get back is more than worth it.

  • What a beauty. So sorry for your loss but thank you for sharing the story.

  • That’s a really moving story. I think if I were you I’d be very angry with the rescue group, though. It sure seems like they lied about her condition to make it easier to place her.

  • Eric, thank you so much for sharing this story. Reading brings me to tears, particularly because it hits so close to home. My husband and I had to make difficult decisions regarding care when our dog was diagnosed with melanoma at age 2. Your family gave Giselle the gift of love during the last few weeks of her life, and I hope everyone who reads this is as touched by your story as I am.

  • I am very sorry for your loss. I can understand your connection even for such a short time. I once lost a kitten after only ten days and she stays in my heart and family forever.

    Can you please name the rescue group that you worked with? There are many warning signs in your story that concern me greatly. They should be investigated and reported.

    There are a few things that just don’t make sense to me. If the group knew so much about the dog’s temperment and behavior, how was it that it showed up dirty, injured and heartworm positive? It seems like whoever you “adopted” this dog from was playing on the fact that this breed is so popular and profitable. I am willing to wager that you paid a very high adoption fee. A reputable rescue group would have been able to tell at least the age, and would have at least treated the dog’s wounds.

    You owe it to Giselle and all the other dogs this group works with, to report your experience and have them investigated immediately.

    • I’ve noticed a few comments like this and I want to be very clear about something: this is not the rescue’s fault.

      I mention it in the story, but if you didn’t know that Giselle was sick, you would never be able to tell.

      The rescue deserves credit for saving Giselle from the shelter she was in. They were going off the information they were given, which was that the dog was a certain age and in a certain condition. They did treat her for heartworm (which is expensive) and care for her during the brief time she was with them.

      I think we share a frustration: we want to be furious with someone about this story. You will soon come to the same realization that my wife and I did. There is no one to blame here, yet everyone deserves a little. The least guilt party is the rescue group that brought her to us. She would have died a miserable death if they hadn’t stepped in and done the best they could with limited help and resources.

      If anyone feels moved by this story, I hope you’ll donate to help a dog rescue or group that provides car for abandoned animals. That’s about the best you can do in a situation like this.

  • Sorry for your loss, and thanks for sharing your story. I think the next wonderful thing you could do would be speak to the rescue organization that was responsible for adopting out a terribly sick dog without informing the new family of it’s condition. Yes, they can’t be expected to catch every potential problem with an animal, but they do have a responsibility to vet as thoroughly as possible, and this sounds like a gross failure to do that. Especially with 100 requests for this dog, it was irresponsible and cruel.

  • In my experience (I am a rescue-dog owner and volunteer), rescue groups do not have the resources to give full vet exams to the dogs they save from high-kill shelters. The dogs literally are about to be put down in the shelter. A rescue group saves them, tests them for heartworm, de-worms and de-fleas them, and then adopts them out. This is all disclosed to every adopter, in writing and in person. Specifically, it is disclosed that dogs have NOT had full medical exams. Whether they are good with other dogs and people, the temperament info, comes from the shelter and then is confirmed/updated if the dogs are put in foster — but the OP here noted that they adopted off of transport, so the dog had never been with a foster family.

    Meanwhile, Eric, thank you and your wife for rescuing, for loving Giselle, for sharing your story, and for giving her happy days at the end of her life.

    • I think any rescue group that places animals in the way you describe is being seriously irresponsible, and is treating both the animal and the family unfairly. And assuming the result of my google search is in fact the dog in questions, that’s not what happened here.

      Giselle is currently living in a shelter and would love for someone to adopt her once she arrives to the DMV area!
      Okay, let’s be honest, our Giselle may not be a model, but we think she is pretty adorable anyway. Giselle is a 4 year old French Bulldog mix and weighs about 15 lbs. Our little beauty is looking for a furever home where people show her all the love in the world.
      Giselle has a great personality and always seems to make people smile when they are around her. Giselle loves to go on walks so she can strut her stuff and get all the attention of people who pass by. When not being adored by her fans, you can find Giselle curled up and sleeping right at your feet.
      Giselle is great with other dogs and kids. We currently are unsure how she is around cats, but if asked we can get her cat tested! We definitely know that Giselle will win the heart of anyone who is lucky enough to take her home!
      Like most shelter dogs, Giselle may need a refresher on housetraining. She is likely crate trained.
      The adoption fee for this dog is $380, which includes the cost of routine vetting, including vaccinations, spay/neuter, and heartworm treatment.

      • That post sounds like it is from the group with which I volunteer. The dog being vaccinated, spayed (no rescue will adopt out a not-spayed/neutered dog) and tested for heartworm (along with deworming/de-fleaing and then heartworm preventative and flea preventative — these are the basics that are done for every dog) does not suggest that it has had a full physical exam. Every single adopter is told, in writing and in person, that dogs have NOT received full physicals/medical exams. It is also in the contract the adopters sign. I am positive the OP would back me up on this if for some reason you don’t believe me (if they still have the contract paperwork).

        • Yes, I CAN back you up on this. We knew exactly what we were possibly getting into. Giselle could have had a clean bill of health–but she could have also had cancer or some other difficult to detect problem (like this) that wouldn’t be obvious to a casual caretaker.

          I know people are surprised to hear this–but we harbor no anger or blame at the rescue group. Everyone was just trying to do the right thing here.

          • A dog that hasn’t pooped in 3 days has a medical issue that should be looked at. 3 weeks is a crime.

          • Victoria –
            Agreed that a dog that hasn’t pooped in 3 days should be examined. However, at a high-kill shelter overflowing with dogs I can’t imagine anyone being able to track any of the dogs, much less how often they poop.

        • I have just posted an additional comment to address this issue.

          The rescue is NOT to blame. Period.

          The moral of this story is learning what loving an animal means. If anyone thinks we need to place blame, they’re missing the point.

          • There is a difference between “placing blame” and identifying a fault or error in operations so as to prevent future mistakes. Being a well-meaning volunteer does not exempt one from due diligence and reasonable attention to details such as accurate record-keeping and essential care.

      • Yes, your research was accurate. But here is the rub: there isn’t anything they say here that is incorrect. It was an accurate description of Giselle given the information they had been given. Obviously, the original owners lied about her age and condition, which I understand is VERY common among people giving up animals.

  • jburka

    Gee, thanks for making me sob at my desk at work. But, really, thanks for being such wonderful caretakers for Giselle. She clearly deserved to have you in her final days.

  • I want to leave work to cuddle with our cats and maybe borrow a dog from a friend to hug!

    This is a terribly sad story, but I’m so glad that you were able to give her such a good home for at least the last few days of her life.

  • saf

    “Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to grieve over the loss of a dog you had for ten days?”

    No, not at all.

    We lost a cat to a vaccine reaction at 2 weeks. (He was about 2, but had only been inside 2 weeks.) It was awful. You bond with them so quickly!

  • very touching. thank you.

  • Wonderful story; thank you. Y’all did a good thing for a sweet dog.

  • I almost cried reading this! What a wonderful story

  • What a beautiful and very sad story (tears are running as I write). How lucky Giselle was to spend her final days in the warm embrace of your family. May your kindness come back to you many times over.

  • Donate to your local Humane Society, folks. Seriously.

  • Beautiful story…I just wish I’d known it was going to be sad before I started, so I coulda prepared myself:(

  • em

    Eric, thanks for sharing the sometimes sad side of rescuing animals. And thanks for not writing about the bitter feelings that others have surfaced in the comments.

    For those interested in rescuing animals, it is important to remember that there is no way to know the whole story about an animal – especially when there aren’t full vet records, when the rescue organization is trying to place animals from a large operation, or when the animal just doesn’t have a history. The rescue organizations usually can’t invest in full physical exams for every animal – which is why they put that right in the adoption agreement. Instead, they try to tell the story of the dog they do know.

    Consider this recent post from an area dog foster home, which discusses the importance of focusing on the dog that the organization or foster home knows when trying to place it: http://peacelovefoster.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/the-power-of-being-positive/.

  • can’t type…sobbing.

  • Wow. I too am crying at my desk.
    So sorry for you, but thank you.

  • Eric is my husband, and Giselle was our dog. We loved her very much.

    My husband echoed this sentiment earlier that I cannot stress enough: the rescue was not at fault in this scenario.

    As echoed from an earlier commenter, the rescue group takes animals out of high-kill shelters to increase their chances of adoption. The shelter Giselle came from most likely has very limited resources. I find it amazing she was even treated for heartworm. Unfortunately, there simply are not enough resources to to give every animal a complete workup. Some pets with stage 4 cancer are surrendered to shelters because the owners can’t deal with it and assume someone else will. Sad, but true.

    The rescue group was in constant contact with us throughout the entire process as we made each decision. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone. There is no one to blame.

    I also want to stress that this is an atypical adoption story – for every Giselle there are thousands and thousands of happy endings.

    We tell Giselle’s story because we learned that providing comfort to an animal in need is not necessarily the happiest for us. As my friend who works in animal welfare says: “The losing is so painful because the knowing was so wonderful.” And Giselle was wonderful indeed.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I recently adopted a 12 year old cat from the Humane Society in DC. After having her for a week, she was diagnosed with early stages of kidney failure. I do not regret for one minute adopting an older cat, and she is already part of my family. I know the upcoming months are going to be rough for both of us, but I am willing to give her a good, loving, and comfortable home. I am glad to hear a story of similar love and kindness toward animals.

    • It is possible for a cat to survive for many years with kidney failure, if diagnosed at the early stages and treated. My cat was diagnosed almost seven years ago, and is still going strong for her age (over 21 now).

      There is a Yahoo group for chronic renal failure that has great information on how to care for your cat.

  • Very sad story Eric. Thank you for sharing. But why didn’t you choose the surgery option? Wouldn’t that have saved her?

    • I am Eric’s wife.

      Surgery was high risk, high cost and was not a traditional procedure. Our vet mentioned that she had seen a similar condition in cats, but never a dog before much less operated on a dog.

      • Not to mention that when we learned the dog was nine or ten, the chances of her surviving such a huge surgery were very small.

  • I read this late last night and couldn’t sleep because I kept crying but I realize that you did the best for little Giselle and she died surrounded by love and affection and no pain. It can’t get any better that

  • The part that keeps making me tear up is the title, “OUR dog Giselle.” So glad she was able to spend her last days with love as part of your family.

  • Read this in Ohio where I serve on the board of our local animal protective league. I/we appreciated your kindness and caring efforts to show this poor dog the love and compassion she deserved. Bless you and the rescue group that likely exists on a shoestring. So many forget that the whole point of all this is to end misery for animals by finding them loving homes. the sadness is that there will never be enough homes for the number out there waiting. At times love isn’t enough and humane compassion becomes necessary. Glad you were there for her. It helps heal the hurt. All best. Jep

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I have a dog from a high kill shelter and I’m so grateful to the rescue group that brought her here.

    It doesn’t take long for dogs to become part of your family, and I’m glad that Giselle was able to have that experience with you. And two weeks – why that’s 3 1/2 months in dog years.

  • God bless you both and thanks for sharing. I also adopted a dog from the same rescue group that brings dogs from the high kill shelter in SC and she has been so great. I can’t believe someone gave her up. I gave her a big hug after reading.

  • You are beautiful and noble people. Thank you for what you did for Giselle.

  • Thank you for giving Giselle happiness. You did indeed rescue.

  • I want to adopt a dog so badly. But I live in Silver Spring and work in DC. I’m gone AT LEAST 8 hours a day. 🙁 And I live in an apartment building so no yard to let the dog roam free in. Would it be fair and more importantly could I even adopt with those restrictions?

    • No, it wouldn’t be fair with that kind of schedule to adopt a dog – but there are lots of other opportunities for you to be involved with dogs. I think “Food and Friends” has volunteers that help care for the pets of seriously ill people. You take them for walks etc. Certainly any shelter would welcome weekend volunteers for play & walks.

    • I disagree with Victoria – dogs can tolerate being alone for 8 hours (not a puppy, but a dog that’s house trained). I’d guess that many dog owners work a full day – 8 hours or more.

      I’d say get a dog. Don’t let the fact that you work during your day stop you. You could consider getting a dog walker if you think you’ll be gone on a regular basis for more than 8 hours.

      Dogs can lead long and happy lives in apartments or other places w/out a yard to roam free. They need exercise, not a yard.

    • As long as you get a dog that fits into your lifestyle there is no reason you can’t adopt. Obviously you don’t want to get a Lab puppy that needs tons of exercise. But there are plenty of apartment-suitable dogs – not to mention lots of older pets who require less activity.

      Find a recommended rescue that will help find the best pet for you.

  • Yes – there are adoptable dogs suitable for this living situation. Old, low-energy etc. I just encourage people to be realistic. 8 hour work day includes an hour coming and going, and tiredness after. A walk around the block doesn’t fill the need. A good dog life needs lots of interactive play time and at least an hour of vigorous romping each day. Just think about it.

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