I didn’t realize it at first, but Kiko was minutes from death when I met her.
It was about 15 years ago and I had just pulled up to my vet’s office on a routine visit for yearly vaccinations. I had a couple of kitty carriers loaded with some of my cats. As I was getting them out of the back seat, a man parked next to me and then got out of his car with a big white dog.
Kiko was beautiful and full of energy. I didn’t recognize her as an akita, because I was unfamiliar with the breed. I told the man he had a beautiful dog, but he barely acknowledged me. He seemed angry and uninterested in talking.
When we got inside the office, he went straight to one of the exam rooms. I asked Barb, one of the clinic employees, what was going on. She told me that the man had brought this beautiful dog into the clinic to have her killed — because he couldn’t control her well enough.
I didn’t know the full story yet, but I was upset that a perfectly healthy dog was about to die. I asked Barb if she would go ask the owner if he would give me some time to try to find a new home for the dog.
I never did talk to the man. Barb went into the room and I didn’t hear anything for a few minutes. At some point, the man left through a back door, so I never saw him again. Barb came out and told me that he was going to give me some time. How much time? That was unclear.
Kiko was still on death row, but she had a temporary reprieve.
It turned out that Kiko was a young un-neutered female akita who was living in a household with a three-legged female dog who also had not been neutered. At least twice, the two had gotten into fights while the owners were away and the other dog had been hurt. So they concluded that Kiko was vicious and they wanted to get rid of her.
In researching akitas, I discovered that female akitas who hadn’t been neutered were often aggressive. This wasn’t an unusual problem.
I quickly started making phone calls. I talked with people in different dog rescue groups and eventually connected with a woman in North Carolina who specialized in akita rescue. We started looking for a good home, but everything seemed to take longer than I wanted.
In the meantime, the clock was ticking for Kiko. She was being boarded at the clinic since the owners didn’t want her at their house anymore. After two weeks, I got a call from the clinic saying they were finished paying to board her. She either had to leave the clinic or they were killing her — that very day.
I already had a houseful of cats and dogs — only two dogs at the time — and I was hesitant to bring her to my home to foster her, but I didn’t have any choice.
When Kiko rode home with me in the car that day, she was an excited and happy girl. I never once saw the signs of aggression that her previous family had experienced. Of course, I kept her segregated from my animals since I didn’t want to take any chances. But as I walked her around my neighborhood every day, she was like a confident and happy queen — thrilled to have attention and care.
I quickly grew attached to Kiko. She would sit next to me on the front steps of my house after a walk and nuzzle her head up against me to show she wanted more loving. All she wanted was a lot of love and attention.
After a few weeks, the dog rescue organization had found a potential home for her. Because of her history of being aggressive with another dog, they were looking for just the right person to adopt her and they were insisting that she went to a home with no other animals or children.
The potential match was a young woman who was a medical student in Atlanta. She and her boyfriend met me at a welcome center at the Alabama-Georgia line and they spent about an hour with her. They immediately fell in love with Kiko, so I was pretty sure this would work out.
She applied to take permanent custody of Kiko and the organization had someone inspect her home. After another week or so, I got the call that I had slowly come to dread. It was time for me to take her on our final trip together.
We met at a welcome center just on the Alabama side of the state line this time. The exchange didn’t take long, but I didn’t want to let this white ball of furry love go.
As we were about to leave, I remembered that Kiko’s previous owners had given the clinic some paperwork certifying that she was a pure akita. I offered the papers to the woman who was adopting her, but she had the same reaction I had.
“I don’t care who her parents were or that she is supposed to be ‘pure,'” the woman told me. “I already love her just for who she is, so I don’t need papers on her.”
She ripped the papers in half and threw them into a nearby trash can. Kiko was going to a home where she was just a member of the family, not where she was important because she had “papers.”
Driving away was very hard for me. I was able to remain composed until I was in the car by myself, but as I pulled out of the welcome center and onto I-20 west, I was crying.
There are thousands and thousands of dogs and cats who need homes. I know we can’t save them all. I can’t even bring myself to look at shelters, because I know how many need help.
It breaks my heart that I can’t help them all, but it warms my heart 15 years later that I was able to save one loving ball of white fur named Kiko.