Little dog big world — a tale of survival

They found him in a garbage can in Kuwait City, badly beaten and starving. One of his legs and tail had been broken, and most of his teeth knocked out. He was in bad shape. A passerby had heard whimpering and searched him out. Thankfully the Good Samaritan got him to a vet, who knew of a shelter for dogs like him, where he was nursed back to health. His leg was never set though, and to this day he wears the scars of his past: a crooked tail and leg, and a marked limp. But he is alive.

My stepson was teaching in Kuwait when his wife learned about the little dog. She called to ask if we would consider giving him a home. We already had two:  Olive, a Schnoodle, and Scooter, a Schnauzer. But my heart ached for this little survivor, and sight unseen, I knew we would say yes. Which we did.

My stepson and his family booked a seat for “Habibi” on their return trip to the states. Habibi is an Arabic term of endearment meaning anything from sweetheart to honey, lover, etc. But meeting their flight we got our first glimpse him, and he was anything but. He was an unhappy little white ball of fur, whose mouth literally turned down in a perpetual frown. He wanted nothing to do with us, or our dogs, who had accompanied us to PDX. Little Habibi was a great big grump! I was a bit taken aback, but should have expected it. My daughter-in-law reminded me of all he had endured, and we agreed he would need time to adjust.

Returning to our home in Bend, things got worse. He peed all over the house, and our two followed suit. He got into the “alpha thing” with Scooter, who had previously been numero-uno. I worried he might hurt little Habibi if something started that I couldn’t get to fast enough. Habibi snapped and tried to bite us too. I wondered if this had been a good idea and whether it could work out, saddened by the thought, and wincing a little at the expense of the plane ticket.

We walked our dogs daily to Pilot Butte, a favorite in Bend, and began taking Habibi along. Worrying that it might be too much for him at first, we sometimes left him at home. When we did take him, we carried him much of the way to spare his bad leg.  Over time he grew upset and vocal at being left behind, and we discovered he could go the distance with no help. Once he even escaped and trekked the few miles himself, trotting beside a busy freeway and crossing several major intersections along the way. A woman called saying he was at the top of the butte, and that he’d just strolled up the middle of the road, stopping traffic!

Early on Habibi would sit alone for hours, licking himself like a cat. The vet said this was a response to PTSD. Because the behavior wasn’t good for him, she recommended spraying him with water to discourage it. I felt bad every time I did it; thinking of all the little guy had gone through and how difficult it must be to adjust to new . . . everything.

Kuwait is all concrete and desert, no grass, so Habibi would poop on the patio or the sidewalk.  Grass was just one more new thing. Eventually he learned to use it.

Vets guessed Habibi was a Maltese/Yorkshire Terrier mix, 6-10 years old. His remaining teeth were rotten and had to be pulled. He tips the scale at around four pounds and is about as long as an eight-inch trout. But this little trout has an amazing ability to make people go gaga. Before he came people would ooh and ah over Olive and Scooter. Now it’s all, “Oh my gosh, look at the little white dog!!” His story has been told and retold hundreds of times at the butte, and in Bend he is a local celebrity. Now we live in Beaverton, frequenting Commonwealth Lake Park, and here he has also developed a following.

I often think what it must have been like for him lying bleeding, broken and hurting so badly in that trash. It would have been well over 100 degrees and, in addition to pain and thirst, he would have been burning-hot and starving. I wonder how he got there . . . the chain of events that led to such a horrific thing. Had he been someone’s pet? Had he run off? Been stolen? I have asked him many times, but he has yet to answer.

Today Habibi’s favorite things are walks and being in my lap. It seems now that if he only had these two things in life he would be happy. He has finally become outgoing, and actually loves people and other dogs. He thinks he is a big dog, and often rises up to kiss his larger friends. He is a wonderful companion and now gets nervous if he thinks I am leaving without him. When one of the others has a vet appointment, I have to take all the dogs. There’s just no other way.

I guess Habibi coming here was just meant to be. There were so many variables, so many “what ifs,” that it seems to come down to one thing: fate.

It’s hard to believe a person could do to a tiny defenseless animal what was done to him. It’s beyond reason, justification, or understanding. And while some of his wounds have healed, others have not. Sometimes he is very loving, other times very distant — perhaps an expression of the wounds we cannot see.

There is no doubt in my mind: This world would be a far better place if it were run by people from the animal world, rather than by animals from the people world.

Mike Epstein is a sports photographer/writer whose work has been published around the world, in publications including National Geographic and Sports Illustrated. Mike is currently focusing on animal and pet photography. and Olive.