Montague -- or Monty, as he is known to his growing list of fans -- is one of those special dogs. We have no idea where Monty came from or where he was heading on Monday, December 22, 2008, but he sure was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Monty was walking along railroad tracks as a passenger train was pulling into the station in Montclair, NJ. It was already dark; there was snow on the ground. Did Monty realize where he was? Did he hear that train coming? Did he try to get out of the way? I wish I could find the engineer who was running that train. If he saw Monty on the tracks, I am sure he at least tried to slow down, but maybe he didn't even see the dog in the dark.
Roberto, one of Montclair's animal control officers, was most likely looking forward to going home when the call came about Monty. It was after 6 P.M.; I am sure the last thing he wanted to deal with was another dead animal. Dr. Negrin, the veterinarian for the township, was wrapping things up for the day. She told Roberto she would wait until he got back with the body. They both know the odds of a dog surviving a train hit are pretty slim. But this isn't just any dog, and his life was not meant to end that cold, snowy night underneath a train.
Dr. Negrin couldn't make out what Roberto was screaming into his walkie-talkie, but she could hear his sirens blaring. That meant only one thing; that dog was still alive, and she was not ready to deal with an emergency. She was just about done cleaning up the clinic. While Roberto raced through town, Dr. Negrin rushed to get the surgery room ready to deal with what was likely to be a critically injured dog.
Unless they are animal lovers, most people don't really notice things like dogs being hit by a train. I am sure most of the people who got off that train didn't know about Monty, didn't really notice the dog laying on that platform with Roberto and a police officer trying to figure out how to get him into the truck and on his way to the animal hospital. They were rushing to get home to dinner, to their last-minute holiday shopping, to pick up their children at day care. Who can blame them for not noticing a stray dog that didn't know how to stay off the tracks?
Luckily for Monty, there was someone getting off another train who is a writer and a reporter and whose job it is to notice things others don't. It doesn't hurt that he is an animal lover too, so he took the time to take a picture and to write about The Dog and The Train. That blog on NJ.com made it to the rescue lists and before long just about everyone in rescue knew about the German Shepherd that was hit by the train.
For the first week after the accident, Dr. Negrin and her staff continued caring for Monty. They were amazed that he survived the accident, and prayed his owners would be found. Monty was alive and he was improving every day but his injuries were severe and would mean almost certain death if his owners did not come forward. Monty's back was "broken." One of his vertebrae so badly dislocated, you could actually see a hump in the middle of his back. His back legs were completely paralyzed, there was a good possibility his spinal cord was severed. He also had a skull fracture. His condition required significant medical care, maybe surgery and most likely months of rehabilitation. His prognosis was a huge question mark. Shelters cannot care for a dog with such severe injuries. After having survived the train accident, Monty needed yet another miracle: if his owners did not reclaim him, his only real chance would be to find a rescue willing to take him. But most rescues are overwhelmed with unwanted animals looking for homes, they can't even find homes for all the healthy animals out there, the sad reality is that a dog like Monty is simply not very adoptable. These are just the kind of cases I find compelling, they are a challenge and they don't always have happy endings but when they do, they are truly rewarding.
When I heard about Monty's case through one of my rescue lists, I just had to find out more. I spent New Year's day trying to work out a plan, these are not the kinds of cases you can take on without some careful thought. The most critical part of the plan would be finding someone willing to foster Monty; without that, I could do nothing to help him. One of my dedicated foster moms, Donna, is a German Shepherd lover, she has had German Shepherds for 30 years and when she heard about Monty and saw his picture, she agreed to foster him! Donna has done wonders with every dog she has fostered for my rescue, Monty would be no exception. I contacted the Montclair township and learned that a couple other rescues had also inquired about Monty. In the end, the township decided to entrust me and my rescue with Monty's case. A few days later, I drove to Montclair, on a very rainy, dreary day to meet "the dog."
When I got to Dr. Negrin's office, Monty was laying on the floor in the middle of the clinic, he was as sweet and gentle as I had been told. It didn't take me long to realize what an exceptional dog he is but I must admit the thought crossed my mind that for once, I had overestimated my ability to help a dog, this was going to be a real challenge. I had taken a paralyzed dog into my rescue before, but that was a small dog that could be easily carried around. The sheer logistics of dealing with an 80 lb. dog that is paralyzed can be quite daunting. I have learned that when faced with such challenges, it is best not to think too much. If you focus on the moment, on dealing with the immediate problem and figure out how to deal with that, things tend to work out. And somehow, with the help of a few friends along the way, I managed to get Monty to my friend's grooming shop so he could have a nice bath and from there to his temporary foster home where he would stay for a couple of days until I could get him to a neurologist for a consultation and then to Donna.
As a rescuer, I have had some very interesting journeys with my rescue dogs. Dogs are gifted teachers, they are patient and forgiving. I have learned many valuable lessons from them. I have learned about hope, about looking past a "messy" exterior to the beauty and dignity within. I have learned that patience is indeed a virtue, one that can bring wonderful rewards. I have learned about being courageous and strong when life deals you a bad hand. What lessons will Monty teach me? There are many out there who feel that it might be kinder to end his life; they feel it is cruel to keep a dog alive whose back end is paralyzed, since he will never be able to run and walk like a "normal" dog. I wonder if those people would still feel the same if they met Monty, if they had the chance to spend some time with him. Time might prove me wrong, but in my heart I know Monty does not want to die. His body may be somewhat "broken," but his spirit is strong and unscathed.
It is still early in our journey with Monty. We are still dealing with his numerous medical issues. In addition to the injuries he sustained, he is also heartworm positive. We don't know yet how his story will end, but every day he makes progress, every day he inspires us with his gracefulness, his sweet and gentle nature, his quiet but determined will to choose life and hope over death or despair.
I want to thank everyone who has so generously contributed to Monty's care. I am indebted to Last Hope Safe Haven, Inc. for setting up the Monty Fund, to all who have already contributed to the fund, and to the many who have helped in other ways. Above all, I want to thank Monty's foster mom, Donna and her partner Rick, who are taking such loving care of Monty while he heals.
Come back from time to time to hear about Monty’s progress as we go along. There will be more pictures, and probably more videos, more about his story and the medical challenges he faces, and hopefully someday the happy ending he so deserves.