When Pittsburgh-based pet photographer Nicole Begley sent me a submission featuring photos of a beautiful dog named Charm, along with a little bit of her story, I was incredibly moved. Nicole told me how Charm, a small pit bull, had been used as a bait dog in a fighting ring, and ended up in a local shelter, scared and starved. Thankfully, she was rescued by loving parents who nursed her back to health through their love and care. Now Charm is 7 years old and facing another battle: liver cancer. Despite her struggles, Nicole told me, Charm is an amazingly sweet dog who has become a treasured companion.
As many of you know, I am a huge dog lover, and my Bubby, like Charm, was a very special rescue dog who beat the odds over and over. I also lost my other dog, Tabha, a magical Alaskan Malamute, to liver cancer in 2008, when she was only 8-1/2 years old. Before rescuing Charm, her parents had also lost their almost 16 year-old yellow lab after a long illness (which is exactly what we went through with Bubby, at the exact same age). Needless to say, I felt very connected to and especially touched by their story. I asked Nicole if Charm's mom, Clara, could share more about Charm and how he came to be part of their family. Her words are below, accompanied by Nicole's photos. I'm really honored to be able to share this with you guys.
We had just lost our Yellow Lab, Buster, who was almost 16 years old. The decline was long and slow, and we did every single thing we could for him. We had countless sleepless nights, and were frazzled and fatigued. But the inevitable happened one terrible day. Matt and I agreed we would definitely have another dog in our lives, but we would wait a while until we adopted again. We were drained emotionally, physically, and mentally.
Three weeks after Buster's death, we volunteered at a shelter called Animal Friends, where we've now been volunteering about twice a month for 15 years. A couple volunteers called out, "Hi Clara," but I didn't know either of them. It turned out that they weren't talking to me, but rather to a new dog they'd gotten. I looked down and saw a mess of a dog, who was only 6 months old, and had been starved by her previous owners. She was emaciated, and her ribs were showing. Her back legs were broken, and Animal Friends had just performed $4,000 worth of surgery on her. Her fur was shaved and she had ugly sutures all over her legs. I burst into tears, and told Matt this was a sign. The dog had MY NAME, and was in terrible need. We had to take her.
The next day, she was living with us. But - there could only be one Clara in the house. This was the third dog that Matt and I had together, and you know what they say: "the third one's a CHARM!" So Clara dog was now Charm.
I had learned that the people who previously owned Charm were using her as bait in pitbull fights. She herself is a pitbull (an American Staffordshire Terrier), but she's just a little thing. She was 21 poundswhen we got her, and now she's 38. In order to get "bait" used to pain, they would throw dogs out the window of a moving car. But one day when Charm was thrown out of a car, another car drove past, hit her, and broke her 2 back legs. Both cars took off, and left Charm laying in the middle of the road. Thankfully, a good Samaritan came by, picked Charm up, and took her to Animal Friends. We consider that the luckiest day of our lives, because that's the incident that brought us all together.
This was 6-1/2 yeas ago. As the years have gone by, Charm has had to endure two more operations stemming from this car injury. She had a dislocated knee cap and a torn ACL. And she recuperated from these surgeries with a big smile on her face.
Recently, Charm was hit with another battle when she diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer. She was only 6 years old and the news stunned us. This is our princess -she's had such a tough life - how could this be happening to her? Why is being dumped on? We became warriors - we were going to save her life!
We found an animal hospital in New York called Animal Medical Center. Dr. Chick Weisse was doing a study on liver tumors and Charm turned out to be a perfect candidate. How lucky were we! She required three treatments, all a month apart, that involved us taking her to NY for a week. So off we went. We absolutely hated what we were doing to her, but Charm handled the treatments well. And finally, after the last treatment, it was discovered that the liver tumor had died. YAY! It was shrinking. YAY!
Unfortunately, our joy was short lived. The cancer ended up spreading anyway. The doctors determined she only had about 3 months to live.
Back in Pittsburgh, we set about finding a new game plan. We now take her to Dr. Barbara Newman at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialists every Thursday for chemo. When we first started the treatments, her body was made up of 49% cancer cells. After a couple weeks, her blood smears showed 0% cancer cells! We're continuing to fight this tooth and nail, and Charm is quite a trooper. She's having no side effects at all, aside from some low energy. She's happy, eating, drinking, playing, and forever smiling. I know one day the cancer cells will come back and overwhelm her, but we're hoping to keep them at bay for a long time.
Naturally, we have a million pictures of Charm and Mitch (our other dog), but we wanted professional photos done. Luckily, our paths crossed with Nicole Begley, who came out to our summer cottage one day and went "snap-happy" on our dogs. We just saw the finished products and she truly captured the personalities of our angels. We couldn't be happier. It meant a lot to me to have good photos of them to look at after they're gone.
For now, we continue to fight the good fight. Whatever we can do that is best for Charm, we'll continue to do. Matt and Charm love each other, but it's actually Charm and me that have the deep connection. From the minute I saw her, she bowled me over and continues to do so to this day. It's funny - I never wanted a female dog, never wanted a puppy, and never wanted a small dog. But Charm was all those things when we adopted her, and I can't imagine life without her.
Thank you again to Clara for sharing Charm's incredible story, and to Nicole, for sharing these beautiful photos. We will all be rooting for Charm and continuing to keep her in our thoughts!
If you'd like to view more of Nicole's amazing work, or if you live in the Pittsburgh area and would like her to photograph your pets, be sure sure to visit her website, blog, and Facebook.
P.S. Do you have a photo session or project you'd like to submit to Bubby and Bean? You can find more information on how to do so here.