Grab a box of tissues, because today I'm going to share the heart-tugging tale of Hairless Harry, a dog who made an amazing journey and now is in desperate need of a miracle.
I heard about Harry from Sally Hull, the incredible woman who runs Hull's Haven Border Collie Rescue, a non-profit organization that cares for and finds homes for all breeds, but has a special focus on border collies.
"We have a very unique situation and we would very much love it if you could help," began Sally, whose group has placed more than 1,000 dogs since opening in 2006.
Harry's cross-border odyssey started last winter when a farmer in Ohio found the nearly hairless two-year-old dog shivering in a barn, hiding from the bitter cold, covered in sores and starving to death.
The farmer took Harry -- who had not yet been given his nickname -- to a local animal shelter, where his future appeared grim. "They were going to put him down because he was such a mess and they were sure nobody would want him," said Sally, who runs the rescue from her home in Meleb, just west of Gimli and north of Fraserwood.
"His skin was horrendous. He was covered in sores and a rash. He had no hair except a goofy Mohawk on his head and tufts on the bottom of his legs, and that was about it. His tail looked like a rat's tail."
That's when a friend in Ohio who is active in the animal rescue community emailed photos of the pathetic creature to Sally, the dog community's patron saint of hopeless causes.
"My friend said: 'This dog has no hope.' When I look at those pictures, my heart breaks," Sally recalled. "How could it not? People send me that stuff because they know I'll take the tough cases."
First, Sally decided Harry was the perfect name for a dog "who was mostly naked."
Next, she told her friend to take Harry to a vet, where he was vaccinated and treated for parasites. Then he was shipped to Manitoba via a network Sally lovingly calls "the Underhound Railroad."
"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of drivers who volunteer to get dogs to safe harbour," she said. "It's insanely extensive. The first leg of Harry's journey was with Pilots n' Paws, a group of volunteer pilots who donate their time and fuel to move dogs to safety. The first leg was to Indianapolis. Then it was a two-day journey with volunteer drivers to Winnipeg.
"People have no idea what goes into the rescue of a lot of dogs. It's just an amazing group of people who dedicate their lives to getting dogs and cats out of bad situations."
In Manitoba, it was back to the vet for Harry. Sally's rescue, which survives on private donations and has a network of about 40 foster homes in Winnipeg, spent $1,000 having his skin and ears treated.
It turns out Harry's hairlessness is not due to his health, but likely because he's a cross between a border collie and a Xolo, also known as a Mexican hairless.
"Now his skin is so beautiful," Sally gushes. "He's got a little peach fuzz, but he's mostly hairless. He's such a good boy, but he's been through so much."
Harry was placed with a "foster mother," who took him in despite her own serious health issues. The foster family helped arrange four trial adoptions, but those failed largely because, after so many moves, Harry developed separation anxiety.
"He shows it by messing in his crate if he's left alone too long," Sally said. "He's a high-maintenance dog because he has to have a coat and boots on when he goes out because he has no hair. He needs drops for his ears and he alerts in the middle of the night if he hears a noise."
Finally, the foster mom said enough is enough; Harry would stay with her family forever. He had a home. It should have been happily ever after for Harry, but that wasn't in the cards.
"Harry was home with her for several months and then we got the news her cancer had returned with a vengeance and she's fighting for her life right now," Sally told me through tears. "It's just too hard for her to look after Harry. It was the hardest thing in the world for her to let him go. There were a lot of tears."
Now Harry's journey has taken him to another foster home in the city, but Sally says this loving, affectionate, hairless dog deserves, "a forever home" where he can be surrounded by children, other dogs and love.
"He has such a beautiful spirit," she said. "He's suffered a lot but he loves, loves, loves kids and dogs. He is such a wonderful dog we feel he'd make a fabulous storefront dog. You know, kind of like the Walmart greeter, but for a tire store or a clothing store or a bank. Then he'd be with people all day."
Look, I know it's a long shot, but who doesn't love a long shot? I'll leave you with the final thing Sally told me: "We're praying for a miracle for Harry!"
How you can help
IF you think you'd like to adopt Hairless Harry or any of the other dogs at Hull's Haven, you can email Sally at email@example.com.
-- You can see Harry and some of his pals for yourself at an adoption fair Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Best West Pet Foods outlet, 1150 St. James St., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
-- You can donate to the rescue by visiting www.hullshaven.org.