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Pamela Fagan Hutchins | Every dog has its day.

Layla with still-pink hairless skin, while healing. Pictured clockwise from upper left are Little Bear (seated), Callia, Karma, Layla, and Jake. Not pictured: Cowboy. Taken at Bodkins Mill off Scenic Road on St. Croix. Click to enlarge, use Back on your browser to return. How about that tongue?? ;-)

Once upon we lived in a big house named Estate Annaly on a hill in the rainforest on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Our place was remote, so we had need for security.  Enter our six dogs, a Brady bunch assortment like our kids.  Eric brought three:

Jake (cockermation — use your imagination!),

Karma (German Shepherd), and

Layla (boxer). 

I had three:

Cowboy (yellow lab),

Callia (Rottweiler), and

Little Bear (German Shepherd). 

We used to love running along Scenic Road overlooking the dramatic rock cliffs of the North Shore with our six dogs and often a few neighbors’ dogs too gamboling around us.

So what happened to the canine crew of Annaly? Well, Little Bear died of bee stings on St. Croix, sadly.  When we moved to the states, our nanny kept Callia and our house sitters kept Jake.  Karma came with us, but has since relocated to a country home with a new family.  And you’ve read about Cowboy, if you follow this blog. He’s pretty popular.

This story isn’t about any of them.

It’s about Layla.  Sweet Layla the boxer who has the misfortune to look like Gollum of Lord of the Rings.  It’s the story of how she returned to us from the dead.

When Layla moved into Annaly, she was only about six months old.  St. Croix, unfortunately, has an underground dog fighting community.  As a female boxer, she was a sought-after sort of dog on the island — a young bitch who could mother fighting pups.  We came home one day to discover she was gone, had simply vanished.  We put fliers up all over the island offering a reward for her return, but we had no luck.  After a few weeks, we sadly accepted she would not ever be coming back.

Four months later, we got a call from the Animal Shelter, one of the places  where we had handed out fliers.

“I think someone brought in your female boxer, that one from your flier last summer, but we can’t be sure.  She’s pretty far gone, and we are planning to put her down.  Do you want to come in and see her before we do?” the Shelter volunteer asked Eric.

Did we?!?  We jumped in our big Chevy Silverado truck and practically flew over the giant tire-eating potholes on our way down out of the rainforest and into Town.  When we came to an abrupt, breathless halt 20 minutes later, Eric turned to me.

“Why don’t you wait in the car, just in case?”  He cupped my cheek in his hand.

“Yes,” I said, then felt weak for agreeing. 

But the woman from the Shelter had warned us that Layla — if this was Layla — was not only barely recognizable, but that her skin was practically hairless and weeping with open sores.

Eric went off to view the dog.  I could see him from behind.  He crouched in front of a mobile kennel, reached out his hand, and I saw a big pink tongue, but could make out nothing else in the dark opening where the dog lay.  Then Eric turned back toward me, and I saw the tears on his face.

It was Layla.  I got out of the car, feeling nauseous and crying, too.  I walked over and stood beside him.  I would not have recognized her.  Eric barely had.  But she had recognized him, and with what little strength she had remaining, she had lifted her head, whimpered, and reached for him with her oversized tongue, the tongue we loved and laughed about that reminded us of a vintage Rolling Stones poster.

Thirty minutes later, we had transported Layla to our veterinarian against the advice of the Shelter.  Layla had mange, a condition we were told she was born with but one that was easily treatable had someone sought care for her earlier.  Instead, she had been dumped in the road in the center of the island and left for dead.  A goodhearted soul had braved her oozing sores to bring her to the Shelter, even knowing it might be hopeless for her.  Now, the mange was so far gone that she was barely alive.  We had decided to let our vet Dr. Hess make the call, though.  If he thought he could save her, we would let him try.

And he did.  Believe he could.  And save her.  Both.

It took many weeks of intensive treatment to get her well enough to leave the clinic.  We visited her daily in the meantime, and tried not to look at the credit card receipts when they ran our card.  At first she was wrapped in gauze like a mummy. Her walk was stiff-legged and slow. But her tail never wagged nonstop she saw us.  Layla had never wowed us with her beauty, but now she was scary ugly, a skinny, hairless,  pink-skinned waif who still had silver-dollar sized open wounds six weeks later when we brought her home.   Worse, she had lost her ability to play.  She was a serious, cowed animal, in a seeming state of perpetual confusion about the intentions and conditions of the world around her.

When the time came to move to the states, Layla flew ahead to Auburn to live with Eric’s oldest daughter.  But soon she was kicked out of the daughter’s apartment complex, and Layla moved to Texas where she has been with us ever since.

Layla lives the good life now.  She is the devoted partner/companion of Cowboy, and the two of them behave like an old married couple.  She hasn’t gotten much prettier, she never figured out how to play again, and she is very, very afraid of men, especially men with dark skin, leading us to imagine her former captors.  But she has for the most part overcome four months of hell and two months of pain to become a loving and normal dog. 

She is my running companion and our protector.  When a dog came after me while I was running with Layla in Nowheresville, she grabbed it by the neck without a sound and had it inert on the ground before I even knew I was in danger.  When Cowboy growled and snapped at our one-eyed Boston Terrier puppy Petey a few weeks ago (after the eye injury), Layla abandoned her normal quiet and leaped on Cowboy’s back with a ferocious snarl and chased him out of the house, biting his behind the whole way.  Cowboy has treated Petey like a favorite buddy ever since.  Go, Layla!

Current picture of our Layla, taken in her favorite place, Nowheresville.

Layla.  Survivor of a violent kidnapping, abuse, and neglect.  Left for dead.  Our muscly little protector who likes you to whisper sweet nothings into her oversized ears as you pet them.

I think there is a special place in hell for people that hurt children and animals, and I hope her abusers find their way to it.  And I also believe there is a corresponding place in heaven for people that give their time and love to those who can’t take care of themselves.  We will always be grateful to the kind person(s) who rescued Layla, six years ago.  Maybe someday they will read this and remember, and smile.



Running buddies. And don't mock me -- those are compression socks, and they are not only expensive, but they work (injury prevention and recovery).


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21 Responses to Every dog has its day.

  1. This warmed my heart Pamela. I have such a soft spot for animals. I’m so glad Layla’s doing ok. What an amazing pup!

  2. Incredible story, incredible dog. I loved this, Pamela. Great writing that made me see and feel what you saw, what you felt. And I agree with you completely on the special places in both heaven and hell.

    • Pamela says:

      Thank you Lisa. I am sitting with my foot on her side right now. She is a good girl. I don’t understand cruelty. But I sure have gotten to see its impacts on her. It changed her forever. She has a great life and home, but something was taken from her, and it will always be sad.

  3. ally says:

    awesome, what a beautiful dog and well done for saving her. I would have done the same thing

    • Pamela says:

      I know — how could you not, right? we always say “x is our limit” on pet issues, and we always blow right thru it, avoiding eye contact…but holding hands 😉

  4. Eric Hutchins says:

    When you tell people that she had mange many don’t really get it. She had huge patches where the skin was completely gone and she was just open running wounds. Here feet were swollen into clubs were you could not distinguish separate toes. It was truly amazing that she was still alive. And yet, in that state, and having been gone for so long, that she still recognized me or the sound of my voice. I am so grateful to Dr Hess that they were willing to try. As you said even the shelter people, who do their utmost to save animals, thought that she should be put down.

    She has such a huge heart and is so loyal. She is great to have around.

    • Pamela says:

      I had forgotten until you just said it how swollen her feet were. I remembered how much trouble she had walking, and that she was wrapped in gauze to keep the antibiotic on and dirt out of her open wounds.

      Truly, it was unbelievable. It was like she had just melted and her hair and skin had come off. She looked more like a burn victim than a sick dog.

  5. Eric Hutchins via Facebook says:

    Awful story with a happy ending.

  6. Especially happy if we take her running tomorrow night :)

  7. Ally says:

    At once, both heart warmed at the love you two show your animals and overwhelmed with anger at the way some people treat animals. The latter is something I’ll never comprehend. I have a huge soft spot for animals and I’m glad to read the story of the other dog in your lives!

  8. What an amazing and truly heroic story – not just Layla for trusting again (or never having stopped trusting you both) but you fighting to give her a chance to live. It truly is amazing the evil men can do but they will get their comeuppance. And it won’t be pretty.

  9. Heidi M says:

    Oh, poor Layla! I didn’t know her story ~ what a remarkable animal. Glad she’s living the good life now. :)

    • Pamela says:

      When we were downsizing our pet population for the move to the states, Cowboy was a shoo in b/c he was Sami’s baby. Karma was Eric’s dog. But who could ever let Layla go after all she went through? She’s an angel.

  10. —Pamela,
    I love all of your beautiful wonderful fabulous pets :)) Xxx Thank you for sharing them w/ Us.

  11. […] just last weekend, he had stumbled along in the loamy trail behind me, behind Layla the “canine muscle” and accomplished runner, who was in turn lagging well behind Petey, the 16-pound distance terrier who had churned out the […]

  12. […] Petey did not find his own bed a satisfactory place to spend the night. Actually, the big dogs, Cowboy and Layla, didn’t either; they were living the highlife in the back of the old Suburban. Don’t […]

  13. […] long line of female dogs who didn’t give a rat’s ear about puppies, citing to our own Layla and Cowboy as an example of devoted and puppieless […]

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