Guest blog by: Sarah Rosenberg, LifeLine Animal Project Community Engagement Manager
Yusuf moved from Clayton County to the Home Park neighborhood within the past couple of years. Since his wife died, he hasn’t had anyone to help him care for himself. Wheelchair ridden, Yusuf is paralyzed from the waist down and also suffers from severe open wounds on his lower extremities, both complications of his extreme diabetic condition.
Yusuf is well known around the neighborhood for always carrying treats to give to dogs and cats he happens to meet as he ventures out to the mosque where he worships. And Yusuf is also well known for his trusty sidekick, Beau.
Beau came to Yusuf nearly eight years ago as a puppy, defenestrated from a passing car. Since Yusuf rescued Beau, they have been each other’s constant caregivers, companions, and protectors. Once a few years ago when someone broke into Yusuf’s home in Clayton County, Beau was nearly taken by local police responding to the scene. The officer believed Beau was a pit bull, and his protectiveness of Yusuf caused the officer apparent concern. Fortunately, Yusuf and Beau had the kind of simpatico that allowed room for the officer to apprehend the intruder without fulfilling his threat to separate the bonded pair.
Last week, Yusuf was evicted from his apartment by his new landlord, the sister of the previous owner of the property who recently committed suicide. She claimed the basement apartment was uninhabitable because sewage leaked into it and summarily ejected Yusuf and Beau. With no place else to go, Yusuf took only the personal belongings he could carry, and he and Beau moved to the street where they have been living—on the sidewalk next to a vacant lot—for the past six days.
Some neighbors came to his aid, asking how they could help him, and his initial requests were only for food and water for his dog. But as the week progressed, Yusuf’s leg wounds worsened, and without a means of caring for himself, his condition became critical. But Yusuf refused to be taken to the hospital where he could receive necessary medical attention until he knew that Beau would be safe.
I learned about Yusuf and his situation from a friend who lives in Home Park, and I drove over to meet Yusuf and Beau on Sunday morning to see if there was something I could do to help. As a LifeLine employee, I am familiar with the services we provide through Fulton County Animal Services, and I knew that we would be able to get Beau to the shelter where we might be able to find a rescue or adopter to take care of him. What I had not banked on was how strong the Yusuf-Beau bond was and that I would bear witness to the choice this man faced between saving his own life and that of his dog. He was prepared to sacrifice his legs in order to be assured that his dog would find safety. And this is exactly what he did.
Beau was taken to Fulton County Animal Services, and Yusuf was taken to a local hospital for treatment. When Yusuf had last checked his wounds on Sunday morning, there were maggots growing out of his flesh, and while he expected to lose his legs, he was able to see his best friend and protector off to what he truly hoped would be a long and happy life. And although Yusuf knew that Beau would spend the rest of his life without him, knowing his dog would be safe was the only reassurance he would accept.
Yusuf broke down after Beau was taken away. “People just don’t understand,” he told me tearfully. “That’s my child.” Giving up that dog may have been the hardest thing Yusuf has ever done, even harder than returning home from the Vietnam War and suffering for the rest of his life from PTSD. Beau was his constant companion, his protector, his truest friend. “I wish he were a better dog, but it’s not safe for him where I’m going. And I know the whole neighborhood wants him, but he’s just too aggressive,” Yusuf confided in me.
But I understood something Yusuf did not. I have encountered too many dogs coming from the kinds of horrific situations that have driven them to react out of fear and distrust (and rightfully so). And I knew that Beau was not one of these dogs. Beau was not aggressive. Beau was protective. He knew it was his job to protect Yusuf, and he worked tirelessly to make sure that Yusuf was always safe, even and especially at times when no one else possibly could.
Once the ambulance came to collect Yusuf and take him to the hospital, I followed Beau and the Animal Control truck to the shelter so I could be there to reassure Beau at the other side. As soon as he got out of the truck, Beau searched furtively for Yusuf. It was as if he knew he still had work to do, and he wasn’t going to let Yusuf down. When he realized that Yusuf was not there, Beau calmed a bit, and we walked for a while together. I finally sat down on the ground, and he sat down beside me when I asked him to, and then when I asked, he lay down. We stayed there for a while until there was an intake kennel ready for him to go into, and I walked with him there. He got in reluctantly, not sure what he was supposed to do now that Yusuf was gone or what would become of him. But I had pledged to Yusuf aloud that I would let him know when Beau was somewhere safe, and I pledged to Beau silently in that moment that I would make sure somewhere safe is exactly where he would go.
Unable to stop thinking of Beau spending his first night at the shelter, I returned to the shelter that evening after hours, when all was relatively quiet, to let Beau know that he was not forgotten and that he was not alone. He had been placed in his own kennel, but he was still confused and frightened. When I got to his kennel, he recognized and greeted me, and we went outside into one of the large runs where we could be alone and spread out a bit. It was already dark, but it was so peaceful, and Beau settled in quickly as he took the scene in, marking his territory, and periodically returning to check on me and give me a kiss. We stayed outside, alone together in the dark, for about an hour, and I returned him to his kennel indoors where all was peaceful and sleepy.
The next morning, I went back into the shelter to take Beau out and spend some time assessing his behavior with some of my colleagues. At first his demeanor was stiff and retiring, but after about a half an hour of laying claim to the yard, he settled in and began to show glimmers of his true self. The great moment of release happened when he nuzzled up against my colleague, put his head in her lap, and rolled over into her for a hug. That sealed the deal for us. We were sure we could find this guy a wonderful new family.
We were all still sitting in the yard with Beau, talking and brainstorming, when a young couple approached us from the parking lot. They were immediately warm and outgoing and kind, introduced themselves, and told us immediately what kind of new family member they were looking for (a running buddy for the man, someone who would appreciate having his own fenced-in back yard and a small sister dog to spend time with, and someone who would enjoy being spoiled), and the moment they laid eyes on Beau, they knew he was their One. He took to them immediately, and the match was made.
The man is a police officer, a war vet (Afghanistan), and a kind soul, and his wife is beautifully warm with a huge smile and a loving presence. There is such a deep familiar in the strong presence of the man and in the lovingkindness of the couple, and there is great promise in Beau’s new future, one in which he will get to enjoy being spoiled and can retire his protector role in order to assume the simple state of being Beau.
Yusuf, too, is safe and getting the care he needs. He has already had his feet amputated and is relieved of the pain they caused him. He will have his legs amputated later this week, and he looks forward thereafter to finding admission in an assisted living community where he can enjoy some human connection in the care of others.
Yusuf and Beau worked hard for each other. They protected each other, and they did each other proud. They have earned the peace that their respective futures promise, and they have the love of a lifetime to thank for that.