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The German Shepherd mix has helped her humans recover from two deaths in the family, including that of her own sister and fellow foster fail, Brynn.
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Sometimes the hardest part about loving someone is carrying on after they’re gone. When the death of a loved one leaves a big hole in their life, many are tempted to crawl into that hole and dwell on the absence of what was once there. You’d never know it by looking at her happy face, but Mia the German Shepherd mix knows that hole well. Luckily, she also knows how to dig her way out of it, and she’s happy to help her human do the same. It’s a skill the sensitive rescue dog learned after the death of her sister and fellow foster failure, Brynn.
“Losing Brynn was probably the most difficult thing that I had ever gone through,” explains Mia’s person, Kelsey Arnold. “And Mia was kind of lost for a while.”
Arnold was just 19 years old, back in 2009, when Mia and Brynn came into her life thanks to an email from the Burlington Humane Society. As a long-term volunteer, Arnold was among those who received the plea for emergency foster homes for a litter of four-day-old puppies.
“They were just sort of dumped on the side of the road,” Arnold remembers. “It’s cold here in November, so they weren’t sure any of them were going to survive.”
Mia and Brynn were inseparable. Mia followed Brynn everywhere. (Photo courtesy Mia’s Instagram, @livingthelifeofmia) The teenager never expected her father would agree to let her foster some of the dogs, but when he surprised her with a “yes,” the two set off to gather up three of the puppies. Unfortunately, the third pup suffered head injuries when the litter was dumped and didn’t survive for long despite all the care he was given. Arnold was left with Brynn and Mia, two little sisters who needed to be bottle fed and cared for around the clock.
“They kind of helped me become an adult,” says Arnold, who was up at night with the pups at an age when others are up all night partying. “I had to take care of them.”
Eventually, Brynn and Mia graduated from bottles to puppy mush. Brynn took on the role of leader, and Mia was happy to follow in her sister’s pawsteps. As the bonded pair grew, Arnold realized this was no longer a foster situation — the pups had found their forever family.
“They’re my babies,” she says.
As Brynn and Mia matured, so did Arnold. She had been considering a career in veterinary office administration before adopting the dogs, but got serious about her goals after taking the pups to all their medical appointments.
“I don’t know if I would have been as motivated to actually pursue a job in that field if it hadn’t been for them,” says Arnold, who now takes Mia with her to the clinic where she works. Unfortunately, even with easy access to veterinary care, Arnold couldn’t stop what happened to Brynn in the fall of 2013.
“She started limping, and we couldn’t figure out why,” she says, adding that Brynn was prescribed anti-inflammatories and rest at first.
“Then one day, I came home and there was bloody vomit everywhere. We did some blood tests because she kept losing weight, too. She went from 85 pounds down to about 79, and she didn’t even look like the same dog.”
Multiple rounds of blood work and ultrasounds eventually revealed the diagnosis Arnold had been dreading — chronic kidney disease. “There’s no cure. The treatments help, but there’s no way to tell once a dog’s been diagnosed how long they are going to survive.” Six months after her diagnosis, Brynn was gone and Arnold was completely devastated. “I think I could have become really depressed and not wanting to do anything, but I had to. I had to still take Mia for her walks. I had to go out and interact and make sure that she was okay,” Arnold recalls.
For a time, Mia was obviously not her normal self. According to Arnold, emphatic Mia is usually the first to come running when a human in the house is sad, but when her people were upset about Brynn, Mia would make herself scarce. Mia was mourning her sister, and was initially lost without Brynn to guide her through life. Over time, Arnold helped Mia become the confident dog she is today. The duo has worked very hard in obedience training classes, repeating courses until Mia was comfortable standing on her own. “We had to do grade three several times,” Arnold jokes.
Recently, the family suffered another loss when Arnold’s grandmother passed away very suddenly in her sleep. The death of her grandmother was extremely painful for Arnold. This time, it was Mia’s turn to take care of her human.
“With Brynn’s [death], she helped because I knew that she was hurting, too, and I needed to make her feel better,” says Arnold. “With my Gram, she kind of reciprocated. We switched roles a little bit.”
This time around, Mia didn’t hide when the feelings got heavy. When the grieving family gathered at Arnold’s grandparents’ house, sensitive Mia turned on her best behavior.“I have never seen her behave as well as she did then,” says Arnold, who was shocked when Mia didn’t bark as she usually does when meeting new people.
“She helped us all through it. She let everyone pet her and lean on her if they needed to. She was great.”
Arnold calls Mia her superstar and says these days the German Shepherd is the happiest dog she’s ever seen. Although Mia has been diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and hypothyroid, she luckily doesn’t exhibit symptoms of either — the diseases wouldn’t have been caught if it weren’t for regular blood work. The health issues don’t stop Mia from having plenty of adventures with Arnold, and with her new buddy, Fern the cat.
“She would not know what to do without Fern. Actually, I think Fern might be Brynn reincarnated,” Arnold says with a laugh.
All joking aside, it’s easy to tell that Arnold and Mia are just as tightly bonded as Mia and Brynn once were. What’s harder to tell is who rescued whom.
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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