Meet Ashlyn. She was an old dog at a shelter in North Carolina and she wasn’t doing well.
The poor thing had dropped lots of weight and was suffering from sarcomas (cancerous tumors under her skin). But everything was about to change.
New England Humane Society (NEHS) found a family with a perfect home where Ashlyn could spend the last few weeks of her life, but she needed a way to get there. That’s when Paul Steklenski, founder of Flying Fur Animal Rescue (FFAR), stepped in to help.
He flew the plane with Ashlyn seated beside him. Steklenski couldn’t help but feel emotional when he thought about how this might be the dog’s last ride anywhere.
The man is used to transporting needy dogs to rescues so that they can get to their new loving homes. He normally flies around 15 to 30 dogs every month. He says senior dogs touch his heart the most. “Those are the ones where you focus even more on what they’re going through,” Steklenski said.
Ashlyn was a little hesitant at the start of the two-hour ride. “She started off a little bit distant,” Steklenski said. “Then she would kind of open up a bit, and she got closer.”
He fed her some dog biscuits and it helped the pooch feel more at ease. “Then she gave me one paw and then the other,” he said.
“Then she laid her head on my lap,” Steklenski said. “To me, that’s huge. That’s all that matters. That’s the reward in itself.”
Steklenski took up up flying as a hobby in 2013. He had also adopted a dog that same year. These things were not linked at the time, but they became related pretty quickly.
“We went to pet stores and then we went to shelters, and started to learn the difference,” Steklenski said. The man decided to put his new hobby to good use when he came to realize the plight of helpless animals in shelters.
Ashlyn wouldn’t be where she is now if it wasn’t for her new friend. Her recovery has made rescuers believe she may have more time left than anyone thought.
“When I picked her up from the airport, her condition destroyed me,” Tracy Lander, who has three dogs of her own and has been fostering dogs for the NEHS for two years, said. “She was down to 39 pounds — her ideal weight is between 65 and 70. She came to me with a sweater on — when I took it off, I could see every rib.”
Lander started feeding Ashlyn three times every day to get her weight back up. She even gave her supplements to help her cope with her multiple health problems – from her skin troubles (believed to be caused by chemical burns) to her tumors.
Ashlyn started transforming little by little. “She’s getting around more,” Lander said. “She’s a great eater … and she’s very attached to me.”
Ashlyn loves snuggling with Lander’s other dogs. Xander, a boxer mix, has also bonded quite well with the new addition to his family. “He’ll go up to Ashlyn and just start licking her,” Lander said. “He thinks he can heal everybody with his tongue.”
Ashlyn came to live with the Landers in January. At the time, nobody knew how much time she had left. Its April now, and they are no longer thinking of her as a fospice dog. They say she is someone who reminds them to live in the present and treasure every day.
“She knows she’s loved,” Lander said. “Whatever happens she knows she’s loved.”
When Ashlyn flew up on Steklenski’s plane, hardly anyone was expecting her to make such a big progress. The pooch went from a drained-out dog to an important part of her new loving family.
“I never would have imagined finding something so satisfying, so rewarding, that it would eclipse most all else of my time on this Earth,” Steklenski said.
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