Surrey North Delta Leader
Dogs' best friendBy Dan Ferguson - Surrey North Delta LeaderPublished: July 06, 2008 7:00 AM Updated: July 06, 2008 10:16 AM
Amanda Muir lives in a tidy East Vancouver apartment in a white stucco heritage house with a six-year-old blind cat named Zu-Zu and a 14-year-old border collie-Belgian shepherd cross named Travis.
Zu-Zu is a handsome, long-haired tabby cat who was born without eyes. She navigates her surroundings with practised ease, ears swiveling to track movement.
Travis is on medication for Cushing’s, a treatable adrenal gland condition common in older dogs. He’s slower than he used to be and has some vision problems of his own, but is otherwise healthy.
Muir occasionally refers to him as “Travis-the-dog” to distinguish him from “Travis-the-boy” – the man she’s been seeing.
Her kitchen fridge is bedecked with dog-positive magnetic messages that include “A house without a dog is not a home” and “Dogs leave paw prints on our hearts.”
The animal rights activist keeps a small photo album in the night stand beside her bed that is filled with pictures of her first pet dog, a poodle-terrier cross named Brandy.
The lace-trimmed “brag book” was put together by her late grandfather Gordon Mickey, who assumed custody of Brandy after Amanda grew up and left home.
The album was given to her when he passed away.
“He just adored her,” Muir says. “They did everything together. They were constant companions. She passed away shortly before he did.”
On the day a Leader reporter and photographer visit Muir, two other dogs are present.
One is a sociable Shar-Pei named K.T. who jams her wrinkled snout into a visitor’s hand, shamelessly angling for a treat.
The other is a timid female pit bull named Ella who slinks onto Muir’s bed and wraps herself up in the duvet cover until only a nervous nose can be seen poking out.
They are there because Muir does volunteer work with dog rescue charities, helping them train and rehabilitate foundlings and abandoned pets.
It is reasonably warm out, but Muir is wearing a long-sleeved shirt. If she wears short sleeves, sometimes people will stare at the web of scars running up both arms between her wrists and elbows.
She isn’t sure if the looks she gets are pity or horror.
“Sometimes I wonder if people think I was some kind of drug addict,” she says, managing a laugh.
After five years and countless surgeries, she has not regained full strength, and the range of motion in her left arm is limited.
“They hurt all the time,” she says without self-pity.
“I’ve seen the inside of my arms several times.”
She still has one operation left, some cosmetic surgery to make the scars less pronounced.
She’s in no hurry to go under the knife again.
Muir had been working as an SPCA animal control officer in Delta for about six years when what she refers to as “my accident” happened.
At the time she was best known as the volunteer host of the popular Delta Cable TV show ‘Live at the SPCA’ which introduced potentially adoptable animals to Delta viewers.
On a sunny June day in 2003, she picked up an injured Rottweiler named Brutus who’d been confined to a kennel in an engineering shop yard.
Everything seemed to be going well until Muir got ready to unload him at the Tsawwassen Animal Hospital in the 1800 block of 56 St.
She remembers looking in his eyes when the change occurred.
It was as though Brutus somehow went away, replaced by something evil.
“It was like something from a horror movie – it was that bad.”
He attacked, sinking his teeth into Muir’s left forearm, shattering the bones.
Then he stopped.
Eyewitnesses described a chilling standoff with the injured Muir sitting on the curb of the animal hospital parking lot while the dog faced her, wagging his tail.
His tongue was hanging out like nothing was wrong.
People came running from the hospital, a nearby gym and Southpointe Academy, but Muir warned them to keep their distance.
“Call an ambulance,” she said.
Muir recalls the madness briefly fading from the dog’s eyes.
“Then he went away again.”
The Rottweiler attacked a second time, mangling Muir’s other arm.
Three men from the gym grabbed Brutus and managed to drag him off Muir, forcing the snarling, snapping dog inside the veterinary clinic with the help of two other people.
She was rushed to the nearby Delta Hospital ER in Ladner, then transported to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster for surgery.
Brutus was quickly euthanized.
When she emerged from the blur of pain and emergency operations, Muir remembers wondering if she would become afraid of dogs.
A year later, she went to bat for another Rottweiler, defying her superiors at the SPCA to help rescue a dog that had been declared too belligerent to save.
His name was Cheech, and the resulting controversy over his fate cost the SPCA its Delta contract.
Muir, fellow SPCA staffer Kirsten McConnell and volunteer Troy Hannefin defied an SPCA euthanasia order that declared Cheech, a former guard dog, was becoming “increasingly aggressive.”
They believed he could be rehabilitated.
“I honestly thought they would never go through with it.”
On the day Cheech was to be put down, they spirited the Rottweiler-Labrador cross away and refused to say where he was.
“That was a catalyst for so many things.”
As a result of the Cheech controversy, the municipality put the operations of the animal shelter out to bid, and the newly formed Delta Humane Society won the contract.
The new operator hired Muir as a public relations coordinator and McConnell as an animal control officer.
She still won’t say where Cheech ended up, but she knows he’s doing well.
“I get pictures sent every once in a while of a black and tan dog having the time of his life.”
Recently, the municipality of Delta took over direct day-to-day operation of the animal shelter after negotiations on a new contract with the Humane Society fell apart.
By then, Muir had already moved on.
She was forced to give up working with dogs full-time because of her arm injuries.
“Animals wiggle,” Muir observes, and she just doesn’t have the strength.
She now works in retail, but still volunteers with dog rescue charities, including Shar-Pei Rescue, Doberman Rescue and “Bully Buddies” – a group devoted to rehabilitating pit bulls, American bull dogs and Staffordshire terriers, and educating the public about the breeds.
A few weeks ago Muir was in Trout Lake Park when she came across a man walking a big Rottweiler.
The dog seemed friendly, so she knelt down to greet the canine on his level and petted the animal’s head.
The dog’s owner said he was impressed at her cool, saying some people find the breed intimidating.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with them,” Muir replied.
She didn’t elaborate.