BRATTLEBORO — When Peter “Fish” Case and his wife Vickie said goodbye to their beloved Staffordshire terrier Dutch a few months ago, their hearts broke and they vowed not to get another dog.
Then, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, smiling Finnegan loped into their lives and their hearts melted. Again.
“My wife and I decided a house ... just ain't a home ... unless you've got a dog,” Peter Case says with a smile.
“We lost Dutch in the middle of December. He was completely healthy. Fine. Always with a lot of that terrier energy. He was always up for play, chasing a ball, and I kept him pretty active. We took him for a walk on the West River Trail.
“After a walk, he was always tired, but he didn't kinda move for the rest of that day. We took him to the clinic at 10:30 the next morning.
An hour later, they were en route to the Veterinary Emergency and Speciality Hospital in Deerfield, Mass.
And by 3:30, “he was gone.”
“When they did a sonogram and ultrasound, they found he was infused with [cancer],” he says. “He was such a tough guy; he never let it show.”
The loss, he says, “was fast and furious and devastating.”
“We were reeling from it and we swore we would never get another dog … and here we are, getting another dog.”
Not just any dog, but a one-year-old rescue dog through Good Lif3 (sic) Bully Rescue, a nonprofit operation in Houston, Texas: Finnegan, or Finn, for short.
Finn arrived in Brattleboro from Houston on a trip with six other rescue dogs - some German shepherd puppies, a chow, and a golden retriever among them - who were dropped off at new homes in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and Brattleboro by Village Paws Transport, a mother-daughter team, also based in Houston.
Due to the recent unexpected, wild weather and subsequent state of emergency in Texas as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Finn, who had been in foster care in Texas since November and who under more ordinary circumstances would have arrived at his forever home about six weeks ago, didn't make it until this week.
Finn now joins several other rescue dogs in Brattleboro that also came through Good Lif3 Bully Rescue.
Becoming a Vermonter
When Finn first arrived and hopped out of the van, he was understandably a bit antsy.
“Right out of the gate, he was hyper, hyper, hyper,” says Peter Case. “But the minute someone started petting him, he would melt right into them and calm right down.”
Four hours after his arrival, Finn was devotedly looking up at Vickie as she prepared something for him to eat while every few minutes checking out Peter, who sat on the floor, and giving him a few quick face kisses.
“It feels like he's hungry,” Peter Case says. “But he's coming to a Jewish and Italian household, so he's coming to the right place.”
Having the run of the house is a relatively new experience for the pup.
“In foster care, I think he spent a lot of time in a big kennel,” Peter says. “He's not sure what to do with himself yet.”
The Cases did get Finn a crate - although they're not really crate people - in case he feels more secure in that as it is something he's used to... but it may be out the door sooner than later.
“He's already been on the couch,” Peter Case says.
“He's already peed on the floor,” adds Vickie.
“He's a complete mush,” says her husband. “A good boy. He's got these paws that kind of spread out. They kind of feel webbed. It'll be interesting to see if we have a swimmer. The last two we had were like fur-covered rocks in the water.
“And his ears crack me up,” he adds. “It's like they ran out of white ears. He's starting to loosen up because he's exploring.”
So far, Finn isn't the best leash walker, but his new dad is already on that, and the lucky terrier has a new “real Vermont” collar - red and black buffalo plaid with a built-in GPS.
“We're happy he's here,” says Vickie Case. “We go by the 3-3-3 rule; three days, three weeks, and three months, so we'll see how he does.”
It looks as if he's going to do just fine.
“I did my radio show from home this afternoon and he put his head on my knee and looked at me as if to say, 'Why are you talking into that tin can?'” says Peter, the general manager of local radio group Great Eastern Radio and its on-air morning guy. He also owns Fishhook Communications, a start-up media company based in Brattleboro.
Feeding people and pets
Not only did Village Paws, a 1,300-plus member rescue animal transport, bring six dogs in need to new homes in the Northeast, but the two volunteers are now en route from their last stop in Brattleboro with a van full of donations by generous Vermonters for the human beings still sorely in need in Houston.
The donations include bottled water, shelf-stable foods such as bread, cereal, and other items not requiring refrigeration, and bags of dog food.
The Cases' call to action for the return human mercy mission was met with an outpouring of donations at the Comfort Inn on Tuesday.
“I've always said that we are an incredibly generous community,” says Vickie Case, development manager at Food Connects and formerly with Retreat Farm. “It made one of the transport ladies cry. They said they'd never seen anything like that in any of the places they'd arrived.
“She said when she goes to deliver the supplies to a Houston shelter or whatever, she's going to make sure there's a TV station there to cover it. The fact that we could combine the rescue with doing something for Houston, rural Houston or whatever, is really important.
“It's all about feeding people and animals. I was watching the news from Texas and I thought, 'These people really don't know how to survive.' We would have known how to prepare, to take things out of refrigerator and stock water and things like that.”
Vickie says she wanted “to make sure that people, especially children, are fed.”
Not their first rodeo
Finn is the Cases' third pit bull rescue dog, although Peter prefers the proper “[American] Staffordshire terrier” name.
He keenly recognizes the sad truth that people have abused this dog by breeding it to fight, and thus engendering a sad misunderstanding about the breed that persists in the minds of the general public.
Asked why he believes so many Dixie dogs, as they're sometimes called, are transported so many miles to find good homes, Case says, “When you talk with someone from the South who knows Northeast folks will put dogs up or adopt them, they are grateful. I think they believe that if you adopt a dog, you have room in your heart for it.”
The Cases clearly have those hearts.
“You're everything to them,” says Case. “It's why when you come back - even though you went out because you just forgot your coffee cup in the car or something - it's like, 'Oh, my God! You're home!'
“They can't tell you when they're in pain,” he says.
“We'd had a wellness check for Dutch, but it didn't really show anything, just one little number was up at the wellness check. And, of course, that number had gone from being slightly elevated to very high and he had no way of telling us he was sick.
“Max, our first, was kind of like my dog, and when we lost him I was just crushed - not that I wasn't crushed when Dutch died, but he was more like my wife's dog. If they were walking and someone else came along, Dutch would immediately put himself between her and whoever it was.
“It wasn't aggressive and it was nothing we trained him to do. He just did it on his own. It was as if he just wanted to protect her.
“With me, when I walked him, I guess he thought, 'Eh, he's got this,'” Case says with a smile.
Staffordshire terriers are “extremely athletic,” Case notes. “Max was 88 pounds. Like an oak chest with legs. Finn is about 70 pounds.”
“We were really devastated after Max and took a while to sort of get over it. Things were busy and we didn't have a lot of time to sit around, like we're doing during COVID, which we feel is part of the reason we're seeing the need more now.”
Case says his wife fell in love with second-rescue Dutch in part because, when he was surrendered, “the lady who did so gave him a big, red kiss right in the middle of his forehead.”
Both Max and Dutch were in New York City high-kill shelters, each within 24 hours of being euthanized. Case credits Good Lif3 Bully rescue for its deep, collective understanding of a dog's true heart.
“They take these dogs and foster them until they can find good homes,” he says. “Good Lif3 Bully is an amazing organization from which to adopt an animal. I promise you, I have crossed international borders with less questions than these people asked.”
The rescue asked for, and checked, references. Its volunteers made Facebook friend requests to both Cases so they could screen their posting history.
“Because people were getting them and using them as bait dogs, there was a one-week waiting period,” Peter says.
Even the parental Cases have their standards, happily adhered to by their dog-loving kids.
Their first rescue, Max, started out as the couple's son's dog in the city. When their son had his own first son and was “having a life/home/work balance thing,” the Cases took Max for a few weeks.
Peter Case warned his son to “keep in mind if there's not a line in the sand when you'll pick him up, your mom won't let you take him back.
“We went to visit and he looked forlorn in the corner. I took him for a walk and he went right back to the corner and put his nose down and my wife looked at Max and said, 'That's it. Get his food, get his toys, get his bed; he's coming with us.'
Finn almost didn't get to his happy home with the Cases, who were still grieving the loss of Dutch.
But their daughter, who Case says is also a “crazy animal advocate,” found Finn online “and was just obsessed with his ears and forwarded his photo to me.”
“Once you lose a dog, everyone and his mother has a dog for you, but we know it's coming from a kind place,” he says. “We took a look and said, 'Oh, yeah, he's cute.'”
The couple called to inquire about Finnegan and were told he was to be adopted that day. When Good Life subsequently reached back to say the family that was to have adopted him had COVID-19 and didn't feel they could take on the pup, the Cases didn't hesitate.
Peter gazes fondly at his new, best, brown-eyed friend.
“We got a second shot at him, and we didn't waste any time,” he says.