Every shelter dog is a mystery wrapped in fur.
But one seemingly ancient dog guarded his private mystery with a surprisingly full set of teeth — and made no bones about using them if someone got a little too close.
It’s hard to blame Negra, though. He had been dumped at the Baldwin Park shelter in Los Angeles just a day earlier. According to his rabies certificate, he was 20. The only reason offered? "Owner problems."
When Elaine Seamans, founder of the At-Choo Foundation, heard about the dog, she raced to the shelter to pay him a visit.
On the way there, she got in touch with a San Fernando-based sanctuary called Love Always to see if they would take in the 8-pound Pomeranian mix.
"They were sort of on board," she tells MNN. "They were like, 'Let us know what you find out.'"
When she got to the shelter, Seamans found Negra laying on a bed in a kennel.
Seamans figured Negra’s age would make him gentle and easy to handle.
"I put my hand down, like, 'Hi you want to smell?' And he snapped at my hand."
Negra seemed all but done with humans.
"His little lips were quivering like, 'I’m gonna get you.'"
You’re never too old to appreciate baby steps. And maybe even a little baby food.
"I brought out my magical Gerber baby food," Seamans recalls, imagining Negra’s old teeth were likely damaged.
"He’s like, 'Whatever.' No interest."
Seamans gently covered Negra with a blanket and then pulled the bundle to her lap.
"It was little bit more of a deterrent. Plus, it was cold. He was shivering."
Slowly and gently, she began petting him through the blanket.
"Next thing you know I’m able to pet him without him trying to bite me," Seamans says.
He crawled out from the blanket and snuggled directly on her lap. Soon, it was clear he needed even more.
"He pushed up against my chest and moved up a little further to put his head on my shoulder," Seamans says. "My eyes got a little teary."
Negra had opened up and exposed his very vulnerable heart. And soon the sanctuary, where Negra would spend the rest of his days, would open its doors to him.
But there were other mysteries wrapped up in this little dog. Like how the medical tests for a 20-something dog could come back so surprisingly spotless.
Sure, a yawn revealed some missing teeth near the back. And there was some frosting on his face. But he had little trouble walking. And, as the sanctuary learned soon after arriving, the dog had plenty of spunk.
He tried to hump one of the resident puppies. Seamans wonders if maybe the paperwork was bungled.
"This dog is really a mystery," she says. "He’s either a freak of nature or he was totally mis-aged."
It seemed the only certainty was that he was misunderstood. Which is why it took time — and a very patient visitor— to look past those teeth. And see the big bright heart that lurks beneath.
But days after Negra had gone to live with the ducks and pigs and turkeys at Love Always, Seamans managed to finally solve the puzzling detail of his youthful ways. She got in touch with staff at the shelter, and they in turn, called Negra's former owner.
Turns out there had been a mistake: Negra is only eight.
And so the dog who was supposed to spend only his twilight years at the sanctuary will have a whole new life there.