Sometimes you hear a story of a dog and it stays with you. For me, I think Nibble's story will be one of those. Not just because of what she went through before finding happiness and the haunting nature of the images combined with empathy and imagination, but if fate exists it seems cruel that she found the future she deserved and it’s at risk of being taken away from her once again, writes Kim O’Meara.
Her owner Nicole Strauss tells us “She's so much more than just a dog to me, she reminds me every day that it’s possible to heal and trust and love. I can't let her down.”
After being rescued from China's dog meat trade alongside 150 other large dogs, she was one of 20 Tibetan Mastiffs saved.
Camilla Larsson is a Swedish animal nurse living in Hong Kong now, but at the time Nibble and her fellow dogs were saved she was living in Beijing. She heard their story and discovered eight of the 20 Tibetan Mastiffs were living in a shelter near to her so started ‘SaveTheTibetanMastiffs In China’ with the aim of rehabilitating and rehoming the dogs.
She says, “I took me one year, loads of hard work and money, but I did it! I found homes for all the dogs! The thing to understand about Tibetan Mastiffs is that they are banned in most places in China so it’s very difficult to find new owners, and even if I did, the risk is very high that they will end up on another truck again so I set out to find homes overseas and between July and October 2015 the dogs set off to their new homes.
“I found a home for Elvis, now named Moomkin, in the UK with Nicole Strauss and her husband, and a home in Sweden came forward for Nibble, who was perhaps the most traumatised out of the dogs. Nibble’s new owners were a couple living in the Swedish countryside so had lots of outdoor space.
But the future didn't turn out as hoped for Nibble
“Some months after Nibble had been rehomed, the couple divorced and it all became very sad for everyone involved and Nibble suffered. She remained with the wife who moved into a new house with a farmer neighbour who hated dogs and threatened her with a cattle prod! Nibble reacted to the threat and for her safety (the threat of euthanasia loomed over her) she needed to be rehomed. She had only been in Sweden for around eight months."
Camilla, always keen to keep an eye on how the dogs she had cared for were getting on in their homes, had kept in touch with Nicole Strauss, who had adopted Moomkin after being touched reading their story online. Camilla knew Moomkin was doing very well with his new family, which included other dogs, cats, rabbits and horses. When she heard about Nibble’s dire situation she contacted Nicole and between them, they came up with an emergency plan to help get her to safety.
“A friend bought some time by collecting her and taking her to a local shelter while I booked a flight from China to Sweden", said Camilla.
“I knew her very well after caring for her for a year and she trusted me. I came back, and Nibble was jumping with joy to see me! Not aggressive at all as everyone else thought, it was a relief to me and meant I could concentrate on finding her a new home.”
A rescue operation was put into motion
Nicole Strauss is a retired veteran from the US Airforce. She tells us that the rescue operation she and Camilla came up with was an “insane rescue operation” but it was crucial for Nibble’s safety that they had a plan for her after all she had been through in her short life already.
She says, “Thankfully, Camilla made it to Sweden in time, and she and her friend loaded Nibble into a car and drove her down to Hamburg, Germany. I was there waiting for them at a random highway rest station, having driven 13 hours overnight from England to meet them.
“It took us another 48 hours to get Nibble back to England, due to the fact that her previous owners had failed to keep her veterinary paperwork up to date. It was an awful two days. Nibble was scared, confused, starving, dirty and matted. She hated the car, hated all the vets we had to stop at, hated the hotel we stayed in, hated carpets, hated tile floors, hated stairs, hated the elevator, and didn't trust me in the least.
“Over the course of two days, she destroyed my car, ripping all of the weather stripping out around the doors, tearing in to the car ceiling, and puncturing the backseat airbags. To be honest, I was certain I'd made a mistake; this dog was not ever going to be rehabilitated.”
Reuniting Nibble and Moomkin didn't go as expected
Nicole tells us the next step in their plan was to reunite the two dogs.
“We did eventually get her home and all of the horrors of the last 48 hours were soon worth it. You see, Nibble and Moomkin came off that meat truck together, and survived in the Chinese shelter for six months with each other.
"They'd been separated for ten months now, and we weren't expecting much of a reunion. But we were wrong. When Nibble saw Moomkin, she lifted her head for the first time. Her tail, up until then tucked tightly between her legs, began to wave slowly. Her eyes, sad and empty, brightened. And then... she played. The joy in their reunion still brings me to tears every time I watch the video (below).
“We took Nibble in intending to rehabilitate and then rehome her again. We are a USAF family. I am a 100% disabled veteran, and my husband still serves on active duty. We have no kids, but we already had six dogs, three cats, bunnies, and horses.
"We are stationed in England, and our animals are our family, we move them whenever we move. We weren't in a position to take on yet another animal, but within a week, it was clear that separating Moomkin and Nibble again wasn't going to be an option”
Nibble, the dog who was too "damaged" to save, was starting to heal
Nicole tells us that Moomkin has been key to Nibble’s recover. And hers.
“Moomkin changed my life, lifted me out of a darkness I thought I'd never escaped. His happy face is my light in a storm, you know; even to this day. And he has been that for Nibble too.
“Nibble suffers from what I call doggie PTSD, a condition she and I share, as that is my disability as well. We often comfort each other after the worst of our nightmares.
"When she arrived she had nightmares every night, often startling herself awake with her own frantic barking and whining. But mostly, she sleeps peacefully now, unless the wind blows, of course, then she has to bark until the whole house knows that she's taking care of business."
‘Moomkin saved both of us’
"When we got Nibble, she was a dog who had been almost broken by human hands, having seen the worst this world can offer. I suppose that's another reason that I kept her because I am a rape survivor and was abused for six years. I honestly believe that she had given up on people, on life.
“When she came into my life, I recognised my own trauma in her face. But she survived. She did more than survive, she healed. Being reunited with Moomkin, having him to show her that she could trust us, having him to lean on, I think it saved her.
"He is her whole world, her safety blanket, her foundation. Nibble without Moomkin isn't even imaginable. The only thing that even compares for Nibble is how much she loves my husband.
“It's been a year and four months since Nibble came into our life. When we got her, her coat was ruined, so matted that shaving seemed the only option. But I was determined to save that gorgeous coat, and instead of shaving her, I spent hours and hours, slowly detangling mats, brushing her out carefully, babying her sore skin. Her coat is now a rich red again. When we got her, she was so skinny that my husband could wrap his hands around her waist and touch his thumbs and index fingers together... she was over 30 pounds underweight. She weighs in at a healthy 108 lbs now, perfect for her size.
“When she arrived with us she guarded her food ferociously, from us and the other dogs. She waits patiently in "her spot" at feeding time now and is happy to share a bite with us (but not the other dogs!).
“Watching her heal, being a part of her survival, has played a huge part in helping me heal as well. She is a happy, healthy dog, a much-loved member of our family.”
But a freak accident has put Nibble’s future at risk
This past Saturday, Nibble had a freak accident. She got overly excited while playing with Nicole’s Dalmatian, and fell out a second story window. She landed badly and dislocated her right hip.
Nicole says, “We got her to the vet, hoping they could return the hip to its socket, but instead, we got the worst possible news. Nibble's right hip has severe arthritis from her past of abuse and neglect.
"The joint has degenerated to the point that there is no hope of ever replacing the joint to its socket. In fact, it’s so bad that even a more minor surgery, removing the femoral head to alleviate pain, has been deemed not sufficient. Nibble requires a total hip replacement if she is ever going to live pain-free again.”
Preparing to say goodbye when saying goodbye isn’t an option
“I won't lie to you. I said earlier that we didn't have the means to keep Nibble, and we didn't. We kept her because rehoming her away from Moomkin wasn't an option and because we agreed that we would provide routine care and upkeep, but that if Nibble ever got really sick or really hurt, we would humanely euthanize her. So, when I got the quote from the surgeons on the hip replacement, I asked to see Nibble one last time in preparation for putting her down.”
“Nibble was waking slowly from anaesthesia, which she had been under to attempt to return the hip to its socket. It was taking a long time for her to wake up, and I thought it would be best to put her down before she woke up fully. But when I stepped into that room, Nibble finally raised her head.
"She looked at me, whined softly, and pulled herself to her feet. As I dropped to my knees, she limped over to me, dropped her head in my lap, and sighed; a big, contended, trusting sigh. And I couldn't say the words that would end her life.
Can you help Nibble?
At the beginning, I told you this would be a story that would stay with me. I expect having read this, it will with you too.
Nibble has survived so, so much in her short life. She is only three or four years old and had been let down by people at every turn.
Nicole says, “The vet was relieved when I told her I couldn't do it. She told me that Nibble's chances for recovery with the surgery were excellent, that Nibble has a long and pain-free life ahead of her if only we can raise the funds to save her.
"I have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the nearly £10,000 it will cost to replace Nibble's hip. Her original rescuers and others involved in stopping the meat trade in Asia have shared and shared, trying to drum up enough donations to save Nibble's life. We've raised £1885 over the last two days, and I am so grateful. But we are a long, long way from being able to get her a new hip.
“Moomkin and Nibble came into my life less than a year after I came forward with what happened to me and was separated from the military because I sought mental health counselling to deal with what had happened to me.
“My Tibetan Mastiffs have been an enormous part of my own recovery. I've been lucky to be touched by many amazing dogs in my life. My female German Shepherd literally saved my life while I was first becoming symptomatic, preventing me from following through on a suicide in early 2012.
"Our two Dalmatians are therapy dogs who work with sexual abuse victims and special needs students, they're incredible to watch. I utilise a Service Dog to cope with my disability, I can't even leave my house without him, that's my male Shepherd, who was born on my bed and has been with me every second of every day since.
“In many, many ways, they saved me far more than I saved them. Nibble is so much more than just a dog to me, she reminds me every day that it’s possible to heal and trust and love. I can't let her down. She found the happiness she deserves with us, with Moomkin, we have to do this for her so she can continue to live the life she found after so much heartache.
“My dogs have done so much for me, I owe them, I owe her. I'll do whatever it takes to repay them for all the hope and joy they've given me; I guess we're all survivors and that's a bond you can't break.”