What my foster dog’s body revealed about his past, and why I couldn’t let him go

By Shirliana Varod Gili Glassberg

Dogs really do break your heart. They heal them too though, which is how we came to get Mister Melvin. 

The day after Christmas, our beloved Boxer had to be put to sleep. It was our second dog in two years to pass away, and my husband and I decided we did not want to keep going through the agony of losing our pets.

We decided to foster so that our remaining dog would have a companion. This was a safe option we felt; after all, how can you get attached to an animal that isn’t even yours?

First foster

I watched my email every day. Within two weeks a foster request appeared in my inbox and I jumped on it. There were two boys that needed homes, and even though I was hoping for a female, I immediately wrote and offered our services for either one of them. The next day I received the news and excitedly told my husband we were soon-to-be foster parents for a boy named Melvin.

Little did I know how fast my life would would be changing. Looking back, I should have had an inkling when, within one minute of arriving at my house, Melvin marked on my kitchen rug and less than five minutes later did it again on the side of the couch.

“No big deal,” I told myself. “He looks smart and he’ll learn quick enough about going outside.” Oh, how innocent I was at that point, and what a newbie I was to this whole fostering thing.


I was right about Melvin being smart, and I would soon find out this wasn’t exactly going to work in my favor. No matter how much I doggie-proofed my home, Melvin would find a way to get into things and I’d continually return from work to find everything in shambles.

But Melvin always met me at the door, his little tail bobbing non-stop. He was so glad to see me, like I was a famous Hollywood starlet or something. It was impossible to get mad at him despite hours of clean-up and the breakage of so many of my precious things.

We bought a crate and it contained Melvin for all of a week. When I arrived home one day, he ecstatically greeted me at the door and once again everything was in shambles. After that, we went through a series of padlocks—first small luggage types that he was able to break through, and finally a total of eight heavy-duty ones that proved inescapable.

He’s staying

One day I waved one of my hands in the air and Melvin crouched down and looked up at me in fear. His soft, brown eyes revealed he was expecting a blow.

It broke my heart because obviously someone had done that before. For as much trouble as this boy caused me, it was nothing compared to his sweet and gentle disposition regardless of whatever his past life had been like.

I knew without a doubt at that very moment that I could not bear to let my boy go to someone else. We were keeping him; I wasn’t the only one falling in love with him.

Every passing day brought us closer together. Almost immediately I called him Mister Melvin, because he is past the puppy stage, and as long as we have him we think he deserves the respect he didn’t get in the past.

Telltale haircut

I thought I had come to terms with Mister Melvin’s previous life. I knew little about it except that it wasn’t a good one.

We didn’t know if he had ever been to a groomer, but we wanted him to start getting used to it, so we made an appointment and I was so excited to see him all “fancied” up.

But we picked him up and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Mister Melvin has scars. They are visible now that he’s not covered in long, curly hair. He has them on his back and his sides and up the length of one of his legs—long, hairless gashes that reflect years of a much harder life than what he deserves.

We are not sure to what degree he was mistreated or maybe starved or beaten, but we know he was left alone to wander and to befall whatever mishaps crossed his paths, sometimes ripping his skin. Our vet says some of the marks are from a chain and him being tangled in it for long periods of time.

Second chances have new meaning

It occurred to me that we all have scars of some sort, and maybe mine are not as easily visible as those on Mister Melvin, but through love, understanding and patience, we can soothe the pains that those once raw wounds caused each of us. And while it doesn’t make them go away, they become more bearable.

That even one shelter dog is passed over for a more expensive breeder dog is heartbreaking to me. And it’s not necessarily the fault of the new owners—because not everybody knows the plight of these defenseless animals, who through no fault of their own, find themselves abandoned and alone in overcrowded shelters and worse.

Before learning about English Springer Rescue America and seeing all the emails about Springers needing to be rescued, I certainly wasn’t aware of the gravity of the the situation and the immense need. We never would have considered a shelter dog, instead paying up to $1,000 for each of our previous dogs.

Mister Melvin could teach a few people about love and forgiveness. I’m going to think of something I can do so that my experiences with him can make a difference in the life of others and not just my own.

We were meant to find each other for a reason. I am so proud of how he has learned how to live in a house, how to walk on a leash and even shake hands with visitors. He has turned into a very distinguished gentleman with penchant for fun and games!

Shirliana Varod Gili Glassberg is owned by Tabby cat Mr. B. Jun, Springer Mister Melvin Daniel Glassberg and Poodle Coco Chanel.