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Most of us couldn't handle that loss any more than a handful of times in our lives, but for Melanie Bruski, who lives in Temecula, Calif., it's a regular occurrence.
Bruski rescues mostly sick and elderly Golden Retrievers, so these canines will die in someone's arms knowing someone cared for and loved them, if only for a little while.
Bruski has saved well over 100 dogs in her rescue work. She doesn't know how many she's lost overall, but says she lost 15 in just one year.
"The best part is getting the old ones," said Bruski. "I will take a 14-year-old over a puppy any day, because those are the ones no one wants."
Bruski, 27, has been involved in rescue for the past four years, in between balancing a full-time job and caring for her family, which includes a husband, two children, a teenage niece, four dogs, two cats, and two hermit crabs.
Bruski's husband is also an animal lover and his mother is involved with the Southern California Golden Rescue. Bruski is a board member of that organization and she volunteers with Labs and Friends of San Diego.
Bruski is ironically allergic to dog slobber and also sports a large tattoo on her forearm to hide a scar from a dog that attacked her during one of her shelter visits. She doesn't discuss any hardships she has endured in her rescue work, but she openly shares all of the stories of the animals she's loved.
Most are senior Golden Retrievers, but Bruski will rescue any dog that tugs on her heart.
Her recent wards have included a three-legged Yellow Lab, a four-month-old lab puppy that was being abused, a 14-year-old golden mix with a tumor behind his eye that has since been removed, and Joshie, a Golden with a deformed spine. "We called him Crazy Legs because his back legs had a mind of their own," said Bruski. "He has had surgery and he was immediately adopted."
Bruski recalls Henry, a Golden whose owners dropped him off at the shelter because he had a severe case of Cushing's Disease. "He could barely walk and was bloated," says Bruski. "He weighed 125 pounds, but I managed to carry him to the car."
Henry only survived a short time after Bruski got him home. "He was loved for an hour, at least he got to die in the arms of someone who really loved him," says Bruski.
She also recently added Joy to her family, a nearly deaf and blind 11-year-old dog that was 25 pounds underweight, covered in fleas and ticks, and so weak she could barely lift her head in the shelter. Today, after proper care and surgeries to remove mastitis and tumors in her nipples, she has gained 20 pounds and she is sporting the coat and attitude of a well-loved dog.
Of the dogs Bruski has rescued that were adoptable, she has found homes for all but one so far. She doesn't know what accounts for her high adoption rate.
Perhaps her passion for the homeless and broken is contagious.