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Romeo Is My OWN

By Sherri Beachfront Lewis

August 13, 2010

Summer 2010 started off with a bang! I took a leap of faith into the "un-OWN" -- the upcoming Oprah Winfrey Network -- along with thousands of other hopefuls who pitched their show ideas online and at open casting calls across the country. After 143 million votes, the top online vote-getters were selected, and the rest remain to be seen. In other words, I'm still waiting to hear!

Maybe I'm crazy but I'm still thinking "maybe," because you never know. Truthfully it was such a blast to do! I made a great video with 2 positive friends (The "Un-Oprah Submission"), I made so I made so many new Facebook friends I had to start a new page, POZ Magazine featured me online, and I was honored to be July's Ambassador for Dab the AIDS Bear!

The "Un-Oprah Submission"

I was overwhelmed with love and support from the HIV community, the gay community, musicians and recovery communities. I received a recovery necklace, a key with a calendar with my clean time indicated with a small gemstone, along with appearances on a variety of podcasts -- from POZIAM with my friend and fellow blogger Robert Breining, to Rockers in Recovery Radio!

To top it off I was asked to be on CNN Prime Time News with Phill Wilson, CEO and Founder of the Black AIDS Institute to talk about the new possibilities for a promising vaccine with Dab the AIDS Bear on my lap! Stepping out of my comfort zone into a new dimension had already proven to me "the joy really is in the journey."

On July 16, that changed. It was a beautiful Friday afternoon, my beautiful rescue dog Romeo and I go for our usual walk around our Hollywood neighborhood, often to get a smoothie and for Romeo to socialize with his buddies there. As we were halfway down the block I see 3 pit bulls sitting at the outdoor cafe at Baja Fresh on Sunset Blvd. I'm thinking maybe we should cross the street and go on the other side but just as I finished that thought one of the pit bulls got free of his pack and charged Romeo!

My heart stopped, I screamed and hit my knees trying to get my dog out of the pit bulls mouth. The dog owner ran to try and release his dogs grip off Romeo but to no avail. I was pulling Romeo, screaming "Get your dog off my dog! Get him off!" The crowd started to circle around us. Finally I got Romeo out, his trembling body and his little jaws biting at the air in shock, still fighting a dog that wasn't there. He bit my finger in the struggle to get him free; he bit my face in the midst of his own terror.

I had blood all over my summer white clothes, feet and sandals. Carrying my Romeo cradled in my arms like a baby, tears running down my face and horror at the condition of my Romeo, his skin hanging off the side, his leg I saw the pit bull pulling like it was a chicken leg for dinner. Running with Romeo in my arms people ran behind me, one woman yelling at me, "Don't let him get away with this! Get his name!" "I can't," I yelled back. "I just want to get my dog to the emergency."

Driving across Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon to get to the west side where I trust the vet care, I call their emergency from my car. "We'll be waiting for you Sherri," they said. Romeo was taken in. He was in very bad shape. They said they needed to do exploratory surgery since he was badly bruised on his belly, an area I hadn't even seen.

Romeo gets a special visit from Dab the AIDS Bear!

Romeo gets a special visit from Dab the AIDS Bear!

Then the payment issue comes up. "You will need to make a deposit." I knew, having had dogs live into old age, what we were talking about. "How many thousands of dollars is this going to be? Is it under $10,000?" "Yes, but we will need a deposit," she said. We agreed on the amount of the deposit to get things going and the running bill began. "We will be taking him into surgery immediately." the vet said. "We'll give you a call when he's out of surgery." I'm a mess.

Romeo's progress was good and he was released to me with instructions for all his various medications, painkillers, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds and the collar -- every dog's nightmare! Amazing, 3 days in the hospital, over $5,000 later and counting, and he was home with me. But I have no name of the dog owner, no dog and I am frustrated and frightened at how little protection you actually have, that it is just all an illusion. My building security, the LAPD, Animal Regulations, it's really up to us, the community of friends and animal lovers and activists. Sunnie Rose, Executive Director of The Life Group L.A. created a page for Romeo to raise funds for his vet bill. (You can also read the full version of Romeo's story and get updates on his health status there)

Let's just go home now!

Let's just go home now!

I wish Romeo's recovery were a straight road. But it was not. After a few days of missing his personality, not being himself and calling the vet several times a day asking, "Is he acting like this because of the meds?" "Is he in pain?" "Fear?" "He's just not himself." They said, "You know your dog best." "If you think something's wrong with him, bring him in." So I did. It turned out he had a severe infection in the wound on his leg. He had to have another procedure to have drains put in to remove the fluids. "The good news is he has no fever which is good," the doctor said. "You got him here before he became toxic."

When I finally get Romeo home, I'm overwhelmed and feel unqualified. He now needs warm heat packs for 10 minutes on his wounds several times a day. I'm freaked. But Romeo is calm, and I never hear him bark. I miss my jumping barking dog. Not a sound. I want my dog back. My perfect beautiful little dog. Then I remember. He could have died. He could have lost his leg and his life. I'm blessed to have him here with me. Tubes, blood and all, lying on his disposable dog pads that need to be changed frequently as his drains run the nasty fluids out of his body.

Four days later Romeo has his appointment to remove his drains and some of his stitches. The clean surgical cut that once had dark purple bruising is now pink and healed. Amazing.

Romeo, drug and pain free.

Romeo, drug and pain free.

Romeo is happiest when he is out and surrounded by people. The hands he used to fear at the vet are now his friends, all of them. He loves everybody, but is terrified of the sound of any dog, small or large. That, I'm afraid, will take some time and some work re socializing him.

Currently Romeo is no longer in pain but still needs his warm compresses several times a day to keep the fluids moving out of his leg. The dog's owner is yet to be found. Baja Fresh on Sunset could be liable.

For many of us, especially in the HIV and LGBT communities, our pets are our children, members of our family. Like Romeo, some of us have been rescued by our communities -- and some of us have been rescued by our own dogs! I want to thank my good friend Shannon Von Roemer, owner of Bark n Bitches, for hosting Dogs Without Borders Rescue Group where I found my Romeo, who rescued my broken heart and continues to teach me every day about courage, love and healing.

Now where the heck is my OWN show already?!

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