Image by Earthschool harmony
A Tale of Three (or Four) Dogs
When I rescued my first three dogs from Roswell Animal Control’s “death row” a year ago, I couldn’t understand why these dogs were sitting unclaimed and unwanted in the dog pound. With a little bit of time, patience and love, they blossomed into delightful butterflies and today I could not imagine their not being a part of my life.
I cried over Michael when I realized how many scars he had from being abused at such a young age. Lydia must have spent her whole life “on watch” . . . her torn ear tips were a testament to her having had to fend for herself. It has taken a whole year for her to “relax.” Sunshine was and still is my great communicator . . . she just wanted to belong . . . cheered Michael and Lydia on and tried to let them, as well as the others who followed, know that everything was going to be fine. Everything is her business, and much like the stereotypical “Jewish mother,” she insists on being included in every “conversation.” . . . I can almost hear her telling the others, “Oh, let me tell you what you need to do because I know everything.” If you think that dogs don’t “talk” to each other, just watch a pack of dogs in different situations.
As the killing in Roswell rose to new heights, I added more because they had to go someplace to live . . . they deserved a chance at life and should not have to pay such a dear price for owner irresponsibility. I was amazed at how quickly they blended into my established pack and asked myself the same question: “Why didn’t someone love you enough to look for you?”
As I started to look for homes for them, I realized that they needed time to become “adoptable.” Most were seriously undersocialized, all of them were sick and malnourished, none of them had been spayed or neutered, and none of them had any training in basic manners. Any of these could drive an inexperienced or uncommitted adopter to return or surrender the dog, but this last one was the most critical because even today, lack of training accounts for most of the owner surrenders . . . usually the first to be destroyed at the pound, especially if they come in with a label, such as “aggressive.”
Honeybear is a perfect example. She was next in line for the “death room” because her owner surrendered her for being “unmanageable.” The animal control staff also added that she was just an “ordinary brown” dog so she would probably never be adopted in time. She was only eight months old, highly excitable, had little patience, and zero manners. She was still a puppy that only wanted to play and be hugged. She had no concept of her size, and that she wasn’t designed to be a lap dog.
Six months later, she has grown into a beautiful young lady, who tries very hard to control her “exuberance” and is eager to learn. She’s become much more focused and attentive to cues, and is truly a joy to teach. . . a model student and a teacher’s dream!
The Birth of a “Rescue” and the Big “R”
When I decided to formalize my organization, Extraordinary Dogs Inc., it cost me much time and personal finances to incorporate and apply for a nonprofit tax exempt status, which I needed for funding to continue rescue work. My intent was never to be a “rescue” solely or primarily. I knew that it would take time, training and adequate pre-screening to make sure that the adopted dogs did not end up back in the pound or another shelter. So I chose my focus to be teaching to the dog’s skills or special talents, sometimes customizing the training for service or therapy work. It was important for me to showcase these unwanted dogs as the worthy companions that they truly are in order to fight the stigma that shelter/pound dogs are useless or damaged goods. So my organization is primarily a training and enrichment center that works solely with dogs I rescue from the “death row” of high kill facilities.
There are many rescue organizations out there. Some are legitimate and outstanding in placing dogs in good homes. Others are at the other end of the spectrum . . . posing as “rescues” or “no kill shelters”, when in reality, the dogs they supposedly rescue simply disappear after time . . . some are dumped back in a defunct county or city animal control facility, or worse.
Well meaning people who follow the volunteer shelter pages of high-kill facilities are desperate to save the lives of the dogs pictured. Money is pledged, rescues are contacted, people are tagged and pleaded with, and when someone does step forward and rescues the animal, cheers and applause . . . high drama on the internet. The truth of the matter is, pledges of money seldom come through and once the dog or cat is out, that’s it. Everyone moves on to the next case and leaves the rescue/puller to fend for him or herself in terms of placing the animal and footing the cost of veterinary care. When rescues were banned in Roswell and they were killing 10 dogs per day, I would put a plea out for funds to “adopt” the dogs at $40 apiece. People donated enough for 3-4 dogs, which I pulled. But I had to take care of the vet bill for spay/neuter and kennel cough, which often required more than one round of antibiotics.
This is the big “R” of Rescue . . . responsibility. It’s not enough to just save their lives, there has to be a plan for them to go to a safe place and get what they need to heal, and not be shuffled around from shelter to shelter to whatever. I foster all the dogs I pull, as a rescue or as an adopter, because they need a place where they can learn to feel safe and secure. If you follow this blog, you know how much emphasis I place on the emotional health of dogs. They know when they are not wanted, and yet they tolerate so much neglect and apathy in the hopes of getting some crumbs of affection. That’s why I make it clear to them that my home is their home for as long as they need or want. It’s not a matter of my “hanging on to them” because I can’t let them go. It’s a matter of timing . . . when they’re ready and when the right home shows up. The “Universe” does not always march to our rhythm
My adoption rate is 100% . . . every dog that was adopted is still with his or her family, loved and happy, and the dog let me know that there was a family waiting for him or her. Communicating with dogs is not difficult if you get yourself out of the way, especially when you live and work with them 24/7.
“Happily Ever After . . . “
A dear friend commented to me that my terms of adoption were perhaps too strict, that I needed to get more dogs adopted and that maybe I should forego the fee just to get them into homes. When you’re involved in a heart-wrenching business like rescuing from high-kill shelters, you need a friend to force you to question and clarify things to yourself, and to keep tabs on your sanity, which is exactly what I did.
I have always been a firm believer in education and it distresses me to see how few people. especially those of the younger generation, see little or no value in being a lifelong learner. The joy of learning about ourselves, our world and its inhabitants seems to have no place in today’s society. Everything seems to revolve around instant gratification and fame, and the non-human inhabitants of this planet often pay the price for our narcissism.
Sadly, the world is full of evil people with all sorts of dysfunctions, some that are deadly for animals in their custody . . . and these people are skilled liars. We see this over and over. They collect animals for their own deviant purposes, steal them from yards, etc.
In my little world of rescue, education starts with the adoption contract, because it’s a prescription for the care of the dog for the rest of his or her life. It also screens out anyone who cannot or will not provide the best home possible. There is nothing in my contract that a responsible owner who loves his/her pet, would or should object to, and I provide them with complimentary training if they need. It goes back to being a “responsible rescue.” I cannot and will not send them to anything less than what I have given them, and I am willing to educate and coach owners to provide a good life for these dogs.
A Soul’s Journey
So why do I do it? I have gone through most of my emergency funds and every month stretch my retirement checks to the limit. The only time I get a little panicked is when I’m on my last bag of dog food and “payday” is still a week away. But somehow, funds show up from some angel in my world. I do it for the same reason that Viktor in Latvia shelters 100+ dogs and cats, or the young man in Serbia maintains a sanctuary for over 400 dogs, or the veterinarian in Kathmandu gathers the homeless dogs to keep them from being poisoned. Because someone has to. If we are so adamant that life is sacred, it has to be so for every living being. Once you’ve been made aware of some injustice or need, to do nothing is death for your soul.
For me, it’s a spiritual quest . . . and I promise that what they bring to my world is equal if not more than what I give them. I welcome dogs into my world because I love them. It’s really that simple. I don’t see myself as a “savior” for any of the animals that cross my path. There’s a reason they find their way to me. I accept who they are, I hear them, and our life together is based on mutual love, cooperation and harmony.
Each dog has quality alone time with me . . . and those that need an extra snuggle before they go to bed let me know and often the last few hours before bedtime are shared with several little ones in my lap. When all is said and done, what I want for each of them is that others see these little beings through my eyes and recognize that they have souls as individual and precious as every one of us.
How magical dogs and all animals are, when we take the time to acknowledge them. Our dogs today are a product of millennia of selective breeding and genetic programming to be the perfect companion, the only species that is born in love with us humans, as ungrateful and undeserving as we are. No human ever has to walk this earth alone, regardless of life circumstances, thanks to the beautiful heart of a dog.
I believe that all of us are here for a bigger reason than just to accumulate stuff and survive. There’s a calling for each of us and those of us who recognize what it is before we hit the grave, are the lucky ones, because once we do and act on it, we nourish our soul, heal our heart and we grow into the spiritual being that is often ignored within us. There are so many opportunities for us to serve and improve life on this plane of existence. We only need to look around and choose a cause that speaks to us.
This life is so full of mysteries and incongruences. We spend it questioning and analyzing and often, the answers seem to elude us, even when they’re right under our noses. Sometimes we just have to stop and get quiet, and listen, whether it’s to our animal companions or to the “wiser self” within us.
My heart is full and my soul is at peace . . . so I must be doing what I was meant to do.
A Final Note
I am grateful every day for the many gifts in my life . . . the dear friends who support, understand and care about me; for the intervention of God/the “Universe” whenever I come to a crossroad; for the ability to experience the joy and beauty of every day; for the precious furry beings who share my journey; for so much more . . . a never-ending list.
I am truly blessed. I wish for all of you, dear readers, that your lives are as rich and fulfilling as mine.