Monthly Archives: January 2012

More thoughts about dogs.


I am sure this will come as no surprise to anyone, but, I spend a lot of time thinking about dogs. Often, my thoughts turn to why so many of us love them…I usually come up with lots of reason, but, none really fully captures “it”. The reasons I come up with are things like loyalty, companionship, unconditional love, trust and devotion. We get all those things from our dogs…if we treat them right. But, while those are good reasons, I think there is a lot more to it. Looking at my own dogs, I think of the sacrifices Paul & I make daily on their behalf: we get way less than our fair share of bed and blanket, we get up in the middle of the night to let Old Man Rocco out, we experiment with different types of food to find something he likes, and most recently, let Rocco make the decision about whether or not we brought another foster dog home. He decided “definitely not”, and while we were disappointed, we agree that he deserves to be happy and comfortable in his old age. Forcing him to make new friends is not fair. Savannah is pretty easy…age hasn’t caught up with her yet, she will eat whatever you put in front of her and likes every dog she meets. Rocco, on the other hand, is what I would call prickly. But, his prickliness and her laid- back personality is what reminds me that just like people, each dog is an individual. And, then my thoughts turn to how many dogs don’t get the chance to show people who they are and what they are capable of. And, that is why I make the trek as often as possible from New Hope, Pa. to Philadelphia to meet and get to know those dogs..the ones who never knew a bed, ate from garbage pails and maybe somehow survived living their whole lives outdoors in extreme weather or in dark basements. Or maybe they lived with people who didn’t really consider them at all, they were “just a dog” and they were just there, until some circumstance caused the person to decide that this other life that lived in their house was “too much responsibility” or “didn’t live up to my expectations”.
I guess at this point I shouldn’t be so surprised at just how shitty people can be to animals, but, every time I read a new story, I am as appalled, shocked and devastated as I was by the first. And, it does devastate me. I think of our Angie, skinny, scared, still a puppy and tied up and left somewhere to fend for herself. I think of all the dogs I see in the shelter who shake with fear, or the ones who continue to look hopeful, despite having no meat on their bones or are covered with wounds, or are losing hair from mange or stress…..and I think WHY??? I want to cry in sadness and scream in rage. Instead, I open the door to the kennel, put the leash around their neck and take them outside for some fresh air, some loving and a chance to do their business someplace other than where they sleep and eat. I save the sadness and the rage for when I walk out the door. I think about their reliance on us to provide them the things they need, and how some people simply ignore that. I will never understand that. And, I hope my rage and my sadness never go away, because they are a clear counterpoint to the joy and elation I feel when one of those dogs chases a ball and brings it back, or sits on command. Without the negative emotions, the positive ones wouldn’t be nearly as powerful. I feel deep sadness when a dog I have met is euthanized, or even if I haven’t met the dog, but, know one of my shelter friends really cared about the dog, as well as, wanting to sing and dance when one gets adopted.
So, that brings me back to my original question about why we love dogs. For me, I think it is sort of a selfish altruism. I do all of these things because I care about the welfare of these animals, whether they are my own or not. My caring about them provides my soul with something that is crucial to my own well-being: knowing that I did what I could. I may not always enjoy getting up in the middle of the night to let Rocco out (and truthfully, Paul does it more often than I do), but, I do, because he needs me to. I would not be living up to my job as his guardian if I did not. I may not enjoy all the dogs I take out at the shelter, but, I never blame the dog. I think of all the ways humans have failed them that led them to where they are and why they behave the way they do (ie, smearing poop all over the kennel and themselves) and approach with compassion and a heart that is full of hope for them anyway. I slip the leash around their neck and hope they don’t get poop all over me, too. I will continue to do this as long as there is a need and I don’t expect the need to go away soon. Though dogs have been domestic companions for thousands of years, we still have a lot to learn from them. My greatest hope is that more people start to listen to them. Humans made dogs into what they are: we owe them far more patience and compassion than they are often given.


Reality? Check.


This morning, I went down to the shelter to help take the pictures that are used to help get dogs adopted. It was cold, it was early and I was thrilled to be there. This stinky place that is full of sick animals, desperate animals and scared animals is one of my favorite places to be. Though I loved fostering Angie (and we look forward to fostering another… *Tony??*) the truth is, not being able to get there as often as I would like was hard. I miss the smell, I miss the sound, I miss feeling like I am part of something very special when I don’t get there. I truly believe you would be hard- pressed to find a more dedicated group of people than the ACCT volunteers. There are hard decisions made about euthanasia made there almost daily and instead of letting it get them down, it spurs them on. It makes them think outside the box, try harder and advocate even more for Philadelphia’s homeless pets.
Since I started volunteering in September, I have seen more dogs and cats than I can count be euthanized. I do not blame the shelter for that. If anything, from what I see, ACCT is far more invested in getting animals out alive than shelters in many other cities across the country. The volunteer program is a big part of that. And, it’s a big volunteer program…so, so many people who work so hard for no money, lots of heartbreak and the overwhelming reward of seeing an adoptable animal placed in a loving home. I can tell you from my experience with Angie, that knowing you did right by someone who needed you is an amazing feeling.
From the seemingly smallest gesture of compassion (like making sure a house-trained dog gets out of the kennel to do his/her business) to the training, the pictures, the marketing, the fostering, the events, whatever needs to be done, these people work their asses off to make sure it gets done…that as many dogs and cats find homes, and if that doesn’t happen, that they know love in their last days, hours and minutes. These people have jobs, they go to school, they have kids, pets of their own…yet, they keep showing up. It inspires me, it gives me energy that few other things in my life have. Rather than letting the sadness of a well-liked dog or cat being euthanized get me down, it causes my compassion to grow. I don’t know about everyone else, but, for me, it fills a very spiritual space in me. Helps me to feel like I am part of something bigger to myself. I know it is not for everyone, but, it is for me and I am so grateful for it. I am so grateful for all the people I have met since I started for helping me and for showing me what it means to love something that someone else decided was unlovable. For showing me what means to let compassion be your guide. For showing me that loving a shelter animal often comes with a difficult reality, but, that the power of love is more potent than the powerlessness that we often feel. Today, I spent time with a dog I knew was likely to be euthanized. It was sad, but, I gave him some special treats and he enjoyed being outside for a while. Rather than dwell on the sadness (which is immense) I have been able to focus on thinking of him with his nose in the air, sniffing the wind and enjoying some goodies. I try to do this whenever I know someone has been euthanized, after I allow myself a good cry.
There are lots of reasons to be sad, to feel sorry for these animals. But, I think there are more reasons enjoy them, to laugh with them…to love them. Today, I left the shelter with dirty clothes, numb toes and a full heart. It was one of my favorite Sunday mornings ever. 🙂