It’s funny how life changes. Sometimes the changes are subtle and sometimes they are dramatic. The gray hairs and the sun damage have been subtle…the emotional shift has been dramatic. A few years ago, if you asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I probably would have said something like a Coach purse or an iPad or some kind of fancy,expensive thing. Those kinds of things don’t even really enter my thinking anymore. My focus has shifted dramatically in the past year and most of that has to do with my father’s illness and passing. There is nothing like losing someone who helped shape who you are to cause you to examine that very thing and ask yourself the question: who am I?
Of course that question is pretty complex, but, what I have found in the last year is that the things I once valued are no longer the things I value now. A Coach purse might be nice, but, it does not make my heart swell with love the way seeing a deserving animal saved does. An iPad might be fun, but, a dog who busts out of his crate in the car to cover me in kisses is more fun.
My dad dying at 60 did much more than remind me that life is short. It reminded me that life is to be lived and to be lived doing things you enjoy. For my dad, those things were eating good food, spending time with people he loved and enjoying a good game…with or without tailgate, at the stadium or at home, but always, fully decked out in team gear. My dad taught me a lot about life, both in his approach to living and in his approach to illness and death. I am still learning about a lot of things and I know there are things he would wish I was doing better, but, I do believe he would agree with the path I have chosen. Do I spend a lot of money saving dogs? Yes…fosters at the Nanan house are treated like royalty. Have I donated a lot of money? Yes…but, if my $5 contribution helps a dog get needed surgery, or cats removed from a hoarding situation medical care, it’s worth it to me every time I click “donate”. Have I spent an inordinate amount of time crying for dogs who have either died or may die? Yes…but, they are worth every tear.
The thing that started all of this for me and inspired to me get involved is an organization called “Lovefourpaws” and a woman named Teri. I don’t know how I found the L4P page on Facebook, but, it was literally a life-changing event. I started following what was going on at ACCT in Philadelphia. I was inspired by the events, the fundraising, the awareness raising and, most of all, the updates and pictures Teri posted of her Pen Pals. I was struck by the dedication I saw to the dogs at ACCT by the volunteers. Though all I did for a while was drop off donations for Teri,I kept thinking that I wanted to do more. My heart was still raw from losing my dad, so, it took a while to work up the courage to ask her about volunteering. But, once I did and went to orientation, I have never looked back. It is quite literally the best thing I have ever done. I have met some truly amazing people, spent time with incredible dogs, some who have moved on to fantastic lives and some who were not as lucky and gotten to share this experience with my husband and brother, who also started volunteering.
So, what is my birthday wish? It is that more people have the good fortune I have had to find a passion. There were many times last year where I honestly wondered if life was worth living and if anything was really worth trying for. Bringing Angie home and literally saving her life and nursing her back to health was a first step towards realizing that it is worth it. Making friends like Michelle, who cried with me in the mall food court when I told her my story, helped me realize it is worth it. Sobbing on the phone with Nora, when our Pen Pal Gidget was saved at the very last minute helped me realize it is worth it. Watching my husband and my brother enjoy the company of a shelter dog or marvel at Jenga’s progress help me realize it is worth it.
I have been on a bit of a shelter hiatus the past two weeks. Our business is taking off, and after 2 close calls with Pen Pals, I felt like I needed a bit of a breather. While there is little in life that has scared or upset me more than knowing a dog I have worked with and come to love may die, there is little sweeter than when they are saved. But, sometimes the wild roller coaster of emotions can be hard to process. With the upcoming anniversary of my dad’s passing, I have felt like it is more than I can handle. But, tomorrow is a big clean-up, organized by someone I have come to consider a good friend, Lara. So, I will be there to do whatever needs to be done. And, I will get to do it with the most amazingly dedicated group of people I have ever met.
Sometimes, like most people, my life is hard. I have inherited a lot of responsibilities that I am not always sure how to manage. I have taken on a lot of things that sometimes feel really heavy and unfixable. But, because of the people in my life who support and love me, most days I am able to keep moving forward.
I am grateful for everything I have learned this past year. Grateful for every tear, for every hug and for every struggle. Truly grateful.
In other news, Jenga goes to her forever home on Monday. That’s gonna be hard, but, we are excited for her and her new family. We are confident that she will get all the love she deserves. We will miss her tremendously…Jenga has added more love and laughter to our lives than we ever expected. And, to think that someone else thought so little of her that they didn’t come looking for her. Crazy. I’ll never understand that part…the idea that cats and dogs are disposable, that they don’t matter. So, I guess that’s one of my birthday wishes, too: that more dogs like Jenga get the chance to live a full life…one of love, good food and devoted humans who would do anything to ensure their happiness. I can hardly think of anything more gratifying….and fun 🙂