It was just supposed to be a donation. Part of the downsizing. Just a quick stop. Drop off the blankets, the sheets, the bedspreads, the old towels. Then turn around and go.
In honor of Reggie and Lizzie, I made two trips to Athens-Clarke County Animal Control this week.
Just to drop off sheets, towels and bedspreads.
But…it was much more than that.
No, I did not adopt a dog. But as soon as I heard the chorus of barking when I exited the car, I should have known, like the children hearing the flute of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I would not be able to leave without looking at the dogs in the kennels.
When I got out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the redneck guy with a huge, macho-looking black pickup truck, stocked up to the brim with tires in the bed of the truck – doing what I hate most, what I can’t stand, what I fight against – he was surrendering his dog to the shelter. He handed his medium-sized, light-colored dog, on a rope to the shelter worker. The dog looked at him with its tail wagging, not understanding what was happening – he watched as his owner walked away without even petting him or saying goodbye. He just strutted back to his truck. He looked at me, and I looked away. (I won’t tell you what I was thinking or what I wanted to say – especially on my public blog, but if you are a regular reader of my blog, or if you know me personally, I’m sure you can imagine).
Thank goodness he didn’t just dump the dog on the road – or tie him up somewhere and just leave him – that would be far worse, and too many people around the world do just that.
I know for a fact he did surrender his dog because his dog, Scar, was one of the dogs I saw in the kennels not long afterward. He had not been there long, but he already looked terrified and lost and confused.
And Scar, you did not deserve that. There is always another way – but again, I remind myself, it is better than leaving him on the road. This way, he has a chance – someone, or a rescue group, may save him.
But this is not a no-kill shelter. That’s why they are closed every Wednesday.
When I entered the lobby, I brought the four or five bags inside and asked if I could also donate the wool blanket that Reggie had soiled before he died. Unfortunately, for health code reasons, they could not wash it there, but I did take it to the laundry on Prince where I went a few weeks ago, and Michelle, gladly took it and told me she would not even charge me to clean it since I am donating it to the animal shelter.
As I turned toward the door that led to the kennels, I took a deep breath. I could hear the dogs from the inside, and once I entered the walkway of the front kennels, it was strange – I felt like I was listening to a concert – but it was not soothing – the dogs’ howls ranged from desperate to agonizing to angry to sorrowful to hopeful. It did not bother me as far as the noise, it was more like music to my ears – hearing dogs barking does not phase me at all – they must truly be my soulmates in another life, as well as this one. I am very sensitive to loud noises, but not dogs barking. Though, the sound of the dogs in their emotional pain did create these waves in the center of my chest, where my heart chakra is – it drew me to them, and I could not help but bear witness to their pain and to their longing for someone, anyone kind, to take them home and give them a forever human to love.
The first two dogs were pitbulls, and I have to tell you, (I’m terrible with names), the smaller one, a female, tilted her head and looked right into my eyes with an expression I will never forget, I’m sure – it was like she was pulling me toward her, like a thread, a rope, connected her heart to mine. In her eyes, I saw her plead for me to love her, to take her out of this cage and give her a home. She jumped up, not in anger, but in eagerness, in hope, that I would be the one to open up the gates to a new life for her.
But I can’t. I couldn’t, and yet, I could not walk away from her.
I squatted down and approached her and looked at her, right in her eyes, and I told her, “I’m so sorry. I can’t take you with me. I’m sorry.”
The dog to her right was also very excited to see me and looked at me with that hopeful joy, the kind of joy someone feels when someone who might just be the one to love them forever, unconditionally, has just come their way.
But I couldn’t.
I continued walking down the row, in the front, very slowly. There were medium-sized mutts, some looked like Rottweiler mixes, some were Pit mixes, some looked like a mix of all kinds of dogs. None of them were very large, but none were small, either.
Even if there were a small dog, I could not take one home right now. For many reasons, but even if I did not have to keep my house immaculately clean, now that it is immaculately clean, for the first time since I moved in, I am not ready.
No dog, anywhere, can take Reggie’s and Lizzie’s place. I can’t even imagine another dog besides Reggie or Lizzie living in this house.
Some of the dogs, in the back kennel, looked at me with fear, with suspicion, and I knew – these were the dogs who had been abused, beaten, neglected, and they were the ones I was drawn to the most, and yet I also knew, they needed me to respect them, and give them space, at least, for now – if I was not going to take them home with me, it was not fair to do anything else.
There was one dog, an older lab mix, a girl, that leaned right up against her cage when I drew near, and I stuck my hand near her nose. She licked my hand and then pressed her body – on her right side, as close to the chain link as she could. I knew exactly what she wanted me to do and I was happy to oblige her. I stuck my fingers through the small space and began to pet her.
It was like coming home for me – to pet a dog again – even if she wasn’t mine.
She is the first dog I have pet, that I have touched, since Reggie died.
I have seen dogs, but I have not approached them, not even my neighbor, Pennie’s dog. I just feel like since Reggie died, I don’t want to do that, but somehow, being in the shelter, something happened, and I did it without thinking when she reached out to me, without words, and asked me.
There were some female students who were taking dogs out of the kennels to walk them and play with them in the back fenced-in area designated for the dogs to exercise and let out some of their pent-up energy – and who could blame them – being cooped up in those kennels with nothing but a tiny canvas cot and a floor made of concrete – no warmth, no love, no comfort of any real substance.
No wonder their cries fill the air with voices that are so ripe with hope and agony, they must be singing out to God to help them, and yet, so few of us hear them.
These last few weeks, this last week, especially, I have been lost myself, much like them. Really, I have been lost for almost 2 years now – since May 2017. In some ways longer than that, but most acutely since May 2017, and in some ways, it has consumed me, completely, since June 3rd of last year.
And then, as I knelt before the dogs, and looked into their eyes, I felt as if I could almost read their minds, and their souls, and I knew – I knew who I was, or more specifically, I ***remembered*** who I was – for the first time in a long time, I felt like me again. These lost dogs, who have been led astray, guided me back to me, the real me – the one who has a dream of a dog rescue of my own, the one who loves dogs with all my heart and soul, the one who would do anything to save a dog in need, the one who, after the worst heartbreak of my life, the one that I was sure would break me, is still standing – unbroken and resilient and stronger than ever.
Make no mistake, I am heartbroken – I have never, ever known heartbreak like this – but in their eyes, I remembered that my heart, though broken, is still beating, still alive and still open to love – to love my friends, to love my mother, to love the memory of Toby and Lizzie and Reggie.
And someday, when I’m ready, to come back, to this shelter, or to another rescue group, to open my home, my heart, and my life to another dog, who I know I will love as much as I love the three I have lost.
I did not intend to see the dogs. I did not intend to ask the front desk about how else I could help, but I did. I only intended to drop off some sheets and towels and bedspreads.
The universe had other plans for me. And I am so glad. I know I will be back. I used to be afraid to go to the animal shelter – afraid it would be too hard for me.
It’s not too hard – not anymore – having made it to the other side of “too hard,” “too painful,” and “too much to bear,” I have found I can handle more than I ever realized – I underestimated myself – and I’m not the only one, but I won’t do that again. I know where I belong – I belong with the dogs, I belong with other writers, I belong with other people who tell the truth, who keep their word, and who know how to forgive and let things go, when someone expresses remorse and makes amends. I belong with my music, I belong with my books, and I belong with my advocacy for those who have survived trauma.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I always have hated cliches.
Maybe I should reconsider that – losing my entire family, the future I dreamed of, the man who was the love of my life, my dogs, my home, it didn’t kill me. Not yet.
And I don’t plan to let it.
Maybe, there is something ahead of me so wonderful, so magnificent, so fulfilling, that I can’t even picture it – and then, maybe then, I will know why this happened, and maybe, I will be glad it did. It’s hard to imagine that I could ever be glad about that, but I am stronger than what others think of me, stronger than the false way in which they choose to define me, stronger than the black-and-white and distorted way in which they see me.
On the night he proposed to me, he read me the list of 32 reasons why he loved me, before he knelt down and said, “And for all these reasons, will you marry me, sweetheart?”
Even though that life, that future, is no longer, those 32 things are still true. They always were. They are the real me.
If the dogs at the shelter, if the souls I saw in their eyes, are the beginning of my journey to finding me again, then I can’t wait to meet her.
Bless the dogs of Athens-Clarke County Animal Control…and all rescue dogs everywhere. They are God’s gift to the world.
Save a life…adopt a pet.