I am gonna take a turn here and talk about something that is extremely near and dear to my heart and that…is dogs. I have always been a bleeding heart for any animal or insect that has crossed my path. I have always found myself though, having a very deep connection with dogs.
Growing up my grandparents had dogs. The dogs were kept out in the back yard, which was a paved cemented area that consisted of 2 cinder block structures full of junk, an outdoor laundry room, a patio with a picnic table and the yard. Sometimes we’d get the occasional mutt added to the pack, but the key players were a German Shepard with some severe aggression issues, a Poodle with a bum front leg from a break years earlier and depending on which of the family members dropped off a dog they didn’t want, there was an Alaskan Eskimo that was stolen and then, the love child of the GSD and the AE, Snoopy.
All I knew about dogs was that they lived outside and I freakin’ loved them. I used to beg my grandmother to let them come in when it was raining or cold, and I’d get in trouble because I’d sit in the kitchen with the door propped open so that I could scratch their heads and kiss them through the opening. I loved their wet noses and their wet kisses. I LOVED these dogs. And even with most family members who would scoot them out of the way, hit them, yell at or ignore them, I never lead by that example. I would sit outside for hours, petting, scratching and hugging them. Even the GSP, Kiki. I don’t know what his story was. I know he was bought as a puppy and then pretty much left outside to start his role as “guard dog”. A guard dog of junk. He did his job well, but unfortunately, he was not a stable animal. As an adult when I look back, those dogs had it pretty bad, and I feel like I truly was their only comfort in that cinder block palace of a backyard. I was probably about 7 or 8 when I started trying to build trust with Kiki. He was a very guarded and timid dog, but no one saw him as that. Everyone saw him as a mean dog. One day I stood beside him, I faced forward because I didn’t want him to become uncomfortable with my presence, I began to stroke his head softly, moved my hand down his back, ever so slowly and gently. I was able to do this regularly and he seemed okay with it. One day as I was petting him, I got carried away and brushed my hand against the grain of his fur…he immediately pounced on me. Two front paws on each shoulder, he put his full jaw, bottom teeth at my chin-top teeth at my hair line and “bit” me. I remember crying and being scared and him getting in trouble, but even at that young age I tried to explain how it was my fault. How he didn’t mean to. How I triggered him. He barely broke any skin. This never deterred me from trying again. This never made me fearful of him or any other dog. Maybe I’m just a different kind of person.
Kiki had a history of biting, though. He attacked 2 of my male cousins, one who was left with stitches all over his face, bit my grandmother on her head and acted aggressively toward anyone who came near the fence. When adults were around he’d hide out. What breaks my heart is that there was really no knowledge about dogs and their behavior during my childhood. People just didn’t care. He was labeled a “bad dog”, he was abused and ignored. He was neglected. And as a child I didn’t see that and I tried to love him when I could. When he’d let me. But he didn’t trust anyone. And it wasn’t his fault.
Dogs are born inherently good, just like humans. We give a person a break when they make a mistake because maybe they were raised in a bad environment or maybe they didn’t have a lot of the same privileges other people did, but when it’s a dog? Abandon. Abuse. Euthanize. Dogs are 100% a product of their environment. And there is no such things as an “aggressive breed”. It is a term that is used to place restriction, limit ownership and create money for big time insurance companies. I feel very passionately about dogs and their place in this world. Their place in a world that we’ve domesticated them to fit into and a world where we throw them away because we just don’t want the responsibility. I have volunteered in shelters, I have walked through those same shelters and have seen the most loyal, docile, beautiful creatures reduced to skin and bones. Reduced to incontinence, reduced to trembling in a corner, too afraid to look you in the eyes, and howling. Howling from hunger, from loneliness, from heartbreak. I broke down. Every single time. And to know that within days, their lives would be over. Not on anyone’s conscience. I made a point to pet every dog if I could. To try to get a head scratch in, if they’d let me. Show them that someone cares. Someone loves them. Even if for just that moment.
When I read those placards that say “10 yr old Mix” and think to myself, who after 10 years of your life, could give you up? Who could make a choice between you and whatever else? Who could discard a family member in the last years of their life? And yes I understand there are circumstances that we cannot avoid, but I myself could never do it. I could never choose anything else over my animals. I look at them as not only my responsibility, but as a member of my family. I will help them learn and grow, I will care for them when they reach their senior years, I will comfort them when they feel pain and I will honor them when they leave this world. I will mourn them forever. I do mourn those that I’ve known.
Another thing that bothers me is when people who are fearful of dogs act like every dog is going to attack or maim them in some way. Living in a pretty bustling city, in a high rise apartment building FULL of dogs I am consistently annoyed with the behaviors of some people. People who don’t understand that the majority of pet owners are extremely responsible and can read signals and clues that you may be uncomfortable, that we don’t mind accommodating you if you’d ask politely. That we do our best to restrain our animals, but that your fearful energy, loud noises or screaming makes them curious but also makes them nervous. They who will protect their owner from someone who seems unstable. Dogs are highly tuned into our energies and so many people fail to understand that. So many dogs are euthanized because of ignorance on the part of humans. Because we see a cute puppy in the store window and then get upset when we have failed to train it properly, and they don’t listen to or understand commands or boundaries and then grows into a dog! Its amazing how that happens, isn’t it? But as usual, we fail to accept responsibility and that dog then gets surrendered to a shelter where depending on the breed, the capacity and the state or city policy-he or she sits for days, months and even years or wont even have a chance at adoption.
I am continually saddened when I hear about the abuse or neglect of an animal. It boggles my mind that a human being could be so disgusting to another living creature. We chose to domesticate these animals. To breed them for our sport. Yet, we are unhappy when we don’t understand their behavior. When we’re not responsible with our choice. I always think to myself how amazing it feels to have the unconditional love of an animal who cant even speak to me. To look into those eyes and know what they feel, for me. To know that they know how much they are loved. They reciprocate that. To know that at hands exactly like mine, they suffer. That someone thinks they are less than deserving of love, affection and understanding. To treat their lives like nothing. Celebrities like Michael Vick, whose name I even hate typing, running one of the most vile and cruel dog fighting rings. The atrocities that he committed. A non-apologetic apology that was issued, a few years in jail and back to making millions of dollars. It’s a miracle any of those dogs could be rehabilitated. It’s a miracle there were people good enough in the world to give those dogs a fighting chance. And it is a travesty that some of them couldn’t heal from that abuse.
We live in a society that is swiftly moving in a direction where we as humans, value nothing apart from material things and money. Not animal life and shit, not even human life. On the other side of that though, I’m starting to see so many people doing the good they’re called to do, starting rescue organizations, rescuing dogs just minutes before euthanasia, giving a senior dog maybe hours…of a life of love. Even purchasing cattle at auction before slaughter. The stories are becoming endless and these saints, throwing themselves in the middle of all this to act as shields to protect animals and their lives. Those people are true heroes to me. And I one day hope to be able to follow my dream and passion of starting my own rescue. Every dog, every bird, every cat, pig, cow, snake, goat, monkey, worm etc; EVERY SINGLE CREATURE deserves to live a life. Deserves to live, period. One day I hope that as a species we become better. We stop abusing and killing these creatures. That we start to see the value in every living creature and I don’t mean the value in dollars. That we start to understand that these animals feel. They mourn, they love, they connect. Even with us. Even with different species apart from us. They feel. They accept us for who we are no mater what. Whether rich or poor, capable or disabled, tall or short, white or black, man or woman, child or infant. They allow US to be a part of THEIR lives, to care for and nurture them. To guide them, to teach them. They allow us to allow them to do the same for us. They comfort us when we are heartbroken, the lick our tears away when we’re sad. They nuzzle our necks when we feel lonely. They snuggle with us to keep us warm. They bring us gifts, albeit it might be a dead animal or a slobbery chewed up toy, but hey, they do it :).
They guide the blind and the deaf, they find the bad guys, they show patience and kindness with the disabled, they bring peace to the elderly who forget who they are…they serve us. They are all good. We just have to be able to see the good in them like they do, in us.
We don’t deserve dogs. Let’s try to.