Lessons From My Dogs
In the past I’ve always said that without trust, there can be no love. And in the past I’ve always been referring to human relationships, but now, in this moment, I realize it applies equally to animals.
I was volunteering, walking out dogs at our local shelter, Almost Home, when one morning I saw a scared-looking reddish beagle in a front run. I inquired after her.
“She must have been dropped off in the night. We found her this morning,” came the reply.
She was very timid, but like most beagles I knew, she loved food. As I walked her out, I’d entice her with food. As long as I had food all was well. But other volunteers must have discovered this trick too, for each time I went back, she had grown in size. Then we found out she was pregnant. As her girth increased, so did her appetite.
Soon thereafter, Sasha, as a volunteer named her, gave birth to her puppies. Or tried to. From the size of the puppies, we guessed Sasha’s love interest must have been a large dog, like a Lab. She managed to whelp one pup, but the next got stuck halfway out and Sasha lay crying out and yelping in pain until a volunteer was able to drive her to the vets for an emergency Caesarian. Sasha and two of her pups survived the operation; three did not. If she reasoned, perhaps with that trip to the vet to save her life, she began regaining her trust of humans. Or perhaps it only made her more fearful, for she was still a child herself—a young, unwed mother as my partner Margie would later joke—and she must have been in great pain.
She cared for her pups as best she could and when they were older they each found homes. But no one wanted Sasha. One thing lead to another and although I already had two dogs in a very small house, I said I’d take her.
Thus began our mutual lessons—me learning to accept and not question when something or someone enters or leaves my life, and Sasha learning to trust humans again.
But it was not until I called my friend and animal communicator Rebecca, desperate for some insight into our new and unhappy situation, that I found out just how abused Sasha had been. My two dogs Flash and Chance and I had been enjoying an extended period of peace and harmony when this newcomer arrived transforming our joy over night. There were no dog fights or jealousies that I could see, yet a deep and profound depression settled over me that I thought was do to the change in routine, but which I learned from Rebecca was the melancholic energy accompanying Sasha. I was not alone in feeling this depression for I could easily see both Flash and Chance were upset and I began to think about finding Sasha another home. But first I would talk to Rebecca.
When I asked Rebecca to ask Sasha what she wanted to tell me, my new family member asked immediately, “How long will you keep me?”
“Forever,” I replied immediately, even though I was leaning heavily toward giving her to friends, so unhappy had our household become in the days just before our session with Rebecca. But as I pronounced the word “forever” I knew I was making a promise to this scared, sad and unwanted being.
“Do you like me?” She ventured.
“I love you,” I told her. It was hard for me to listen to what she said next to Rebecca, but her insecurity and anguish only made me stronger in my resolve that I was doing the right thing in bringing her into our lives.
She told Rebecca that she didn’t think humans liked her; that she thought she was really, really bad, [all her words] that humans hated her. She said she felt a huge burden around her neck. When Rebecca tried to understand this, she received a picture of a rope around Sasha’s neck, for apparently she’d been tied or chained to a tree, and a man or many men had thrown objects at her and she could never run away.
She said she felt like an imposter and that she was afraid the bottom would drop out of her new situation. She said that she didn’t really believe me. She sensed that I too would give her up. Even though her previous owners had been cruel and her life with them very hard, she was hurt and confused wondering why she’d been given away. She’d been scratching herself since she’d arrived in frenzied agitation and when I asked her what was going on, she said she didn’t feel comfortable in her skin. She asked why did I want her, and I was holding back tears when I told her again that I loved her. After that session I had never felt more committed to care for an animal and show it that life could be good.
After two weeks, the depression left and now two years later, Sasha brings us all so much joy it is hard to imagine life without her.
Her fear, shying suddenly and irrationally away as the outside breeze blows some papers her way, is still with her. She remains very afraid of people, bicycles, cars and sudden movements. If we meet strangers on a walk, she “snaps” running to the end of her leash and entering a place where I can’t reach her. Yet, she has come a long way in other areas, for instance allowing people who enter the house to stroke her, if they speak with kind and soft words. And in the house, except for an old conditioned response of ducking out of harm’s way if I reach down to her too quickly, I would not know Sasha had ever been afraid as she wags her tail, lays her big ears flat and climbs her twenty-pound body onto my lap as I try to read as though she were a dog half that size.
This loving, sweet and gentle dog who is a buffoon at times in her lack of social grace and complete ignorance of respecting boundaries, has brought us innocent, youthful joy and enthusiasm, a state of being that only the young at heart—or perhaps the very old and wise—seem to embody. Now when Rebecca questions her, the only thing she ever says (except that she’s hungry and wants more to eat) is that she’s very, very happy.
I realize why I was meant to take her; her tremendous fear would have been hard to handle for many families. But our quiet household suits her fine. I’m learning to trust and accept what life throws my way—unwed, pregnant beagles and all. And Sasha is learning to trust humans again, realizing that she can believe what I say. That I will love her forever.
Kay Pfaltz is a writer and animal activist. Visit her website at www.kaypfaltz.com to order copies of Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris, the true story of a sick and abandoned beagle whose zest for life triumphs throughout adversary. Kay donates 100% of profits to animal organizations as listed on her website.