Our son was barely two years old, when our rescued dog bit him, barely missing his eye. Charlie, our mixed breed yellow lab, was never ok. The first time I saw the hackles on his back stand straight up, he was only six months old. During the second week of puppy training, he began attacking other puppies in an aggressive way.
At the time, I had been volunteering with a rescue group for years, fostering dogs, screening prospective families and working at adoption events. Charlie was a puppy we had been fostering, the only one that we decided would become ours. These hours I spent volunteering, were exhausting, yet satisfying. I loved being around the most kind, compassionate and giving people. I loved making a difference.
Until the day, I needed help. And then nobody was there.
Charlie’s aggressiveness was fear based, and he was afraid of other dogs and small children. We began to realize, he not only became volatile around dogs, but was not to be trusted with young children. We watched him, closely, walked him where dogs were less likely to be around, and did the best we could. Still, when a dog bites, it happens in a second. And when my son, reached to pet him, in the moment I turned my back, Charlie went for it.
Five stitches later, along with complete honesty, we found Charlie another home. The rescue group offered no help except that I could bring Charlie to one of their events and stand by his crate. I did try it. I was desperate, but, Charlie did not do well in a crate, barking and growling when anyone approached. I knew I had to take matters into my own hands, and I did. I found a family, with no small children. They knew everything about Charlie, and still decided to adopt. We bid a tearful goodbye, as the wonderful couple with grown daughters loaded Charlie into their car. It was hard, watching your family pet drive away. I took solace in knowing it was better for Charlie and for us.
A year later, I was ready to search for another dog. I wanted to believe Charlie was not the norm, that adopting from a rescue was not only admirable but a perfectly reasonable way to bring a dog into a home. After all I knew the numbers of how many “very good dogs” are put to sleep each year because of overcrowding. In some small way, I wanted there to be one less dog, because of me. With my son along for the ride, we went to the pet store where we knew there would be rescue dogs up for adoption. I inquired about a dog, and was instantly remembered by one of the volunteers.”We do not know if you should adopt from us,” she uttered. “You put an ad on Craig’s List. Don’t you know you are supposed to return a dog that is not a good fit?”
I was shocked, and hurt. Never mind the hours I had put in for them. Never mind, I had put ads everywhere, hoping to find the perfect family for Charlie. Never mind my job for them was to screen families, and that is what I did with Charlie. Never mind, I had received no help from the rescue, and my pleas went unanswered. Never mind, I knew if I simply gave him back, he would never have been adopted in the methods they use. Never mind, dogs are so near and dear to my heart, I would never have just dumped him anywhere, with anyone. Dogs were always a part of our family, even our fosters, no matter how long they spent with us. I had cleaned up more poop then I want to remember, and had chased dogs down the street without a bra that had gotten loose.
I was not one of them, the ones that dump dogs at the pound when they are older, less cute. When they are moving, or are having a new baby. And yet, that is what they were insinuating. They then uttered, “Well you can adopt, but we just want you know how we felt.” My response was, “No thank you. Have a nice day.”
This was a wake up call, and I never went back to rescuing dogs. And not because of a few sour apples, or because of the judgement on their part, but because I realized an important lesson.
In the end, the snubbing did me a favor. It woke me up. No amount of guilt was worth putting my son in danger. And no amount of guilt was worth the stress that I often felt volunteering for a rescue group, even if I was doing good. It was not a fair exchange, and never is. Doing anything out of guilt creates more stress, not less. It is not good for anyone. Once I began applying this to my life, in a bigger way, I knew those women’s comments gave me a gift. I knew I had to learn to stop doing things out of guilt.
Many rescue dogs are amazing, and most rescue groups do incredible work. The time and attention needed to fix this problem of homeless animals is abundant and overwhelming. And yes, I still weep uncontrollably at the videos where the dog is dirty, living in the junkyard and is rescued, now living happily ever after in her new home. She is clean, healthy and has no issues. At least on the video. That is not reality. Most rescue dogs have issues. Often, purposely, this is left out of the video. Normally, you need an abundance of time, resources and desire to work with rescue dogs. It can be rewarding to both help out a rescue group and adopt a rescue dog. If it works for you.
Are there exceptions? Yes. There are always exceptions. I know families that have had a wonderful experience adopting a rescue. This just has not been my experience. I know the saying, “Adopt. Don’t shop.” How awful it is to not adopt a rescue, to adopt from a breeder.
Do you know what is also awful? If you keep a rescue that is tearing apart your family and your walls with separation anxiety. To not be able to walk comfortable with your dog, because you are afraid another dog will approach, and your dog will attack. To not be able to have other children over to play and relax.
This attitude, this adhering to “shoulds” never works in life. Just as happiness creates waves outward, so does misery.
While I would never adopt from a puppy mill, as they are abusive and neglectful, I would also never again adopt from a rescue. For the simple fact that it does not work for me and my family.
We need to pick our battles. Martyrdom never works, and just keeps us on the hook for a crime we never committed.
I still hold on to this fantasy of working on a task force, one that raids puppy mills, or hoarders, rescuing hundreds of animals at a time. I admire those that do engage in this kind of work, but also know I will never be doing this. My life and home will never again be turned upside down by a rescue animal. And I will never do this type of volunteer work again. As this is not what my life’s purpose is about.
If we want to make this world better, we first need to do what makes us happy. Then, we can reflect outward and see how we can help. There are those meant to march on Washington, and those meant to help another cross the street. Devoting yourself to others, while you are secretly miserable, makes no sense. It wears you down, leaving you drained and empty. Staying in toxic relationships because of some obligation or thinking you can help, change them, and then turning around and drinking yourself blind every night or worse, yelling at your children for making a mess, creates more misery for yourself, and leads to more chaos in our world.
Learning the difference between codependency and compassion has changed my life. Knowing where the line is drawn between obligation and self-care has been eye-opening. Learning to check in with myself, using my intuition on how I am meant to help others has been incredibly rewarding. I now use discernment, and feedback, not guilt.
If we listen more, and ask what we are to do, we can choose to help where we are meant, and we find our path. We will need to stop, listen and open up our awareness. We will need to say no, often.
Looking back on that interaction with that rescue group, I can still feel the hurt I had felt. I can still remember calling my friends in disbelief. The words, “After all I did for them?” leaving my lips. And yet, I now know, they were doing me a huge favor.
Sometimes, especially when we act out of guilt, we need a little push in a different direction. And if we can read between the lines, what appears as rejection, is simply life saying, Back away. This is not your path. You are not listening so we are going to give you a gentle shove, even a good slap in the face.
As it turns out, after I left the pet store that afternoon, I found a breeder, and we adopted our amazing yellow lab, Bella. She has been the love of our life, bringing incredible joy, unconditional love and laughter to our family. So full of love, she helps all of us to smile a little deeper, and she is always there when one of us needs a hug, or a laugh.
I pray someday, that all dogs and all animals are treated with respect, love and compassion. I applaud all those working endlessly to help all animals and species. And then I go home and snuggle with Bella, knowing she is the perfect dog for us.
My love for storytelling, is one way, I hope to help our world. Through my words, I hope to help others feel, laugh, cry, and know they are not alone. As much as I still want to go on that task force, and personally right the wrongs that are done to animals, that is not my path in this life.
Life is meant to be a series of learning experiences. We are not meant to know exactly what to do, but it is important to understand why we are here, and how we can grow, evolve and change. I am still learning. I still feel guilty many times for saying no, for doing what is best for me. But I have learned that self-love, self-care and what is right for my immediate family come first. That is what I agreed to, and that is what I will strive to do for as long as I am living this life.
And of course, I hope to continue learning and overcoming, the failures and successes, the codependency and compassion, all the while, snuggling with Bella.
My first co-authored book, Living Beyond Fear, will be available soon from both amazon, and fine book stores. These 37 letters, stories about life and death, will take you on a journey that is both healing and inspiring. Details to follow!