Monday, September 29, 2008

Heartbreak and Hope

This past Saturday, i drove to Albert Lea with my friend Jessie (of Stray Dog Arts) to pick up two dogs, Sam (a one year old brindle) and Gunnar (a four year old yellow lab). Both came from a high kill shelter in Sioux City, Iowa. Both were destined for euthanasia with their only hope being that an out-of-state rescue would step forward. Sam was to be euthanized because a pit bull ban has passed in Sioux City. Animal control facilities and shelters there consider brindles to be part pit -- we at Pet Haven think otherwise. Not all brindles are pitbulls. Pet Haven has chosen to take Sam in, and we are also paying for a DNA test to see what breed he is.
Then there's Gunnar -- a gorgeous four year old yellow lab surrendered because he was "too big to be a indoor dog" and has a heart murmur. For different reasons, both Sam and Gunnar, were stamped with the kiss of death, the scarlet letter.

Thank God for the underground world of animal rescue... a world where individuals tirelessly advocate and cry out to save as many of these animals destined for death. Where volunteers clock thousands of miles transporting dogs across state lines ... to give them that chance to live out their life and to be a loving companion so some lucky person.

Every day my heart breaks, knowing that we can't save them all. Today i received in my inbox, photos of 3 more dogs (Andy, Foster and Butterscotch). Andy and Foster are big black dogs ... Andy is a 1-2 year old black dog (probably some shepherd in him) who was picked up by animal control in Iowa. His companion (a female lab/pit mix) was hit by a car and Andy stayed by her side till the animal control officers arrived;
Foster is a 9-10 mth old big black dog - because there are so many big black dogs, simply being a big black dog means to carry the kiss of death stamp; and Butterscotch, a brindle, who is "assumed" to be a pit and now carries the kiss of death stamp.

As of this afternoon, we (at Pet Haven) can only commit to helping Andy and Foster. We are constantly needing more fosters to help us so that we can bring in another dog on death row -- save another life. Andy and Foster will hopefully be transported to the Twin Cities this weekend. Schedule permitting, I will be there to welcome them. I will whisper into their ears that life will only get better. There is hope. In the mean time, my heart breaks knowing that we may not be able to help Butterscotch. My heart breaks knowing that Butterscotch may not make it out alive, simply because her brindle color has labeled her as a "possible" pitbull mix, and with that label, there is only a one-way street into animal control.

If you know of anyone that can help, or would consider fostering Butterscotch, please let me know. Butterscotch needs us to find an emergency exit for her. You can email me at

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Boldness from within

Over the past two years, I have had several significant, life-changing moments. Doors are opening up. I must be ready as I'm noticing them swing wide open. I wonder how many doors I have simply walked by .... and taken the asphalt, paved road. Now, as new adventures begin, I find myself filled with excitement, as i pave new paths and create a life fueled by passion, love and possibilities.

Today, I remind myself.... to be brave, to be intimate with fear and to trust in the journey and the process. I remind myself to remain introspective and reflective, yet bold enough to take action.

I remind myself i no longer have to travel this journey alone. With creativity, and in community, collaboration, and compassion .... anything is possible.

Dream big.

Be bold.


Friday, September 19, 2008


Today, I found myself, feeling particularly grateful for Mister and Missy. For the second time this week, I ran with Mister. It was a joy to run with him and to watch his lanky body, tail up high, trotting proudly next to me. Unlike Shadow (my previous lab mix, whom I loved dearly but who also chose to swerve in front of me and trip me on many occasions!) Mister runs like a pro .... the occasional squirrel requires a "watch me", and a slight tug on the leash, and his eyes fixate on me, as he returns to our rhythmic pace.

Meanwhile, Missy waits patiently at home as she chews on a carrot. She's not much for running. The few times i've taken her, she's dragging and probably calling me names by the time we've been out for anything over 15 minutes.

It feels good to be running again. Today the wind on my face and the sun on my legs and arms felt heavenly.

Simple pleasures.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Shen - two years later

Today is Shen's two year anniversary of her passing. I find it hard to believe that is has been two years -- in some ways the time has just flown by, in other ways it seems like time has come to a standstill. What remains constant, however, is how much space she continues to have in my heart - a permanent lease in my ever-expanding heart where Shen has been my inspiration, my guide, to take action and get involved in animal rescue.

I remember the first day i met this shaggy, scrawny 9 month old puppy at an adoption event in St. Louis, Missouri. Nobody wanted her. They thought she looked funny and was way too hyper. She was the one that everyone overlooked. I guess that's why she wiggled her way straight into my heart. That day i stopped by Whole Foods natural grocery store, and opened up a holistic veterinary health care book with a focus on eastern medicine. The page opened up to "Shen" (which means spirit - spirit of fire). That's it -- i would name my new puppy Shen. For the 11 years she blessed me with her presence, her goofiness, her loyalty .. i am forever grateful. She was my guide in many ways, appearing to me in dreams and showing me the way to follow my truth and my passion. Unfortunately fear held me back from taking action, and only after her passing, was i able to transform the deep grief in my heart, to do what it is I believe in - to be a voice for abandoned, abused and neglected animals. She is my spirit. She is my fire.

So, two years later, my sweet Shen may not physically be here, but her spirit lives on in me, in Missy, in the work I do with Pet Haven, and in a major leap I am about to take, today, as I take action to move into the next stage of my journey (more to come on this soon!).

Thank you sweet Shen for all you have given to me, and for filling me with your spirit and the courage i need to take steps to follow my truth, my passion. The next stage in my journey is dedicated to you.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The shadow side of animal rescue

This morning I will be presenting at a Pet Haven new volunteer orientation. Many will have no idea about what truly getting involved with animal rescue means. Some will want to stay on the perimeter of animal rescue work, and focus on only what feels good - that's okay. Others, will soon find, that it's not okay and will step across the line to immerse themselves in the hard work of animal rescue. For me, it happened not longer after i found Pet Haven back in September of '06.

In the work we do, we dream of a day when it will no longer be necessary to euthanize an animal - of a day when there will be no more homeless animals, and we can save every single one of them. Yesterday, a very difficult decision was made to euthanize one of our foster dogs - a beautiful 4 year old am staff, Sophie, who unfortunately attacked another dog, unprovoked, and in the process an individual trying to break up the fight was bitten. Sophie does not have a mean bone towards people. For a multitude of reasons, which includes but was not limited to: what is in Sophie's best interest, our ability to safely place her in a home where she would not be a risk to other dogs, and potentially humans if a fight broke out ... the heartwrenching decision was made to let Sophie go.

Last night, i spent her last hour with her at the University of Minnesota, and when i came home sent the following email (i've pulled excerpts) to the dog division leadership team of Pet Haven:

"It is with a heavy heart that I send this email out. I know that what has transpired in the past few days with regards to Sophie has impacted many of us. This is the extremely hard part of the rescue work that we do, and in many ways I am glad that these decisions are extremely hard and that it rips our heart into a million pieces, because it means that our hearts have not been hardened.

I understand that this was discussed at your most recent leadership meeting this past week and the consensus was that Sophie needed to euthanized. I supported that decision....A decision to euthanize is never taken lightly at Pet Haven and it is never done without lots of discussion and turmoil. All things considered, and despite how difficult the decision was, I believe we all know that this was the right decision."

Sophie is an incredibly beautiful dog with a beautiful soul. What I will tell you is that the hour i had spending with her warmed my heart. She got lots of treats (would sit for them and gently take them out of my hand... and after a while also started giving me high fives). We snuggled up in the room they let us hang out in at the U and i gave her lots of kisses from all of us. I whispered to her that she would soon be happier than she could even imagine, and that i know lots of her furry friends would be greeting her as she crossed rainbow bridge.... i know i've asked Shen and Shadow to show Sophie the ropes when she got up there :) I know this has been hard on many of us..... i ask for you to take a moment tonight, or whenever you get this email, to pause momentarily .... and to send loving energy to Sophie. She is free now. As she took her last breath, and my tears flowed like a broken faucet, i realized at that moment that my sadness had nothing to do with her, it had to do with my wish that we could've done more, yet accept and honor the reality, that we truly did all we possibly could for this sweet girl. I ask you to hold Sophie in your heart tonight."

I went to sleep last night with Sophie in my heart, and I woke up at 4:30 this morning filled with Sophie's spirit. I will forever remember her last moment ... that final sigh, that final breath ... and I imagine my sweet Shen, with Shadow right behind her, grabbing onto her paw and saying "Come on Sophie... let's go! We've got so much to show you .. it's really cool up here!"

and to my best friend, I shared the following in an email to her late last night:

"Tonight as I made the decision to be there with Sophie I realized it would not be easy, but i needed to do it, for Sophie and also for me. I realized that I needed and wanted to open up my heart, to allow myself to be touched by Sophie's spirit .... and i wanted her to know that she is not alone. As I held her and I stroked her ears, i realized just how short and how precious life is. I want to live my life as if every day is my last.... I will continue to have my heart broken with the work I do in animal rescue - I know that. And I am okay with that because I feel myself come alive in more ways than I could even imagine when i allow myself to be vulnerable and to be touched in such a deep way."

Please hold Sophie in your heart, if only for a moment.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

To be alive...

Back in March, 2006 my journal entry began with "what makes you feel alive?" Little did i know that 6 months later I would feel my heart broken into a million pieces with the sudden loss of Shen, our collie-shepherd mix to cancer. And that a week later my life would be forever changed as I immerse myself in animal rescue work with Pet Haven and I would be feeding my soul with what truly makes me feel alive.

I have come to realize that being alive is allowing myself to feel the full spectrum of emotions - to be able to feel joy and sadness in the same moment, to embrace the dark sides of myself while at the same time holding on to hope and feeling love and light. To acknowledge what scares me the most, and choose to keep walking towards it.

Since March 2006, I have had more doors open up for me and I have witnessed doors open up for so many around me. Today, I am simply grateful - grateful to be alive, grateful to experience love, hope, fear, passion, sadness. I am grateful to be able to give back to a world that has given so much to me ....