Sunday, February 8, 2009
“Marilou, when you have a moment I need for you to take some photos of Black” says Ann, Pet Haven’s intake coordinator, as I arrive at the dog adoption event. “He’s a new dog in our foster program. He’s an 8 month old lab/husky mix and an absolutely sweet dog.” Without prompting, two other volunteers who assist in the evaluation of dogs into our foster program nod and validate what a wonderful dog Black is. I look over and see an African-American woman sitting on a fold-up gray metal chair, book in hand, while she holds onto the leash attached to this gorgeous black dog with a patch of white on his chest and the shiniest coat I have ever laid my eyes on. A, Black’s guardian, is one of almost 30 individuals lined up neatly forming a rectangular perimeter at the entrance of the Eden Prairie Petco to highlight all of Pet Haven’s adoptable dogs.
I get down on the floor next to Black to greet him. I let him sniff my hand and I can immediately tell he is super-friendly. Before I know it I am sucked into the “black hole” that Pet Haven volunteers claim my house is … the black dog, black hole where every black dog I have attempted to foster, has ended up being adopted by me. I fall hopelessly in love with them and can’t bear the thought of letting them go. With three big black dogs in our home, I accept I can’t bring anymore home. I am consumed by Black - the softness of his coat; how shiny, healthy and full his coat looks and feels; and the sweet, wild aroma emanating from his pores. I bury my head in his fur and rub his belly. Black responds by rolling on his back, paws up, with eyes pleading “more – don’t stop!” For an 8 month old dog he is super calm and listens well to his guardian. I look up to the woman holding onto the end of Black’s leash. I can feel love surrounding this dog. I can feel the love from her spirit radiating around her, around Black and around me.
Not long ago, I had witnessed the pain of an owner having to give up her beloved dog Osso due to financial circumstances and personal reasons. It was heartbreaking for me and I could feel the sadness from Osso and his owner. In this case, I could feel smatterings of sadness; more than anything else though I felt love. I look up at the woman and ask as gently as I can, “so what’s Black’s story?” She kindly and calmly responds, “we are having to move. Our home is being foreclosed on and we need to be out by the 23rd.” Her words come down on me like lead pressing down on my heart. Is this what compassion is? Is compassion what makes my heart ache over and over again. Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” I am grateful that the heartache and suffering of the work we do at Pet Haven has not hardened my heart – if anything, I have found my heart expanding to feel a deeper compassion for not only the animals but as importantly, for people. I feel strongly that the work we do at Pet Haven is as much about showing compassion for animals as it is about showing compassion for people.
I engage in dialogue with A while petting Black who is laying calmly by her feet. She is a proud mama and her eyes sparkle as she raves about how perfect he is and what a beautiful dog he is. I cannot stop the sharpness I feel in my gut. I want to make things better for Black. I want to make things better for Black’s family. In conversation we discover that we don’t live that far apart. I tell her I wish I could bring Black home but I have a small yard and already have 3 beautiful big black dogs. She jokingly says, “you could buy our home and you would have a nice big back yard and could also have Black.” I smile. Deep down, I’m wishing I could. I’m wishing I had more money to spare and that I could buy their house and give it to them. I’m wishing loving, kind, hard-working people like A didn’t have to face one of the hardest choices in life and didn’t have to not only lose their home, but lose a beloved family member. I am humbled by A and Black. I am humbled by the way in which A is handling a very difficult situation – with dignity, integrity, love and even gratitude. Last night, after I shared with her a blog posting I put up on the Pet Haven dog blog, she responded with:
“Thank you again, Marilou. What you shared on the blog brought tears to my eyes. He is just so BEAUTIFUL, I wish I could keep him! I am so thankful that I had an opportunity to meet so many people who genuinely care for animals. As I said at the event today, I think Black could tell too, as he opened up to you like no one else!
I truly believe he will find a loving home with the help of Pet Haven. God Bless!”
I woke this morning to a dream where I was in the middle of the open ocean and a raging storm, desperately trying to save dogs and puppies who were flailing, submerging and drowning all around me. I swooped as many of them up and placed them in a floating metal garbage dumpster. I frantically worked to save as many as I could. Finally, the storm subsides and I look into the dumpster to see if the puppies are okay. The pile of puppies and dogs have transformed into a pile of human bodies. Many of them are not breathing. I panic and scream out for help as I administer CPR and try to bring back to life as many as possible.
I am grateful for the dream I had last night as frightening as it was. It tells me that it is truly no longer just about helping animals for me. It is as much for me about helping people as it is about animals. Fear and adversity can hold us back if we let it. I am grateful and I am humbled to have met Black and his loving guardian A yesterday.
When the storm hits my life in a way that it has hit Black and A’s life, may I remain as centered, loving, calm and grateful as these two incredible beings.
For now, I will fight to find Black a loving home. I will fight to give A the comfort in knowing that Pet Haven will love her family member as one of our own. I will fight to keep my heart as open as I can and to welcome in the suffering of all those around us.
If you would be willing to consider fostering this gorgeous boy, please email me directly at Marilou@pethavenmn.org.
2/16/09 Update: I am happy to report that someone read this blog posting, fell in love with Black, and Black moved into a home with a young couple ... they are fostering for now but there is a very good chance they will adopt him!