The morning ushers in another quintessential Rocky Mountain September day. The sky, dapple gray from the moment of awakening, is forming a mural painted with Divine energy to complement the changing of arboreal guards from green to vibrant gold. Everywhere, gentle breezes partner with quaking aspens in an autumnal dance. The final song ends with notes of leaves on the ground baked hard and dry from the imbalance I’m coming to know all too well accompanying climate change: too little water and too much sun and wind. The entire West is crying out from thirst. The land is rebelling with explosive fires in Colorado, Oregon, and California. It makes me worry for the fate of the animals losing their homes that are already in dwindling supply.
It also makes me think of the dogs in harm’s way in California that I’ve been trying to help. It’s something I began in July when my sense of helplessness to curb the spread of Covid-19 translated into wanting to help the more vulnerable in the population: Shelter dogs in California’s and Texas’s municipal shelters at risk of death-by-needle for want of training, homes or other human-constructed reasons.
The latest project, a 3-year old Shepherd Husky mix named Charlie, is getting sprung from a Southern California shelter today. Tammy (the names have been changed, as they say in Dragnet, to protect the innocent) and her friend will be picking him up. He’s been sitting unexercised for several days now and will be amped up to escape. Charlie’s incarceration began sometime in July when his people dumped him after failing to acquire permission from their landlord to house him under their roof for the whole of his life. For the under resourced, overwhelmed staff in the municipal shelter he has been calling home, he’s become so much of a problem child that staff requested permission to end his young life just five days earlier.
Fortunately for him, the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly. If all goes well and according to plan, he’ll see fresh new faces and hear excited, yet soothing new voices ready to receive, then transport him to a home where he can decompress. After several days, he’ll get back in a van and be driven to a new home up north. The plan is to transport him with six other dogs to a willing and qualified rescue in Canada, where he’ll hopefully be welcomed with open arms, a safe place to live, and plenty of vital training for his wildly untamed mind.
Sadly, Charlie never got the memo on good canine citizenship nor the benefit of responsible neutering, and his behavior reflected all the ways in which he’d been wronged by the people so entrusted for a lifetime of care.
In the meantime, I wait, and move on to helping other dogs, like Gracie, a 3-year old Pittie in the Harris County, Texas shelter. She’s up for review, meaning those official-looking people walk by with high heels and clipboards on any particular Tuesday, chart in hand, peering into her eyes for a pause. Perhaps they’ll ask a few questions about general interest in Gracie. If there are any notes on calls made or interest expressed, they will see that and give her more time.
If not, depending upon how stressed they are feeling – for space and incoming dogs, for time or perhaps the color of the sky not just the right blue that day, Gracie’s time may be up. Once born yet twice betrayed, she was adopted by a woman who hadn’t the time to train her, then returned her back to the shelter as though she were a used blender or a torn set of yoga pants. She doesn’t understand, and sits in her videos looking all hippo-sweetly like, staring into the camera, tail wagging with more questions than her captors can answer.
Always, it’s a race against the clock. There must be a rescue with pull privileges willing to step up, place a hold on the dog and deliver him or her to a willing and qualified foster.
At play for myself in all of this volunteer advocacy work are the tapes playing out the scripts for my basic assumptions learned so early in life:
Mommy, can we keep him? No honey, there’s no dogs allowed in apartments.
Daddy, can you find a friend to give him a home? No honey, I don’t know anyone who has a yard for a dog.
Scarcity mentality. The gaping mouth screams into my otherwise hopeful September day:
Charlie’s not gonna make it out of there alive, and Gracie’s gonna die before a rescue steps up to claim her. And even if they can, they’re bound to run out of fosters…
Indeed, since I took this work on, it’s the thing that wakes me up at three o’clock in the morning and keeps me spinning until five. I keep learning otherwise – that dogs get homes and there seems in Colorado’s ever-burgeoning population to be a dog in every newly appearing car – but fear plays out ever so intensely for each dog coming into my awareness.
When a rescue or individual steps up and responds to a plea to help save a dog’s life, especially if it’s a young dog with years of romping and running alongside their person as they bounce up a trail, relief and joy rushes in like a flash flood through a Utah slot canyon. The person answering the call becomes the hero/heroine in my mind, and I immediately obligate myself to yet another canine-related debt by way of donation and my sense of the world and all of its possibilities change. I tell my sweet husband,
Love, come tax time next year we’ll have lots of write-offs for 501(c)(3)’s…
He smiles and hugs me anyhow, and turns a deaf ear when he hears me read off my credit card numbers to yet another rescue.
This afternoon, I will await word from Tammy about Charlie’s rescue, and pray that my limited bubble of beliefs in humanity will be burst, once again. Just for this morning, those steel gray skies hold the promise of a more compassionate and heartened life for the betterment of humanity, simply for her answering the call.