He can’t scratch his ear, I saw. Dogs scratch their ears with their back legs.
Willie Grommit’s back legs don’t work. Not since the incident with the car.
So, I scratch his ear for him. I can tell he needs it from the way he cocks his head and flattens his ear. He leans into my hand in what can only be interpreted as relief.
And maybe, a teaspoon of gratitude.
I lift him onto the couch to lie beside me as I write. This morning, the fire’s burning in the woodstove, owing to my husband’s efforts. Dead willow branches pulled from our woodlands are warming our home this February. Whenever Frank or I feel anxious about wildfire threats, we redirect our energy into the woodlands and pull out more dead branches or downed trees.
There’s something cathartic in taking physical action toward mitigating a problem.
I wish Willie G could help mitigate his itchy ear. But that’ll never happen.
We took him in after his early years in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas ended traumatically. The woman who saw him suffering and broken on the roadside had enough heart and compassion to act on his behalf. She didn’t have to know the outcome.
She just followed her heart and got him to a place where there were people who could help. And those people knew people in Denver with a rescue shelter helping dogs like Willie G to heal and have another chance at a gentler life. Through their actions supported by dog-lovers in the community, they do similar things with hundreds of dogs from the same place. Dogs in special need.
Through the systems created by other more technical people, Willie G found his way into my awareness. And because I was taking care of a similarly-affected dog with her own special needs, I had experience. When the young foster caring for Willie G asked if we would ever take him into our home forever, my husband and I opened our hearts and said simply:
And so, on a frigid January day in 2021, that young foster came up with Willie G and a man from the rescue to our mountain valley here above Boulder, Colorado. They carried him out of the van, placed him onto his wheelchair given to them by others—dog lovers who would never meet him, but through the system created by others, wanted to help and give what they could.
More people, following their heart.
As we took our first walk with Willie G and his friends through our woodlands, our two dogs trotted behind his wheelchair. Rescued from the South–from where Willie G had lived—they, too, had found their way to us through the arms and efforts of others. Smudges came up from Breckenridge, Texas as a four-month-old puppy, owing to the efforts of people waiting to help. She found a place in a Denver foster-based rescue with a woman opening her heart to help Texas dogs in harm’s way. Puppies with Parvovirus, dogs with heartworm. Dogs and puppies with no one to care for them in an overwhelmed, under-resourced community, and whose chances of making it out of the shelter alive were less than optimal.
When we first met Smudges’ foster mom, she held in her arms an eight-week-old puppy my husband named Tater. We took Smudges home the day we met, never regretting for a second, opening our hearts and home.
And then, there’s Charlie, who because others followed their hearts, we also have in our home. His story is similar to Smudges, for he, too, came from a place of great poverty and suffering in a small city in Oklahoma. A place where people are also struggling to meet the day-to-day, with beautiful and vulnerable dogs in their midst. A place where people don’t realize the harm they create or the suffering they cause in their failure to meet the needs of such dogs.
Perhaps they would like to open their hearts, and cannot.
There’s a woman there—at least 76 years young, who said yes to meeting the needs of dogs. Where before the dogs suffered great harm, people now call her, bring her dogs, or she goes out to find them. She takes them into her home for a few days or a few weeks—until she takes them into her van—and brings them to a place up here in Boulder, where others can meet the needs of these dogs.
She opens her heart to those dogs, and because she does, she saves 350 of them each year. Because she did, I could open my own heart when I met Charlie that fateful December day, in a Home Depot parking lot. A man who had suffered great harm in life wanted to open his heart to help another dog, a dog looking much like his own, of which Charlie reminded.
When we met, he said, “I took in this dog, wanting to find him a forever home after I trained him.”
And then, I said to my new friend Jonathan, “I’ve been open to finding a dog like this, as we had to say goodbye too early to our dear Linus. He left an opening in our home and a longing in our broken heart for another as he.”
And so, we now have Charlie. All because that man, Jonathan, followed his heart.
When it comes to helping dogs in harm’s way, there are plenty of people stepping up, and opening their hearts.
Back to Willie G. When it came time for his friends to leave him that January day, he scampered to the French bathroom doors to look out for the young foster to whom he’d opened his own heart. Watching her climb back into the van without him, he threw his head back and howled, and I wondered if he would ever open his heart to us.
She had cared for him in her family home for two months, being his first known contact with loving compassion and energy. She met his biological needs many times daily, introduced him to other people and dogs, and loved him unconditionally. When it came time for her to say farewell, I know she did so with a heavy heart, but peaceful, for her help had been vital to his finding us.
Another set of arms following their heart.
When people think of rescue dogs, they often think of the harm and suffering involved. There are people struggling in the South specifically, failing to meet the needs of others where they cannot meet them for themselves. Perhaps, even they mean no actual harm and find it troublesome to live as well as they can. The dogs in their midst are all too often more than they can bear.
If these people could follow their hearts, it might lead them to help others, like the dogs in their midst, to live better lives.
For the time being, however, it seems they cannot. That fact makes some who take in these dogs angry and resentful of humanity for their real failings. Those unpleasant feelings, to invoke the wisdom of the late Thich Nhât Hańh, only foster more unpleasant feelings.
I prefer to think, instead, of the myriad of people, all interconnected and relating through the systems created by others, opening their hearts.
What does it take for a person to follow their own heart? Some might say, it must be open, of course. Others, that we must be in touch. But, no matter how we get there, there is always something that will cause us to break open even further. When we do, we open ourselves to more of life and make life better for others in the process.
We are all interconnected and we are all interacting—one heart-filled action at a time.
Namaste, and thank you for reading.