September 13, 2022

Paddling through Loneliness, One Dog (& Moment) at a Time.

Feeling alone and thrown away in a broken world?

Me too.

On this particular Tuesday morning, those feelings are extending right down to the dogs I walked at my local animal shelter yesterday. If I feel any particular emotion more deeply and readily in any given moment in my life, it’s for the plight of homeless animals. Cats have it even worse than dogs, I readily admit, but they simply don’t grab at the tendrils of my heart as readily.

To see and truly come to know any one homeless dog’s story and peer into their life isn’t just to come to know another living being, but to enter into a sacred and silent world. Dogs will never sit across from you sipping a glass of Cabernet or complain ad nauseum in any therapy session, recounting the sorted details of their life, but if you’re open to their presence and allow their energy to flow freely into yours, the authentic and pure reality of who they are reveals itself, truly.

Truisms abound where many speak on the myriad aspects of life. But one most relevant and persistent in my own is that animal lovers are sensitive, empathic types. Animals speak their own language, a truth requiring deep listening to understand and appreciate their true nature. A quiet presence reveals more than any one human can ever verbalize.

And this past Monday, I felt as many hearts aching as I did confusion for their circumstances. Freyja, the 10-year-old blind Husky, wailed and howled in her kennel any time she heard the sound of human footsteps entering the room. I sat next to her on the floor, reaching through the bars to touch her. She was as inconsolable as I was helpless to take away her sadness or anxiety by bringing her into my own raucous rescue pack.

Every day, I check the shelter’s website to see who might’ve found their forever home in my absence.

As I’ve come to do after all Monday dog walks, I bring Greenies and rawhides to the dogs in the back kennels, for they are the ones getting the least attention and exercise. They are also the most confused, anxious, and fearful, even. They’re up for evaluation to determine whether or not they are a suitable candidate for someone else’s living room or backyard, feeling as vulnerable as I do in a job interview.

Don’t you want me? I can hear them say.

Those lying in wait no more understand why they are in a strange environment as I understand why no one is calling me back for the job I recently applied.

When it comes to vulnerability and longing, I completely get it, and on some days, perhaps a little too deeply.

I readily relate to feeling thrown away by society, not unlike all the shelter dogs lying in wait of human approval and acceptance. I have spent my life seeking acceptance of others, feeling excluded, less-than, and grateful for any semblance of redemption found in those resilient moments where I reclaimed my spirit and rallied against it. I think feeling this way has led me to places I might not have otherwise gone or drawn me toward people to whom I might not have otherwise been attracted. I’ve been as compelled toward circumstances and causes where others might not have been as readily concerned.

It’s much more enticing to join a party or attend a family picnic than it is to go bring joy and alleviate a bit of loneliness to a homeless dog for a few hours. Who wants to feel all that loneliness, deprivation, or rejection?

The thing is, feeling such emotions—and dogs feel all of these and more—is very much part of the experience of living. The recently returned Pointer mix in the back kennels on whom I have my eye as a companion to our disabled hound mutt wants to feel love and freedom as much as the long-term shelter guest, Simone, wants to feel safe and accepted.

I long to feel wanted to bring my professional energy and talent to a paying job as much as any younger person wants to feel there are opportunities to enjoy the same goods in life as the guy next door. We all know what happens in our society when the members within feel as unwanted as they do ill-equipped. (If you’re doubting the voracity of that statement, witness the recent Trump-loving movement of the disenfranchised and the disempowered.)

We all want to feel as though there’s a place for us in the world, that we are valued for who we are and seen for what we bring to the human community. Some of us express our innate wants and needs differently—it takes all kinds to make the world go round—but if you’re a living, breathing being, the longing is there, just the same.

Later on, I took my longing heart and made an inquiry about the plight of Freyja this Tuesday morning. It felt a little bit lighter when I learned that she had just found her forever home after I left for the afternoon. Maybe I’ll get a call later this week for the job I applied for. Then again, maybe, just like Simone waiting for her forever home, a better position awaits.

It’s all a matter of resilience, persistence, and deep listening, to better attune to the needs of others living in a dynamic and complicated world.

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