I spent the weekend at two festivals all about dogs. Both were fundraisers for animal welfare organizations, but the general public was invited and encouraged to bring their furry friends.
I watched dogs and their families smile all weekend. Tails wagged as people introduced themselves and their furry companions. I saw dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors. I even saw a brown and white Newfie, a silver lab and an Ibizan hound – dogs I had never seen in person before. Big dogs, small dogs, barking dogs, shy dogs – I was surrounded by so many 4 legged creatures, I couldn’t help but feel joy.
I don’t really know the last time I felt pure joy around a dog. I know that sounds crazy, coming from someone so passionate about dogs, but when you surround yourself with likeminded, overly passionate animal rescuers, you can forget the joy a dog can bring to your life.
When you rescue dogs and fight for their welfare every day, you simply forget that dogs are amazing and fun and can make even the grouchiest person smile, because you are too overwhelmed by the horror they managed to survive. I don’t know the last time I looked into a dog’s eyes and felt happiness. Instead, I look and see their history, their scars. I see their past and I feel their pain.
If I dig deep enough, I can recall the dogs I had growing up: Spunky, Lassie, Taffy, and Apples. The days before I found myself entrenched in animal welfare, I was simply enamored by the unconditional love of a dog. There was nothing better than a dog – nothing.
In Del Mar, CA there is this amazing dog beach. The very first time I went I was absolutely overcome with emotion. I sat on a giant rock and spent hours watching as dogs played in the surf and with each other. It is my heaven. To see dogs enjoying life, living free and easy. To see them loved by people. To see so many dogs happy and healthy.
Today, as I look into my dogs’ eyes, I see Amish puppy mills, rusty cages, years of neglect. I see the dirty streets of Chicago. I feel a sense of panic and loss. I don’t ever see joy.
It is not that I don’t love my dogs. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would die for them without question. What is true is that I have to come to love them because of their scars and not for the joy they bring me.
I think I have failed them.
It is one thing to show unconditional love, to remain patient and supportive as an abused dog heals and learns to trust, but it is another to allow that dog’s past to become his only identity. I admit, in many ways, I have done that. I do that.
I have become so accustom to horrific stories, that I have overlooked the true beauty in dogs. I have allowed myself to forget the happiness they stir inside of us and the joy they bring to our lives.
I needed last weekend. I needed to be surrounded by dogs and their people who simply love one another no strings or baggage attached.
It is too easy to become cynical and jaded and hardened in animal rescue. I look at dogs and see a world of cruelty instead of a world of love.
Last night, as I snuggled up to my dogs on the sofa, I let them be dogs and not sad stories. When I held them close and their tails softly wagged, I felt pure joy.