Today I received some heartbreaking news. One of my most favorite shelter dogs is no longer with us. This afternoon he was euthanized, hopefully in the arms of his loving foster parents. I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t strong enough to be there to say my final goodbyes.
I’d like to think of myself as strong, as someone who can tamp down the sadness and keep moving forward with a big smile on my face. But sometimes those emotional blinders aren’t airtight.
You see, I’m the cheerful one. I’m the girl who’s always cracking jokes and dressing the poor dogs up in tutus and boas. Nothing gets me down! Well that’s what people see anyway. Today is a different story.
I’m reading this book in Derek’s honor.
I guess there’s a reason why they call crazy dog people like me “bleeding hearts.” Right now it feels like my heart has been squeezed, resulting in sporadic crying jags and a daylong headache.
It’s a reminder that this work that I do is not easy.
It’s not easy when I say goodnight to my BFF, Spanky, and he looks back at me in total confusion. Night after night, I put him back in his kennel and he offers me a fluffy toy with a look that says, “Where you going? I’m still ready to play!”
It’s not easy when I’m short on time and Miss Mary (a beautiful chocolate lab who has gone overlooked for months) whimpers when I walk by, begging me to take her out just for a quick dip in the lake. I drive home feeling like the biggest creep on earth for not giving in.
It’s not easy when I start to see the effects of shelter life on the dogs that have been there for months—even years.
It’s not easy taking a day off from the shelter knowing that my little buddies are expecting to see me promptly at 7 p.m.
It’s not easy when I’m hustling to get home for dinner and I see a restless dog bouncing and spinning like Tigger on speed.
It’s not easy when it’s 100-plus degrees outside and there’s still a dozen more dogs that need to be walked.
And selflishly, it’s not easy when they get adopted. It’s both wonderful and heartbreaking to say my final goodbyes. This, of course, is the ultimate goal. I want my babies to get adopted, believe me! But it’s still hard letting them go and not having any control over their lives. What if they get left outside in the pouring rain? What if their adopters don’t follow the rules and put them in a dangerous situation? I can drive myself bonkers ruminating about the worst-case scenario, or I can just move on. So that’s what I do.
People outside of my amazing circle of APA friends often ask me how I can spend so much time in such a depressing place. I’m often perplexed when I see visitors with tears in their eyes and then realize that I’ve been desensitized to it all. To be perfectly honest, I don’t see it as depressing. I think of it as a sleep-away camp for dogs. They’re just here for a short while to make some new friends, learn some skills and play games.
Compared to most other shelters, these dogs are getting out a lot more—on field trips, sleepovers and runs around the lake. They’re even working on their behavioral skills so they’ll be good to go when their adopters come. Derek was my “Behavioral Buddy,” meaning we worked together on some of his problem areas –all stemming from his silliness and ADD. Luckily he was obsessed with treats, so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get him to mind his manners. That little twerp figured out pretty fast that eye contact would get him treats. So while walking on the crowded trail, he would stare at me the entire time while I popped treats into his mouth. We were the two stooges of Town Lake, making random strangers smile and laugh at the sight of a doofy dog walking sideways.
I have so many good memories of this gorgeous hunk of a dog—costume contests, cuddling sessions, field trips to Sonic—that I will always keep close to my heart. I’m sad that his behavior took a drastic turn for the worst, and it’s frustrating knowing that it was completely out of my control—or the control of his foster parents. Sometimes they are their own worst enemies. There’s only so much we can do to keep them happy and safe. That feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming.
While the blinders are temporarily down and I let myself give into the tears, I will acknowledge that I’m dealing with some heavy issues. The sadness is there, but it is almost totally eclipsed by the joy those dogs bring into my life. If anything, my mental health has vastly improved thanks to all those wonderful creatures who greet me with smiles and tail wags every night. That goes for my APA friends as well! They are the only ones who truly understand what I’m going through right now. Plus, they are totally cool with being seen with me in public while I’m wearing my crocs and dirty dog clothes…sometimes even a tutu. I love them. I love my APA dogs. And I love who I have become since I began my volunteer work in 2009.
Rest in peace, my sweet Derek. Run free!