This week’s post is about gratitude! (How appropriate!) 6 months ago this week Kira began a new life with Almost Home Dog Rescue of Ohio. They had found a very special foster home for her and she waited at the veterinary clinic for her new family to come pick her up. Beth Kowalski, an AHDRO volunteer describes interacting with her there:
When I visited Kira, it was just a few days after her rescue from the puppy mill and she was placed at Healthy Pets in Lewis Center, Ohio until her foster home was available, a few days later. I came to see her and sat with her in her kennel for around 90 minutes. I saw a shut-down dog. When I came inside her kennel and sat down, she was drooling. This can sometimes be a sign of anxiety in dogs. I’ve had some experience with dogs like Kira before and knew not to be too much in her space or look at her constantly…. But I made it a point to talk to her the entire time I was there, telling her how beautiful and sweet she was and that she was safe and loved. She didn’t want to look me in the eyes. She stayed in the same place, laying there, never really moving, her head against the wall. I had brought some treats with me… She smelled them and I put them on the ground in front of her, but she didn’t eat them while I was there….
A few days later, her foster family picked her up and took her to a home for the very first time. Arnie Berger describes her first day with them:
On the assigned day, we went to pick up Kira. To say that she was lethargic would be a gross understatement. She was catatonic, with an empty expression in her eyes. She was in the arms of the vet tech, who carried her out of her cage because Kira was too afraid to come out on her own. When placed on the floor, Kira desperately tried to escape into hiding anywhere she could find. There was really no place for her to hide, and she settled for burying her nose under a vacuum cleaner hose, just to feel covered by SOMETHING. She would not budge from there, and the vet tech ended up carrying her into our car…. The only thing alive about this pathetic girl was that her heart was beating.
When we arrived home, we carried her into our back yard, where she met our female Collie, Sadie. Kira cowered in the corner of the yard, but when Sadie approached her, we saw Kira show some life for the first time. They greeted each other, and touched noses together. But then it was back in the corner for Kira. In order to get her into the house, we had to carry her in. She immediately hid under the desk. She would not accept treats from our hands, but she did take them if we placed them on the floor and walked away. When we showed her the cage, she again showed life, and ran into the cage faster than we ever saw her move. She pressed her body tightly against the wall, and wouldn’t budge. We always kept the doors open, but she never chose to come out.
This is the Thanksgiving part! Today, 6 months later: This morning Kira laid down, for the first time, on a dog bed where I was sitting (yes, we do use dog beds as seating), curled up beside me, put her head in my lap and looked up at me. Last night she fell asleep upside down with her feet in the air while I was petting her belly.
I cannot express how thankful I am to have Kira. Every day there are moments of wonder. It is impossible to live with her and not be touched by her.
What about Kira? Is she thankful to be with us this Thanksgiving? Do dogs feel gratitude? I think they do. I have seen a look in the eyes of an old shelter dog laying down on a warm, soft bed that is pure thankfulness. Many rescuers will say that rescued dogs are especially grateful for everything. Maybe it’s true for dogs, as well as people, that the light seems brighter when you’ve come through a really dark night.
There is no doubt that dogs retain memories of homelessness, loneliness, suffering, abuse and deprivation. There is no doubt that in many cases it continues to influence their reactions to the world for the rest of their lives. Some people worry about adopting a rescue dog with an unknown history because of the ‘residual issues’ from a former life. But adopters will tell you that by far the most common trait that you will see in rescued dogs is gratitude. This is true of Michael Vick’s pit bulls (See Hector), of puppy mill dogs, of elderly dogs dumped in shelters, of homeless strays, of chained backyard dogs, of dogs with embedded collars, bullet wounds, and human inflicted scars.
Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness, appreciating good things in our world, responding to the gifts we receive from others. “Gratitude is an overflow of the pleasure filling your soul.” (Raheel Farooq) Gratitude is waking up 15 minutes before the alarm every morning and being so excited for a new day that you pace back and forth and then stand beside mom’s bed staring, quacking your duck, and waiting for her to wake up. Gratitude is running down the steps and jumping and bouncing and spinning into your yard at dawn, no matter the weather. Gratitude is barking joyfully while waiting for breakfast. Gratitude is a paw on a hand when the petting stops to show how much you liked it. Gratitude is laying on the dog bed even though it scares you because you want to let mom know that you love her and want to be next to her even when you are afraid. Gratitude is sleeping with your duck between your paws, grooming it often, and carrying it everywhere. Gratitude is kisses and tail wags.
Often the most wonderful things in life happen in the small, in-between moments. There are big, great blessings which we all come together to celebrate, but there are so many unexpected gifts that come in the quiet of an ordinary day. I could write a book about the things that I’ve learned from each of my dogs and the amazing gifts that I am eternally grateful to have received from them. This whole blog is about the things Kira has taught me. A few others:
- Merlin, my dear old man, taught me about the blessings of loving an old dog. When he died I wrote of him : “He reminds me to be gentle. To be patient. To take the extra time. To slow down, to eat and walk without rushing. To be thankful that I can eat and walk, and find simple joy in both things. To love an old dog is to reflect on a life well lived and to reflect on the role that love plays in our lives. “
- Roxy, my very special girl, taught me one of the hardest lessons of my life about not being afraid. About living every day embracing joy and love and life. About refusing to let fear of the future rob you of the joy of today. She was the embodiment of courage and I think of her when I need to be brave. She taught me about letting go, about learning to be rich in loss…. About the enormous, staggering, heartbreaking burden of responsibility we have for those we love and hold closest to our hearts.
- Obi teaches me every day. He is the sweetest dog I’ve ever known. He is both very simple and very complicated. Life with Obi has never been without challenges and obstacles. He has taught me that having severe limitations in some areas, doesn’t mean that you can’t excel in others. Obi constantly reminds me that it is enough simply to show up and be present and be kind even when (especially when) you don’t understand the challenges other people face. During therapy dog visits I watch Obi interact with kids who have many developmental disabilities. They respond to his gentle, unassuming presence in truly remarkable ways. Despite his own fears and vulnerabilities, Obi is unfailingly strong and steady for ‘his kids.’ It reminds me that we all have a special gift and that when you find the thing that you were born to do – it just works.
I am thankful for all of the dogs who have been part of my life because I wouldn’t be who I am without them.
May it be filled with gratitude, some small miracles, and much love!
“How to we possibly measure the grace granted us by our dogs? Capable of dramatic teachings, our dogs also move subtly but as relentlessly as water, the flow of their spirit working within us in ways we may not even know.” (Suzanne Clothier)