I can’t believe it has been ONE YEAR!!! Thank you all so much for following Kira’s story this year and for celebrating each of her small (and sometimes huge) victories with us!
I have created a video celebrating 1 Year! You can view it here:
Today as I reflect on our first year with Kira, I am so grateful to be sharing this amazing journey with her. It was a journey I was at first reluctant to embark on. A year ago, I had just lost Roxy, my beloved and very special old girl, to bone cancer. I knew that Obi and I needed another dog in the house, but I felt like I had used up all of my emotional energy caring for Roxy during her illness. I physically ached with the pain of her loss. I didn’t feel like I had anything left to give a new dog. I thought I needed an easy dog, one who would just walk into the house and fit right in…
As it turns out, what I really needed was Kira. I’m so thankful for the choice I made and thankful for the friends who encouraged me to make it. I didn’t get a happy, easy dog; instead the dog who came to me was so withdrawn that she almost wasn’t there. Kira and I found ourselves together, suffering pain from completely different circumstances, but both feeling lost and alone. We were both trying to make sense of things, to get our bearings in a changed world, and to find a place of hope, peace, and comfort in our lives. When I looked into Kira’s eyes, I recognized what I saw there; I saw a reflection of my own sadness. Sometimes the greatest gifts come from the places we least expect and sometimes what we think we need, is not really what we need at all.
A little over a year ago, the only world Kira had ever known was a small enclosure. She had always had fleas, ticks, and worms. She was malnourished and had never received veterinary care. She had reared multiple litters of puppies. Whatever experiences she had with people had been frightening and unpleasant. She was dirty, sick, and terrified when the Humane Officer showed up and ordered all of the dogs to be taken from the property.
During her transport, she hid her head and tried to make herself as small as possible. She refused to walk and had to be carried. She was nearly catatonic, paralyzed with fear, with an empty, vacant expression in her eyes. In her foster home she hid under the desk; she hid in a patch of lilies; she pressed her body against the side of her crate; she huddled in corners.
I brought her home on August 3, 2014. On the drive to her new home she remained motionless on the floor of the car. Once home, she refused to leave her crate for days and would come out to drink water only in the middle of the night. She hid under the porch steps outside. She would only emerge from under the steps to go to the bathroom if I wasn’t outside and wasn’t visible through the window. She shrunk away when I reached out to touch her, turned her head if I spoke to her, and averted her eyes if I looked at her.
After many days she slowly emerged from her crate and began to peek around corners at me, running away if I acknowledged her. She slowly relaxed when I read her bedtime stories and let me touch her without leaning away. One night she licked my hand.
Months passed and she climbed onto the couch and perched tensely there…soon she rarely left her newly discovered and much loved spot on the couch. She fell in love with a toy duck and carried it with her everywhere, grooming it each night. She started playing with the other dogs and following them around. Sometimes she laid beside me on the couch and enjoyed being petted. She wagged her tail!
During the last six months, she became a very different dog: she would finally drink from the water bowl in the kitchen. She laid on the dog beds and decided they were ok. She would come out from under the steps to race happily around the yard. She began to look to me for reassurance when she felt unsafe. She started to follow me around. She finally started to be genuinely relaxed and comfortable.
Now, one year later, I often forget how far she has come.
Surprisingly, of all the things in these pictures, the one that took her the longest was laying down in the grass in the middle of the yard. It took almost a full year for her to be able to relax in the open space of the yard.
Just about everything she now does, I could not have envisioned at this time last year…. She squeezes herself up onto my lap and tries to sit with me. She sneaks her head under my arm while I am eating to “share” my food. She barks to let me know when she wants to come in from outside. She barks to let me know when the other dogs are doing something bad or if the neighbor’s cat is walking through our yard. She comes to me when I call her (there are conditions for this… I have to be walking away…but I’ll take it!). She follows me all over the yard and lays down beside me while I garden. She stands by the fence and happily watches the neighbors. She adores rolling in freshly mowed grass and kicking all her feet in the air. She gets toys out of the toy box. She absolutely loves playing with (and herding) the other dogs. She sleeps beside my bed every night. She is happy and curious when people come to visit us. She likes to cuddle. She checks in with me when she is unsure. When she doesn’t understand what is happening, she doesn’t run away and hide anymore, instead she looks up at me for reassurance that she is ok. When I smile and say, “It’s ok,” she trusts that. When I tell her that she is a good girl, it makes her very happy.
And my very favorite thing: Sometimes when I am talking to her she leans forward and very gently touches her nose to my nose.
It is hard for me to find the words to express how I feel as I reflect on Kira’s first year with us.
We have come so far, in ways, and on paths, that I would not have imagined.
I have learned so much.
I thought I knew something about fearful dogs. As I lay on the floor outside Kira’s crate that first month and read her stories, I began to realize that I couldn’t grasp the depth of her fears.
I thought I understood something about training dogs. I quickly found that the things I knew didn’t mean a thing with Kira.
I thought I knew how rewarding it could be to see a damaged dog start a new life. I had no idea how amazing, how incredible, that journey could be.
Everything is meaningful with Kira. The tiniest “normal dog” behaviors mean so much with her. I think she knows it too. When she follows me to the far corner of the yard and stands under the pine tree that she has, until very recently, been afraid to approach, she looks up at me with a bright, happy expression that seems for all the world to say, “Look at me, mom, I’m here with you! I am very brave!!”
Maybe someday when she is an old dog she will have gotten used to “normal dog” things and she will take them for granted…. But for now, she thinks everything in life is fascinating and fun. She even gets excited for bedtime. She will be sound asleep in her crate when I say, “It’s time for bed,” and she will jump up and run into the bedroom excitedly. She watches me carry her bed in and because I have encouraged her to lay ON the bed instead of BESIDE the bed, she will lay down happily on it while I tell her goodnight and get the other dogs into their places and then, as soon as I turn the light out, she will get up from the bed in the dark and lay down on the floor beside it. It took me a couple of weeks to notice the pattern and realize that the only reason she was laying on the bed at all was because she knew that I wanted her to, and while she didn’t understand why, she knew it made me happy.
It makes me cry when I realize these things. When it occurs to me that she is trying so hard to figure out her world and that she wants to do what she is supposed to do. I’m not even sure what about it makes me cry, but I think I am just overwhelmed with compassion for this stunningly sweet, intelligent, loving dog, who at 4 years old is working so hard every day to understand and make sense of the world. I am devastated when I am reminded of the depth of her deprivation and her complete lack of experience with anything good in her life. But more than anything, I think what makes me cry at those moments is that I’m so touched by her willingness, her vulnerability, and her sweet, hopeful eagerness. She moves through her life with a lightness of being and spirit that I would never expect to see in a dog with her background.
I had originally entitled this blog, “To Become Whole Again,” but the more time I spent with Kira, the more I began to realize that it was not Kira, but her world, that was broken; fractured, splintered and impossible to understand. Kira needed for the pieces of her world to be put together in a way that made sense for the first time.
Kira is remarkably whole. I don’t understand how she can be. I don’t understand how much strength and courage it takes to endure so much suffering. How much grace to forgive a lifetime of neglect and mistreatment at the hands of human beings. I don’t understand how much resilience is required to so wholeheartedly embrace joy after years of pain. I find it remarkable. The poet Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Kira will always have scars from her past experiences. They are a reminder of her wounds, but also of her healing. She survived…bearing scars, and light.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Over a year ago, when I first interviewed Kira’s foster family for an article I was writing about the rescue of the puppy mill dogs, they described her as being sweet and gentle and yet completely shut down and paralyzed by fear. I was profoundly moved as they told me of sitting on the floor with her each day and gently stroking her, while talking in soft voices, even though she continued to be unresponsive to any contact. It pained them so deeply to see her trapped in a world of fear.
But they spoke about a couple of times when Kira had very briefly played in the yard with their other dog and they said, “in those brief encounters, it is clear that there IS another dog inside there and that she is capable of moments of joy.” I think of that conversation often and I wish they could see Kira now. That little glimmer of joy that gave them hope has blossomed into a radiant light. Kira is capable of more joy than any dog I’ve ever known.
In my first post about Kira’s journey, when I was still thinking about adopting one of those rescued puppy mill dogs, I wrote….
“Adopting Kira or Skye would be an act of faith. A way to make sense of suffering. A way to affirm and sanctify life. To believe in the possibility of wonder and beauty, even in the midst of my own loss and the terrible suffering that had defined the lives of the puppy mill dogs. It would be life sanctifying.”
This year has been that and so much more.
I wanted to reach out and give love and hope to these dogs who had suffered so much. I believed in the possibility for healing. But what I could not have imagined was that it would not be me teaching Kira about the possibility of wonder, joy and beauty in the world; it would be Kira teaching me.
I had no idea when I adopted her a year ago, terrified and withdrawn, that she would step into my life and enrich it so much. You can’t live with Kira and not be hopeful. You can’t know her and not believe that goodness can come out of even the darkest situations. She makes it nearly impossible to be cynical. She has every reason in the world to be distrustful, anxious, withdrawn, defensive…and yet she is none of those things. She is graceful, loving, courageous, curious and joyful. Her capacity for happiness has brought me to tears more times than I can count.
I don’t know where she finds her hope and courage, after all she has been through. But every day she delights in being alive. She delights in a world that has been so very unkind to her.
As humans we seek wonder and beauty to give us hope in the midst of sadness and suffering. I adopted Kira because I chose to believe that when we are faced we sadness and loss in life, we can still seek out and find beauty and hope in the world, and that having faith in the face of our despair is what heals us and gives our lives meaning.
Little did I know how fully Kira would embody this for me. How deeply she would touch my heart and soul with her gentle grace. She has given me so much more than I could ever give her. She reminds me every moment how much beauty and wonder there is in the world. And I hope that I remind her every day of how much love there is.
I tell her every night that I will love her always and forever. I’m sure she doesn’t understand the words, but she must understand the sentiment, because she gazes back happily and there is such a beautiful light in her eyes. Sometimes she touches her nose to mine.
The pieces have come together. Her world has become whole again. And so has mine.
“A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A miracle is when one plus one equals a thousand.”
NEXT POST: Watching Kira