Self Doubt and Unexpected Gifts

I wasn’t sure how, but I trusted that I would get through this past week.  Over the past month we have accepted more dogs into our program than we have ever had before.  More than 90 dogs were under our care, puppies, seniors, lame dogs, sick dogs, grumpy dogs, and incredibly sweet dogs… all unsure of what was going on in their lives while being transported from one location or another on their way to our facility.   We sometimes tend to forget that our ability to understand we are trying to ‘help’ is often not shared by a frightened dog.  They simply don’t understand that we are trying to give them a secure and safe future.   All they know is that they are being thrust into a world of new surroundings, strangers, and medical procedures that are invasive and unfamiliar.  Despite our attempts to be patient and loving, some dogs simply don’t trust our intentions until enough time elapses for them to realize that we are, in fact, trustworthy.

The process and patience that it takes to work with these dogs can be overwhelming… but it is nothing when compared to the patience it takes to educate people to slow down and learn to approach a dog on their terms.  In truth, it is us “people” who take a toll on my patience more than any dog.  Too often I am ‘educated’ by a would be helpful human, that a dog just needs love to overcome anything… and sometimes that may be true.  But most frightened animals need patience and space.  The human ego needing immediate results by forcing affection on an insecure dog, can often be the straw that leads to a mis-labeled behavior.  Our apparent need to be a ‘hero’ can be more of a pitfall than a solution.   When a potential adopter meets our available dogs, I’m inevitably asked “What’s their story?  Where did they come from?”   Now, I assure you I have no qualms sharing what little history we may be able to acquire on each dog, but the truth is, 99% of the time, the information consists of the city the dog was found, the shelter (if from a shelter) they were transferred from, and the gender.    Everything else…? well, your guess is as good as ours.   And to be perfectly honest, we really aren’t nearly as invested in uncovering the history of each dog as we are about ensuring their futures.  I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to create a jar of ‘horror stories’ that a perspective adopter could reach into and pull from just to satisfy the need to be content to know that THEY were a hero.  Besides, I have seen it happen wherein we have shared a history as we knew it to be true “Fifi was surrendered by her loving family that cared for her all her life.  The owner was unable to care for her any longer due to health reasons and wants the best for her, so she was entrusted to us to help her find a new loving family.  She has no behavior issues, is house trained, well cared for, and simply needs a new family for the remainder of her life.  The previous owner is devastated in having to let her go, but the care facility does not allow pets.”… only to meet the new adopters 2 years later and have her story recounted to me… “Remember Jojo? You guys called her Fifi.  She is SUCH a sweet girl.  Boy, how far she has come.  When we adopted her she was a wreck! Do you remember? I think you guys found her in a dumpster down in the Valley.  We worked SO hard on her, had to get her groomed, she was so scared and timid, didn’t like other dogs, was so sick, and we managed to pull her back from the brink and now she is doing so well! I can’t believe someone would have ever thrown this girl away!” 

Seriously… this happened.    

Clearly the accuracy of the history is less important than the future security of the animal in question.  The more horrific the history, the bigger the hero.  And quite frankly, I don’t care.  If that is what it takes to make sure a dog is loved and secure for the remainder of their lives, I’m only too happy to nod and smile… and chuckle as I walk away.  And for the record, “Fifi/Jojo” was clearly doted on and loved by this new family.   There was no reason for me to ‘correct’ the story, as it was clear that ‘their’ accounting helped them love her more.


At the end of the day Saturday, we had placed 17 dogs into new homes, brought in 2 new dogs to add to our pack, had the opportunity to educate dozens of potential new pet owners, and took care of 4 emergency medical cases.  And this was all just in one day!   But with every dog we found a placement for, I received 10 more requests for other dogs in need.   The self-doubt began to set in.  How in the world will we ever REALLY make a difference at this rate?  Regardless of how many we take in, provide medical and behavior care for, place into homes, and educate people, are we really making ANY difference at all?  

I had a personal engagement to attend that evening, a BBQ that I was invited to by someone that I hardly know.  Little more than an acquaintance really.   It was expected that some 40 people would be there, perhaps only 3 or 4 that I would actually be familiar with.  It would be easy to skip and send my apologies for missing it, as I doubt anyone would really know or miss me afterall.  BUT… I had already committed to attending this BBQ wherein I knew only a handful of people, and in truth, sometimes it is good for me to spend time among my own species on a social level.   Dragging my heels, I arrived with my mind whirling on what solutions I have overlooked in my efforts to take in more dogs with the limited resources we currently have, dangerously close to convincing myself that I’m not making a difference in the grand scheme of things.  Feeling rather overwhelmed and hopeless… I greeted the gracious and exuberant Hostess.  Scanned the crowd of happy guests mingling and laughing, enjoying one another’s company and conversations.  I discovered one or two familiar faces, but was little more than a stranger in the crowd.  I was fairly convinced at this point that this would be a very short evening, and I’d return home soon to work on what had been consuming my thoughts.

THEN….   As I made my way to visit with one of the few familiar faces I’d seen, I spotted ‘sanctuary’… a cute medium sized terrier mix.  As I am prone to find refuge in the touch of a dog, I couldn’t help to stare… and as I stared I was overcome by a sense of familiarity… I KNEW this dog.  Bruce!?.   Bruce lay in the lap of a woman who clung to him with the loving embrace of a mother and her newborn babe.  She caressed him, kissed him, and was sharing stories of him with those seated around her.   Like a moth to a flame, I found myself pulled towards them and introduced myself.  “Hello, I’m…”   interrupted, the woman completed my sentence.. “… with Green Dog!  Do you remember this guy??  It’s Bruce!  I adopted him from you guys almost 5 years ago!”   Yes… I most certainly remembered ‘this guy’.   The woman stood with him cradled in her arms as I sat, and she lovingly placed him into my lap.  He in turn began to wag his tail, administered several appreciative kisses, and looked into my eyes as if to say “thank you… I’m happy, loved, and safe.”   In that brief moment, all self doubt was purged, the slightest degree of uncertainty that I was making a difference melted away, and in its place was pure joy.  It was abundantly clear that, for this dog, his future was secured.  “He remembers you!” she exclaimed.  “I can’t tell you how much he has changed my life.  I absolutely love this boy!”

We spent the next 30 minutes sharing stories of his escapades in his new home as he lay in my arms, and she recounted her experience of her first meeting of him through GDRP, as well as the history of his story as we knew it.  To my absolute delight, it was not embellished to satisfy the need to be a hero.   It was enough for her to have him in her life, and credit him for the impact HE has had on her.  She has no idea how much of a hero she was to me this day.  She may never know that her candor and humble sharing of her role in his life renewed my faith in humanity this day. 

This chance meeting, combined with the humble accounting of her role in his journey, was an unexpected gift that will impact me for years to come.   It will sustain me in my times of doubt and frustration.  It has given me an imprint of why I am on this planet.  And it will provide me with the clarity that it doesn’t matter what the agenda is for someone who wants to adopt a dog… what really matters is that the dog is provided for, loved, and given a secure future.  What difference does it really make if the human is allowed to embellish a story to make them feel like a savior… when the end result is that an animal is loved, cared for, and doted on for the rest of its life?    To this, I say… Where’s that jar?  Let’s create some history so that we can begin writing the pages of their future.

To Bruce and his incredible mom… I humbly give my thanks.  This night… you were MY hero’s.


Colleen Combs