Let’s see. If I had answered that question just ten years ago, I would have probably defined myself first according to my job and marital status, followed by any hobbies or activities I enjoyed. The first line of my auto-biography would probably have read something like this:
I am an unmarried teacher who likes to shop, and enjoys hanging out with my girlfriends.
It could have described just about any average twenty-something professional. If you had read this description, nothing about it would have resonated with you. In fact, this depiction is so completely underwhelming that it wouldn’t have left much of a footprint on anyone’s mind. And therein lays the point of this post.
Like so many other young adults, missing from my life was a purpose. Although I was enjoying myself (perhaps too much at times), I was sailing through life without a passion to direct my focus. I lacked an appetite for politics, dodged discussions about religion, and was wearied by topics associated with our country’s educational system. Sure, I had well-defined career goals and held distant aspirations to get married and start a family. But looking back, my day to day actions were driven by the social expectations and norms of those with whom I chose to associate at the time.
I probably would have been perfectly happy continuing this way – had it not been for two life changing events.
About five years ago, my husband and I adopted our first dog, Jeter. Jeter was three years old when he came to live with us, and like so many adult dogs rescued from shelters, Jeter had a slew of “issues”, which at that time we were unprepared to deal with. Refusing to give up on him, I dove headfirst into schooling myself, hoping to find every possible resource available to help him. Sadly, Jeter died after only six months with us. I was devastated by his unexpected death, yet it opened my eyes to a world quite different from the one portrayed on “Lassie”.
The second event, and that which I unequivocally consider the pinnacle event, was when we adopted our next dog, Lola. We knew Lola was deaf when we adopted her and certainly expected some challenges associated with living with a dog who cannot hear.
What we weren’t prepared for was the stigma associated with owning a pit bull type dog.
Growing increasingly frustrated by people’s uneasy reactions to her appearance when meeting her, I started to educate myself so I could effectively defend my dog against breed discrimination and shield her from situations which I considered somewhat unsafe because of her disability. Despite our efforts, over time Lola started became increasingly reactive and began exhibiting a plethora of fear-based behaviors. Rather than sit back and isolate myself (as so many owners with fear reactive dogs often do), I became proactive and began networking.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who has a dog who pulls on leash. I’m not the only one who has a dog who reacts to any moving, breathing (and I mean literally!) creature when behind a barrier. And I’m not the only one who has at one time or another actually resigned to living in complete seclusion because my dog could not tolerate house guests. In other words, I quickly realized that I AM NOT ALONE.
Since then, I have been lucky enough to form strong relationships with various veterinary professionals, animal rescuers, and local dog lovers. They helped me regain control of the situation which my husband and I considered hopeless at one time. Unfortunately, most people would disparage the extreme efforts we took to help our fearful dog live comfortably. Undeterred, we embraced our commitment to Lola, facing the flood of challenging obstacles which all too often impel owners to surrender or return their dogs to shelters. By then, I was certain of the fate that lay ahead for a deaf, fear aggressive, adult pit bull type dog in an overcrowded shelter, and had no intention of walking Lola to her death.
See, there’s something that the average person doesn’t know about the “Doggie World”: there is currently a crisis of epidemic proportions worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are more than 200 million stray dogs. Sadly, the majority of these dogs in the United States are pit bull type dogs. According to the Humane Society of the United States, four million cats and dogs are being put down in U.S. shelters each year. That’s about one animal every eight seconds.
Yes, you read that right. One animal is killed every eight seconds because of human greed. But here’s the thing. Until you SEE this tragedy, it is quite easy to ignore. Once witnessed though, it becomes too difficult to turn a blind eye. And that’s what happened to me.
Adopting Jeter opened my eyes and my mind.
Adopting Lola opened my heart.
So back to the original question. Who am I?
I wouldn’t call myself a rescuer- I do not pull dogs from shelters or foster dogs at my home. I would not call myself an activist- I don’t participate in protests, I am not a vegetarian, and I don’t aggressively seek to change, or fight to create, new laws. I’m not a volunteer- I do not visit local shelters or rescues to walk or assist with dogs.
Instead, I choose to do what I do best. I socialize. I network. I educate. If asked that question today, my answer would be that I am a voice.
A voice that speaks for those who can’t speak for themselves. A voice that dispels common misconceptions and myths. A voice that educates about the dangers of stereotyping and importance of tolerance. A voice that promotes responsible ownership and fosters positive interactions between owners and pets.
To some, my efforts may seem ineffective or trivial at best. But if I can positively affect the life of just a single dog simply by telling my story to those who will listen, then I think my voice is well worth using.
Welcome to my blog! Here I plan to share accidental (but significant ) lessons I’ve learned, musings I’ve long pondered, random ideas I’ve unraveled, and related tidbits I’ve wondered about and reflected upon. In other words, it’s a blog about whatever topics come to mind on any particular day!