Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why did I adopt a shelter dog?

Because her name is Jelly and she is a dog and she is loved. Because she was a scared, submissive stray at a high-kill shelter and was rescued by the local Humane Society. Because she needed a foster home away in a quieter environment and she came into my house where she slipped on the hardwood floors and feared the stairs. Because she would turn over on her back, legs in the air like an over turned bug desperate to flip over every time someone knocked on the door. Because she won over her foster dad who was wary of dog hair by not shedding AT ALL for the first two weeks of her stay. Because she was not my first foster dog but she was the one I couldn’t give back. Because the day we signed the adoption papers she let it all go and shed buckets of hair which covered the floor and furniture. I’m not kidding.

Because she is short-haired, squat and has a small head and I’ve had a life long affinity for long-haired, lean shepherds but I adopted her anyway. Because she would only pee in the backyard for her first six months in our home -- never on her many outings. Because she refused to go in the lake or any body of water for over a year before her little feet left the ground, finally, in pursuit of a stick on a hot day. Because she inspired her dad, a man in his forties, who grew up an only child with distant older parents to feel love and care for another being. Because despite his inability to express the affection I sought in our relationship, he used the word “adorable”, for the first time, to describe Jelly when her lip got caught on her teeth as she looked up at him. Because she has weathered the joint custody after the breakup, in two nearby cities, back and forth every Thursday for over four years now. Because we call each other daily to discuss Jelly’s antics and ask endlessly, “What’s she doing now?”

Because she licks my legs every morning after I get out of the shower, licks the salt off my face after a run in the hills, licks the ropey scars on our next door neighbor’s forearm each time she greets him and she simply “cannot hold her licker.” Because she rides in my truck with her chin resting on the open window and turns her head to watch the dog on the sidewalk like a man’s gaze follows a woman walking by. Because she ever so politely takes the hamburger (without bun) proffered by my mother, her grandmother, who picks her up during the day for company while I’m at work and takes her to the drive through for a snack. Because she’s afraid of loud noises and the two big scary cats next door.

Because I tell her the story of how she came to live with me softly at night as she’s nudging off to sleep and she seems to be listening. Because she snores, farts and yelps in her sleep at the foot of my bed. Because she has many names: Gelatin (formally), Jel, Baby and most recently Jel-Ling as she’s part Shar Pei and thus needed to have a Chinese name as well. Because she’s the only “child” I’ll ever have.

Because she’s there, in the family photograph, taken three months before my father’s death from a brain tumor, smiling up at the camera with us all, captured forever in that impossible moment. Because I was only one of my three siblings without a partner to provide solace during my father’s illness and Jelly gave me great comfort.

Because she pokes her head out of the dog door, sleepily, happily celebrating my return after a long day at work. Because her enthusiasm and joy is undiminished and it buoys me every day. Because she is loved and she is a dog.

Please, excuse this indulgence... Tis the season to be thankful and as you can tell I'm so grateful my little Jelly is part of my life. I wrote this piece a couple of years ago but wanted to share it as an expression of the joys that come with adopting a shelter dog.


Pam said...

This is a beautiful essay, Rachel. Thank you for sharing it. Our dogs provide such solace to us in times of distress, and share our joy with such abandon, in happier ones. For those of us who are single, they hold an especially important (and meaningful) place in our lives, and you captured the beauty of that singular, like-no-other relationship, so well. Again, thank you!

Gina said...

Rachel this is beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I told my mom today that she should probably be satisfied with Bella being her only "grandchild." She said that she wouldn't have asked for anything better.

loveknowsnobounds said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, Rachel. It's beautiful. There is nothing like a dog to make one thankful.

Anonymous said...

I am so touched by this. It is heartwarming and has brought me to tears (of joy!).