Saturday, October 25, 2014

On Loss and Gain: Shelter Dogs and Life Changes

Two days ago when we adopted our new dog, Laird Woodrow the Wirehaired of the House of Gore-Lancaster, I did something that gave me pause at first, but in retrospect, I know was right.

Woodrow, then called Jack, shared a cage with a female named Allie; she seemed a couple of years older than he.  They had wire-haired-ish faces, but different coloration and body builds.  She was snow white with a large brown patch; he was retriever gold with an eggshell muzzle.  She was taller and leaner, her face pointier, her mustache more pronounced. He loved people; she didn’t approach.

On the day we adopted him, the shelter attendant had to drag Woodrow-To-Be outside to meet us.  Long strings of fear-saliva flung from his whiskers, and he flattened himself on the walkway as she dragged him. I’ve seen roadkill less pancaked. “Sorry,” the attendant said.  “He’s not leash trained.”

I said, “He’s probably scared without his cage-mate.”

“Oh,” she said, “That’s his sister.” 

Whoa. “I didn’t know that,” I said.  “Petfinder doesn’t say they are pair-bonded.  I don’t want to break them up, and we can’t take them both. So we better not take him.”

“That’s the problem,” said the lovely young attendant, “People say exactly what you said; everybody thinks they’re cute, but nobody wants to separate them, so they don’t get adopted.”

“I understand that.”

“But the bigger problem is that they’ve been here over three weeks.  The shelter director has passed them over for euthanasia twice.  They’ll both have to be put down soon.”


“If you take Jack, Allie has a much better chance of getting adopted.  If you take him, she might be saved, too.”

Oh, I thought.  If they stay together, they’ll almost certainly both be euthanized.  If I take him, he’ll be saved, and she might be euthanized.  But she might not.  At least she’ll have a shot at being adopted.  We might save both dogs by taking one.

Meanwhile, Woodrow cowered in front of us.  But our dog Callie liked him immediately; she play bowed.  That was the first criterion: Callie had to like him. Tenderhearted Husband Don liked him, too.  That wasn’t much of a hurdle because Don’s a softie for dogs.  Dad commended Woodrow as a charming fellow, so the deal was done.  Dog Pound Jack was to become our Woodrow.  Allie would lose her brother, but because of her loss, she would have a real shot at being adopted, too.

The Jack/Allie Catch 22 has led me to think about the need for sometimes letting go of people, things, and old roles in order to embrace new joys that life has to offer. You see, two objects cannot exist in the same space at the same time. And once a space is made available, something must fill it up. Because Nature abhors a vacuum. That’s physics.  And metaphysics.

This year, I’ve had to let go of my role as a college professor.  Sometimes it’s been a struggle.  But making that space has allowed me to regain a role I had to sacrifice long ago: now, in the autumn of my life, I can once again say, I am a musician. 

This year I watched a widow let go of her grief and become a beaming young lover once again.

I watched a shy, friendless old woman let go of her solitary life and move into assisted living where she has learned how much fun sharing a meal with new friends can be.

I watched a man let go of a home he could no longer care for and thereby find that freedom from homeownership pulses with possibility.

So losing something offers the possibility of filling the vacuum with something new, and perhaps in its own way, better.

So this is my prayer for Allie, whose brother I took from her yesterday.

Creator God, to save our Woodrow, I have forced dear Allie to give up her brother.  I beg that Thou wilt transform her loss into gain; I beseech Thee to send her a person who will shower her with the love that we pledge to shower upon her brother.  And Lord, I beseech Thee to embrace with Thy peace all the dear shelter dogs who this day must die because they have no one to love them.



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