Friday, July 12, 2013

Unmasking a Man's Character

            Every now and then I do a transaction that makes my heart burst with joy.  It is so rare, I can really only remember two, maybe, three times it has happened.  It catches me by stock and surprise when it happens, truly leaving me speechless.  At work, I am ready to argue.  I am ready to be yelled at.  What I’m not ready for is gratitude.  True appreciation that comes from the heart.  People who know what is at stake. Who realize they messed up and are dreading the consequences of their actions.  People who understand if something has happened to their lost pet, they will feel very guilty whether it was truly their fault or not.

            The other day I had a women come in 10 minutes to closing.  She came bursting in, frantic looking for her ancient lost beagle.  Hearing that she was coming in, I knew which dog was probably hers.  He had to be at least 15 years old.  Blind, deaf, thin and worn, if no owner was going to come for this dog, he would be euthanized.  The old dogs make me the saddest.  If they are dropped off here and no one comes to reclaim, they don’t get a second chance, even if physically they could probably live for a year or two more.  When they are surrendered the outcome is almost always the same.  For the old strays some are dumped because the owners don’t want to pay for the increase in cost as their pet has gotten older.  Other old dogs just wonder off, confused in their old age and their owners never come looking.

            For this old beagle, he did have an owner who loved him very much.  She came in crying.  As cold as it sounds, after a while you stop letting tears affect you. Compassion fatigue runs deep with us.  As a result, if you want to make it here longer than a month when people start crying, our emotions turn off.  Especially when we know that same person who is crying once they hear that there are fees to get their animal out, suddenly isn’t so grateful, but instead starts screaming at us.  They are no longer happy to have found their lost pet.  They are outraged at the system.  They are hollering at the injustice.  How dare they pay for someone to have picked up their pet, feed it, given it medical attention, and made sure it was safe?

            Asking to see a picture of the dog before we headed back, she stumbled on her phone.  Flipping to one, she showed me the same tired old beagle that had yelped when I tried to vaccinate him.  “Okay,” I said and lead her back.  Showing her the beagle she burst into even more tears.  And then without any warning she turned around and gave me a huge hug.  My heart warmed and turned into a gabbing smile.  “Was she really that grateful?” I thought.

            Yes.  Yes she was.  Even after telling her she would have to pay $96 to get her dog back, she tossed me her credit card and said “I don’t care.  Just charge it.  I guess I just won’t be going out to eat for the next couple of months.”  I stared at her. Stocked.  Smiling.  Giddy almost.  Finally someone who all they truly cared about was getting their beloved old friend back.  For this woman, her dog was not just any old dog.  It was Tanner.  Tanner was a beagle that she got 15 years ago.  Tanner had been hiking with her, seen her kids born, and had a funny howl when he wanted to go for a walk.  Tanner was irreplaceable.  This dog was not a possession but a living member of her family.  This remarkable woman understood that if Tanner was not here, the risk of death increased exponentially for an older dog.  Death she saw would have been final.  Never to be recovered from.  Never being able to see this one dog again she recognized was much worse than paying $96.

            When the paperwork was signed, and the money paid, I went back to the kennel to get Tanner.  He stared up howling.  “What a lucky pup.”  I thought.  I lead him back to his owner.  Joyfully he jumped directly into her arms.  They walked out happily together.  Thanking me several more times before they left, I rejoiced in the fact that our purpose was acknowledge.  We had saved a life and more than that we had reunited a family.

            Often at the shelter, we see so many appalling owners.  We forget that out in our community there are fantastic pet owners.  Our perspective is skewed because those people don’t let their animals get out.  They are responsible and know how to keep their animals in their backyard.  Gates will always fly open because of the wind. A lab will always be able to jump a fence.  A border collie will always get bored and wonder off the range.  But this is the risk of being a dog owner.  How people value their animals when it comes time to reclaim is always reflective of that person’s character.   

            When I was recently on vacation, my husband had the idea of checking out a local humane society.  We ended up not going just because our time got cut short. But he said something to me that took me back.  He said someone once said, “The only true measure of a man’s greatness is how he treats his animals.”  My husband’s point was that while this place seemed wonderful, only their local humane society would unmask the character of the people who lived there.  This measure indicates compassion, empathy, dignity, and to some degree wealth.  Although you don’t have to be rich to be kind, you do have to have some means to care for an animal.  If you can’t afford to pay for an animal, you should admit it is not your right to own that animal.  There are good people out there, who treat their animals not like disposable waste.  The other day, my heart sung with joy to witness this in my community.  There have been other people who are grateful, but nothing compares to this one woman.  Transactions like this stick to my heart like glue.  It gives me courage to keep showing up each day just waiting for the next time I can sing with elation.  

Just a Tired Old Beagle


  1. Keep remembering those few beautiful moments- let them sing louder than the ugly ones. I know I would pay anything if I lost Hobbes and found him again. I am so happy for that woman and for her precious beagle. You (and everyone who works at humane shelters) deserve a hug every day.

  2. Thanks Jill! I am happy for this woman too.