Over the years, I have been adopting older, sometimes sicker dogs, and sadly, three of them passed in less than a year. It’s been devastating in so many ways. But I know I can’t close off my heart, especially with so many dogs in need, and I’ve learned it’s not that one dog replaces another, but that one more dog can find a loving home when there is room in the heart. And I believe that my dogs who have passed lead me to the pups who come after them.
So I adopted Jax back in January soon after Maddie passed, and Lacey a few weeks ago soon after Heidi passed. Jax is approximately eight years old, and Lacey is almost seven. They are getting along well and I love them dearly. But one thing I know is that when you adopt an older dog, they come with baggage. Just like people. And I’ve learned over the past few months that Jax freaks out over certain things. Like if I say I’m going to pick him up, he goes nuts, like a bucking bronco. It’s as if he needs to make sure he has an escape route. And I wonder what happened to him in his previous life that makes him so stressed by that simple phrase. But in the first few weeks after he came to me, I saw him flinch when I went to pet him on the head. He was fine if I scratched him under the chin, but I saw the flinch if my hand moved towards the top of his head. And it made me wonder again, what happened to him. He doesn’t flinch anymore when I pat him on the head, so I know he has learned to trust me. To a point. But he still yanks away from me when I ask him if I can pick him up, usually when I’m trying to help him onto a couch or bed.
Lacey seems to be a very happy-go-lucky girl, full of energy and very playful. I have discovered she is terrified of thunder, and even rain without thunder since it seems she anticipates the possibility that thunder might come. She shakes so hard that she could be a Vitamix, and there is no comforting her. I’m thinking I need to buy her a thunder shirt to see if that will help. She cringes when I just tell her “No.” Again, I have no idea what her history is, but from her condition upon adoption, it might not have been all that happy. The first few weeks, when it would be time to go to sleep, she would dive under my bed and not come out until morning. And then, suddenly last night, she jumped onto my bed and spent the whole night up there with me. I was so glad she felt safe enough to do that. Jax, due to some arthritis issues, cannot jump onto my bed and he won’t let me pick him up, so I need to buy some kind of stairs or ramp for him and hope he’ll use them, because I can see he really wants to come up as well now that Lacey is up there.
So brokenness is not exclusive to any one species. And life experiences and the age an animal or a person is when they are rescued play a big part in the healing process. However, rescue, when referring to an animal is a lot more clear-cut than when talking about humans. With an animal it usually means getting them out of a bad situation and finding a loving and safe place for them to heal and trust again. With humans, it’s a lot more complicated. Especially once they’re older. And unless we’re talking about rescue from a life-threatening situation, once we’re adults, do we really want to be rescued? Many of us don’t want to be dependent on another human being to get us out of a bad situation. And we may not even want to tell anyone how bad the situation is. In fact, we may be so scarred by previous situations that we can’t really trust anyone to not hurt us. And we may end up building protective walls and be unable to recognize who we can trust. And in reality, we learn that we are the only ones who can rescue ourselves. But again, depending on the level and depth of the brokenness, we need to at some point chip away at those walls. Because loneliness can be just as toxic as living in a bad situation. And a life without love will often have us merely existing in a beige world.
We can learn a lot from our pets. I watch these two sweet babies wanting so much to trust that they’re safe and loved now. I’m hoping time and patience and pouring as much love as I can into them will teach them that they are finally safe and loved. I’ve been through this before with many of my pups who have passed. And it’s the most gratifying thing in the world when I can actually see the change in them, the uncertainty disappearing and the trust and the bond between us growing. But people aren’t as straightforward as dogs, and hurt and confusion are hard to cast off. But we need to take lessons from our dogs. We need to sense who is good for us and who we need to keep away from. And once we know who is good for us, we should embrace them and open our lives to them because while we may not be looking for rescue, we do need that human connection to make our lives whole and worth living. And of course, our animal babies do that for us as well. We just need to have the courage to open our hearts.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved