I got another Ridiculous Reality check recently.
A friend of mine lost her beloved dog after a sudden illness (R.I.P. EllieBelle, you wonderful ween), and had been devastated and grieving for a long time. I was thrilled to find out that she was finally feeling ready to let a new furry love into her life, as she is an incredibly loving, nurturing lady, and she seemed more than a little lost without her four-footed child. Ellie, the beloved Wonderful Ween.
My friend told me that she was trying to adopt not one, but two dogs. They were older, had been surrendered by their human, and needed to be rehomed. They had been together for a long time, and the shelter wanted to find a way to keep these pack mates together. My friend was totally up for it, and I was so excited for her. In my opinion, these dogs would never be able to find a human more loving and nurturing than my friend, and she would NEVER give them up like their former human did.
When I texted her to find out how it was going, she told me she had been rejected by the shelter. I was floored. In my opinion, there was no more perfect dog mom than she. I asked why they turned her down, and she said, “They said no because we don’t have a fenced-in yard.”
Whoa. Wait. Back the fuck up. WHAT?!?
These dogs were older. They had been given up by a human who clearly did not consider them important enough to him/her to think ahead and choose a living situation where they would be able to come along. (I consider that kind of callous disregard for a living being that loves you unconditionally and depends upon you quite fucked up enough by itself. In my world, you don’t do that kind of thing for your own convenience. Go ahead and call me Judgy McJudgerson. I’m owning it.) She was willing to adopt and love both of these dogs, keeping their pack together. She kept her dog photos all over her work desk, and shared them with any and everyone who cared to look. She would have made these dogs a PRIORITY in her life, which was more than I could say for their previous owner.
And the single, solitary thing that kept her from being everything these two dogs needed in a loving human was that she happened to live in an apartment, and the yard had no fence.
Perhaps this rejection wouldn’t have shocked you the way it did me, but I was truly, utterly flabbergasted. Is perfection now required in order to provide animals with a loving, caring home? Do you have to have all the ‘right’ credentials and affluent resources? When did the ownership of a FENCE become the standard for being considered good enough? Last time I looked, there were thousands of animals in need of families who would be willing to love and care for them. I can’t count the number of rescue sites I see trying desperately to match animals with people before they are put down. Too many animals, not enough shelter or resources. So many people willing to say no, so few people willing to say yes. Clearly I missed the memo stating that having a fence is now considered more important than love and commitment to an animal for the extent of its life.
Maybe there are some people out there who are able to give an animal the perfect home…people who are never late on the yearly shots, who provide the perfect amount of exercise daily, who never have to make a choice between buying dog food and buying flea control. I wish I could say I was one of those perfect people, but I’m SO not. I’m not a perfect mom to my two-leggers OR to my four-leggers, no matter how much I wish I could be. I beat myself up for it often. The yearly immunizations run late at times. My furry babies never go without food, but sometimes we have to buy the cheap food instead of the good stuff they deserve to eat. Some mornings I have such a hard time getting out of bed that I skip the morning walk.
It’s been fifteen years, and I have yet to be able to afford to build a fence.
Maybe, to some, the kinds of unfortunate choices I sometimes have to make are reason to judge me, to tell me I should give up my animals who love and trust me to someone who could do better by them…but I will never, ever give them up. When I adopted them, I committed myself in the same kind of way that I committed myself to my human babies. I would NEVER have managed to pass the kind of rigorous home study and interview my friend’s chosen shelter put her through. However imperfect a dog mom I am, I try to remember that when I found Chester 15 years ago, he was a tiny puppy someone had abandoned in my apartment complex parking lot, treated no better than trash. Somebody had hurt him, and the first thing he did after I found him was curl up by my leg and fall into the most exhausted puppy sleep I had ever seen. It was clearly the first time he had felt safe in a while. My friend Emily, who fosters animals for the Stokes County Humane Society in North Carolina, saw my sweet Ursa and her littermate in a box on the side of the road under a sign that said “Free Puppies”. (As legend has it, Em saw that sign while driving, slammed on her brakes, and screeched, “PUPPIES ARE NOT AN IMPULSE ITEM!”) She grabbed them and took them home with her. She spent weeks working with them daily, because they had been neglected and never socialized- they were completely terrified of people. Their mother was a full blooded fancy Cocker spaniel who got out one day, and had a romantic rendezvous with a handsome lab-looking fella who never took her out on a second date. Mama’s owner was so mad she didn’t have purebred puppies that were sellable, that she chose to just leave them out in her shed and ignore them, until she put them out by the road in that box.
Photos of the kids- Meet Chester.
And here’s Ursa.
My dogs are loved beyond measure. They sleep in my bed with me. Animals annoy my husband, but he knows that you can’t have me if you don’t take my furballs along with me. Maybe I can’t afford doggy daycare, but I take a little extra time to say hello to them when I get home every day, because I know they’ve been lonely and missed me. I get up earlier than I’d like each morning because they love going walkies. They are usually happier to see me than any of my human family are. They don’t ask me to be perfect- they don’t care. They know that I love them, and that’s good enough. That’s all they want.
I often think about those two dogs that my friend hoped for. I hope the shelter managed to find that perfect fenced-in yard for them. After the loss they suffered in being given up like that, they deserved ACRES of fenced-in yard to run in. I also know that my friend’s apartment with its non-fenced yard would have been just as perfect for them, due to the love that was ready and waiting. If I were somehow forced to surrender my dogs, I know it would be a miracle to find someone who would be able and willing to take both of them so they could stay together. Ursa might be adoptable due to her sweet nature, but she also has a skin condition that makes her itch all the time, and she scratches and sheds like it’s going out of style. My sweet Chester would likely be euthanized because of his age, the fact that he has epilepsy and has to take maintenance meds daily, is deaf, and often gets confused. They’re imperfect, just as I am. I love them just the way they are, just like they love me.
They couldn’t care less about having a damn fence.