And Then She Lived Happily Ever After

I heard a story of a woman who loved a man and believed that man loved her, too.

She believed his love was the kind of love that would never falter, was without any condition, and he would love her always.

Forever.

No matter what.

She believed he would protect her, without regard for his own safety, because he couldn’t bear to realize a life without her.

She believed he wanted to be with her always, and if she ever went away, he would long for her, and wait for as long as she took to walk through the door.

And he would be there.

Waiting.

She believed he wanted to make her happy, and her happiness was his happiness, because he loved her that much. And when she cried, he’d soak up her tears. And when she needed to talk, he’d listen patiently. And when she desired nothing but his body close to hers, he’d lay still beside her and never try to move away.

She believed he loved her this way because she’d read all the books -every Cinderella-like fairy-tale- when she was a little girl, and that’s what she wanted.

Her Prince Charming.

And she believed she had found him, until he proved she hadn’t.

She cried most nights, and every time she was alone, because she knew her life didn’t match the stories she had read.

Then one day she stopped crying, and she let the man who didn’t love her go.

Despite the heartbreak and disappointment, she was determined not to lower her expectations. She still  wanted the fairy-tale ending she remembered so well.

She prayed that the next time she fell in love, her recipient would be deserving of her devotion.

She got lonely while she waited for her Prince Charming to come. She went to a shelter and brought home a shaggy dog that wagged his tail every time he looked at her.

She loved him right away and believed he loved her, too.

This time, she was never proven wrong…….

And she lived happily ever after.

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John Boy – A Shelter Dog

Everybody hurts. Everyone gets sad. At times, life can seem so hopeless you wonder if it’s even worth living anymore. And then something good happens. You find inspiration in a place you weren’t looking.

A year and a half ago I started volunteering at a dog shelter. I wasn’t prepared for the profound impact it would have on my life. I went into it believing I was the one who was going to save lives, but I was wrong. Those homeless animals saved me.

My shelter takes in dogs from all different situations – dogs from other over-crowded shelters, owner-surrenders, dogs found amid the aftermath of natural disasters or roaming the streets as strays, or taken from abusive/neglected homes, or rescued from puppy mills .

Each dog comes with its own story, its own unique path, that led them to the cages lining the walls of the kennel I work. Some stories are worse than others, leaving you clenching your fists as you witness, first-hand, what the horrendous cruelty and lack of humanity residing within a person can do.

It forces you to question who the real animals are, and they aren’t the ones with four legs, a tail, and a wet nose.

The four-legged beings that I have the privilege to spend time with each week have demonstrated a level of compassion and forgiveness, so heartfelt and ardent, that I fear I will never, in all my life, come close to attaining the emotional intensity attached to the freedom that comes with letting go of the past, and truly allow myself to forgive and forget, while being open to new happiness without the weight of old baggage holding me down or the pain of worn-out, ancient scars running through my body.

Shelter dogs know how to move on. They are eager to love despite the fact that somebody had let them down because they ended up in a shelter. They forgive the hands that have hurt them and forget the dirty shed they were chained to their entire lives because all they want is a home and someone to love them.

The shelter I volunteer at is a no-kill shelter. However long it takes for a dog to find a home, that’s how long it stays. Unfortunately, there is dog who has been there almost as long as I have. His name is John Boy and he is amazing. Despite being passed up day after day, week after week, and month after month, he has not lost an ounce of spirit. Whenever I, or any other volunteer, pass his kennel, he pops to his feet and hurries to the front of his cage, with tail wagging, and watches us with eager eyes, hoping that he is next to go out. He loves his time outside, even in the bitter cold.

When I put him on his leash, he pulls me to the yard with an overflowing excitement he can’t contain, the way I imagine I dragged my mother from one roller coaster ride to the next. But John Boy isn’t hurrying to jump on a fast-paced ride filled with sharp twists and quick turns. He’s rushing toward the same yard, with the same familiar toys, he’s been going to for fifteen minutes a shift, four times a day, for almost a year.

There is nothing “upside-down-roller-coaster” thrilling about that, but John Boy loves it. He inspires me because even though he’s not where he wants to be, he still wags his tail. He still licks my hand. He still enjoys the yard. He still has hope.

John Boy wants to live and he is looking forward.

He deserves a home, like every dog in the shelter, but he’s one I wish for the most. Every Friday night I say goodbye to him hoping I won’t see him the following week, but I always do. I will miss him so much when he’s gone because we’ve bonded during his long stay, but I anxiously anticipate the feeling of joy that will rush over me when I pass his kennel and don’t see his nose pressed against the metal or the stub of his tail wagging side to side.

I can’t wait for the day I don’t recognize the name sprawled across his cage. I’ll smile big because John Boy will finally have found his home.

Millions of dogs are euthanized every year. If you are looking for a pet, please consider visiting your local animal shelter. There are many loving animals in need of a second chance. Most pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills that breed dogs under inhumane conditions. Please Adopt and Don’t Shop. Thank you for reading.

“A Dog Loves At All Times”

Hug your dog. He/She deserves it. They give so much, but ask for so little. IMG_20140616_134429

No matter how sad, frustrated, or upset I may be, when I walk into a room and see my dog, Phil, stretched out on his back, legs bent across his chest, his front paws relaxed over his face while flashing me an upside-down smile, I can’t help but laugh because he looks so silly. And we need a little silly in life to make us smile.

 

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I’ve realized that in many ways I need to be more like him.

Phil’s a great listener. He never leaves me, even as I drench his fur with tears, he stays right by my side, and listens to my sad tales no matter how many times he’s heard it. I need to be a better listener. No more interruptions. I will listen to your side of the story, from start to finish, even as you tell it for the six-hundredth time.

He’s patient and patience is a virtue that often eludes me, especially since I started sharing my home with children. But no matter how comfortable Phil may be curled up in his favorite spot on the couch, once those kids barrel loudly into the room and trample on the cushions he was peacefully sleeping on, he jumps off.  He doesn’t bark. He doesn’t growl. He doesn’t bite. He simply leaves the room without appearing too upset about it. Maybe it’s because he knows  he’ll find some other quiet place in the house and be grateful for it, even if it’s on the floor.

The kids have tested my patience like this before, when I’m quietly reading a book or practicing yoga, only I don’t usually handle it nearly as eloquently as my dog. I argue that I was there first. I stubbornly fight for my spot and when I do finally admit defeat, I leave the room in a huff, hardly ever grateful that there’s another quiet space somewhere in my home waiting for me.

I rescued Phil from a shelter and although he’s a pitbull, there were no signs that he was involved in dog-fighting, but there were major signs of neglect. He was found as a stray roaming the streets of Chicago. He was an abandoned dog, without a home, but he was also a survivor.

Painfully, I force myself to imagine him cold and hungry, lost and alone, wandering around with no place to go. I think about all the people who saw him but did nothing. I get upset, but then I imagine those who fed him scraps of food or offered water to get him by. It wasn’t much because when I brought him home, he was all ribs, but it was enough to give me a chance to find him. I’m so grateful that I did.

But no matter how badly he’s been treated or how many times his heart’s been broken, he is so willing to love and it doesn’t take much to win him over. A pat on the head. A stroke underneath his chin. A kiss on his nose. He knows how to heal. He knows how to forgive. He knows how to let go.

He also knows how to love.

He loves with all he has, without holding back. When I open my arms, he comes to me without hesitation, undeterred by the risk of being turned away. My baby lays it all on the line and I don’t plan on letting him down…ever.

My dog gives me hope. He lights up my darkest days because I know he has suffered to end up here, in a pretty good place, with a mommy that loves him so much. He survived his battles and won. I will too, and so will you.

A picture hangs in my room with the saying “A Dog Loves At All Times.”

Can anyone disagree?

 

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To Love You Like a Dog

I have loved and I have been loved. I know love. There is no greater feeling. There are all kinds of love and I can’t live without any of them. I need the way my mother loves me or my brother, my sisters, nieces, nephews, my friends, and of course, a partner.  But what about the love of a dog?

A little over three years ago I decided I needed a pet, a dog. While growing up my family always had a dog and it was time for another one. I didn’t know what kind I wanted. All I knew was it had to be a shelter dog. So I took to the Internet and scrolled through page after page of dozens of dogs – too many dogs – who needed homes. One by one, I browsed every page, every face, and then I saw him. A tan and white Pit bull mix. His name was Phil and he stopped me. I had to meet him. He was in a shelter in the city. I live in the suburbs.  Surely, there were shelters closer to me. Yes, there were, but Phil wasn’t in any of those and there was something about him. So I grabbed my shoes, my wallet, and my best buddy and off to the city we went.

My friend and I walked into the shelter and instantly were greeted with loud barking from the many nervous and anxious dogs crammed into rows upon rows of kennels lined up in the room – a doggie prison for sure. I rushed inside and hurried down the aisles, peering into each cage, looking for the dog from the Internet who had captured my heart.

The rest can play out like the greatest love story of all.

I was walking so fast I almost passed up a cage where all I could see was the back of a dog and then he turned his head sideways. I stood still and for a few seconds we just looked into each other’s eyes. I smiled. I had fallen in love and from that moment on he was mine.  He was quiet and calm, unlike the other dogs, and I still ask him if he knew his momma was coming for him that day.

I hurried to the front desk after instructing my friend to “stand guard” to make sure nobody else takes him. After telling the lady sitting at the computer that I wanted Phil, she asked, “Have you taken him out yet?”

“Um, no, I haven’t.”

“Well, you have to meet him first to know if you get along,” she stated, with an obvious tone, but the joke was on her because I didn’t need to meet him cause I just knew. But not wanting to argue, I waited for them to set us up in a room. He came to me as if he knew me. I felt it, too. Even the volunteer commented that he’d never seen Phil take to anyone like that before. I’m aware that could have been a sales pitch because there were a lot of dogs there who needed homes, but maybe I’m a sucker because I believed him.

Yes, I thought to myself, it’s as if we are truly meant to be.

After some completed forms and a short interview, I opened my car door, as well as my heart, to my new four-legged, furry companion. Days later, the same volunteer would call and say, “I’m just checking to make sure you’re still in love.” I was sitting on my couch and glanced beside me to where Phil lay and smiled. “Yes, I’m still in love.”

And three years later our love is still going strong.

A dog’s love is irreplaceable. He is always happy to see you. Whether you left the house for a quick spray tan or a three day road trip, he will wag his tail while greeting you at the door, knocking down anything that gets in his way. He’ll let you take funny pictures of him at all times of the night and never complain when you post them on Facebook or Twitter (even if you didn’t get his “good side”). He will always be up for a ride in the car or a walk in the park, but is also just as willing to be a couch potato with you, never leaving you to feel like a lazy bum by yourself  – a true team player.

He will wait patiently on the other side of the door when you accidentally shut him out. He will let you drench him with your tears when you need a good cry without ever leaving your side. He will rush to get between you and anyone, or thing, he perceives as a threat, with complete disregard for his own safety.

Best of all, he will love you unconditionally and lick your face when you need it the most because dogs know; they always know.

I was 35 years old the first time I experienced “love at first sight” and it was with a dog. Sad? Probably, but it turned out great.

Since then, only one other person has ever stopped me in my tracks, with just one picture, the way Phil did. I looked at this woman and just knew, the way I knew with Phil. It was in her eyes. In her smile.

And I wonder if someday we will look each other in the eyes, smile, and just “know.” And maybe, I’d have to call a friend over to “stand guard” so nobody else takes her.

More than ever before, I want to love someone like a dog. I don’t want to be a dog, I only want to love you like one.

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