Shelter Days - Week 4

Guilt swells in my chest, a pressure echoed loudly behind my eyes, stinging with pent up tears.

I feel like I failed you—unworthy of your intense loyalty and devotion.

You’re so grateful that I’m here; grateful for the present moment where you live every second of every day. Teaching me, yet again, lessons in what it means to be a human through a canine lens.


I was a fool to not recognize the impact you were having on my family, the impact you were having on me - constantly tugging my attention in your direction.

There is shame in my relief - grateful to have our simple and quiet routine back, the girls calmer since you've been gone.  

Our time together was a stop along your journey … I know you can't possibly understand any of this, and no matter how hard I may try, I can’t explain it.

I remind myself: I asked for this when I answered that email.

There you were, emaciated to the extreme—a massive head attached to a bumpy stick of a neck and spine, connected to a massive rib cage, four hairless legs and a bare whip of a tail. Peering through a wire kennel with the biggest, most soulful brown eyes, pleading for someone to see you.

I remind myself: you were shadow of the dog you are now.   

Your skin, tattooed with scabs and sores, like sandpaper speckled with patchy, coarse, dry hair. The gentle stroke of my hand sending a dusty, flaky cloud into the airy sunshine as we sat outside soaking up the last warm days of September.

I remind myself: you were so very sick and desperate for care.

The time spent waiting patiently at the vet, watching as you obediently followed strangers to a back room where I couldn’t follow you into, to be poked with needles I would never see. The dozens of pills I'd hide in pieces of hot dog, spoonfuls of coconut oil over kibble, healing you from the inside out.

I remind myself: you were never my dog.

Two weeks.

Its been two weeks since a 10 minute conversation with the dog trainer confirmed what I already knew.

Four separate incidents, two involving Miah; you snapped with no visible warning, your triggers too unpredictable for me to prevent.

“Sounds like he’s guarding. He needs to come back so I can work with him. We can’t take any risks. If he gets labeled as a biter, his chances of finding a home are slim.”

Today’s the second time I’m seeing you since bringing you to this new reality and I can't help but wonder how long it feels for you.

Carla and Tara tell me what a charmer you've been with all the staff and volunteers. Your health and spirit are maintaining (thankfully)—maybe somewhere in knowing this, I can start to find some peace and begin to let go of the guilt.

You’re dozing on your bed as I walk towards the kennel door—I breath a sigh of relief witnessing you so relaxed. You don’t see me right away—it's a matter of seconds before you explode with energy—dancing feet, a big, goofy smile, a blurry, wagging tail—every muscle in your body exuding excitement and pure joy.

I indulge us both as put my back to the wall, sliding down to your level as you paint my hands with your tongue, wrapping your paws around my arm, pulling me down further, an almost human-like gesture that never ceases to amuse me. You slowly settle down as I scratch you in all your favorite spots.

I wrestle you into your easy walker, accepting the small bath of kisses all over my cheeks and chin. You lunge after Marky Mark as we make our way to the door—I make a mental note to pass this info on to Carla as this new behavior could be a sign of stress.

Once outside, you start jumping on me again, grabbing at my arm, like you’re making sure I’m really here.

I wish I could explain to you that it wasn’t supposed to play out like this.
I wish saying sorry would make all of this better.

You were never supposed to come back here—to know the life of a shelter dog.

The plan was to nurse you back to health, to offer you a soft place to land while you healed, then hand you off to your person—a person worthy of your intense loyalty and devotion.

“Buddy, its okay. Come on, let’s walk.”

We make our way back to the trails, going through all the motions of shelter dog and shelter volunteer.

Guilt swells; the tears press urgently as we make our way into the wood ...