From the background on my phone, to my day calendar at work, to collapsing on the ground to be on dog-level at any given opportunity, I do not try to hide my love for dogs. I’m shameless.
To all who I offer to dogsit for (strangers included), I am indeed serious, and clearly need to make business cards to get that message through. I’ve come close to tears talking about dogs I do not know, and tell stories about other’s dogs as if I am a part (or the sole) owner.
When I was little, I would get up close and personal with my Grandma’s small white poodle, Lady. She would bite me on the cheek every time I crossed the line, and I would comfort myself by hugging her and weeping into her fur. That’s unconditional love, people.
At 23 and a bit wiser, I found my way to Secondhand Hounds to get my dog fix through volunteering. A volunteer-run and foster-based shelter, Secondhand Hounds (SHH) finds temporary and permanent homes for dogs and cats that are rescued or brought in from a wide variety of scenarios.
I now start my Friday mornings letting out the animals that are in between fosters, and as a result temporarily staying at the shelter. This means sunrise walks, trying to trick very smart dogs into taking their medicine, rekindling my friendship with cats, and all the cuddling I had been missing.
One morning, this also meant meeting an aggressive dog, who was very territorial of his space. I slowly and confidently introduced myself, and he started to be put at ease. He flinched as I put on his leash, which showed he had been abused prior to SHH. After going outside and giving him breakfast, we sat in his room as I pet him to get him more acclimated to the space. All was going well until we made eye contact, and he lunged at my face.
Unlike my younger self, I knew not to stick around. I quickly left his room, all the while subconsciously narrating to the dog, “I have to go, this is not going well.” In immense pain, I realized the bridge of my nose had been bitten very badly, along with a small bite on my chin.
I didn’t want to share this story too broadly out of fear of how it would reflect on Secondhand Hounds, who were nothing but amazing in responding to the situation. Many people asked me if I would go back to volunteering, or if I still felt the same way about dogs. All of which got the same response, of course.
Truth is, organizations like Secondhand Hounds are why accidents like this do not happen more often. I wasn’t attacked by a dog, rather this is the ripple effect of the abuse this dog has endured. It’s a ripple of someone who I imagine has been given one idea of how to manage anger, what it means to be masculine, and whether mental health should be talked about.
I was recently reminded of this, when my dress was stolen from the locker room while I was teaching yoga. At first, I was upset and annoyed that I needed to go home for a different outfit to wear to work. However, once I changed and looked in the mirror, I noticed the scar on my nose and was reminded that there can always be more to a story. The new owner of my dress may have needed it more than I did; and either way, I am lucky to have a closet full of other options.
For the pain and fear that I experienced that early morning with this dog, I’m sure that moment of eye contact triggered the frequent feelings of pain and fear he has endured. This scar isn’t a reminder of that morning, it’s a reminder of why organizations like Secondhand Hounds matter. It’s not a reason to avoid dogs, it’s a reason to get involved. It’s a reason to spread love and compassion whenever possible, because you never know who or what needs it most.