When you rescue a dog, oftentimes you find yourself rescued right back
“You know, a dog can snap you out of any kind of bad mood that you’re in faster than you can think of.”
On a Saturday morning, I phoned the fertility clinic to let them know we were stopping treatment. The receptionist was there seven days a week because ovulation waits for no man (or woman). Our most recent treatment had failed, and we couldn’t handle the financial or emotional strain anymore.
The depression that followed shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. It enveloped me, knocking the wind out of me, and making way for a new challenge: crippling anxiety. I became fearful of everything. If I had a twinge, I was sure I had cancer that would render us unable to adopt a child. I started having tingling and twitching in my arms and legs, and I couldn’t sleep at night. As the women in my life conceived and gave birth to beautiful, healthy babies, I would sit on our front porch steps each night, crying and waiting for my husband to come home.
A friend came up with the idea of my husband and me volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter. At first, I didn’t think it would be a good idea. It would cut into my moping and obsessing time on the weekends. But it was something we could do together, and our little family of two rescue dogs and two rescue cats was indeed our greatest source of joy.
The no-kill shelter sat out in the country. It was a beautiful drive from our little house to the sprawling shelter. Row after row of pens were filled with all types of dogs: quiet ones, senior ones, sick ones, adorable ones, and the ones who were so ugly they were cute!
We went through training, and an idea was presented to us. We could take a couple of dogs and cats each weekend to a local pet store to try to find them homes! This was such an exciting idea for me. Little did I know this new opportunity would provide me with something I’d been missing: a purpose.
The first weekend, my husband and I loaded up portable crates into my beat-up old Jeep. It was hard work. The crates were heavy and prone to finger pinching. The animals we loaded were nervous and unsettled. There were stinky accidents that needed urgent attention. But there were sloppy kisses, nuzzles, and sweet tail wags to reward us.
It was wonderful to have my muscles, fingers, and heartache for such a purpose. Finding a home for these animals was the ultimate goal, but even the simple interactions with the children in the store were so good for them. They would go from cowering and shaking to “smiling” in the way that dogs do. Taking them back to the shelter was hard, but it also felt like the culmination of a great adventure for them.
Each month, we tried to carve out a few hours of time with the shelter animals. I can still remember riding out to the shelter with my legs and arms buzzing with anxiety. And by the time we were riding home, my legs and arms were buzzing with exhaustion. The hard work was good for my body and soul.
Eventually, our lives changed—we adopted our first child—and we had to stop volunteering at the shelter. Someone commented to me that I must feel good about helping those rescue dogs find new homes. The truth was those dogs rescued me.
*Story by Kelly A. Smith, excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Hilarious, Heroic, Human Dog. ©2021 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved