Sometimes selfishness comes gift-wrapped.
— Ret Taylor
You may have surmised, based on my previous posts, that I’m an unapologetic dog lover. Perhaps because I was deprived of pets as a child (except for a short-lived relationship with a miniature Schnauzer – the original Greta), I’ve had at least one dog under my roof most of my adult life. Currently my husband and I share our home with an eight-year-old bichon frisé named Lacy, and Tanner, the crazy border collie mix who surprised us by doubling his weight in the first six months after we rescued him from the pound two years ago.
The story of Tanner is best told in a separate post, but I’ll admit that I become embarrassingly emotional in animal shelters. I cry the whole time and contemplate ways I could free all those poor, unwanted dogs and bring them with me to a magical meadow somewhere so they can frolic, eat and be loved all the days of their lives. The magnitude of the world’s suffering is more than my heart can contain, but there’s a special, fragile place there for homeless dogs.
This is the story of Penny.
I’ll spare you the long version, but a few weeks ago, at my urgent insistence, my husband and I adopted an adorable, seven-year-old Pomeranian mix (older dogs steal my heart) that had been pulled from the animal shelter. With a pointy little face and equally pointy ears, she looked like a miniature fox. The sweet little thing was in a loving foster home recovering from bladder surgery.
This was the most affectionate dog I’ve ever met. Even though she’d been very ill and almost died, little Penny was more emotionally resilient than most people I know. You’d think an animal that had been neglected and allowed to suffer like this would never trust a human again, but time and again I meet dogs that are eager to give away their hearts one more time, hoping to have their love returned.
Confident that my two dogs would welcome this new little addition to the pack, we scheduled a meet-and-greet to allow the pups to get acquainted. While there were a few skirmishes, there was no outright aggression, and Lacy actually seemed to enjoy walking through the neighborhood with Penny by her side. The signs were good that Penny would be a nice fit in our family.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Penny was a well-behaved dog with the most charming habit of executing ballet steps after doing her business in the grass. She was friendly, smart and completely lovable, but she hadn’t fully recovered from her surgery and was having some difficulty. She needed to be taken outside to potty every couple of hours or she would have an accident. I live just a few minutes away from my job, so I’m fortunate enough to be able to come home at midday to let the dogs out and share my lunch with Louie the parrot. Still, leaving Penny alone for four or five hours at a time was just too long. Her bedding was always wet and this was causing skin problems on top of everything else. Her lower abdomen was painful. She needed more care than I was able to provide.
The worst part, though, was the reaction of my two dogs. Initially they seemed to be mixing well, but after a few days, it became clear: Lacy and Tanner didn’t want to accept Penny into our pack. Following the butt-sniffing protocol, they would simply walk away from her. It was especially heartbreaking to me because little Penny wanted so much to be included. She tried to romp with Lacy, but Lacy’s reaction was to stop romping. If Lacy were napping on the sofa, Penny would lie down as close as Lacy would allow, but if Lacy noticed the intrusion, she moved to another piece of furniture.
I don’t know if my dogs sensed that Penny was sick and thus kept their distance from her, as dogs sometimes do. But after a week of this, Penny’s health situation seemed to be getting worse, not better. Maybe she was suffering because she felt their rejection. Maybe she missed her foster mom, the angel who nursed her back to health when she was so very ill.
I didn’t want to do the right thing. There’s a part of me that has always sided with the underdog and feels compelled to rescue the lost. I learned a long time ago, in the most painful way possible, that most people just don’t want to be rescued. But dogs do. They tell you with their eyes. I’d grown to love this funny little fox-dog and desperately wanted to keep her with me.
But that was selfish.
Penny had been enjoying a good recovery in her foster home. Her foster family included three small dogs that were friendly to her. Although I loved her and lavished her with affection and attention, I couldn’t give her what her foster family provided. And so Ret, my husband, gently led me to the realization that it was wrong to keep Penny – wrong for Penny and wrong for our two dogs. And so tearfully, I returned Penny to the woman who’d really been her mommy. I pray that she will adopt Penny and give her a secure, forever home.
There’s always a yoga lesson waiting for me, and this time is no exception. The one that springs to my mind here is aparigraha, which is the fifth principle of yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. Aparigraha is usually translated as not coveting or non-greed, a concept that can be expanded to include cultivating gratitude for what one already has and to cease grasping for what one does not have. I’ve heard this all my Catholic girl life: Thou shall not covet.
What began as a desire to make the world a better place for another sentient being became a struggle as I attempted to force a situation that wasn’t right. All the signs were there, beginning with the urgency I felt to adopt another pet when, for many reasons, it was not the best time for us to do so. Add to that the restless feeling that comes from that small place inside that tells me I’m not doing enough, I don’t have enough, I don’t belong. By rescuing someone else, I must be OK.
Ouch. That was hard to say.
Another principle for me to remember is non-attachment. The Bhagavad Gita, a classic scripture of the East, discusses doing one’s duty without concern for what others may say or what reward one may receive, to perform the work joyfully, for its own sake and with no expectation. I struggle with this. I want my good deeds to be recognized and appreciated. I think we all do, at least to some degree.
As it happened, I received not one, but two, rewards for my actions. Little Penny reacted joyfully to the sight of her foster mom, running to her and showering her with puppy kisses – what a comfort that was to me! Upon returning home without Penny, I was greeted with another happy sight. During the time that Penny lived with us, Lacy and Tanner had lost their usual zest and became strangely moody and withdrawn. Now, for the first time in days, they were jumping up and down and barking excitedly, unable to contain themselves. Why did I think they weren’t enough? I am so lucky to be surrounded by all this furry love.
I’ll sign off for now. My dogs want to go for a walk.