January 24th, 2011 was to have been Sawyere’s last day alive. Today I watched him do a lovely ‘sit’ for a treat, eat a big dinner, and curl up on his brand new, super-thick, super-soft bed in his big, light-filled kennel, having some down time before he starts his rehabilitation tomorrow.
This seems so random. Some dogs make it out of a shelter, and some don’t, and sometimes it seems (and is, in fact) completely unrelated to anything to which it should be relative. Sawyere lived because of what was essentially a whim of mine, although that’s not quite the right word, because, ‘whim’ implies something light, whereas my feeling was more of a very strong conviction. He lived because, the night before his scheduled euthanasia, someone had the courage to post on Facebook exactly how and when he would be euthanized, and that made it so real for me that I realized I couldn’t stand that he was going to die, while there was anything I could do about it. That’s it. Once the conviction was there, the rest followed. It wasn’t rocket science, to make this happen. It took certain things on the part of all of us involved, that’s all.
We had to believe in the rehabilitation of aggressive dogs. We all entered the ‘Sawyere Project’ with slightly different opinions on this, but after ‘talking’ a bit, we reached consensus. We were pro-rehab; we wanted to say, ‘yes’, to the universe, rather than, ‘no’. We wanted to have a glass that was half full.
We had to be a good team. There were many, many details that had to be worked out, and we tackled them, one by one. All of us had to be willing to work for no money, arranging things so that Sawyere could live. We were willing, and we did arrange things.
I have a feeling that many more people could do this, if they want to say, ‘yes’ to the universe. It would not be rocket science to make shelters places where dogs are much less prone to shelter stress, and to help them with training and rehabilitation, if they do become stressed. We have the knowledge of how to do it; now we need the will and the money.
It has occurred to me tonight that donors would probably be much more willing to donate to shelters and rescues if need was presented to them in the ‘person’ of a specific dog: ‘If you pay x number of dollars to this trainer to rehab this dog, you will save its life’. People in general want to help shelter pets, but not all of them are in a position to adopt. So they’re looking for other ways to help, and I’m sure most people enjoy knowing how they’ve helped, in detail. People like to participate. And participation is what leads them to make a long-term commitment to a project or an institution. Saving Sawyere has been an incredibly satisfying experience for me already, and we’re just getting started. I’m sure that many people, if they knew how to set about it, would love to save their own Sawyeres.
We are under-utilizing our shelter trainers, if we even have them. Dogs are dying by the thousands for manageable (or eradicable) issues that are greatly exacerbated by life in a shelter–boundary aggression and food guarding are a couple of obvious ones. Even the basic premise of a shelter has a built-in flaw, from the point of view of a dog trying to get adopted. People come to shelters and go from cage to cage, looking in at each dog, and most often, looking right into the dog’s eyes. That’s bad manners, to a dog, and can be seen as a hostile gesture. And shelters are noisy, and bright, and filled with the smells of fear and, in a kill shelter, death. It’s a miracle that not all dogs end up shelter-stressed and aggressive, really.
I am so thankful that at Sawyere’s tiny rural shelter, with a small staff and few resources, there are people who understand that if, try as they might, conditions at their shelter have caused or exacerbated a problem in a dog under their care, it’s a very terrible thing to kill that dog. The fact that all of us hold this opinion in common is why Sawyere is curled up on his new bed right now, instead of reduced to ashes.
It’s not so, everywhere. Sugarcoat Farm, with a large staff of employees and volunteers, doesn’t manage to say yes to the universe, anywhere near often enough. And as I either wrote or hinted here once before, I think I saved Sawyere at Elmore, subconsciously, because I hadn’t been able to save Toby at Sugarcoat Farm. Someday I’ll write about it. Maybe Sawyere will help me exorcise it.
Here’s Sawyere’s original posting on Facebook, with the ‘thread’ underneath his photo. You’ll see, on January 24th, that his euthanasia was explained. And on January 25th, everything changed. Sawyere was safe, on paper. But today, when I saw Sawyere, and touched him, and looked into his eyes (briefly!), I understood with all my heart that he is safe.
What an amazing feeling it is for me, to know that I did that with just determination. I don’t mean that it sends me on a power trip. Instead, it renews my faith in the basic rightness of things. It reminds me that one person, working through inspiration and conviction, really can be the change he or she wishes to see in the world.