April 30th is National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the millions of animals waiting for homes in shelters across the country. Adding a companion animal in need of a safe haven to our lives has many benefits, as this paper highlights.
Imagine, if you will, Shrek, the green cartoon swamp monster character, just brownish – the color of a corn chip. Then think of Shrek as a dog, a 70-pound pit bull to be precise, warty, broad, and smelling like a can of farts. (I think that way Shrek stays the same: super smelly.) By doing this simple exercise, you will get a mental image of Frito, our late dog, whom I have often referred to as mi rey. My king. Frito was stubborn and gross in many ways, but to me he was royal and I loved him.
We adopted Frito from A Purposeful Rescue, one of my favorite rescue groups of all time. This is the highest praise I can offer as I have been a volunteer and / or foster mother in the animal shelter world for more than a decade. When this giant Pittie came to us at the age of 11, waddling, wagging and being wonderful, his body was already 75 percent dysfunctional. When he arrived in the middle of a pandemic, he filled a room in our house that we didn’t even know was empty, a void that we didn’t know existed.
He and the taco-printed pajamas he came with were so exciting. We bought him dog beds, but he insisted on sleeping on our sofa, which forced me to lift his enormity on it because it wasn’t fun to see him try (and fall). In the morning we had to lure him off this sofa; It was as if he wanted to soak up every moment of the comfort he’d missed in his entire life with stray dogs. Then I had to give him antifungal drugs weekly and gently rub the areas on his body that were caked and bruised. He needed raw vegetables to correct the bowel problem that was his bowel.
I didn’t expect all of these efforts to bring me closer to him to mean so much in such a short period of time. I didn’t expect to fall so hard and so quickly. I didn’t expect that all of that gross stuff would be almost comfortable, or at least bearable, when I got to know this dog’s soul.
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We knew that adopting an older dog would have its challenges: extra veterinary bills, not much time left to fart again. I knew these things because I’d spent countless hours as a volunteer tap dancer outside of kennels trying to sell people for adopting a pet that I adored. A pet that I hoped would be put to sleep every day for no other reason than “Life sucks. “I knew the pros and cons of emergency shelters and emergency services, how to bring a new personality into the house, how it is never perfect and never as simple as you want it to be. And yet, as you say in the Twelve Steps: “Self-knowledge is of no use to us.”
Frito was like an animated pillow that was always lying around and only got a little swing in his crotch when the snack came out. That is exactly what made him so lovable: his coldness. Its slowness reminded me to slow down too, which is no small matter. When my family and I spontaneously decided to move to Texas, we had to fold Frito into the car like a pretzel. When we got there, he immediately loathed the heat. (Why did we plan to move to Texas again in August?)
But my boy endured it, he licked me gratefully and remained so nice, so decent that he could have been entrusted with a baby bunny. What matters to me now is not the antifungal shampoo or the way he fell down the stairs and freaked me out. What remains is what I feel when I think of Frito. And I suppose that’s what matters.
Cancer took it in October 2020 – it came and went during quarantine – and I still cry a lot. But what he did for my family was invaluable. He made us laugh all day every day. He frustrated both of us and inspired us to overcome that frustration and try again to be kinder, more compassionate, and more tolerant. In this move from not my best self to a better self, in this move up, there is faith. There is hope. This is where you meet and discover someone you can be proud of.
That we opened our homes to a Shrek-like pit during the most difficult time we have ever seen as a nation makes us proud not only individually but as a family. Together we hold the memory of Frito and feel shiny. We smile as if we now have a light within us, as if we are connected by the echo of “We did this”. He deserved more time. But we did what we could.
As April 30th approaches, the beautiful day that is National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, I ask you to think about loving an older pet. I ask you to invite Heartbreak into your life, watch a dog or cat fight and help them succeed, and enjoy the remaining time – days, weeks, a year – as you prepare for the inevitable loss. For us, for Frito, it was only six short months, but every time we opened our hearts, he gave us more than we gave him. A home and a family are undoubtedly a lot. But find perspective and service, purpose and within yourself a whole new reservoir of love? That is profound.
Do yourself a favor and check your local animal shelters and rescue groups for older pets in need of a home. You can’t be there long. You can’t just be. They may not be exactly the breed you want, the exact color, they may not be perfect. But that is exactly what makes any relationship worthwhile, the very imperfections that you must work to overcome (including your own). It will make you proud that I can promise you, even if your house smells like swamp for a while.
Dignity and honor are worth being earned. They make you hold your head higher It really is a royal feeling. Everyone says hello to Frito. All greet the king. Mi rey you will be forever.