Enlightenment comes when you least expect it

When you reach your fifties you begin to connect the dots between your actions and the reality of who you are. For the last 20 years I’ve been taking in animals from shelters or that I’ve found alone and needing help.

It all started with Nick. He had been in the parking area of a gas station on McClean Blvd in Baltimore, a gas station that was next to a huge area of apartments where he probably wandered away from. He was lost and hungry and very young. When I tried to talk to him to make him come to me, he would look right at me, but he wouldn’t come close.

I bought my gas and went home. My cat Fred had died earlier that year. He had been the first cat that I’d raised from a kitten. At the end of Fred’s life I made all the wrong decisions, selfishly prolonging his existence & persuading myself that I was doing whatever I could for him. It pains me still to think of what I put him through, but the lessons I learned from that experience are invaluable.  A friend suggested that finding a kitten at the gas station might be some karmic event & I guess I bought in to the notion. I decided that I’d go back to the gas station – it was hours later – and if the kitten was still there, I’d bring him home.

So I brought him home. The visual connection we’d made earlier was enough to convince Nick that I wasn’t going to harm him. He’s almost 17 years old now. I still remember that first night when I got him home & brought him into my room to go to bed. He was so tiny and exhausted and he stretched out directly across from me and fell asleep.

Nick was two years old when I found Rosie. I lived in a big old house along Echodale Road that had a front porch. One morning we kept hearing a cat crying, but we couldn’t find it. The crying continued into the afternoon when we discovered an orange safety cone underneath the porch. The cries were getting louder. We picked up the cone and burrowed at the very end was Rosie. She was only a few weeks old and her mother must have put her in the cone to protect her while she went looking for food.

While she was young, she understood that she might be in danger and clung to the sides of the cone with her claws, refusing to come near us & keeping us away with her yowling. We took the screeching kitten into the basement and thwacked the cone until she let go and slid into a waiting cat carrier, where she continued to carry on with a most impressive array of puffing and yowling. Finally I decided that any actual pain in moving her would be minimal, she was simply too tiny to cause much trouble. Sure enough, the minute I actually touched her, she began purring. What amazing instincts animals have. Rosie is 13.

While I didn’t actually find my dogs on the streets they are both from the same shelter, The Defenders of Animal Rights in Phoenix, Maryland, just north of Baltimore.

Thor will be 14 in December, and we’ve had him since he was 2 years old. Thor was a “neglected” dog. I’m not positive about what that means, especially based on his demeanor, which is more socialized then most human beings that I know. The guy just knows how to handle himself. He is always happy to be doing whatever, he’s never pushy or rude (well, okay he does carry on for treats, but hey, it’s only natural.) We were told that Thor was found tending to his litter of puppies after his mate was hit by a car.

Then there is Molly. She will be three this Christmas.

I think a lot about bringing both of these dogs home from the shelter. They were completely different animals then. Each of them riding in the backseat with me, driving off to their new lives. Dogs live in the present, but they certainly have memories, and both of these dogs had bad experiences with their owners. Molly was 2 months old when we found her at the shelter. She was so subdued that afternoon riding in the car with me holding her. A totally quiet puppy. I wish you could see her smile now. This is becoming so maudlin. Sorry.

Finally there’s Norm.

Norman was put into a recycling bin with his brother and some tee shirts. It was bitterly cold when I found his brother frozen solid at the park. Who knows how Norm survived when his brother didn’t? But I looked up and saw him lying in the sun, oblivious.  What could I do? He weighed 1.5 pounds and fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.

I’m a survivor, too. Found at three days & adopted within months. I will never understand – at least emotionally – what happened to me or why. I have no explanations, and none seem forthcoming. It would be impossible to turn my back on an animal that needs my help. So it seems that I am destined to replay these events in my life over and over, making it right. Destined is really not the right word. But if life is our hero quest, my adventure on some level is locked into this loop, and this is a huge realization. Enlightenment comes when you least expect it.

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