I recently put in an application to volunteer for an area doggy non-profit and was turned down summarily. Why? Because my resident dog count is “over the limit”. And when they called to relay that point, they laughed about it; the kind of laugh that is supposed to reflect back to you the sheer lunacy of the situation. “A volunteer can only have two pets (cat or dog) and you have …… how many….let me see….yes, eight. EIGHT.” Engage laugh track.
Only I wasn’t laughing. I don’t think it’s funny. I don’t think how many dogs I have (let alone how many animals I have) is a punch line. Fine. Thank you. Good-bye. Go off and pursue your doggy mission without me. You don’t know what you’re missing….although I’m pretty sure that you think you know.
I have tried to shake off that little exchange, but truth be told, it has stuck in my innards. You know this, but I will say it again: my desire and ability to provide animals (and kids, too, but that’s a story in a different direction) with a deep sense of safety and lovingness is at the core of me. Cancer came and shook my tree only to confirm where my roots are. I will die knowing I have found my way into the space I was meant to inhabit; my only regret being I did not find my way there much earlier.
Also, doggy non-profit people, don’t act like “over the limit” is some universally agreed upon standard, like there’s THE limit and then there’s….what…hoarding? I may be over your ability to comprehend a capacity to take care of and love this many, this much. But that says more about you than it does about me.
Now, truth be told, I have received some additional feedback in this area. My sister spent the weekend holding down the fort here while we made a much needed pilgrimage to Minnesota for a massive dose of family and kid time. I came home Sunday night while she was in probably her fifth round of vacuuming that day and she said, blowing the hair off her brow with a weary upward whiff, “Boy, you can tell you don’t work”.
She means, of course, there’s no freaking way this life is doable except with someone’s full-time attention, namely me.
I know that.
Gordy knows that.
It’s been our deal since we began our life together and has only progressed with time. I could not work anywhere else and when Gordy retires…which will be soon…he will retire to working alongside me which we will do for as long as we humanly can.
I want so very much to outlive my animal friends, to never have them know anything other than this life. God willing, that will happen; a thought with a long shadow and one I do not like to consider with great frequency. Each day challenges me to rise up to the “limit” and then conjure up a new understanding of what I am able to do, create a new “limit”, if you will. And I sure as heck know that I am doing a good job at it.
This week was a “limit” raiser. Marco blew his knee, an “oh, no” experience as anyone with dogs knows. That great big beautiful dog has struggled with a bad knee since he was three. We put him through two stabilizing surgeries and he has made it into his seventh year, but that ended Tuesday evening when his body turned right and his leg stayed left. He yelped in pain for several minutes to let me know this was a bad deal causing the other pups to cower in concern. Then we sat with him on the slope of the back yard grieving what was lost in that moment and developing an action plan for moving forward. I can pick up a terrier; I cannot pick up Marco. Everything requires his cooperation and contribution.
He’s better now than he was that night and the vet gave us good pain management tools. He will have to have the knee revision surgery which is ugly, at best, but represents his only chance of long-term functionality. It will be a long, slow rehab, especially so because he is a big dog. None of that makes me think I have exceeded the “limits” of what we are capable of doing. It is Marco: I would do anything, a hundred times over. Watch me.
My other buddy in need is Legs, dear, sweet, Legs. He has had some oddly recurring teeth problems and now we have an answer to what has been happening; an unusual degenerative condition that is causing his incisor teeth to become soft and compromised at the root. Horses with this condition can experience great pain and discomfort, although that can be hard to tell because horses are, by nature, quite stoic about chronic pain. I know, though. I know that Legs has felt the burden of his condition and that we need to solve this for him.
The good news is that he has had his teeth for the extent of the life that he has already lived…nineteen years. We are only going to remove the most compromised tooth, but it will be a major surgery, with general anesthesia and a two-day hospital stay. We are hopeful that the progression of the disease is slow and that he will be able to keep his other at-risk teeth for a long part of his remaining life.
Two of my most beloveds. Two major surgeries. Surely that must be over some limit?
Nope, not even close.
Because even in the tiniest moment of doubt, love rushes in. Love lifts me up. I think I actually feel most alive in these moments. This is where I matter. This is where I need to show up and make the most difference. Granted, I also have to show up to vacuum the house five times a day and shovel shit and do the hundred other caretaking tasks that come with inviting animals into our lives. That’s just not an issue, not when you have invited animals into your heart. But you already know that, don’t you?