“I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
For several months I had been aware of the plight of the dogs who came into the New York City Animal Care and Control (NYCACC) facilities. I was reminded of it every night as I saw the sea of hopeful faces in a situation that was often hopeless.
Each night the NYCACC posts a list of dogs that are scheduled to be destroyed the following day. It is a race against time for area rescues and potential adopters to break through the red tape and try to save these precious lives in just a few hours.
I tried to do my little part each day to help these “death row dogs” through networking and researching rescue options so I could help interested parties navigate the system. There were times I was able to help and times I was not, but I kept trying. Seeing healthy adoptable dogs being killed every day does take its toll, but I knew that if everyone turned a blind eye these dogs would have no chance at all.
Five years ago, I had legitimate reasons for not taking one of these dogs myself – or so I believed. My almost fifteen year old Shepherd/Husky Oscar had lost the use of his back legs, was unable to walk without the help of a cart and caring for him was almost a 24/7 job. These were his last days and this was his time – he had to be my first priority.
Then, on February 9, 2011, everything changed. Every justification I had for not taking in a death row dog went out the window when one dog that I had been trying desperately to save was placed on the dreaded list. Out of the hundreds of dogs I had tried to help, this one was different. Through one picture and one sad story he had grabbed onto my heart and refused to let go.
He needed to be reserved before six o’clock the following morning and, being a work day and living more than two hours away, I was not able to go to the shelter in person. I needed the help of a rescue. To top it off, I was leaving for vacation the following week and, even if I could find a rescue, I also needed someone to keep him for me for at least ten days.
Since I could think of no way to save him personally, I vowed to stay up all night if necessary trying to find someone else who wanted him. It seemed hopeless, but then a miracle happened. A rescue got back to me - just one out of all of them but one was all I needed.
The woman who reached out to me was not able to take him into her rescue, but she did offer to get him out of the shelter for me if I wanted to adopt him. She even knew of a place to board him until I was able to bring him home. Without knowing anything about me, she was willing to take a chance. It was up to me now. Was I willing to take a chance? Was I willing to do something? I knew no one else was going to come forward at this late hour. I knew I was the only one who could save this dog’s life. Without even knowing what I was saying I agreed to adopt him. The home I so desperately wanted for him would turn out to be mine.
His name was Mickey and when he finally arrived on February 25th after two weeks in boarding, I began to think the shelter had been wrong about him. He came in, met my dog and they became instant friends. After exploring the house he put his head on my lap and went to sleep. I thought, “This is easy.” Boy was I wrong.
I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Would the children and dogs in the neighborhood be safe? Would I ever be able to have people come into my house? Were his past experiences too much for him to overcome? So many questions.
“If you believe, it will happen….a faithful heart makes wishes come true."
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Without getting into details, I will just say that these past five years have been a challenge and a learning experience unlike anything I have ever faced, but I believed in Mickey’s potential and the good news is we are both here today and better for the experience. After much anxiety and self-doubt, what I discovered underneath all the false bravado and the overwhelming fear was one of the sweetest dogs in the entire world.
Mickey has come so far in five years. He has mentored a new puppy, been a foster brother several times, had his picture taken with Santa and even appeared on TV. He has met people who have had a lifelong fear of pit bulls and changed their perceptions about his breed in a way that I never could. He has made me a better person. It was not easy, but knowing what I know now I would do it again in a heartbeat and I would do a better job the second time around because Mickey has shown me that I can.
I now know that Mickey will never be a dog I can take to a dog park. He probably will never get to run loose on the beach, frolic in the water or chase balls in the sand. He will never get to play with other dogs at dog day care. It was difficult for me to accept but then I realized that these were the things I wanted and not the things he wanted.
What he can do is enjoy time with family and other dogs that he has come to know. He can go for car rides and on long walks, play with his toys in the yard and lay in the sun. He can give kisses with the best of them, snuggle next to me to watch TV, hang out with me while I work and sleep on my bed at night.
Mickey has taught me to accept others as they are, that it is okay to be different and to embrace our differences as they are what make us unique. Most of all, he has taught me the true meaning of unconditional love. He may not have the life I imagined for him but he has a life where he is safe and happy and loved beyond words. I guess that’s not such a bad thing at all.
As for me, by taking a chance on this one dog I have found myself. I have discovered a determination I never knew I had to help homeless animals through advocacy and rescue. I have written two books to promote a positive image of pit bulls and I will continue to be a voice for the abused, the neglected, the abandoned and for shelter dogs everywhere. While I thought I was doing a good deed by giving a scared, unwanted death row pit bull a home, what Mickey has given me is far greater. He has given me his heart. I hope I am worthy.
Five years ago today I put aside my apprehensions and jumped in with both feet. I stopped existing in the shadows and I took a giant leap of faith – faith in myself and in one dog that no one else believed in. Five years ago today the lives of one person and one pit bull converged and two lives were changed forever. The rewards for me have been immeasurable. I just hope Mickey feels half as thankful to be mine as I feel to be his.