Our dog Dolly is 10 months old, weighs about 40 lbs, and, according to a Wisdom DNA test, is mostly Boxer and Staffordshire Terrier, with a bit of bird dog thrown in.
She came to us in February of this year, having lived her entire short life outside until a few days before we agreed to foster her (a concept we clearly do not understand as she is now ours forevermore). She and her four siblings were born to a stray mama, just as winter was settling into rural Tennessee. When mama weaned them, she ran off, and a kind older couple tried their best to keep up with the appetites of five feral pups, until, overwhelmed, and outside temperatures well below freezing, they called Adopt Me! Bluegrass Pet Rescue and Dolly and her litter mates found their way to Louisville.
It took Dolly a full week at the rescue to warm up enough for me to even get her to my car. She would turn her back and growl at any effort on my part to make friends. Not a mean growl. Not even a threatening one. It was more, “I’m so scared. And the only way I know to tell you this is by growling. But I’m not going to hurt you. Just please, please don’t hurt me.”
It was desperate. Pitiful and wild and terrified, and for a couple of days at the rescue I just sat with her. Offering treats. Talking. Scootching closer when she’d let me. Finally, on the seventh or eighth day after her arrival, I said, “Let me try to take her home and see how she does.”
And so I did. And that afternoon she let us put a leash on her. And she sniffed at our elderly Skye-dog. And she even let M give her a treat. We were hopeful. So, so hopeful.
Around 11pm that night, we took Dolly out for a potty break. A winter storm was brewing, and just as we got back to our driveway, “BOOM!” — thunder. And off like the flashes of lightning that followed went Dolly, jerking the the leash out of M’s hand and taking off into the dark.
We ran after her, followed her through a neighbor’s backyard and across an old fence, finding her, finally, burrowed deep under the back deck of a house the next street over, refusing to move, shaking, terrified, and with zero interest in our efforts to coax her out. The rain was coming down so hard we could barely see her, and the night sky was so loud I wasn’t even sure she could hear our pleas to come home. The house itself was dark, too. No one appeared home, and, new to the neighborhood myself, I couldn’t see my way clear to knock on the door at such a late hour.
Finally, a tearful M and I went home, hoping against hope Dolly’d stay under that deck until morning.
I woke up around 5am, having barely slept, and pulling on leggings and rain boots and a heavy coat went tromping through the neighborhood. Just behind our house is a large vacant lot, overgrown with trees and vines and weeds, all run amok. It took climbing over two fences to get into this lot, but I did it, and softly began calling for Dolly. I’d been walking around for about 10 minutes when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of white. “Is that her fur?” I thought, as I picked up my pace across fallen logs and thick leaves, only to round a large, rotting tree to find her, burrowed halfway under a pile of ivy, shaking, her eyes looking up at me with something that can only be described as…desperation.
“Oh sweet girl,” I said, “let’s go home,” and I scooped her up and carried her back to my warm kitchen, where a very relieved M burst into tears all over again and we set about getting Dolly dry and fed and safe.
The next day, I was telling my dad about the evening’s saga with our (then) foster pup, and he said, “She was trying to come back and couldn’t figure out how. That’s why you found her so close. She was scared. And tried to come back.”
Dad’s right, and, what’s more, I don’t think she ever intended to run off. I think she spooked. Got overwhelmed and afraid and couldn’t process it all. And so she ran. As far and as fast as her 4-month old legs could carry her.
And I think this because it is pretty much exactly what I want to do…every damn morning of every damn day when I wake up again to a world that I swear, seems to have lost any sense at all of kindness, of selflessness, of mercy, of anything remotely resembling human decency.
The wilds of Alaska seem enticing. A stone cottage in the smallest village I could find in the most remote corner of Ireland. A low-slung ranch house atop a mountain in Montana, with only big sky to keep me company. I’m so, so weary of heartbreak. So, so tired of pain all around me. So, so tired of having no answers for the myriad heartaches screaming at me from the headlines every blessed day.
The images of those people falling off the plane wings in Afghanistan haunt me.
The idea of the earth opening up and destroying everything around me, like it did in Haiti this week, is beyond my comprehension.
The fear of contracting COVID and not being able to breathe is at the back of my head at all times.
The knowledge that my lymphoma is not cured, only taking a very long nap, a reality that colors so many decisions.
The dread in the pit of my stomach as I watch my daughter walk into her school each morning and pray with sighs too deep for actual words, “God, please keep her safe.”
The broken lives…all around me…mental illness raging in the lives of those I love and hearts torn asunder by lost relationships and jobs and dreams.
It’s too much. And there are days that, like Dolly, I want to bolt. For anywhere but here.
Because we’re all Dolly these days–the issues we fight about and demonize each other over thinly veiling the truth that we’re all just so damn scared at a world gone mad we can’t even process how to move forward through the chaos. In our own deep fear we pull our tribes in closer, listen only to that with which we agree, and proclaim across our socials, “This is who I am! If you are not, go away!”
I wish you could have seen the look in her eyes that morning I found Dolly under the tree.
She was so still. So obviously terrified and so completely out of ideas. It was as if all her anxious posturing, her pathetic growling, had been reduced to this one moment of complete vulnerability, and finally she was able to set aside all that was keeping her separate and wild and say, “Ok. I give up. Please take care of me. Please love me.”
And I wonder, y’all, if we’ve the strength to let our own eyes tell such truth. If we’ve the capacity, somewhere deep inside us, to stop with the feigned moral superiority and false allegiances and just admit that really, we know so little. And more than anything all that any of us long for is to be held. Carried home to a place where all we’ll ever know is love.
Promised that we’re okay, and that we’re safe now.
And if this true–and Dolly agrees with me that it is–it seems to me our next right thing might be to begin to offer one another the shelter of each other, the healing balm of real care and right relationship, the mercy-falling-down-like-rain of reaching beyond our own broken hearts and into the wounds of another.
Sometimes, these days, Dolly will just sidle up next to me and lean her ever-growing frame against my legs, and she’ll run her head alongside my knee, as if to say, “I got you. Just like you got me that one morning after I ran away.”
Our only hope is to be found in doing just this for one another. Past our drama and selfishness and hate and anger and all else that we construct in some mad effort to feel better about ourselves…past all of it…we have to find a way to admit we need each other.
This is the only way the desperation that fuels all our strife gets released, dissipates, dissolves into something more like what God created us to be.
“I got you….”