My baby girl turned three this week, making it as good a time as any to reflect on our life together.
Kevin and I adopted Galen in November 2010, when she was just eight weeks old. I hoped she would fill the void in my heart – and my life – that was created by Gryffin’s sudden passing. He was our first child, and we’d considered him pretty close to perfect, so Galen entered our life with a heavy burden to bear. That I’d tethered her with it was completely unfair, but she’s borne it beautifully, if quirkily. What’s more, she’s taught me far more than I’ve taught her.
I taught Galen basic obedience: to sit and to stay, to lie down and to come. I tried to teach her to shake, but at that I failed. She learned from a wonderful dog walker.
Galen taught me that just as people march to the beat of their own drum, dogs do, too, and that I should embrace marchers no matter their species and not attempt to redirect them.
She taught me that dogs can be just as stubborn as people, and reminded me that one must choose her battles wisely, a lesson that comes in handy when you’re the mother of two stubborn (human) daughters.
She taught me that a dog in the home, by its very presence, helps teach children empathy and respect, compassion and responsibility.
She taught me that a child never wakes up grumpy when awakened by a fifty-eight pound canine standing on top of her, digging her out from under her comforter, and pushing a cold, wet nose into her face. (When the dog doesn’t wake up the child, the mother hears not, “Good morning, mom,” but, “Where’s the dog?”)
And she’s taught me to take risks. That’s why I’m writing a book about Galen, overcrowded public shelters (Galen was rescued from one), and innovative efforts to increase spay/neuter in rural and urban America, where rates are lowest. Here’s a quick overview of the crisis:
At least four million abandoned and unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters across the United States each year. That’s more than nine-thousand each day, about half the population that enters the shelters. Yet according to a recent study by PetSmart Charities, eight in ten Americans vastly underestimate the number of annual deaths, putting it at one million.
What’s perhaps even more devastating, according to animal welfare experts, is that a majority of those killed – up to ninety percent – are healthy and adoptable and would make great pets. But because not enough Americans adopt from shelters, because people relinquish their dogs and cats for myriad reasons, and because too many Americans don’t spay or neuter their pets, shelters are so overcrowded they euthanize simply to create space.
My hope is that my book will make more Americans aware of the crisis and provide solutions that communities nationwide can embrace and make their own. My hope is that I complete the book in the coming year…
Or at least by the time my baby girl turns four. For now, “Happy Third Birthday, Galen!”