**Do not reproduce these works without permission and due credit to the author. All poems, essays and other writings contained within this page are copyright Crystal Collins. Thank you!**
Today, I gain my independence.
I've had months of bittersweet "freedom"
Where food was scarce and frights were plenty.
When I could not sleep or find shelter from cold.
I've spent weeks behind this chain link door.
The days meet nights and a leash has been my closest friend,
And I've laid here, watching people just like you
Leave with dogs that are just like me.
Today, I stand apart from the others.
I am no longer one of the rest.
Another "mutt", another "stray" in a world of strangers,
Because I barked too much
Or soiled the carpet
Or cost too much
Or needed affection
Or never learned to obey.
Today I have been chosen.
Though you walked through the aisles and saw others like me,
It was my stare that you held with your own for so long.
My tail wags, my heart bounds, I am happy again,
though I have long been forgotten by someone I can never forget.
I'll forgive the hands that touched me with too much force.
And the voices that said my name with distaste.
Today is Independence Day
And I will hold my head and tail high as I walk through these doors.
Today a new home, a new world, a new life is mine
And I am free.
Many days ago I was afraid,
I was hungry and cold, matted and dirty,
My life was in danger and I didn’t feel like living anyway.
Many days ago I was alone,
I had no family until you came
For the ones that I loved failed to love me in return,
Today I give thanks
For the food I’ll never be without again,
For clean water to drink so I am free of thirst, and
The warmth and shelter you provide to keep me clean and dry.
Today I am grateful
For you have shown me again safety and comfort and how to trust.
You’ve kept me healthy and happy, and out of harms way, and
I can feel the love in your touch when you pet me.
So now, I thank you
Looking into your eyes I see my life and nothing matters but today.
From Trash to Treasure
This is the moment that makes all other shelter work most worthwhile. You are temporarily allowed some relief from thoughts of euthanasia, homeless strays wandering the streets, abused animals awaiting rescue or slow death at the end of a chain or in a dusty stall or locked away, hidden from view in an empty house. This is the moment that all of those animals deserve, yet less than half ever see. One of your wards is getting adopted!
As the older lab mix female puts her paws on her new family members’ legs in turn and licks their faces, her new mom looks on adoringly and then meets your eye. Soon you hear that familiar query, the one with no good answer.
“How could anyone not want her?”
You try to hide the wince of pain and look away, concentrating only on the happy, chunky dog bouncing around at the end of her brand new leash. Immediately a cascade of excuses floods into your head and all the things you’ve learned to expect and detest from your fellow man are there, as plain as day. The question is simple enough, and should be a joyful confirmation of the bond that’s already being formed between canine and masters. To you, though, it’s a reminder of that ignorant, disposable attitude that people carry toward their animal companions. “How could anyone not want her” is a good question, one that is as rightly asked of the people walking past her cage without a second glance as it is of her previous owners.
For this lab, whose name wasn’t known but has been called “Jane” by the shelter, there are a lot of choices. For the average “customer” walking through the aisles of kennels, it’s difficult to choose a dog. Like it or not, we find ourselves applying sometimes shallow guidelines to help us narrow down our choices.
Jane, to some people looking to adopt, has a lot going against her: “Too old,” “Not purebred,” “Black,” “Plain-looking,” “Too fat,” “too big” and the list goes on. In a typical shelter, your first impression is made by just observing how the dog looks and is acting in its cage, and potential adopters tend to discriminate before they even meet the dogs for adoption. On paper, though, Jane’s good qualities are innumerable. She’s always been a happy dog even in the stressful shelter environment. She seemed to have been in a home and well cared for before coming to the shelter as a stray, which gives her invaluable experience with people. She knows some commands and how to walk on a leash, and thrives on human attention and affection. She likes to play with toys but being around 7 years old she doesn’t have the famous lab energy that gets so many young dogs into trouble. She loves cats and gets along with other dogs. If you look beyond the exterior to see the value of the dog within that plain black shape, you can see how beautiful she really is.
This raises another question with few legitimate answers, “If she’s so special, why is she here?” As a shelter worker, when you hear this question, anger and frustration are the first emotions you feel, followed by desperation and finally sadness. For you know that EVERY animal is special, even when she is not so “ready made” as Jane. No matter what level of training or socialization she’s had, no animal deserves to be put in a situation where he or she will end up in a shelter or rescue. She deserves to have a permanent, happy home from the beginning of her life. The answer to the question “why is she here” is probably one that no one will ever learn. You’ve heard it all, though, and you know that whatever the excuse, it’s almost definitely not good enough if she was found wandering alone on the side of the road after days and never claimed or looked for. Her previous owners might be some of the few where a series of unpreventable misfortunes led to the dog’s fate, but it’s most likely not the case. “Sheds too much,” “Requires too much attention,” “Too much work,” “Moving,” “Baby on the way,” “Want a puppy/kitty/other,” and simply “Do not want” all sneer up from the shelter’s intake form pages as the most common excuses for dumping a dog or cat. Young lab mixes are often relinquished when they reach full size because of their high energy level and large build, despite all of the information available to owners prior to adopting or buying a puppy. Older dogs like Jane end up in the shelter because of extra vet care sometimes required to make sure an aging dog is kept healthy, or because of human selfishness: “we don’t want to be sad when she dies.”
Jane’s new mother, still gazing in your direction, loses some of the sparkle in her eye as she seems to understand that her question has no answer and yet so many at the same time. Suddenly, you smile as tears come to your eyes, and she looks relieved. Another dog saved, another home finds happiness. Somewhere in the world a rescued dog is saving a life, or helping out at a nursing home, or curled up at the feet of a lonely child. Jane is among their ranks now, a hero, one of the lucky ones. You cannot mourn for the others in the celebration of such a powerful event, only use this moment to remember why you’re here.
As the final paperwork is signed and filed and all other questions have been answered, the family stands and shakes your hand. Jane’s new mom gives you a hug before walking out. The tears flow freely now and Jane turns to look at you one last time, tail wagging her appreciation. Then she’s gone. How could anyone not want her?