A Fixable Problem

WARNING: This is not a happy or funny post. It might bum you out, or maybe it will inspire you. I’m taking my chances sharing my grief and frustration.

IMG_3629Today is the day Ginger will leave. I feel unprepared. Every other time, when a dog was leaving that I knew would break my heart, I had a plan in place. A new foster on its way or already in our house, or I had somewhere to go or be that would distract me. Not today.

Because I’m still waiting to see a doctor who will have the answers, I can’t commit to a new dog/puppy. I’m not a good patient or a patient person, so my hurting knee is dragging me down. Lucy is still here, but we’re finding our routine and she’s ready to go to a forever home as soon as her people find her.

Today is different than other adoption days. Without my usual props in place, I already feel the tears gathering and I hate that. This is the hardest part of fostering. This heart-cratering pain that is so completely unavoidable- if I just didn’t foster dogs. It’s self-inflicted, preventable, and yet, I know it’s nothing compared to the pain of all the dogs that never make it out.

I’m currently reading Rescue Road, the story of a man named Greg Mahle, who drives a tractor-trailer full of rescue dogs from the deep south, to foster homes and adopters in the north twice a month. He’s helped rescue over 30,000 dogs and driven a million miles.

I’m trying to read it as fast as I possibly can because it is unbearable. Every time I have to close the book and move back into my world I feel sad, unmoored, frustrated. How can there be people in this world, in this time, who would dump a litter of newborn puppies in a trashcan or worse yet, set that trash can on fire?

How can there be state-run ‘shelters’ that are no more than concrete holding pens completely exposed to the elements where dogs are dumped all together (young, old, sick, neutered or not) to wait for no one (or maybe a rescue) to claim them before they die of preventable diseases or state mandated euthanasia? This book breaks my heart. Reading it this weekend, knowing it was our last with Ginger, made for a sad, sad few days.

Yes, I know, Ginger is going to a GREAT home. It’s the only happy thought available for me to hold on to. Only that great home isn’t mine. It can’t be. Technically, it could be, but reading Rescue Road this weekend underlined again for me exactly why it can’t be—there are too many dogs still down there. Too many dogs dying every day because of ignorance, cruelty, apathy, and lack of resources. This is a fixable problem. Maybe that’s what makes me most crazy. Parvo, mange, heartworms, overpopulation—these are ALL preventable or treatable.

All of my mixed feelings and sadness is complicated by the fact that my knee is not healing. It limits me. Just this morning, I fell, once again. Even though I had on my brace and my new super grippy shoes that my husband insisted I buy, my unstable let still slid out from under me on a stick that fell in last night’s storm as I made my way down the hill with Lucy. Ouch.

And then there’s Lucy.

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As I read about these dogs that are used and thrown away, I pictured Lucy. I don’t know her whole story, but there is no doubt that she somehow escaped of life of neglect or possible abuse. She has had countless puppies; this is obvious from the shape of her body, her elongated nipples, the scars. Her hair is thin, but growing back after being treated for a flea infestation. Living in a house is all new to her. House-training is slow, but progress is finally happening. She has peed in her crate and then simply lay down in it because most likely she’s lived a life where that is commonplace.

She has a nasty, thick scar that looks like a pink collar encircling her neck from a life lived on a chain with a collar embedded in her neck. Who did this? What kind of person? Did she serve her purpose?

In Rescue Road, the writer tells of dogs who are used simply to breed a new hunting dog—a male, before the other puppies and the mother dog are disposed of or dumped. Or dogs of no pedigree that are bred in the hopes that the owners can make a few bucks by selling the puppies. When it doesn’t work out or there are too many expenses that cancel the profit, the dogs and puppies are abandoned. One vet office discovered 14 puppies from two litters stuffed in a plastic tub with the lid on and left on their front step. If an employee hadn’t come in early that day, they would have all suffocated. Miraculously, they all survived and made it to forever homes thanks to rescue efforts of unsung heroes in Louisiana.

The true miracle here is that despite her early years, Lucy is a happy, loving dog. She squeals and wiggles at the sight of anyone coming to see her in the kitchen (where she is relegated until we are certain she’s learned to live indoors). She shouts out a joyful hound greeting from her crate in the morning when she hears me on the stairs. When I let her out, she jumps on me, wagging and licking and so hopeful for my attention. How could anyone tie up and neglect a dog with a heart like this?

This is where my mind is as I try to say good-bye to Ginger. Last night, for the first time in 20 years of marriage, Nick let a dog sleep in our bed. Ginger snuggled between us all night and this morning after Nick left for work, she and I had a serious talk. I tried to explain to her that I have to let her go so that I can help more dogs. As I talked, she rubbed a paw along her ear and eye, as if to say, “Aw, don’t worry about me.”

But it’s not her I’m worried about. I know her adopters are ready and excited. They’ve come to visit her twice and asked all the right questions. It’s a wonderful home with a fenced yard, two runners in the family, and three little girls who are getting their very first dog! Ginger deserves a home like this and she’s certainly waited long enough (she came into the rescue March 3).

No, I’m not worried about Ginger. I’m just hoping I can hold it together so the adopters don’t feel bad. That’s always my focus. I don’t want my pain to lessen their excitement. I talk about the details, the contract, the future. I say my good-byes before they get here. I take a picture with them and their new dog, and then I wave good-bye. My mission accomplished.

Usually, I then focus on my new foster or getting ready for the one I’m about to get. But today, after they leave, I’ll head to the doctor’s office to get the results of my MRI and find out what happens next in terms of fixing my leg. Until I know the answer to that question, I can’t commit to another foster dog or puppy.

Reading Rescue Road has created a sense of urgency in me. More needs to be done to solve this fixable problem. We need more foster homes, more resources, more awareness, more education. I want to do more. Now, if my stupid leg would stop tripping me up.

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Published by

Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

8 thoughts on “A Fixable Problem”

  1. Oh, Cara Sue, thank you for the love and service you give to these dogs, even while knowing it will inevitably cause you pain. I have no doubt they do as well as they do thanks to your unconditional love and support. Sending healing thoughts to you today, for your leg and your heart. And thank you for this post, even though it made me cry. ❤

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  2. Ginger looks like our rescue Lucy. She is the most lovable funny dog I have ever had. Hopefully her forever family has as much fun with Ginger as we do with Our Lucy! Thank you for all you do and have a speedy recovery!

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  3. So sorry to hear about your knee! Yes, I am crying for two reasons 1) I won’t see Ginger’s beautiful face as often as I have enjoyed all the pictures and stories about her wonderful personality. She always made me smile and 2) the story about the guy who rescues dogs and what sick people do to helpless, defenseless animals who depend on us to nuture and love them. I am happy that Ginger has found a good home and another good thing…your book! I have read 99 pages and am enjoying the story, in fact it’s much better than Jennifer Weiner’s book I recently read (sorry but true). Will be waiting to hear about the results of the MRI!

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  4. It was difficult enough raising/helping to raise my 10+2 children and watching them walk out the door into new lives…I don’t think I would have the stamina of heart to do what you do. I’d have to just join the ranks of “Crazy Dog Lady” (or Crazy Animal Lady”!).

    Which is why God created people like you😌

    Am keeping fingers, toes and eyes crossed in hopes that your knee strengthens enough that you can soon continue on with your calling.

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