For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, we had a dog saga this week.
This is Jack.
My husband and I got Jack in 2002 after searching for months for the perfect puppy. We were on a wait list and went out to College Station where he was born when he was one week old and picked him out of a litter of 8. When I walked into the room where he was being kept, he was the smallest puppy in the litter and while all eight puppies surrounded me with tails wagging, Jack was the one who managed to hoist himself up onto my lap and lick my face. We paid our deposit and went home for the very difficult seven-week wait for him to be old enough to wean.
I was like a nesting pregnant woman. I painted (yes, painted) a sign with his name on it to put above his custom-organic dog bed (yes, I was that person) and bought him engraved dog tags and cute collars. And on the day he came home, I slept on the laundry room floor next to him because I didn’t want to leave him alone.
Jack was my first baby.
I brought him into my classroom while I taught, I took him on long runs on the weekends and let him snuggle with baby dolls to prep him for when I brought my own baby home. I cried–literally sobbed– as I held my newborn son Joey up to him and let him sniff him for the first time. Pregnancy hormones, yes, but also I felt such intense love for both my son and my dog.
Jack spent the next year sleeping right at the foot of Joey’s crib.
Everyone says that once you have kids, your dogs stop being your babies and start being just dogs, but it wasn’t that way for me. Because Jack was something special. He was just one of those dogs who got me– he never barked or snarled or chewed things up. Instead, he just patiently sat at my feet wherever I was looking up at me with liquid brown eyes. He snuggled onto my lap like a lap dog. He let me hold him during my hardest times.
When I had my miscarriage in 2010, Jack was the one who got me through. I remember lifting him onto the bed with me– he was too old to jump up even then– and holding him as I sobbed. For days. I’m not sure he went to the bathroom in 25 hours because I think he knew that in my fragile state being away from him for even a few minutes would crush me. And so he lay there. Next to me. Patiently waiting.
He stood by me as my babies were born. As I wrote books. As my kids got sick. As I raised my family.
He was always right there. Right at my feet.
Anyway, Jack is very old now. Very old. I know he was born on Thanksgiving and I can’t remember if it was 2001 or 2002, but either way, it was a long time ago. And I have known for awhile that his time with us is short. Big 100 pound dogs don’t live more than a decade usually. He’s 13 or 14. And so I’ve been treasuring my time with him. Just last week when my friend Kathi was visiting, I pulled him onto the couch next to me and snuggled my head against his and thought of all of the wonderful times we’ve had. And how I’ve treasured him. And how lucky I am that he has lived so long and been so healthy.
And how much I love him.
So, as you can imagine, it was a bit of a shock when I had animal abuse charges filed against me on Monday afternoon. Yes, you read that right.
Animal abuse charges.
It all started on Sunday night when my family was having dinner down by the pool. Jack followed us down there like he often does and decided to go on a little walkabout. He does this– we have property and he loves to wander and sniff things. He has occasionally wandered off of the property– I found him sleeping on the porch with my neighbor’s adorable pit bull a few weeks ago– but he always stays close and comes back. Which is why we don’t keep his invisible fence collar on him anymore.
But on Sunday night, he didn’t come back. We spent hours patrolling the neighborhood for him, looking in every ditch and on every road. First thing in the morning, we sent the kids off to school (and didn’t tell them as I knew they would be devastated and decided to wait until after school.) We called all of the shelters. We called our vet to get his microchip number only to find out that the microchip place was out of business. (Apparently 14-year-old microchips aren’t used much anymore.) We hung signs. We called everyone we knew. We searched every neighborhood board for every neighborhood close to ours. And we couldn’t find Jack.
I was heading out of town and was devastated. I stood in the airport sobbing like a fool, thinking he was gone.
And then I got a glimmer of hope. Some of the wonderful ladies in my bunco group had gotten an email about a missing dog. A woman who had just moved into the neighborhood had found him. There was a picture. And it was him.
I was thrilled. And then I wasn’t.
The woman– who I have never met and do not know– had found Jack on Sunday evening. But, based on the fact that he is skinny (he always has been), has a hot spot on his leg (he has been an obsessive licker from day one and we have vet records from 2005 of us trying to treat that same hot spot–yes, he’s been licking it for ten years) and his fur was matted (he must have rolled in a mud puddle on his little walkabout), she had decided he was neglected. And so instead of calling us, posting his picture on the neighborhood boards, calling the vet about his microchip, etc, she turned him into the shelter and filed animal abuse charges.
She actually said in her email to the woman in my bunco group that “she wasn’t going to post pictures on neighborhood groups because she didn’t want him returned to neglectful owners.”
What an assumption.
And what an unfair thing to do to someone.
I confess: I was furious. Like it’s a good thing I was in Oregon and not in Austin so I could cool off for a few days because I may have made some unfair assumptions myself. Or gone over and knocked on her door and told her what I thought about her little assumption. It just seemed like such an unfair and cruel thing to do to a neighbor–and to a 14-year-old dog.
The good news: Everything is fixed now. The city required us to do a full exam with blood work, etc. within 48 hours of the charges being filed and I have a wonderful vet (seriously, wonderful) who came home early from a vacation to work with he city to help us. She did the exam, checked the blood work, filed the paperwork with the city and charges have been dropped. She said his exam came out great– he is healthy, a great weight for a dog his size, his kidneys and heart are functioning great and he is happy and calm. She said he is in no way an abused dog– she said she has seen many abused animals and he doesn’t have a single symptom of abuse.
Not one symptom.
More good news: Jack is safe. Home. With us. He’s absolutely terrified to go outside now, like I have to take him on a leash to go pee, but other than that, he seems fine.
The charges have been dropped.
And aside from my $500 vet bill (UGH), we’re no worse for the wear.
I have, however, thought about this a lot in the last few days.
Thought about my neighbor–who likely felt like she was being a hero and saving a neglected dog–and the unfair assumptions she made. She assumed that because our dog is thin and scraggly that he was abused. And she decided to let her assumption inform her actions instead of stopping to think about what else could be true.
But I’m realizing that we all do that so often. Myself included.
We assume that the kid on the playground who is pushing and hitting other kids has no discipline or parents who don’t pay attention. That’s surely a possibility, but in reality, the mom has likely been on her knees praying for this child who she has no idea what to do with, desperately searching for answers, trying to figure out how she can connect with her child and teach him to do the right thing. She’s likely embarrassed and worried and totally at a loss for what to do.
But we assume the worst.
Or we assume that the quiet woman in our play group is snooty and aloof and is judging us for having messy, crazy lives when she has it all together. When the reality is that this mom is painfully shy, self-conscious or struggling and instead of embracing her, we reject her. She’s likely depressed and worried and totally at a loss for what to do.
But we assume the worst.
Or we assume that our husbands are lazy and uncaring and don’t even think about all of the things that we have on our plates as they go off to work in real-person clothes and have real, warm food for lunch instead of goldfish crackers. When the reality is that our husbands are sinking under a sea of impossible deadlines and desperately trying to keep our families afloat. They are stressed and worried and totally at a loss for what to do.
But we assume the worst.
I’m ready to stop. I learned last week how costly assumptions can be. Five hundred dollars is nothing compared to the pain of the loss I could have had–we could have lost Jack. We could have lost the dog who we have loved for 14 years.
Because someone assumed the worst instead of looking for the best.
So I’m making it my goal to pause. Not to ignore the facts, but to pause and consider the alternative stop my assumptions. To consider that maybe, just maybe the facts that I assume are true aren’t quite what reality is. I want to give my neighbors and friends and husband and kids the benefit of the doubt. To assume best intent instead of worst.
And maybe, stop the dangerous assumptions before they cost me or someone else a whole lot.