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Rescuing Jackson (or, alternatively, as Aretha Franklin sang: ‘Rescue Me!’)

by Renee Skudra

I’ve always been a big believer in the concept of compassionate rescue and I’ve yet to meet a soul who at some time in their life couldn’t benefit from that. When the call of the South beckoned in the form of an acceptance to graduate school for my son, we high-tailed it to Greensboro from the northern California coast, relying on wings and prayers and a 16-year-old Toyota that surprisingly proved up to the task of driving 3,000 miles on a hot sweat-infused weekend in July. My partner had passed away suddenly and I was finally ready to begin anew in a land where magnolias bloom profusely and the soft cadence of the Southern drawl had its own enchantments.

With the newness of everything though came a feeling of being sorry for now-single self and once, sitting in a field of wild quinine, clusters of white blooms looking like pearls, I wished that someone might rescue us and tow us back to shore from the unreliable high seas on which we were traversing, strangers in a strange land whose intricacies would take much effort and astute intelligence to penetrate. Depression was now my constant friend.

While walking back to our car, I noticed that the Honda parked next to ours had a sign on its fender that read “my dog rescued me.” It put me directly in mind of the Bichon Frise that we had rescued in Berkeley, California from a shelter when my son was five years old. That dog became an inestimably critical part of my life as we all grew up together.

When my boy was 13, I remember seeing a quote from the writer Nora Ephron “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” That comment resounded emphatically with me as I watched my son inevitably move towards an emphatic path of independence. When Beauregard passed away of natural causes, it was as if I couldn’t breathe properly for months, the despair of losing him was so strong.

That week, in Gate City, with the message of the bumper sticker still percolating in my mind, we went to the Guilford County Animal Shelter and applied for an adoption, ultimately rescuing another Bichon Frise. Over the following days that dog took me from a marsh of despair to an ocean of hope and most importantly out of the dreary emotional self-containment that life’s hardships can affect. If truth be told, Jackson ended up rescuing me. I’m here to testify that rescuing an animal is one of the very best things you can do. There are statistics that support such a decision: each day around 4,100 dogs and cats are killed in shelters according to the Rescue Paw Foundation. That means about 9-11 million animals die in shelters.

When you rescue, you not only save a life but you make room for another animal in need, one who has been lost, given up or abandoned. By adopting you pay less for an animal than from a breeder and still support a valuable charity and community institution with the admittedly nominal fee which they charge.

There is the greater gift that comes with rescuing a feline or canine soul – animals give you unconditional love and it has been undeniably demonstrated that their presence in one’s life is psychologically and emotionally beneficial. Caring for a pet can lessen feelings of loneliness and provide a sense of purpose. We have all run across the narrative that a dog or cat’s company can decrease their owners’ blood pressure – there are clearly tangible physiological benefits as well. Beyond that though is the fact that dogs in particular have been our trusted companions for thousands of years and the only animal to bond bilaterally with us through humankind’s evolution.

Giving a creature a second chance to live beyond shelter walls and have safe and loving homes is an act of humanity that extends the act of compassion into a universal embrace. I read somewhere that a person named Judy Desmond wrote “a dog is the only thing that can mend a crack in your broken heart.” The author Edith Wharton reprised those words in her aphorism “My little dog –a heartbeat at my feet.” When we brought Jackson home that day from the shelter, the very energy in the house changed positively with the patter of four paws and the desire to be petted and held, to be paid unremitting attention to. My feelings of depression began to mitigate, like an enormous wave losing just a big of its groundswell.

Every morning our Bichon Frise jumps onto the bed where I am sleeping, licking my face and frolicking around in a concert of animated actions. He’s warm and fluffy and I clutch him to me, give him a belly rub and recall a friend’s comment that “Bichons always look like they are smiling.” I know our dog is. I have a saying taped to my refrigerator which reads like this: “Not Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Astor together could have raised money enough to buy a quarter share in my little dog” – Ernest Thompson Seton.

Jackson’s okay with rescuing me, jumping and rebounding as we head out to the Arboretum for our afternoon stroll. Many folks say “your dog is so beautiful” and I gleam with pride. I hope that everyone out there finds it in the quiet murmurings of their heart to beat a path to the local shelter and adopt an animal who will give you their love if you give them your home. Our pets are not our whole life but I’m thinking that even the Good Book might say – they make our lives whole.


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