He came into my life one month and 13 days ago at this very hour. Unable to hold his head up, he watched me nervously with eyes forced upward. Now, he lies spread diagonally across my bed, snoring complacently – solid muscle and scars that never allow me to forget what he endured.
I rescue animals – without a plan, often without money, without selection. I bring them into my home and I call them family. I’ve taken part in countless freedom rides, though each and every one I recall vividly. There is something within a dog that understands what a freedom ride is – that the pain is going to end, that the cage has been left behind, that life is going to change and that these people, whomever they may be, care deeply and endlessly about that matted bulk of fur and fear harnessed into the back seat.
I cried silently in the passenger seat during his freedom ride. He attempted endlessly to break into a bag of dog food because he was starving, but too weak to penetrate the bag. I carried him into my home because he was too weak to walk. I counted the bleeding wounds on him – 23. The healed over scars – 47. The scabs – 15. I held him in the shower and sobbed because I had never had anything so fragile, so close to a corpse, in my arms before. I was terrified of breaking him. Through bouts of vomit from anxiety I kept telling myself that this was my calling, this was why I was here, at the right place at the right time.
My knees shook as I squatted down in front of his sad eyes. “I love you already, I’ll love you forever. The hard part is over. I will clean your wounds, I will ease your pain, I will hold you close. Food will always be available, cold will never last long, my bed is now yours, too, no one will ever hurt you again. I will always love you – unconditionally.” This was my promise to him.
I watch him now, as he sleeps so soundly. He knows he is safe, he knows he is loved. He knows I will always bandage and re-bandage his wounds that are still slowly healing. I can no longer count his ribs or see his cheek bones. His eyes are no longer filled with sadness. They twinkle again. They are filled with love, with hope, with forgiveness.
There is no reason this dog should love me. There is no reason he should trust me. Humans beat him, broke him, starved him, neglected him. And yet, he crawls on top of me every night because he wants to be close to me. He lays against me on the outside of the bed when I have a seizure so I don’t fall. He follows me throughout the house and rides shotgun in my car with his shoulder leaning against mine. He does all that I ask of him – even when that means quivering in ‘sit’ with a treat balanced on his snout.
He has taught me what forgiveness is. He has taught me that the ‘good guys’ aren’t always so good. He has taught me that dogs are so much better put together than humans are. He has taught me about resilience, survival, endurance and the unabashed, unwavering will to live. He has taught me that there is always, forever hope. As I run my palm over his gorgeous brindle coat, dotted with scars like a minefield, I can’t help but thing of what it means to overcome, to endure, to live. He has lived through hell, he has seen it first-hand, and yet he fights every day to live, why should I not do the same?
His name means oak tree in Hebrew -
when we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong
in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.