This was a post I wrote on March 19, 2016, almost two and a half years after leaving direct animal care work for good. A Facebook memory (which I attached at the bottom) triggered me yesterday with a photo of another dog similar to the one I wrote about in this blog post. My post trigger one of the volunteer who worked with that dog and the one I wrote about in the blog. And her post reminded me of this blog I wrote. Even after all the triggering, it was a good way to reflect on all the work I have done to heal, and how much more work I have to do. It’s still a struggle for me not to be apart of the animal welfare world any more.
The other day I was at my favorite children’s consignment shop looking for potty training supplies for my toddler. In the midst of strollers, clothes and toys, there was a woman I recognized browsing the aisles. I was instantly taken back almost 4 years ago. It was everything in me not to run up and wrap my arms around her, but she may not have remembered me, or she may not have the same feelings I have about our past encounter.
You see, in my past life I spent 15 years working in animal welfare and I met this women at the tail end of that career. Throughout those 15 years I practiced no self-care or self-love. I worked with every last ounce of strength, compassion and conviction I had in me advocating for animals.
After spending several years as an animal cruelty investigator, I thought the opportunity as a kennel manager at the local humane society would offer some relief and sanity in my life, but I was so wrong.
This woman at the consignment shop was one of those angels in human form, that would occasionally walk through the shelter doors to remind you that there were still good people in the world. One summer day she came to my shelter and adopted a dog that was challenging to place. The dog was a middle aged hound, with a high pray drive, very little focus or interest in people, and a loud bark.
This woman and her family took a chance on this dog. They spoiled and lavished him with love, attention, toys, and long walks. They included him in all their family activities. After a few weeks, he became very reactive and possessive of his things and a bite occurred. Even with training, all the love they had, and all the forgiveness in their hearts, they could not risk the safety of their children. They sadly brought him back to the shelter. My team and I conducted extensive temperament testing, and had a behavioralist work with him. Due to the severity of the situation and his history, we found it best to make the hard decision to euthanize him. We included the family in the decision, which was hard for them, my team and me. Honestly, it would have been easier not to tell them anything. But it was the right thing to do, to give them the opportunity to grieve and have closure. This family had such grace, compassion, and forgiveness, not just for the situation but for my team and me.
During my time at the shelter I struggled with guilt and feelings of failure everyday. Was I making the right decisions? Was I being an effective leader for my team? Was I doing enough? I sometimes felt I had a very different view of rescue after spending so much time as an animal control officer and cruelty investigator. I spent many hours in the hospital photographing and taking statements from adults and children that had been severely bitten. My job at the shelter was not only to advocate for the animals but to protect the community as well. Needless to say I was always second guessing myself, full of guilt and doubt, and could not look at myself in the mirror.
I left the animal welfare field a little over 3 years ago. After a lot of self care, soul searching, and healing, I am at a place that I love myself again. I am proud of the time I spent advocating and caring for animals. Did I made mistakes? Of course! I did the best I could do in the situation and with the resources I had.
So maybe seeing this women really wasn’t meant for me to have a face-to-face encounter, but a gentle reminder to honor my years advocating for those without voices and to continue to advocate for myself. She was a reminder to continue to be compassionate and gentle to myself.
It doesn’t matter what career you’re in, the challenges of every day life can make you feel like your barely keeping your head above water. We all need to cut ourselves some slack and give ourselves forgiveness. We would do that for a friend, why do we find it so hard to do it for ourselves? Let go of the guilt of not being able to do it all and practice self-care on a regular basis. Self care is not something you do only on the weekends, it’s something you need to do every day in little increments. Even it’s it’s 5 deep breaths. Find the things that make your soul giggle with joy and do them often. Get creative, play, dance or just take a moment of silence to honor your humanity.
Thank you to that human angel that came into my life not once, but twice. Thank you for not only taking a chance on an old shelter dog and giving him the best days of his life, but for the reminder of how far I’ve come. I paid for my potty training supplies and walked out of the store with a bag full of elastic waisted pant and undies, a heart full of joy and a smile on my face.