18: Back to My Roots

18: Back to My Roots

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Back to My Roots

Fun fact: Due to overpopulation, many governments charge more for a license if the dog hasn’t been spayed or neutered.

I had always had a passion for animals and I had co-founded an organization to help animals in need. Helping animals through rescue and adoption, and helping their new families through a multitude of programs such as affordable spay-and-neuter options, made me feel alive. I also loved to write in my free time.

Those were my two passions, but I had taken a new job, thinking the additional money would provide a lifetime of security and freedom. All of my effort and energy went into this new office job that I didn’t love, while my rescue organization stagnated and I found I had no time to write.

One bitterly cold winter day, I was heading back to my car between appointments when I saw her. The dog was shivering in the below-zero temperature, and my heart sank. I bent down to pet her and found icicles hanging from her matted fur. Her nails curled into her paw pads, making it difficult to walk. She allowed me to pet her and even spun in circles with excitement. I placed her under my coat to warm her up and I walked from house to house asking if anyone had seen her before.

No one knew anything about her. I left my information at each house just in case, and I took her home. When I took her to the vet, I learned that she had not been spayed or micro-chipped. She was covered in so many fleas that her apricot hair looked gray, and her stomach was full of parasites and worms. The poor thing was severely underweight and dehydrated. Instead of working into the wee hours of the night for my job, I went to buy dog food and spent the evening giving her a bath.

I assumed I would foster the dog myself and place her for adoption with my rescue organization just as soon as she was healthy enough to be spayed and fully vetted. I didn’t have time for a dog in my life. I was too busy with my job, and I was never home. But as each day passed, I couldn’t wait to get home and see the little dog that had wandered into my busy life. We named her Lady, and after a few veterinary visits and a nice haircut, it was determined that she was a Poodle mix. Lady got along well with my cats. She sat on my lap as I worked from home in the evenings, and she snuggled with me when I finally crawled into bed, exhausted.

Lady fit right in, but I reminded myself I did not have time for a dog. I was pursuing financial security, and that meant sticking to my plan, even though I was so unhappy at work.

Each day, Lady grew healthier and stronger, and our bond grew. She loved to go on walks and really loved running with me, which surprised me for a small dog. Rescuing Lady reminded me of my true calling — helping animals — and my other passion for other things, too — running and writing. She reminded me to slow down and actually live life.

A few months after I adopted Lady, I was sexually assaulted at work. Lady helped me find the strength to leave the job and she was there to comfort me through my endless nightmares. It took five years before I was strong enough to seek help in the form of therapy. Once a person full of words, I hadn’t been able to find my own voice since the trauma occurred. But Lady didn’t force me to talk. She did the best thing anyone could have done for me during that difficult time — she stayed by my side and was there for me. When I suffered from debilitating panic attacks, she would sense an attack and jump into my lap, licking my face and forcing me to come back to the present moment instead of allowing the replay of past events to hold me hostage in my mind.

It may have looked as if I saved Lady, but Lady really saved me. I went back to my animal-welfare organization and got it back on track, adding more volunteers and life-saving programs. We officially became a 501(c)(3) organization. I also resumed writing.

Today, our non-profit organization has saved more than 11,000 lives, and I write for a living. Because one furry life found her way to me when I needed her most, I have found the courage and strength to live the life of my dreams.

~Stacey Ritz

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