88: Back in the Game

88: Back in the Game

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Back in the Game

It is astonishing how little one feels alone when one loves.

~John Bulwer

Who says a therapist has to be human? I have found that canines can do the trick very nicely.

Belle, a long-hair Chihuahua, came into my life approximately a year ago. I found her online, residing in a rescue home sixty miles away, in Ponca City, Oklahoma. According to her electronic profile, Belle was a special needs dog; she’d been born with a curved spine which left her “slightly” crippled. That was the extent of the details given. When I first saw her, however, I noticed that her right back leg was longer than the left one, which she kept curled up close to her body. This deformity caused her to hop, not really walk. The rescue worker also confided to me that Belle, the runt of her litter, hadn’t been expected to survive to adulthood. Yet somehow, she had grown to maturity, although at just under three pounds, she was the tiniest dog I had ever seen.

I also learned that a steady stream of clients had already rejected the Chihuahua. The rescue worker told me that several people had dropped in to see the cute little mutt, captivated by her online picture; but when they saw her in person—and the full extent of her disability, they declined to take her home.

“Everyone said she’d be too much trouble,” the woman told me.

There was more bad news. I learned that because of her disabilities, Belle tended to prefer seclusion, and, as a result, suffered from severe bouts of depression.

“So don’t become worried if she balls up in a corner and refuses to come to you, even if you call her name.”

Could this get any worse?

Staring at the dog, however, my heart melted. Who could turn their back on this tiny, crippled canine? Besides, if she stayed here in the rescue home much longer, she would run the risk of being euthanized—an unacceptable possibility.

I’d like to say that Belle ran up to me at our first meeting, and, with kisses and wagging tail, picked me as her new “companion.” Truth was I had to make the first move.

After many months of rejection, which, no doubt, added to her depression, Belle was naturally cautious toward a stranger like me. She stayed pressed against the wall, hopping back and forth between the rescue worker and a bowl of dog food. In an effort to break the ice, I dropped slowly to the floor and, in a sitting position, held out my hand and softly called her name. I was thrilled when, after several attempts, she responded by inching over and sniffing my hand. She then cautiously licked my fingers and crawled into my lap.

It was a slow beginning, but for me, the bonding was already in motion. Once Belle looked up at me with those huge, sad eyes, I knew my life—and hers—had changed forever.

For me, at least, the future suddenly looked brighter. Until that dog crawled into my lap, I was lonely and needed the companionship of someone or something to make me feel alive. Like Belle, I felt bruised in life. A slew of personal and career disappointments had left me depressed and very distrustful. Although employed, I had been rejected from a series of interviews that would have allowed me to advance in my field as a caseworker for the State of Oklahoma. My confidence and hope shattered, I continued to work without any energy, and after dragging myself home from the office every night, I seldom went out. I more or less hibernated on the weekends, losing what few friends I had. Withdrawn from the world, I was convinced that I didn’t deserve any better, that the best years of my life lay behind me.

Soon after bringing Belle home, however, I began to notice life changing. Even the setbacks no longer bothered me—for long. The turning point occurred, ironically enough, when an ice storm struck two days later and left my home without power for a week. The arctic temperatures forced me to bring Belle to work with me. Clients, co-workers and even visiting administrators were charmed by the miniscule pooch and stopped to chat with me while petting the new four-legged office resident. As a result, both Belle and I made a whole legion of friends. Plus, I received useful information that led me to my subsequent promotion and generous increase in pay.

Later, my depression gone, I decided to throw a Christmas party. Although I was the host, Belle received the most attention, limping quickly from guest to guest and establishing herself among my friends as the quintessential canine social butterfly!

Belle had definitely come out of her shell. She now seemed to enjoy life, and to play and trust again. This was no easy transition, considering the difficulties of re-establishing trust when one has been hurt—a challenging journey which I knew only too well.

Inspired by Belle’s renewed faith, I have abandoned my own reticence and no longer wait until someone shows me a bit of kindness. I now feel confident that I can make that kindness happen, that I can trust again.

Strange how a tiny, “special needs” dog can make one feel better about oneself and others. Because of Belle, I am back in the game, ready to take risks and enjoy life to its fullest.

Talk about a surprise shot in the arm!

But then, who knows where fate will lead us? In my case, it just happened to be a rescue home in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where a tiny, emotionally and physically scarred Chihuahua waited for someone to take her home and give her a new life.

~Al Serradell

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