32: Making a Difference

32: Making a Difference

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Making a Difference

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.

~Will Rogers

It was a crisp fall morning when I suddenly awoke from a deep sleep. I looked over at my husband, snoring slightly, and nudged him not so gently. “I was thinking about starting a Labrador Retriever rescue.”


That one-word question made me stop and think, really think, about where this crazy notion had come from.

“I think I’m being called to do it.” It was as honest an answer as I could give.

“Then go for it. Can we talk more when I’m fully awake?”

That was eleven years ago. As I reflect back on all that has happened in my life since then one thing remains constant. I saved lives and I will forever be changed because of it. In 2000, I founded a Labrador Retriever rescue. I had never visited an animal shelter and had no clue that Labs were one of the breeds of dogs most likely to be euthanized. Who would want to give up a Lab?

I was pretty clueless as to where or how to start this venture, so the computer became my friend. I Googled and searched and then made more phone calls than I care to remember.

One call I made was to our local animal shelter. I made an appointment to meet with Cheryl, the head of the Humane Society. Her job was to pull as many animals from death’s door as she could. I was excited about meeting her and seeing the dogs.

When Cheryl and I met, I noticed an edginess about her, even a slight distrust. I assumed correctly that this saving-life business was just a short-term interest for most volunteers. They would start out strong, last a couple of weeks, and then get too busy. I think Cheryl had already me sized up in her head. I’d prove her wrong.

The first time I walked down the corridor of the kennels, I was in shock at the number of dogs in this high-kill facility. My excitement quickly turned to disbelief at these conditions. It was staggering to realize that most of these potential pets would die on what became known as Terrible Thursdays, when the gas chamber was fired up.

I walked a little further and happened upon kennel #25. What I saw took my breath away. There he stood, a gentle giant of pure chocolate love. The look on his face was so full of hope, I couldn’t turn away.

I asked Cheryl for a leash and we took the big guy outside. I’ll never forget how he stopped to sniff the flowers and lifted his head to the air as if to absorb those moments before harsh reality came back. We continued walking around (well, he was walking, I was just trying to catch up) and came upon an old stump. I sat down on it, and this beautiful chocolate boy sat down right beside me. He was just precious. Those velvety triangular ears that only a Lab can have were sheer perfection. Any passerby would have thought we were long lost friends.

I was stunned that a dog this gentle and loving would be stranded at a place like this. I knew one thing — he wasn’t going back in there. He’d just have to come home with me.

I made my decision and filled out the paperwork. As we stood to go in, a family pulled up and parked. Without one moment of hesitation a little girl threw open her car door and rushed over to us.

What’s his name?” she asked.

“Hershey,” I said. I had no clue what his name might be, but I couldn’t let him go nameless.

“He is so sweet, and I like his name.” The little girl and Hershey were drawn to each other.

The little girl’s parents came over, and we were all gathered around oohing and aahing over Hershey.

Cheryl came out to observe the scene. She gave me a thumbs-up. I realized I had just made my first save.

“Are you a Lab rescuer, ma’am?” the father asked.

I hesitated for just a moment before answering. “Why, yes, I am. And it appears you have found yourself a new addition to the family.”

The father chuckled but there was sadness, too. “It appears to be love at first sight. Our daughter, Olivia, has leukemia, and she has wanted a dog for so long. She loves dogs and chocolate, so I think Hershey is just what she needs.”

Tears began to well up in my eyes. I turned away before anyone noticed. Olivia and Hershey explored the grounds together. Unlike the way he’d tugged when I held the leash, Hershey was very gentle with Olivia. If she stopped, he stopped. It was truly magical. Only once did Hershey look in my direction. Already, he was completely devoted to that little girl.

The family adopted Hershey on the spot, loaded him up, and prepared to go home. I cried like a baby. Hershey’s tail never stopped thumping. He had found his Heaven.

I can’t describe the feeling of rescuing an animal. It is addictive and selfless in the same breath. I went on to save nine hundred and ninety-nine more Labs in the two and a half years I was blessed enough to have my rescue. A divorce left me no choice but to close my doors and dream of one day opening them again. It is a calling. When you wake from a dead sleep to embark on a dream you never even knew you had, you don’t ignore it, you simply take that bull by the horns and go full force. There isn’t a day that I don’t think back and smile and tear up remembering details about each experience. It is hard to say who comes out on top, the rescuer or the rescued. Each gains something so special in the process. I used to tell people that a little piece of my heart went with every Lab I rescued and every one I couldn’t.

Olivia died two years later. She was nine years old. Her parents told me Hershey never left her bed those last few weeks of hospice, and he was there when they buried her.

We can all make a difference if we hop on a wing of faith and let it guide us to where we are supposed to be. I learned to make the most of every situation, even those that seemed too difficult to handle. This lesson was taught to me by a precious little girl who knew her time on this earth was limited, and by a chocolate Lab who had every reason to give up on the goodness of people, but didn’t.

~Lisa Morris

More stories from our partners