Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Dog Named James....I left him to ARNO


ARNO's Shelter Director, Robin Beaulieu, "Mr. Shivers"
and a Dog named James

photo by Jackie Quick


A few weeks ago, I was asked by one of our more dedicated volunteers, Auntie Karen, to put down into words what working with ARNO has meant to me and since I am not one to shirk a writing challenge, I agreed. When I tried to put a multitude of feelings into words, it was surprisingly difficult and so I put the task on the back burner and nearly forgot it, nearly.
Until James. Yesterday morning, I was hit square in the face with just what ARNO, working with, alongside and for ARNO has meant to me, and the reason is a dog named James.

James was only about four months old when I spotted him last summer, along with his two brothers, frolicking happily on the front yard, the yard directly across from where I cared for Magnolia Sammy and that was going to be a problem. Yes, I was going to have to bust up this happy-go-lucky family because after everything I had invested into Sammy and his feline friends, how on earth was I going to let these feral dogs, these wild creatures, take that all away? So, I did the unthinkable, I snitched on them, I gave up their location to the local animal control and within days, all three were taken from their own little paradise.

In my own opinion, one can’t be an “animal person” and be a “dog person” or a “cat person”.....if you care about other living, breathing creatures, that feeling extends to all God’s creatures and although my protective side is what forced me to confront this situation head on, admittedly, there was a comfort zone. ARNO’s Executive Director lived up to every expectation I had of her when she personally contacted the shelter which these three dogs now called home and stated unequivocally that if and when the trio would reach a point where nothing further could be offered and adoption chances might be slim, then she wanted ARNO to be contacted and the organization would accept these three dogs. I don’t know that I have ever properly thanked Charlotte Bass-Lilly for that huge undertaking....feral dogs, true feral dogs, born under the house at which they frolicked that day, is not an easy responsibility to face and I know that as much as she did it for the dogs she works to save, she did it for me, ARNO did it for me.

And so they arrived, last fall, after spending the time at the local shelter, the time in rehab, the time allotted when space is scarce and funds even scarcer, they came to ARNO, all three, all feral but beautiful creatures, and they hid. The trio was given their own run and because most of my time is spent away from the facility, I only saw glimpses of them, well, two of them anyway.
I saw the black and white one and I saw the leader, the alpha, if you could call him alpha, the brown one with the freckly face, and I tried but a minute here and a minute there, that’s not enough with feral dogs....and so I left them, I left them to ARNO.

As fall turned into winter, the trio became more visible, they were now each in their own kennel and what made me notice them more than anything was the fact that finally, the third one, the one I knew to exist but never saw, he had a face, finally, and it was just as beautiful as his brothers. The third one, the most timid of the bunch, was beautiful brown all over, like the color of honey, and he had the most soulful deep brown eyes which never left sight of you if you were near him. Although I was thrilled to finally see the third dog who I knew to exist, I had seen him playing way back when, before I gave them up, I worried....did I do the wrong thing? And then the thought was gone, I know, after enough of these on the streets, still lurking, still popping up when and where I least expect to see them, sometimes five miles from where I saw them last, I know, I did the right thing and as I observed Jackie walk him or his brothers as time went by, I knew, I had done the right thing and so would leave them and all the others, any others, the ones brought in and the ones I didn’t bring in or turn in, I left them, I left them to ARNO.

Christmas passed and I watched as three young girls, teenagers, pre-teens really, they climbed in and out of the trio’s kennels. Three young ladies who ARNO is lucky enough to have as part of its family, Victoria, Kaitlyn and Taylor, all spending their Saturday morning in the individual kennels of Jessie, the leader of this pack, Billy the Kid, the black and white ball of nerves, and James, the honey-colored meek one of the bunch. These girls would just love these three “wild” dogs and I would hear an occasional squeal from their area and then I heard one really big squeal one of those Saturday mornings...... “James licked her, he licked her!” I am still not sure which one of those three young ladies was graced with a kiss from James that day, I only know that from the delight I could hear emanating from somewhere over there that finally, the meek one, James, he had truly opened up, and so I left them that day, just another Saturday, I left them to ARNO.

It wasn’t until after Cora, Mia Corazon, my beautiful chow, it was after she became the newest addition to ARNO just recently, that I began consciously spending more time with the dogs at ARNO and getting to know their individual personalities. Cora was a windfall for me, a cat trapping enthusiast, and so my time now had to be spread around, getting to know the canines of ARNO’s world and I will tell you that is a job all by itself. Recently, when Tom, our long-term out-of-town volunteer, made the long-haul to Arizona with forty or so felines, I showed up at ARNO, one Saturday, but one Saturday evening this time and somehow, my sense of guilt wouldn’t let me head home knowing that Jackie and Robin, our shelter director, a/k/a “solver of every problem” had to finish up the day’s chores and walk all the dogs without that third set of hands, Tom’s. So, instead of leaving them to ARNO, I stayed and I helped walk those dogs, and how I crawled out of bed the next day is still a mystery to me......those dogs, whether they love the open air and the freedom of a walk, or, as in the case of Billy the Kid, their feralness takes over and they just run, with you flailing behind them, those dogs work every muscle you didn’t know you had. But it was an invigorating kind of hurt the next day and I do like a challenge, so I went back, I went back to ARNO and I walked Billy the Kid again, and again and each day brought new progress, in my eyes anyway, and progress is an addictive thing and so I came back, I came back to ARNO.

Although Jessie has gone into a wonderful foster home, James and Billy are still with ARNO and earlier this week I caught on to something, something the real experts at ARNO probably already knew......when I sat with James in my lap, scratching his ears, whispering secrets in those ears and all the while watching to see if his tail would uncurl from that terrified coil, I noticed Billy the Kid, he actually wagged his tail and it wasn’t coiled up. You see, I forgot to latch his kennel after his walk and he saw me as I made efforts with his brother James, and so he came forward and he acted like a real live dog, a happy dog, as he licked my hand first and then sniffed James’ face and I saw it, that happy dog light in James’ soulful eyes....they would always be brothers no matter what, no matter where they were and no matter who they loved, they truly loved each other, their brothers. The next evening, after thinking that I might possibly be crazy, I decided to walk James and Billy together and oh what a wonderful walk we had!

I can’t begin to properly put into words just what I saw on that walk, just three nights ago, so I will not even attempt to do so......it was magical and those are the moments that you live for and the ones that come not nearly as often as you know that they should. Magical is an addictive thing too, and as I came running behind these two joyful creatures that night, I managed to blurt out questions and orders all at the same time: “Did you see that? They skipped, I’m certain of it!” “ Jackie, Tom, did you see them? They wagged their tails.....wagged, wagged them, I swear it!” And finally, “Okay, guys, now even when I ‘m not here, you walk them together, okay, they loved it!” Looking back, I think that the smiles on the faces that night were as much about me as they were about Billy and James.......Jackie, Tom, Robin, they know what each of these creatures has inside of them and I think they enjoyed the sight of me learning as well.....they know each one’s likes, dislikes, each one’s scars from street fights, each one’s favorite chew treat and each one’s comb or brush that gets just the right spot........I envy these miracle workers, but, as one who spends so much time outside, I think that my special reward is never losing the total awestruck amazement as each and everyone of those miracles unfold, as each one sheds a little more of their street life and learns to tolerate, accept and eventually look for what these miracle workers called ARNO offers to each and every single one....love.

Sometimes the plans we lay, the dreams we build, the hopes we imagine, sometimes they aren’t to be, and James, the meek one, the honey-colored soulful boy that existed as part of my memory for too long, only to emerge as one of those miracles, he left ARNO, but not as we had hoped he would, not with a family......James left ARNO on the morning of April 4, 2007 when he lost the battle of heart worm treatment and suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically died from a side-effect, a known risk of heart worm treatment, the worms themselves. When heart worms die they basically become embolisms which can lead to complications of blocked vessels, clotting and death. I am not a veterinarian and don’t know enough about heart worms or the treatment to make any factual statements but I know many people who have put their dogs into treatment and those dogs survived. James did not and that is the risk of the treatment, you don’t know who and you don’t know when. James was alive one minute and gone the next and his life was way too short, I know because I remember that first sighting when they were puppies and I know the possibilities that we all hoped for, still hope for with Billy and Jessie, and I am so sad that James is gone before the miracle was complete.

I will miss James, I already miss James and all those possibilities and I have cried many times since I first got the news yesterday, but I have also searched my heart to figure out why it is that upon first hearing the news, the very first initial shock, why it was that my strongest emotion was one that brought a smile to my face first, before the tears came.....I didn’t have to search to far.....I smiled for James, I smiled about James and I will always smile when I think of James because James left from the same place that I resigned his fate would take him last fall when I spotted him and his brothers....James left his brothers, he left his family, he left from ARNO, and he left them behind, he left them to ARNO.

A Dog named James is why ARNO is special to me..........James was special to it, them. ARNO is special to me because ARNO is not an it, it is not an organization, it is a couple of miracle workers here, a few dedicated die hards over there, and an amazing level of energy and can do dedication and driven determination all in between. ARNO is special to me because its Executive Director accepted the challenge of three feral, born feral, true feral dogs, accepted them on their behalf and accept them on mine. ARNO is special to me because its’ dedicated volunteers, the ones who give their blood, sweat, tears, and then some, the Jackie’s, the Tom’s, the Anabel’s, the Isabelle’s, the Anastasia’s, the Joe Nobodies.....they are all the most amazing somebodies, and they welcome each James, each Billy, each Jessie and they just work their magic, no matter how long it takes, no matter that money is what will be needed for each one and who has money? ARNO is special to me because they don’t have the funding to pull them in fast, intake them, route them, hold them and then.....well, then.... that is the thing with ARNO, the then at the end of the road. It comes, it always comes, the then, the what now, the what do we do now for this one or that one........it’s always an unknown but yet a known at ARNO, the then will just be, will surely be, will only be, a happy ending for the single, solitary, one at a time creature that ARNO is dedicated to saving, each one, one at a time, slowly, short-term, long-term, always different, but always permanently, each one is going to have his or her happy ending. Sometimes, though, those miracle workers, fate intervenes and I remember that they are humans, humans who love all the James that come to them.

ARNO is special and I knew that when I had to tell Robin, the Shelter Director to slow down and tell me again who, what happened, and I had to make out through her sobs that James was gone. I wish I could take the pain Robin felt away, but, somewhere deep inside, her pain is why ARNO is special......Robin loves each one and not one more than the other, and although that is pretty miraculous in itself, Robin is just a human and she hurts too. ARNO is special because of Robin, its Shelter Director, a person in pain, who thought about the pain I would feel and who had to be the one to deliver the news and to be so sorry about the pain......and I smile because I know I left James and his brothers, I left them to ARNO.

ARNO is special because Jackie, the resident dog guru, do it all, fix it all, and always with a smile....... he couldn’t look me in the eyes or not so easily, when I drove up to ARNO yesterday to walk Billy......ARNO is special because Jackie loves each one, he does it with knee–pads sometimes because they wear him out, but he loves each one and he still manages to see the other side, the ones like me who get attached or feel responsible or whatever it is, he knew I was either hurting or going to hurt and I could see that was hard for him....and I smile because I know I left James and his brothers, I left them to ARNO.

ARNO is special because of Melinda, one of those right hand man/woman miracle workers........I don’t know all of Melinda’s duties, I just know she helps Robin and she helps Jackie and she helps whomever or whatever get done and she helps make those miracles happen too.....Melinda is good at the slow ones, like Nick, a dog with another story for another day, but a miracle nonetheless. ARNO is special because Melinda, I was told, took James and buried him......Melinda is special because James was special and I smile because I know I left James and his brothers, I left them to ARNO.

There are so many, one like Darla, she lives somewhere else, I don’t know, but I know she took the time to make me feel better today when I had so many questions and part of the feeling better part was knowing that Darla cared enough about James to honor his memory with the truth and facts and without sugarcoating it.......I feel better knowing that Darla was one of the last humans that James spent time with. So many, but too few ......all with names that should go here but for a lack of time, for blurred vision as I type through tears, and for the animals who yes, still await help.....a small puppy pack that I am certain is the next generation in James’ family is waiting for my help......these miracle workers, no, these humans, they are the reasons that ARNO is special and as long as there are those who understand that and continue to support ARNO, I know that more miracles are around the corner, maybe frolicking right this very minute and when I spot them, I know I will hesitate for that one moment and wonder what I should do, but it will only be for that one moment because I will think of James and I will know what I need to do, I will leave them to ARNO, ARNO with the young girls who see only the love that three wild dogs have to give, and to receive, the same young girls who give four-legged numbers their names, ARNO with the shelter director who has way to big of a heart to be a real director so the rest of us have to settle for miracles she concocts rather than directing, the ARNO with the Executive Director who has enough faith for all of us to keep this mission on track, the ARNO with the miracle workers who I have come to believe in and to love..... the same ARNO that I left James and his brothers to, the ARNO in the picture above, the one which James apparently came to love as well.