While walking back from the beach to my hotel today in Anguilla, I heard a sound that made my estrogen surge. An old impulse to immediately squelch the maternal impulse with logic quickly stepped in to save me…
This battle between my ‘feelings’ (heart) and intellect (mind) has been going on for many years now. And while the cold logic won for some time in recent years, I’ve been intentionally surrendering to my more tender, albeit seemingly less logical, impulses of late. I say intentionally because I’ve thought it through. Thought it through and realized I was letting a very important part of me die and that perhaps logic makes a better partner than master.
That sound I heard was the unmistakable cry of a very small puppy. My maternal instincts surged and I felt that I must go and at least investigate. Actually “investigating” was probably the more ‘scientific’ excuse I gave myself, but really I wanted to go hold that little puppy and take him home with me. But here I was walking along in a foreign country; with two pilots I had only met that morning. I hesitated and down played the situation to my walking companions to avoid the appearance of the dreaded ‘illogical female.’ The one pilot, however, (a 50 year-old Aspenite who knows the value of both exploring a question and rescuing an animal) suggested we investigate and was sure the owners of the garage/junk yard that appeared to be the direction in which the sound was coming from, wouldn’t mind if I held the puppy. So we took a detour and followed the pitiful cries.
While walking over I was reminded of a certain dog in Africa that helped restore a tenderness I once held back in favor of reason. Growing up I was a massive animal lover (as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs) and loved my pets with an un-jaded sincerity. But this was the source of deep hurt when they died (I now see what a wonderful opportunity this is for a kid to learn to cope with death) and as an adult I came to believe that love for an animal could be misplaced human affection and the result of projecting the emotions we long for from other humans onto an animal (incapable of feeling like us) because this is easier than actually earning/finding such emotions from our own kind. This knowledge caused me to hold back unduly, affection toward animals. But then my path crossed with a dog named Scooby, for a second time, in Zambia.
Scooby was a goofy puppy when I lived in the Zambian Bush in 2005. He was always under foot and getting himself hurt. He seemed so entirely unfit for the hard African life that even the American expats seemed to find him more annoying than cute. But there was another dog there too named Vicky, who was much better at getting along with the people on the logistical base and the harsh conditions of the African Bush. She appeared to kind of adopt Scooby, but sometime between 2006 and 2008 when I returned, Vicky was killed by baboons.
I was told that Scooby appeared to mourn for 3 days –the workers at the base had no other way to describe it. Then he finally stopped lying around, got up, and did the unimaginable. Scooby killed a baboon –nearly an impossible feat for a dog!
When I arrived for another stint in Zambia in 2008 Scooby was the ‘big man’ on campus. He resembled a wolf more than the goofy puppy I remembered, and according to the neighbor villagers had ‘girlfriends’ in the village as well as the base. One such ‘girlfriend,’ a small white dog, was run over by a truck and killed while I was there. We suspected she was pregnant with Scooby’s puppies at the time. And that Scooby went to mourning again. At that time I honestly tried to avoid touching the dogs but when I saw him with those sad dog eyes I couldn’t resist –I pet him and spoke tenderly to him. From that day on he slept outside my tent, right near my bed every night. He became my protector and I couldn’t help but attribute it to the human emotion of gratitude. I softened, once again, toward giving affection to animals.
Today in Anguilla we did find that little puppy (I’ll post pictures tomorrow, so check back!) and I even impulsively held him (starving and flea ridden) before getting permission from the owners. In the lovely laid-back culture of the Caribbean, it really wasn’t that big of a deal, and the man who finally came up on us said they just found the little guy in the scrubs near by and that I could have him if I wanted (unfortunately an impossibility with customs etc.). I so wished I had some water left to give to the little guy who was trying to suckle on my arm, and fortunately Mark (the Aspenite pilot) was equally compassionate and bored enough to indulge me. “Let’s go get him some food he suggested!” I was relieved.
I knew our mission was somewhat futile because while we could in fact buy dog food in town, it’s just plain and simple a hard life for a dog in the third world, free meal or not. There were other dogs there too, though more hardened, just as needy as that puppy with ribs showing and mangy hair to boot. What could I actually do? And would it be ethical to help one puppy and not another? Or how about helping a dog over a person? Sharing some of these concerns with Mark as he kindly drove me to town, he encouraged me out of maturity to go with my tender impulses without being so quick to shut them down. He gave me permission, as I have been trying to give myself as well. We talked about our options. I simply couldn’t bring him home because of legal complications (though Mark didn’t judge me for having the impulse to), we could see if the horse farm next to the hotel wanted him, and there was always the shelter in town the lady at the front desk spoke so highly of, but ultimately we agreed to take one step at a time and defer to the original rescuers before taking their pup to the pound.
We got back and fed all the dogs –again, we were able to be un-offensive with in the islander’s by joking about my “silly” female impulses. I suppose this is the best way I could acknowledge the logical dilemma of the situation I mentioned above, while not squelching the tenderness I had to offer to these dogs, no matter how ‘irrational’. It took me a good 5 plus minutes to finally calm that little guy down; he ate and drank like it was his first and last meal. He cried the whole time until he finally fell asleep in my lap, which was by this time filthy from his dirt, fleas and the dog food. He whimpered a bit even in his sleep and I consoled him by petting him and explaining how it was a tough life but he was going to be okay. We spent enough time to see that the other dogs were actually quite gentle and even affectionate with him and left (though he cried again) telling ourselves we’d return tomorrow.
I have no idea what’s going to happen to this little guy nor what all I will end up doing for him (I’m here until Sunday) but I do know that I no longer want to hold back tenderness when I feel it rising up in my chest. Even if its for a dog who’s destined for a hard life; even if what I can give won’t make a difference in the grand scheme, or could do ‘better’ good elsewhere. I’m going to give equal credence to my tender impulse and my logical thought and simply take one step at a time…