Rescue My Heart
by JoAnn Konczak
People who rescue animals are primarily motivated by the desire to save lives. To them, any life is precious. While the work is physically, emotionally and financially draining, the reward lies in the satisfaction of having given hope and a new future to animals who would otherwise not have found homes, or who would have met the tragic fate of euthanasia. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. You are an animal rescuer.
There is something else, another aspect of what you do, that you might not know or might not have thought about and I want to share it with you here. What I’d like to do is offer you a different perspective about your work and the important impact that you make in the lives of those you save. I’m going to make you cry, but hopefully you will come away with the realization that what you do is bigger and even more important than you ever might have imagined. I’m going to tell you a story about a little girl, a dog and a devastating loss.
She was seven years old when she first saw the little dog. As she walked down the sidewalk near her house, she heard a commotion in a yard nearby. The little dog was chained to the clothesline in the yard. A man was standing over the dog screaming and kicking her. The little girl was stunned and felt powerless to do anything about it. Finally, the man unchained the dog, kicked her again and told her to “Shoo! Shoo!” With that, he stomped across the yard, into the house and slammed the door.
The man was gone, so the little girl spoke softly to the dog, held her by the collar and took her home. Her father was sleeping in that morning and awoke to find her tapping lightly on his back as she tried to wake him. By then, her brothers and sisters had gathered at the foot of the bed in a kind of hopeful show of solidarity. The little girl cried as she described what she had seen just a few minutes before and asked “Daddy, she doesn’t have anywhere to go. Can we keep her?” Her father scanned the room and realized that he was outnumbered. He said, “If you’re going to keep her, she’ll need a name.” The little girl said, “Oh, she has a name because I heard the man say it. Her name is Shoo Shoo.” A relationship was born.
Shoo Shoo became the girls constant companion. They slept together every night and the dog was a great source of comfort to her as her parent’s marriage began to fail. At night, when her parents argued, the girl quietly cried, wrapped her arms around the dog and fell asleep.
The little girl took the reponsibility of having Shoo Shoo very seriously and spent every spare moment walking her, training her and teaching her tricks. Shoo Shoo was a great source of pride for her, as she was so well trained that people would stop them on the street to remark about what a well trained dog she was. Summers were a blur of long days spent hiking in the field adjacent to the neighborhood. This was a close and very meaningful friendship. The two were absolutely inseparable. The little girl couldn’t imagine ever not having Shoo Shoo in her life.
When she was ten years old, her parents announced that they were divorcing and that her father was moving out. Suddenly the little girl’s world came crashing down around her. As before, she found great comfort in Shoo Shoo and shared the secrets of the pain and sorrow that she was feeling only with her dog.
Not long after the divorce, the little girl’s mom began to change and became increasingly angry and bitter. One by one, she sent the little girl’s siblings to live with her father. The little girl and Shoo Shoo stayed behind with her mother. Everything about them seemed normal to those who were outside looking in, but the mother’s anger and bitterness began to turn to rage. Nothing that the little girl did was good enough. She didn’t see her father for months at a time. As before, she only entrusted her secrets to the dog. Shoo Shoo was the only one who knew what was really happening in her life and the only one who knew her sorrow.
When she was twelve years old, the little girl’s mother announced out of the blue one day that she was “getting rid of the dog.” The little girl was heartbroken. The little girl’s heart was filled with terror, fear and unimaginable pain. Over the course of several weeks, the mother loaded the little girl and her dog into the car and drove to various prospective new homes. Each time, the little girl was filled with torment as she hoped and prayed that no one would want her dog. No one did.
Several weeks went by and the little girl’s mother seemed to have given up on the idea of finding a new home for Shoo Shoo. The little girl began to feel confident that her mother would not get rid of her dog. Life seemed to return to normal and the little girl felt that Shoo Shoo was safe again.
One day, out of the blue, her mother came into her room with the leash and announced that she was “putting Shoo Shoo to sleep.” Years before, the little girl’s father had taught her not to show emotion and not to cry in front of other people. That didn’t matter now and the little girl began to sob uncontrollably as she begged her mother not to kill her dog. Her mother clipped the leash to the dog’s collar and began to walk toward the door. By this time, the little girl was in hysterics, begging and pleading, “Please, please don’t kill my dog!” Despite her pleas, her mother walked toward the car with the dog and opened the door. As she stood on the porch pleading and crying hysterically, her mother loaded Shoo Shoo into the car and drove away. The little girl went into her bedroom, buried her head in her pillow and cried for the rest of the day. While she was laying there, she wished and prayed that some miracle would happen that would at least save her dog’s life, even if she never saw her again. The little girl never saw Shoo Shoo again.
With no one left to confide in, the little girl kept her pain inside and never told anyone, not even her father or siblings, what really happened to her dog. She never spoke about Shoo Shoo again... until she was forty years old.
That little girl was me. After all of these years, I still cry every time I recall what happened to Shoo Shoo and the very real image I still see of myself as I stood on the porch and pleaded with my mother. You can’t imagine how much I wish that someone like you would have come along and saved Shoo Shoo. You could have rescued my heart.
I understand too well the grief that a child experiences over the loss of a pet. Millions of family pets are left at animal shelters or euthanized every year in this country. Others are simply abandoned along the road somewhere. If you rescue animals, I can assure you that there is a child out there, like the child I was, who is desperately wishing, hoping and praying that someone will save the life of their pet or at least find them a loving home. Children are powerless in an adult world.
You don’t just rescue animals. You rescue hearts. That makes you a hero.