Sometimes, in this “business,” you just have to sit down by yourself and feel the hurt pressing down on your chest like a heavy boot. There are good days, though. More than you’d think, really. The kind that bring tears of a different kind and remind you why you do this in the first place.
What happened to Moe is exactly that.
Nowhere Left to Turn
Ramona and I met Moe by accident. We were at one of our shelter partners dropping off kittens (there have been many, many this year … but that’s a different story).
They were busy as usual so we settled in to get the paperwork done and wait our turn. That’s when we noticed a woman with an older, very well behaved shepherd mix lying between her feet. There is only one reason for anyone to be in that particular room at the shelter … she was there to give up her dog.
This is probably a good time to mention that we always approach people in this situation without judgement. You never know what they’ve been going through or what circumstances have really pushed them to this point.
As we sat there, the dog, Moe, kept stealing glances up at his owner, Cathye, eyes warming with that look dogs give the people they love. He shared that look without judgment or concern – he had no idea why he was there or how dramatically his life was about to change.
To see this and recognize it is to understand how completely dogs are willing to offer their trust and give of themselves to us. Of course, this made all of it that much harder for Ramona and me. At the same time, you could tell Cathye – who was there with her two granddaughters – was having a hard time with it, too. She sat motionless and tried not to look at Moe but when she did you could see she felt real love for him.
Something that hard requires an emotional firewall, a way to protect yourself from the hurt you feel. And I could tell she was definitely fighting it. Then, out of nowhere, she reached down and touched his face.
That’s when we knew.
Turns out Cathye had retired from her non-profit development job in Flint, Michigan, and moved to Kansas City to help her son with health issues and to help care for his two daughters. Part of that bargain was Moe and a house in a new neighborhood.
Caring for Moe was a bit difficult, she said, made more so by the fact that the neighbors around her were afraid of Moe (in my interactions with him, he was not aggressive at all and simply just hung out silently and politely. In fact, he was just here at SNKC during a very busy time and was very relaxed the entire time).
Cathye loved Moe, she admitted, and liked how he was with her granddaughters, too. Still, she felt the pressure of living in a community where others we’re concerned about her dog. And, of course, there was the burden of caring for a dog on a retiree’s income. She felt like she had no choice or the home they had – the home she shared with her son and granddaughters – would be in jeopardy.
Ramona knew exactly what to do. She asked Cathye how we could help, how we could change the path she was currently on so it went a different direction and kept Moe from the shelter. This is a mission we live every day but to see the impact of it unfold in real time was humbling.
When I said quietly to Ramona that she had just done something remarkable, her response was simple and direct. “It’s just what we do.”
I thought to myself, “but you’re doing something that will be changing lives. Something huge.”
I think Cathye agreed. She told Ramona that she and Moe felt cared for, like what they were going through mattered. Of course, because they do matter. And then I heard the best words that day …
“C’mon, Moe, we’re going home.”
What it took to change Moe’s life, and Cathye’s for that matter, was for someone to offer support when things had gotten tough. That meant a few little supplies that would ease the burden of caring for Moe while trying to make a good life for those grandbabies. But also for someone to listen and help offer some possible solutions for working with the neighbors. A stickier situation to be sure but one our Families Better Together™ outreach team can handle. They’ve done it many times before and understand how so many of those situations can simply be chalked up to misunderstandings. Oftentimes, a slight change to routines can bring about big changes that leave everyone happy.
That’s exactly what Ramona offered. And, as she would say, it’s just what we do. But it’s more than that. I saw it that day as I’ve seen it many days in the year I’ve been here. Little things add up to be big things. A lot of times, those little things keep families together. They save lives. And that matters; it certainly did for Cathye and Moe.
“I love this dog,” Cathye said. That’s why keeping families together is what we do.