This I Believe

Risa - New Carrollton, Maryland
Entered on July 6, 2006

I Believe in Compassion

I believe in compassion and the power of one person to make a difference. I believe that each of us, in some small way, has the power to improve the lives of other living beings and by doing so, improve our own lives.

It was the day before Thanksgiving, 1994. I was expecting 14 people for dinner the next day and our house was in an uproar when the phone rang. It was the DC animal shelter. They were overfull for the holiday, short of staff, and they needed to move some dogs out. They had two German Shepherd males who needed a place to go. My husband jumped in his truck, my best friend fired up her van, and off they went to the shelter on New York Avenue.

Miles came home with my husband that night. He walked into the house, wagged his tail politely, and lay down in front of the kitchen stove. He stayed there, more or less, for the next 9 years. During Thanksgiving dinner he found a child to cuddle him, and he was happy. He wasn’t the most intelligent dog we’ve ever had, but he was certainly the most loving. He was at his best with small children, autistic teenagers, and developmentally disabled adults; anyone who needed a lick and a snuggle was his kind of person.

18 years of dog rescue have taught me a few things: Not everyone loves animals. Rescue is dirty work. I can’t save them all. Human stupidity and ignorance are the strongest and most pervasive forces in the universe. Compassion is a wedge, not a hammer.

I could do something easier. Nobody is paying me to drive all night to get this batch of homeless hounds from point A to point B. Sure, I’d rather be home in bed instead of walking dogs at 4:30 in the morning at a rest stop on the New Jersey turnpike. But when the trip is over and the critters are delivered, and we’re sitting in some diner drinking coffee, punchy from lack of sleep, do I believe that the world just became a slightly better place? You bet I do.

I believe that all the grubby volunteers driving around in their beat-up vehicles with rescued dogs and cats are doing something good. I believe that the hours spent on the phone are not wasted. I believe that by opening my heart and my home to abandoned dogs, I am helping to buy them a second chance. And by buying them a second chance, I improve my chances too. I believe that the voiceless deserve a voice, and that because we have created the world that they live in, I have a responsibility to help. If I help them, then I help myself. The Rabbis call it “tikkun olam; to mend, heal, and transform the world.” I’m doing my part, one dog at a time.