This I Believe

Anja - Palm Desert, California
Entered on May 31, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
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The Cure: Four Paws and a Tail

In September of 1993, my parents, brother, and I fled to The U.S. after war had broken out in our hometown of Mostar, Bosnia. We settled in Rancho Mirage, CA, in a small two bedroom apartment. Although the move helped, it was easy to see that the struggle had not ended, and neither had the sadness that hung over my family. My mother and father began working that year, and my brother Adi and I began school a year after ; I started kindergarten, and he began 2nd grade. Because of my age, the war played a much smaller role on my spirit as it did on Adi’s. He was an introvert in the classroom, and I was the focus of attention. Adi’s teachers saw that he was shy, but Adi’s fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Ackley, wanted to help. She called my mother, working as a house cleaner at the time, to express her concern and to acknowledge her of the talk that took place between her and Adi earlier that day. Mrs. Ackley spoke in private with my brother, and rather than striking him for not showing enough participation in the classroom, asked if there was anything missing in his life; Adi’s reply was, “A dog”.

There are many things I have forgotten from my childhood, but one thing I will always remember is the day Shadow came into our lives.

The next day, my parents were clipping through newspapers and searching through websites they could hardly translate in hopes of finding the perfect dog for my brother. After weeks of searching, Shadow arrived at our doorstep; a 2 month old blonde cocker spaniel. We fell in love immediately, but couldn’t afford her. Shadow’s price tag was about as much as the amount we had entered The U.S. with, an amount we were not ready to spend. My father fell in the deepest of loves with Shadow, but stuck with the fact that she was completely out of our price range. Before Adi and I could reach the temper tantrum that was about to take place in our room, Shadow gave our father a look I will never forget, and before another tear could reach my cheek, she was family. We named her Shadow on account of the way her presence made her a shadow to us all. She immediately became a huge part of the family and a huge part to our happiness. Shadow was something we could all be proud of; a new addition to match our new life.

Although Shadow helped heal the pain, the war still played a toll on my parents. Shadow could help the depression and anxiety, but she could not fully cure it. I can recall nights of endless arguments between my parents that left Adi and I locked in our room with only Shadow to comfort us. Although she was clueless, she was still there, and we needed that. I can always hear my mom whispering to Shadow once I have left the room, “Thank you for never causing problems, for not expecting allowance or a car”. As silly as it sounds, it’s true. Dogs do not judge, they listen. Without so much as a bark for a response, the look in Shadow’s eyes can always help assure the best outcome to all of our problems. Shadow is going on 12 years now, and although partially deaf and less active, she never misses a moment to cheer anyone up. She’s still the first thing we run to after a long vacation, our first priority after each other, and just as deserving of a place in our Christmas cards as any one of us. As for my brother, Adi, he now plays water polo for the UC San Diego tritons, an accomplishment that would’ve been a large reach without the impact Shadow made in his willingness to open up to others.

In a world like todays, it’s hard to believe happiness doesn’t show up on a bill.

I believe that happiness does not need to involve a shopping trip or a spa day. I believe happiness can be found in the love of animal. I believe that Shadow helped cure my brother’s solitude and my parent’s depression. I believe that a dog is a man’s best friend, and more importantly, that Shadow is and will always be my best friend.