These were the words spoken to me just a few weeks ago, the morning of February 18th. I had pulled up to my veterinary clinic to drop off George, and just as I was exiting my car to get George out of the backseat, this young man said, “Excuse me sir, could I talk to you a minute?” Harmless, right? He was crossing the vet’s parking lot, carrying a backpack, and through my blurry-eyed, early morning eyes, appeared quite harmless. Without really a second thought, I just shrugged him off and mumbled something to him about having to get this dog into the vet. Well no shit! Of course I had to get the dog into the vet. Why else would I be pulling into the parking lot of a veterinarian’s office with a dog in my back seat. What I should have just said to him was “I’m sorry, dude. I don’t have time to talk to you this morning.” It couldn’t have been any more rude than blowing him off by stating the obvious in my attempt to avoid talking to him.
I’m going to backtrack a bit now.
First of all, George wasn’t named George that Tuesday. He is now; but that Tuesday, he was just a stray dog. The morning before, I had been out for a “run” and ran into George. You see, I live in an area of Dallas with an overabundance of stray dogs. Dogs of all shapes and sizes. This one just happened to cross my path during my “run” that morning. Okay, I’ll explain why I keep typing run in quotation marks. It’s not really a run, but saying I was “out for a run” sounds much better than trying to explain I was huffing and puffing my way through week two of the Couch to 5K program. I’ll stop with the quotation marks now. So here I am out for this… run, and as I round the curve, ahead of me is a giant, black German Shepherd. He was a beautiful dog, the kind that I was certain would be able to eat my leg for a morning snack. I’m not usually scared of dogs though, especially if I don’t have my own dogs with me; so I plodded on ahead toward him. As I approached him, I said “Good morning!” in my most cheerful, don’t-eat-my-leg voice, and kept on trucking.
If you know much about the Couch to 5K, you know that in the early weeks of training, it alternates you between periods of jogging and walking. I was in the jogging segment when I said good morning to the dog and the jog lasted all the way to the end of that street where I intended to turn left. As I did, I realized that I must have been the first friendly face this dog had seen in a while, because he had decided to follow me. Here I am, winded, recovering from a BRUTAL 3-minute jog, with a giant German Shepherd following closely behind me. It’s not like I could have gotten away at this point even if he made clear his intention to eat my leg! So I spoke to him again and watched his ears perk upward and his eyes brighten. Then I noticed just how hungry this poor fellow was. He was literally skin and bone, the kind of skin and bone where you see their entire skeleton through their sagging skin and fur. He hadn’t been cared for in weeks, maybe months, but he was friendly. He was hopeful. He stayed with me for the next 20 minutes or so of my jogging and walking and huffing and puffing, and then, he followed me home.
As you’ve guessed by now, George found a sucker for a cute furry face. He came home and ate, and rested, and ate some more. The next morning, probably for the first time, he met a veterinarian and caring, loving veterinary staff. He wasn’t previously tagged, chipped, tattooed, or presumably owned or being looked for by his former owner; so, over the course of this past three weeks, he has been vaccinated, neutered, licensed, fed, bathed, pampered and loved. He’s gained about 10 pounds and will still possibly gain another 40. He’s not the first pet that I and my partner have rescued and I doubt he will be the last. George is making himself at home now with a house full of dogs and cats, learning about house rules, and making new friends. But I’m getting off topic.
The point of all of this is how I cold-shouldered the young man in the parking lot, in the name of doing-good by getting a stray dog off of the street. As soon as it happened I knew what I had done was wrong. Terribly and horribly wrong. He was probably hungry. I don’t know where he had slept. I don’t know anything about him, other than he wanted to talk to me and I blew him off as if he didn’t matter. A human being for God’s sake. Another living, breathing, feeling human being, and I showed him that he was less important to me that morning than a stray dog. Maybe he was on his way to work, with a full stomach, and a comfortable night’s sleep behind him, and he just wanted to tell me “Good morning!” I’ll never know. But you know what makes me so mad about my behavior? It’s not just that I felt guilty. It’s that I have intentionally marked a course in my life to help people, and here I am, making a point to appear too busy to help someone, who may or may not even need help. Like I said, I can only guess what he wanted to talk to me about.
There are those that would no doubt affirm my behavior by stating that the dog was helpless and the young man was not. While that might be true in some instances, I don’t believe and feel that it was this day. We as a society don’t like to admit that the weakest among us are often literally and figuratively helpless. There are approximately 5,700 homeless persons living in Dallas as of this writing. I don’t for a second believe that any one of them, if given a real choice and an opportunity for a different path would choose to be homeless. Poverty, addiction, hopelessness, and suffering are very real conditions and there are people who experience them every day due to no fault of their own. Realizing my own complicity in this, standing there that day holding George’s leash, watching this young man walk away from me, I decided to make some very real changes to how I live my life. In fact, the reason for this blog is so that I can share these changes with you.
You see, I’ve been lucky all of my life. Sure, there have been some really dark days. There have been some major screw-ups. There have been some incredible failures. Through every moment of that, every single moment, I’ve never been alone. I’m not getting ready to take you down some religious path, or feed you a precious religious sentiment that says God was with me through everything, although I believe that to be true. Where I have been truly lucky all of my life is that I have always had someone else there to prop me up. Another human. A friend or a family member to tell me everything will be alright, to lend a helping hand, to remind me they haven’t given up on me and not to give up on myself either. Not everyone has that. This, my friends, is where you and I come in.
Please stick with me on this path. Yeah, I’m just pretending to run right now. I will get better. You’ll see.