I awaken to the warm glow of pre-dawn light that casts itself across my room. Looking down the bedcovers, I see a furry being, feel his warmth, and watch as his side rises and falls in a gentle rhythm. I shuffle under the covers slightly, and he comes awake ever so briefly to take a stretch. Each toe of his white-socked feet extends, and he stretches his four long brindle legs as far as they can reach. His elongated face opens wide, showing a row of gleaming teeth and his tongue extends in a curl, letting out a yawn that ends in a high pitched squeak. His front paws go up over his muzzle as if he’s wiping the sleep from his eyes, then he lets out a sigh and relaxes once more.
What a magical world I awaken to: where I reside with a soul whose physical form is not of my own shape or species. We not only live harmoniously, but love each other. Our bond is not of mother and child; it is not blood-related. Nor is there a band on our fingers to represent marriage. It is an unspoken, ethereal bond between human and dog. It is a bond that has existed for untold centuries.
It may have started all started with a dog—a wolf pup—who wandered into a human encampment, but today people share their homes and their lives with a whole host of species: birds, cats, turtles, snakes, gerbils, rabbits, fish, pigs, and many others. But it wasn’t always this way. We’ve evolved to share our lives with beings not of our own stature.
In the beginning it was a contract—a business deal. That wolf pup grew up and used his sense of smell and agility to help on the hunt; humans used tools to bring down the kill and shared the bounty with their new partner. Cats were welcomed into people’s barns to keep the rats away. They kept what they killed and received bonuses for a job well done.
But then business turned to pleasure. My guess is it all began with a child. It is always children who lead us for they do not fear failure; they are filled with hope and optimism and the notion that anything is possible. So I imagine it was a child who first opened the kitchen door to let in the cat. And it was a child who curled up in the doghouse to keep his faithful friend warm at night.
The simple act of opening a door was one step toward an evolution of an entire species. In every generation there are those who reach for the door handle and open one door after another toward a brighter, kinder future for all.
They are the ones who make sure the birdbath is filled with clean water; the ones who leave food out for the stray cat; the ones who stop the car to help a turtle cross a country road. This kindness is inside each one of us. But for many, the door to that room in the heart isn’t open. We need to unlock it.
For some it is a singular moment in which the key turns and door pops open; for others, it takes time to turn the key and cautiously crack open the door inch by inch. Either way, the key that unlocks the door isn’t key-shaped at all. The key is that slumbering canine at the foot of my bed. The key is the cat who shows up at the storefront each day to await your arrival. The key is the squirrel you found with a broken leg and nursed her back to health.
These animals we share our home and our world with are the key to that door in our heart. A lot of us find that key when we are young, when the door isn’t even closed yet. But not every child is able to share their home with another species. For them, they must find the key elsewhere.
Maybe it will be one memorable field trip to the Natural History Museum, or locking eyes with a camel at a sanctuary. Maybe it will be experiencing a California condor up close at a presentation, or seeing the photos and hearing the tales of one person’s journey through the Amazon Forest.
Maybe their school can’t offer those kinds of experiences. Maybe that key will be found walking home from school, witnessing a person stop traffic to help get a loose dog to safety, or watching a homeless man share his one small sandwich with his faithful canine companion. The moment has impact in itself, but when the moment turns to story and the story is shared, the impact grows. Story is powerful; story about the animals we love can change the entire world—one person’s world at a time.
Bark Avenue Foundation changes the world in moments and in story. We offer services to the homeless; we offer low- and no-cost spay and neuter to low income families to keep pets out of the shelters; and we teach children ways to be kind and how to show compassion through our Humane Education presentations. In all of these activities-whether by leading the charge, or by being there to support others’ initiatives—we experience great stories of kindness. The sort of stories that not just open the door to a heart, but blow the door right off the hinges.
This journal is for those stories: the stories of kindness that happen in one moment and whose effects ripple through time for years to come. These are the stories of the animals who change our lives, and the people whose lives are forever changed. These are the stories of the humans who take the first big steps in our collective human hearts’ evolution; the ones who open the doors.
You’ll get to experience Bark Avenue Foundation’s events and be taken inside the Humane Education Program. You’ll find profiles and interviews with those on the front line of animal welfare. You’ll read the stories of the volunteers and the people the volunteers help. But it’s not just about Bark Avenue Foundation; it’s about all stories of kindness—your stories of kindness.
If you have a story to share, a person or rescue you’d like to know more about, or an event you would like us to experience, please contact me at: BAFStories@gmail.com. Story, like kindness, is meant to be shared. The more we share, the more we evolve. Our physical anatomy makes us human; our relationship with animals is what makes us humane.
Until next time, remember this as you walk through your day: All it takes is a single moment, a sentence, a word of kindness, and the world is forever changed. How will you #AlterTheFuture?
Stephanie & Tucker