Lora’s face lit up as she continued reading silently. She covered her mouth hiding her smile, but there was no masking the joy that sparkled in her eyes.
My co-worker finally put her delight and surprise into words. From across the office she said with a sigh of relief, “Oh my gosh. Maris is still alive. And her family has invited me to visit!”
As a freelancer in the entertainment industry, my job takes me many places, and one of the benefits of that is that we seem to always be exactly where we’re supposed to be precisely when we’re supposed to be there. For Lora, right now, she was less than an hour’s drive from a rescue dog she had placed some seven years prior.
We all gathered round her desk as she showed us the email from Maris’ mom. There was a picture of a gorgeous German Shepherd dog on the rocky beaches of the California coast, large stick in her mouth. Lora scrolled down to another photo of a close-up of Maris: her smooth chocolate eyes against the dark brown coat. There was another of her running through the backyard to catch a toy.
Lora’s happiness was palpable as she gazed at the photos. Then she focused back in time and her smile dropped. “You should have seen her when we found her. One of the worst cases. I’ll have to find my pictures of her. She was emaciated. They had used her as a breeder.”
With Maris’ beauty and exceptional genetics for the breed, it was no surprise that she had been exploited as a breeder. There’s no knowing how many litters she conceived in her young life before the rescue took her in. Once under the rescue’s umbrella, Maris began her long journey from emaciated, neglected backyard breeder to beloved family pet. And it started the moment Lora met her.
Meeting Maris at the veterinarian’s office, Lora felt the striking impulse to be her champion. While she couldn’t foster Maris in her small apartment, she had plenty of room in her heart for her. From that moment forward, Lora held Maris’ life in her hands: setting up an adoption page, taking photos, and embarking on the quest to find Maris her forever family.
As Lora told us more about Maris like a proud mother boasting of her child’s successes, I was reminded of how much I miss rescue. I miss fostering and transporting—being in the moment with a soul on their way toward a new beginning. Lora didn’t need to have Maris sleep in her bed at night to be invested in her life; being Maris’ matchmaker and visiting her often, Maris had burrowed her way into Lora’s heart forever.
While Maris healed at the vet’s growing in strength and health, Lora was online and out on the streets, searching for the family who needed Maris as much as Maris needed them.
When Lora received the application from the couple in Stinson Beach who wanted to adopt Maris, she knew it was the perfect fit. Maris would have lots of room to run in the beachside northern California town, and the couple was experienced with large breed dogs. She could tell by speaking with them that they were as drawn to Maris as Lora was.
With a stamp of approval, Maris’ life began anew. And when Lora said good bye to Maris one morning as she left on a transport up the California coast, she presumed she would never see her again. Her part in Maris’ life was over, and she exited stage left. While all good rescues keep tabs on their adoptees, over the years the correspondences become fewer and fewer, and eventually the rescue is secure in knowing that the pet they helped is living their best life. And then, many years later, an email will come in, an obituary of sorts, thanking the rescue for allowing them to adopt their beloved companion, describing the life they had and all they meant to them.
But seldom do rescuers get to visit while that best life is being lived.
The sparkle in Lora’s eyes did not wane for the rest of the day. I asked when she would visit, and she said at the end of production so she would have time to stay for a few days, not just an afternoon. It is the light and the sun and moon at the end of this job for Lora: to get to experience first hand the life she led a rescue dog to.
Watching Lora’s journey that day, hearing the emotion in her words and watching the joy and memory sweep across her expressions, I viewed my own fostering and transporting experiences in a new light. I realized that it wasn’t just about the animals. It wasn’t just about doing good. It was something else that kept me coming back again and again to rescue.
Playing a part in rescuing—whether you foster, transport, do home visits, or take in applications—is not only witnessing, but being an integral part of, the story of Hope. It is the process by which the phoenix rises from the ashes. As a rescuer, you are there at the collapse (or shortly thereafter) and bear witness to the new bird growing strong and taking flight.
Rescuing a pet is living the Story of Hope every day. It affirms to you that no matter how bad life may seem, we can carry on, heal, and make a better life for ourselves. Human, dog, cat, bird: no matter what animal we are, we are capable of massive transformations. Being a victim of abuse or neglect is a state of being—not who we are. It is something that has happened to us. While what happens to us affects us deeply, it does not define us. Look at any dog with the scars of dogfighting on their ears and face, or the cat who has patches of fur missing, the scars of acid burns from a horrific attack. They carry on with love in their hearts. They may never forget, but they forgive and move forward.
Rescuers are people who don’t just want to read these stories; rescuers need to experience these stories from within. We are characters in an ongoing journey of someone rising above a less than perfect past; we are transient characters there to inspire—and to be inspired—by those we meet. We are the camp hosts for those thru-hiking in a particularly rough patch of the Appalachian Trail. We build the hikers a fire, listen to their stories, and share a meal. We may give them a few pointers on the trail ahead, and by morning, the packs are gone and bootprints lead back into the forest.
The night is memorable and you affect the hiker as much as the hiker affects you. Sharing the story of what transpired around the campfire will inspire others, but words can never fully capture that night. It’s a visceral feeling—it’s hope as powerful as adrenaline shot right into the heart. As a rescuer, you live it every day, savoring the small victories: a puppy mill momma’s first steps on grass, a neglected cat’s first swing at a cat toy. And when the big moment comes: that moment they meet their forever family… it is like witnessing a thousand weddings of true love in a single second.
Rescuing animals isn’t just about animals; it’s about life and all the hope we often lose sight of in our day to day transactions. Our rescue animals remind us of the most important truth in the universe: with love and time, anything is possible.
Reading stories of Hope is inspirational; being a part of that story is living a life that inspires from within. This spring, I urge you to contact your local shelter or rescue and ask about all the ways you can become a character in the story of Hope. Network, foster, transport, take a dog for a walk, man an adoption booth at an event… or create your own unique role that will drive the story forward. Together we can #AlterTheFuture, and with every pet we help, each of us can play a part in the story of Hope.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.