In January of 2016, a neighbor asked me to help her find a home for a “special needs dog.” The dog’s name was Lucy.
She lived in an apartment with a couple who had several other dogs and a couple of cats. They had rescued Lucy from life on a chain as a puppy, but they said she had always remained timid with people and terrified of the world. They were moving and wanted to find somewhere else for her to live.
Her eyes had the dull and unhappy look you see on the left. That’s the first photo I ever took of her.
I was told that adopting Lucy would be like taking on a special-needs child. I was told not to expect her to ever change.
Today, I call her the World’s Happiest Dog®. She loves everybody. She’s always happy. And I think it’s because she feels loved and secure.
Today is National Dog Day and I think it’s a good time to remember how much difference we can make in the lives of these special animals — and how much difference their love can make for us.
Lucy didn’t change overnight, but she did change far more quickly than I would have thought possible. Within a month, she was a different dog. Within 90 days, she was most of the way to becoming the happy girl she would eventually become.
After having rescued dozens of dogs and cats over the past few decades, I’ve developed one enduring belief about this relationship between animals and humans. We certainly rescue them, but it’s equally true that they rescue us — even if many people don’t realize that.
Love and belonging work like magic. When they’re consistently applied, love and belonging change dogs in radical ways — and those magical cures work just as well on cats and humans. Maybe they work for all living creatures.
Many people believe it’s weak to admit that they need anyone else. But even those who act strong — and who appear wildly successful inside — have an incredible need to be loved. They have an incredible need to belong. They have an incredible need for connection.
Years ago, someone gave me a book called “The Dogs Who Found Me: What I’ve Learned From Pets Who Were Left Behind.” Ken Foster wrote this amazing, memorable tale of how he came to have multiple dogs — none of which he intended to adopt.
Foster did rescue the dogs, but he writes convincingly that those dogs rescued him in time. I understand the way he feels, because I can say with certainty that my dogs and cats have rescued me over the years, because they’ve given me purpose and love at times when I had none.
I love my Lucy and she loves me. She’s one of the few certainties of my life. And I need that.
Dogs need us and we need dogs. We make a good team. It’s wonderful to celebrate these magnificent creatures on National Dog Day, but it’s even better to remember that they are more than just cute critters to post for our friends to see.
In the truest of ways, they are our friends.
Note: To see a bigger version of the photo at top or the one below, click on it for a double-size view. The small picture is of the two of us on my front porch about six months after she came to live with me. The photo below is Lucy on “neighborhood watch” in front of the house a few days ago.