Read this and other awesome rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Labrador Retrievers.
A Story of Circumstance
Like so many other stories, mine is one of coincidence and circumstance. Ten years ago I endured major brain surgery and a brief near-death experience. Fortunately it left me with a somewhat altered outlook, giving me a greater sense of compassion for people and creatures struggling to maintain a normal, healthy life. This experience resulted in moments of total exhaustion and despair, but some indescribable motivation kept me going. There were times along the way I wondered why I couldn’t stay on the peaceful “other side,” but I eventually came to believe the main reason I remain in this world is to not only inspire others with my story but to also find a way to give something back. I just had not discovered what that would be.
Twenty years ago our family moved into a subdivision to be close to schools and other activities for our two daughters, and my wife constantly questioned why we couldn’t have a dog. Between my travel and the typical busy schedule of the family, I felt a dog wouldn’t receive the attention it deserved. For years I have seen overweight, bored, and neglected dogs that appear to be objects of their owner’s amusement with limited concern for the dog’s welfare. I explained to my wife that I had no intention of going down that path.
Following my surgery, our circumstances had changed, and I eventually agreed to open our home to a dog. My wife found Sir George, a blind 18-month-old Lab, on the rescue website, and I seriously thought about the challenges he must be facing without the benefit of sight. I reflected on my own struggles and recognized some common ground. Still, we ventured to the rescue headquarters keeping an open mind to all the adoptable dogs. The puppies were especially cute and difficult to resist, but, not surprisingly, they are quickly adopted. As I recall, when the moment came to make a decision, my wife and I looked at each other and asked the same question, “What do you want to do?” Our mutual conclusion was a concern that if we didn’t take George, who will adopt him? And so our decision was made. I remember the tears in the rescue director’s eyes after hearing our choice. She looked at us for clarification and asked again, “You’ll take George?”
Soon after adopting George, my wife entered him in a basic obedience class where he easily became the star pupil. Next we decided on therapy dog training with The Delta Society. Again, he easily passed and has managed to upgrade his status. He visits patients at local hospitals, elementary schools, and nursing homes. The experience is not only rewarding for George, but it also helps those with disabilities and illnesses to connect with a blind dog that is so happy and oblivious of his handicap. During one visit my wife encountered the nurse who retrieved George from an Indiana animal shelter before he was transported to Cincinnati.
Apparently George was severely neglected and his owners were reported to the Humane Society. Sometimes we wish he could tell us his story, but then again, it’s probably best if he doesn’t remember. We find it far more important that we give him the life he deserves for the present and the future. George and I visit the park often, where he swims and retrieves his ball or stick from the lake. Strangers watch him and are amazed when they discover he is blind. We run errands together to Home Depot or Lowes, and he has become a favorite among the staff. He even tolerates the grandbabies crawling all over him, and we have never experienced even the slightest problem at home. Is it a coincidence that he arrived at the rescue just prior to our visit? I can’t answer that, but what I do know is that he is the perfect fit for us.
Often I close my eyes and try to imagine what it’s like to live in a world of total darkness. It is frightening for me, but considering that George has no choice, he has learned to adapt by responding to touch and sounds. He groans from delight after a good belly scratch, gobbles his food with absolute gusto, and is excited when he knows we are preparing to travel somewhere. To us he’s a big, soft, gentle, loveable teddy bear and a pleasure to hug. I don’t know if I would have been so drawn to George and his disability had I not been through a life changing experience myself. Yet the most gratifying feeling for us is knowing George is in the absolute best possible home for the rest of his life, and although he has brought so much joy to our family, it’s even greater to be able to give back. –Rich Ayers