Last week we brought Sweetie to a new, local vet for an updated heart worm test, etc. She was a good girl, sat nicely until it was her turn, and cracked a smile for every passerby. In my mind, she’s a ten out of ten on every scale. 100% awesome. Everybody should be so lucky to have a friend like her because she’s the be-all, end-all of rad dogs.
I forget that’s not what people generally see first when they look at her in person, though. She’s calloused and droopy-boobed and arthritic and often has a lazy eye to match her lazy tongue that never seems to fit inside her stinky mouth. I’m empathetic to that view since it’s also what I first saw when I met her.
Once in a private room, the tech took one look at Sweetie’s sagging teats and cautiously recommended having her spayed. I’m used to folk passing judgments based upon my old girl’s physical appearance, but it stabs me in the gut at times. The implication is: We are responsible for the pain she endured or that we haven’t done enough to help her. Certainly this is harmless when we’re at a vet who doesn’t know us, and an employee is [albeit awkwardly] just doing his job. However, assumptions can also be horribly, needlessly damaging in other situations.
Before Sweetie ever set paw in our home, she was spayed. She was vaccinated. She was microchipped. She was heart worm tested. She was everything’d because we adopted her from the reputable org for whom we fostered. Truly the queen bee in these parts, she wants for nothing. We sleep around her in our own bed. When I’m on the couch, she’s on the couch. I sing to her and talk to her and have witnessed her oily, gross, lack-of-fur turn into the softest, shiniest coat. I know what kind of music she likes most and where she likes to go when we leave the house (and where she doesn’t). We don’t do this because we feel badly about the way she used to live; we do it because we love her incredibly.
Still, I helicopter over my dog because I’m wary of her becoming the victim of others’ rash opinions, even in our own back yard. We live in the age of social media postings that turn situations with simple solutions into OMG panic city. If Sweetie miraculously ever got loose from her spot on the sofa, I could see it now: “Someone, help! Pit Bull mom dog used for breeding was dumped in a neighborhood by dog fighting drug ring. Confused and old! An outdoor dog who has been chained her whole life. Walks with stiff legs and possibly beaten!” This, followed by an entire, forever-nested comment thread about how she obviously has no home and probably ends with multiple, well-meaning people rushing out to “rescue” Sweetie into the folds of someone’s aunt’s walk-in closet and never to be seen by us again.
When we decided to keep Sweetie, we knew raised eyebrows could pop up from time to time, so we always welcome questions. After all, the people who ask them care enough about her welfare not to assume. Just like any of us, Sweetie has a story to tell. Without a doubt, she’s taught me a thing or two about judging a dog by its cover.
So in the vet’s office this weekend, Sweetie looked at me. I looked at her. She was all, “Tell dude I’m spayed and loving it, will you?” And I did. He smiled sincerely, apologetically and replied, “I’m sorry. I just…that’s good.” Yeah, I know. It’s ok! She’s been around a block or two. She was sexy and she knew it. Those days = O V E R, and she’s got the best life ever now even if she’s not winning any beauty pageants except with us.
Just as abuse isn’t always outwardly evident, the evidence also does not always point toward abuse. Neglect carries subjective definitions, which is why we outline, question, and amend it by law. That said, if something breaks your heart or speaks to your soul, by all means, change the world. Just make sure you spend your time researching it first.