Trying to Judge Not

I judge others, sometimes quickly and harshly. As my time and experiences in this world have expanded, my cynicism towards and judgment of others have as well. I realized recently that my judgment and the anger and frustration I sometimes feel as a result was holding me back and hindering me from being the person I needed to be, and I had to let it go to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago I stood in the kitchen, my arms crossed with a scowl on my face, in full judgment mode. I was irritated and trying to wrap my head around the situation K was presenting to me. Our friends had decided to give up their dog Juno after five years, and they planned to take her to the shelter, simply because she had become an inconvenience.

IMG_0708This dog is timid, quiet, mild-mannered, well behaved, listens, is house trained, and gets along with anyone. She is a dream dog! Her shy personality in conjunction with her age and large size would work against her in the shelter, not to mention her physical characteristics indicate that she is likely a mix of multiple breeds associated with aggressive behavior. There was no way we could sleep at night while this sweet dog sat in a cold, dark cage cowering at the shelter, alone and heartbroken.

So I was angry. I was angry that someone would do this, that people I know would do this. I was angry that they could so easily shirk their responsibilities and cast their dog aside without any accountability. I was angry when I learned that the dog was flea-infested and hadn’t been to the vet in years. I was angry that they were making their problem our problem. We already have three dogs of our own!

But this was the reality of the situation. I had to move on from my judgment and anger in order to show feelings of love and acceptance when K picked up the dog and brought her to our house. Dogs are sensitive to human feelings and behavior. The last thing this dog needed was to feel like she is just another problem. I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable and welcome. I also did not want this situation to drive a permanent wedge between our friends and us. I realized that my judgmental attitude had left no room for empathy, and as hard as it was, I tried to see the situation from the other side in an effort to be more understanding and forgiving.

Many people are not responsible pet owners. I have had my own learning experiences as IMG_0744a pet owner and I understand the challenges. Many people do not form bonds with their pets the way others do, the way I do. This doesn’t make them bad people.

The lifestyle of our friends is very different from my own and is one to which I cannot relate. Much has changed for them over the past five years, many of those changes leading to added stress and overwhelming obstacles and obligations that I know would be difficult for anyone. I would like to think that I would continue to care for and nurture my dogs no matter what happens in my life, but I suppose I cannot be sure until something truly challenges that value. I hope something like that never happens.

Despite my disagreement with their overall care of Juno, our friends did call K and I before opting for the shelter, and we are grateful for that. We have had Juno for just over a week now. She is still adjusting, but she plays with our other dogs and likes to run around the yard. I think she’s homesick and maybe a little sad, but we try to mitigate that will lots of love and attention, and of course, treats.

K and I are thankful that we have the means to provide a home for Juno to keep her out of the shelter. We hope to find her a new home soon where she can live out the rest of her years with a loving family who will love and cherish her. In the meantime this is her home, and we dote on her as much as we can.

I know that I make mistakes. We all do. We all face situations in our lives that are hard and in which we make less than ideal decisions. We can judge each other for our actions, but those judgments reflect back on us as well, often in the form of anger and frustration. Letting go of those feelings allowed me to move past my judgment, keep my friendship intact, and focus on the more important tasks of making a positive difference, showing kindness, and providing a home for Juno.

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A Sanctuary

“By ethical conduct toward all creatures, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the universe.”  Albert Schweitzer, The Teaching of Reverence for Life

The animal rescue organizations in my city work miracles. Teams of people dedicate themselves to taking care of homeless and neglected animals while others donate money or adopt the animals if they can. But what about the animals that are not domesticated? What about the wild and exotic animals, kidnapped from their homes, sold on the black market, used for profit and then tossed aside when no longer valuable? Who helps them, takes them in, gives them forever homes?

The nonprofit exotic animal sanctuary I visited last weekend is a quick turnoff from the rural highway. The rust colored iron gates blend with the muted landscape remaining unnoticed by thousands of daily travelers. We pull into the small, gravel parking lot and check in at the equally unassuming office building for the tour, which costs only the amount you are willing to give, though they recommend $20 per person.

I am not sure what to expect. Perhaps it is like any other zoo in which the intentions behind its existence are good but the disconnection between human and animal is evident. I am relieved to be wrong. It is unlike any other animal place I have visited.

There are bars around the fenced enclosures to keep us from getting too close to the inhabitants. Our guide requests that we silence our phones and not crouch down when taking photos. The predator instincts of these animals are alive and well, and it is ill-advised to trigger them. This is not a zoo. This is not a place where you can shout at the animals or tap on the glass to get their attention. The caretakers do not allow any activities that upset the animals that live here. It is a safe place for them to live out their days in peace and comfort. This is their home, and we are guests.

A wide-eyed lemur greets us from his enclosure as we enter the sanctuary. He is happy to img_8857see us and shows us his long, fluffy tail. He likes visitors and the extra attention.  The bears mostly ignore us. Their enclosures lead to a large plot of fenced acreage where they roam freely. The ones we see through the fence snooze lazily in the shade or snack on fruit.143160330141819img_4158 Nine of these bears were rescued after a PETA sting operation and needed be moved to a new home as soon as possible. With the funding of game show host and animal rights activist Bob Barker, the sanctuary completed the construction of the new bear habitat in less than 90 days.

whitetigerSome of the animals are uncomfortable in the presence of people. One tiger becomes tense when people stand along one side of his enclosure, so we do not linger. We walk to the other side as he follows us, and when we reach it, he begins nudging his giant red ball around and then lies down to gnaw on a huge stick. He is a beautiful creature with thick white fur, brown stripes, and paws the size of my head. Some enclosures we are not allowed to visit at all in an effort to avoid subjecting the animals to discomfort or unease.

The animals here come from all over the U.S. Some were pets. Most were used for profit and kept around only as long as they were submissive and valuable or until they were confiscated. Sadly there are still people in the world who lack respect and compassion for other creatures. So often it is about money and usefulness. It is rarely about a mutual relationship or love.

A traveling roadside circus headed out of town one day stopped by the sanctuary. Their orangetiger2tiger had stopped performing, and they were going to dispose of him if the sanctuary could not take him. It is for this type of scenario that the sanctuary is never at capacity. The caretakers make sure they always have room for emergency rescues. They welcomed the circus tiger with open arms. He lives in the sanctuary safe and sound, never again having to endure the abuse imposed on him by the heartless.

The care provided by the sanctuary includes nutritional plans comprised of whole foods and the occasional treat such as snow cones for the cats and birthday cake for the bears. The animals have toys and pools for play and relaxation. The best part though is the emotional enrichment. The caretakers, including a renowned animal behaviorist, simply spend positive quality time with the animals. It minimizes the animals’ stress and anxiety. The behaviorist spends time inside the enclosures and even takes naps with a trio of tigers he has worked with since they were cubs. For other caretakers though, benches set up outside the enclosures allow people to sit in safe proximity to the animals in an effort to help them grow more comfortable with their surroundings and with human interaction. People who donate monthly to the sanctuary can participate as well. Some people read to them. Some even sing to them. It is a rare opportunity to experience a connection with these beautiful and wild animals and improve their quality of life in captivity.

150160204114634dsc_2620Last year the sanctuary became home to two gray wolves. When they first arrived, they were fearful and skittish, but every passing day they feel more at ease. As I stand nearby, one of them walks through his pool to get a closer look while the other wolf paces back and forth, still a little anxious and unsure. It is through emotional enrichment that they are making progress. They are going to live the rest of their lives here. It should not be a life lived in fear.

It is a relief to know there are people to pick up the pieces of these animals’ lives; to nurture and care for those that have been abused, mistreated, cast aside; to provide a home for those who can never return to their homelands. We must have respect and show compassion for life and nature. The ability to do so is one of the great things about being human.

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Photo credits: most taken by sanctuary but are of actual animals we visited while there

Uniqueness: Accepting and Celebrating Individuality

At the beginning of April, we went to meet a dog we were considering adopting through a rescue group. My husband had his heart set on a husky, which naturally conjures the image of a thick-coated black, white, and grey sled dog with piercing blue eyes and a graceful stride. This dog turned out to be the complete opposite, and he completely stole our hearts.

Someone found Sid in a parking lot when he was about 5 months old. He was with another puppy, and both of them were extremely sick. Sid was diagnosed with parvo (a deadly contagious disease), pneumonia, worms, and a hernia, and it is a true miracle that he survived. Unfortunately, the other puppy did not.

We met Sid and his foster mom at a local dog park. Sid had been in foster care for 8 months at that point, which is a long time. We recognized his red coloring when he got out of the car and soon after that we saw the reasons for his delayed adoption.

Sid has some developmental issues both from birth and from his early struggle for survival. At a year old, he weighs only 30 lbs. He is underdeveloped, his feet seemingly too bloglarge for his slim gangly body. He may fill out more over the next year, but it’s not likely. His back legs are turned outward instead of forward, so he moves with an awkward gait, his back legs not always able to keep up with his front. He also has a substantial overbite. Eating is a slow process for him since food continually falls out of his mouth. His overbite also causes him to make frequent snorting noises and hang his tongue out more often than not.

Perhaps Sid’s physical anomalies are the reason he was abandoned. At the dog adoption events, standing next to a stereotypical husky, he didn’t stand a chance. Once we met him though, we fell in love with him and began the adoption process the same day.

Sid’s nuances contribute to his uniqueness. He doesn’t see them as negative. They are a way of life to him, and he accepts things as they are. He doesn’t compare himself to other dogs and wish he were something else. He is not worried about what he is not. He simply enjoys life and is happy to be alive.

We all think about the ways in which we don’t like ourselves, how we wish we were more like this person or that person. We focus on our faults, our weaknesses, the ways in which we think we don’t measure up, and we yearn to be different. We do not focus enough on how our differences make us unique, let alone celebrate those differences. We often see them as setbacks when we should be embracing them.

I am enamored with and intrigued by Sid’s individuality and character. I love when he licks my face and makes his infamous snorting noises that have earned him the endearing nickname of Piglet. I laugh when he talks to his toys, adds to his pinecone collection with treasures from the yard, and lazily snoozes on the couch twisted with his legs in the air.

IMG_7069He doesn’t let anything hold him back, adapting to any challenge he faces as part of who he is. When he’s running through the house and loses control of his back legs, rather than falling, he now sits down and slides across the floor until he comes to a stop. Haley (one of our other dogs) steals the food that falls out of Sid’s mouth and onto the floor, so Sid has learned to keep his face deep within his food bowl while eating so the food that falls out of his mouth lands safely back in his bowl. His back legs keep him from jumping onto the bed, but he knows that if he gets halfway up and then gazes over at me with his sweet golden eyes, I’ll boost him up the rest of the way.

We can all stand to take a page from the book of Sid and appreciate who we are, improve what we can, accept and adapt to what we can’t, and have fun playing and enjoying life in the process.

What we each offer and bring to the world around us is truly unique. Too often we focus on how we are not like other people and mourn the ways in which we are different. We should worry less about what we are not (or what we think we are not) and focus more on celebrating our individuality and all the things that make us who we are.

Sid loves life and is happy with who he is. There is no other dog like him, and there is nothing wrong with him. There is nothing wrong with any of us. We are fine just the way we are.

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