31 Jul

Tiny Bleeding Paw

How A Tiny Bleeding Paw Brings Hope

For a formerly abused and abandoned rescue dog, trust can be a difficult, sometimes impossible emotion to show. Some dogs never fully recover. They can hardly forget. Recently, I met the first rescued dog I’ve seen that gives her paw to everyone. Literally! She greets strangers every day with bright open eyes, and an equally open heart.

Are new humans a friend or enemy? She can never really be sure. Yet still she reaches out in her own way. She extends her paw, looks up, and then lowers her gaze. Sometimes she may roll over and show her belly. She’s doing her best to say “hi” in our human language.

For a dog, she is demonstrating that she is willing to be submissive, and does not want to fight. She has seen enough violence and pain in her first few short years of life. Her message to all beings? “I come in peace”. How unusual in a world filled with violence, abuse, and injustice. The world of a Romanian street dog.

Over the past 10 years, I have probably met more than 15,000 dogs. Some face to face in the streets, or in the horrific public “shelters” run by the government. Dogs in these places are sometimes forced to kill and feed on each other. It’s the only way to survive. It only buys them a few more days. Eventually the state-sponsored executioners kill them anyway.

Other meetings with dogs I have had take place in the paddocks and shelters at ROLDA. Sometimes we are training them to get used to a leash. The feral ones that cannot be tamed run wild around me. A few will come to my arms, but most of the wild ones keep their distance.

15, 000 is a lot of dogs! It can be hard to keep each dog and their rescue story separate in my mind. However there are a few that I will never forget. And never want to forget. Special creatures in unique circumstances that have carved themselves into my memory forever. Animals that demonstrated unique behavior, or an unbelievable ability to trust after all they have suffered.

It was getting dark one evening, and new rescue dogs were continuing to arrive in our paddock. A new transport, the last for that day, was almost unloaded. The entire team was exhausted, but at the same time, excited to welcome the new fur balls into the shelter.

And this is when she came off the car, she was a bit unsure, sniffing the strange new scents in the air around her. Her paw was dancing in the air. Had she lost her balance, we wondered? We looked her over to determine her condition and we didn’t pay much attention to her paw.

Again she made a second attempt to offer us her paw. Not only her paw, but it seemed her trust. It is everything a dog can offer to a human. But we were already too busy, unloading the last dog from the van, a girl who was her shy little sister.

Waving Paw Dog

The protocol is that all new dogs must be checked by the vet. But before that, I enter each kennel to greet the newcomers. I notice the extra shy ones, and make other observations. I don’t stare at them, or try to handle them. I go to the opposite corner of the kennel and I sit down and wait. Sometimes, it only takes a few seconds for the most friendly dogs to approach me. They jump around and obviously want me to play.

Other times it takes a few minutes until the bravest dog comes close. Soon, the other occupants of the kennel lose some of their fear. Curiosity takes its place. Eventually, they come over to greet me.

But our “waving paw” dog was staying near her sister. Her face had a curious expression when I sat down in the corner. I waited for a moment, and saw her quietly approaching. She stopped a short distance away from me. Just far enough back that she was out of my reach. I took a step ahead. Immediately she took one back.

So I waited, and then slowly took another step forward, talking quietly to her. And then she began to take cautious steps towards me. Right in front of me, she sat down perfectly still, and gave me her beautiful paw. Not just once, but again, and then again!

I was hesitant to reach out, as not to scare her. But she was unmoving and irresistible. Unbelievably beautiful, in body and soul. Her eyes could melt even the coldest of human hearts. She raised her face toward me, and again offered her paw. How could I refuse?

The drama and horrors suffered by Romanian street dogs are indescribable. Words cannot convey the constant hunger, the continuous pain caused by wounds, bites, and parasites. Every stray dog experiences some or all of these during their lifetime. Over and over, again and again, the cycle of suffering continues.

The most unlucky dogs are attacked with vicious brutality. Chained, beaten, and tortured. Involved in animal rescue, you sometimes think you have seen it all. That you have become hardened to the violence and inhumanity that seems to surround you at all times. Are you really making a difference?

But then a dog like her comes into your life. She teaches you a lesson, not about obedience, but about perseverance and forgiveness. About never giving up. Being true to your values and your cause. A lesson about the importance of loyalty, and that of unconditional love.

And what really does a stray dog have to give? Nothing but himself. Is there a hidden treasure in the dirty, scrawny street dogs in Romania? Perhaps there is. It depends on what you are searching for. It depends on what you value.

A stray dog can offer you his unconditional love, respect, trust and devotion. Most people cannot offer you one of these qualities as a gift, let alone all of them. If you value these things, if you treasure them, than YES, a stray dog may be for you. He is a gem waiting to be discovered. A mystery waiting to be resolved, and a soul seeking respect. He may be a little tarnished on the outside, a little bent, a little broken. But inside shines a heart of gold.

Holding her paw in my hand was a magical experience for me. An unforgettable episode in my life, and a renewal of my faith. Animal rescue work is never easy, but it is absolutely critical. If we cannot treat our animals with respect and love, then how can we learn to treat our fellow humans in the same way?

Our girl now gives her paw to all of our team. Our workers, volunteers, even strangers that she meets. New people day after day. It is her way of saying “I come in peace, I mean you no harm”. Perhaps it has made me a little jealous. I like to believe she gives me her paw in a slightly special way!

This lovely girl suffered tragedies that we will never know in full. I don’t know if we would be prepared to hear them, even if we were told. Could we ever understand what she has gone through? Can one being ever truly experience another one’s pain? We’ll never know.

Besides, Tami is not the kind of dog to burden you with her problems, past or present. She is not a complainer. She doesn’t growl, at her kennel mates or the humans around her. She doesn’t cry for attention, or whine when you turn your back on her. She doesn’t bark to get you to come back. She is happy to put the past behind her, and look forward to the future. Always with her paw raised in greeting.

It was only later during our first meeting that I noticed Tami’s paw was wounded. Bleeding perhaps from past attempts she had made to get closer to people. Hoping that they might show her just a little sympathy. Hoping they would give her the chance to offer herself as proof that she can be man’s best friend.

After meeting 15,000 dogs, I chanced to find one with a bleeding paw, but a paw still reaching out in hope.

Was it caused by hot pavement? Or was it because of a sharp rock, a thorn, or…as a result of too many attempts to reach out to people? Could someone really be as cruel as to wound a helpless animal trying only to make contact, to make a friend? Sadly, far worse things have been done to stray dogs on Romania’s streets…

But she would not give up. She was not, and is not discouraged, depressed, or feeling sorry for herself. Her beautiful, curious eyes look straight up to you, reaching into your heart, seeming to sense your soul. She sits down in front of you, and gives you the most precious gift there is. It is a priceless gift, and the only one she has. Her love, her loyalty and her devotion.

She has a name now: Tami. And she is now part of an important campaign which I’ll introduce to you in the coming weeks. Tami would be a perfect therapy dog, and we hope that is in her future. If you ever come to Galati, our corner of Romania, please visit us at ROLDA.

Then you will get to meet Tami in person. You can shake her paw and give her a big hug. We welcome anyone to come and visit our shelters. Discover the unique characters of the hundreds of dogs in our care. Working in an animal shelter is not the easiest of jobs, but it is one of the most rewarding. Perhaps you will decide to stay as a volunteer for a few more days?

Our dogs have no money, no gold, and no diamonds to give you. But their gifts, those of love, loyalty, and devotion, are priceless, and abundant. Humans could use a lot more of these qualities. We can learn a lot more than we think spending time with a rescued dog.

I am grateful I can learn all these, being around my dogs. And I do not forget, not even one moment that YOU make my work possible. Every time I am able to rescue a street dog, to help him, to understand him and offer him a future and hopefully, a forever home I feel you are there, with me.

Please continue to support our work in Romania!

PS. If you can’t donate at this time, please share Tami story with your friends on social networks.