Relationships

Why You Should Rescue a Dog

Why You Should Rescue a Dog

You never know you’re going to do it until you do it…

Sure, you’ve thought about it for months, maybe even years. You buy new furniture, you scrub the bathroom tile, you make room for a chimera of the idea. But you don’t think you’re actually going to do it.

Until you start having dreams about this little life walking around your shoebox studio apartment. A heartbeat at your feet (1). You wake up from these dreams and still don’t think you’re going to do it. But, just like every other Saturday morning, you go to The Place. The place where they interview you for an hour, where they frown when you tell them how much money you make a year. They hate that you’re single. They say, “This is a huge responsibility and you’re not ready.”

They look at your mouth like it has mustard on it after a ballpark hotdog. The best way to make someone feel self-conscious is to look slightly below or to the side of their face, but never directly into their eyes. You wipe your mouth with your hand. They lead you down a thousand elevators and through long, narrow hallways that feel cold and sterile, like a hospital. Like the Department of Mysteries. You meet a daschund with a broken leg, a black lab who’s scared of people, a gorgeous pitbull who likes attention.

And then, you meet her.

Why You Should Rescue a Dog

She doesn’t move a muscle. She’s frozen in time, scared of you. But she looks you directly in the eye. Like the Mona Lisa, her eyes follow you as you walk past her cell. You’re not allowed to touch her yet because she’s quarantined and needs her shots first. She’s a rescue from a kill shelter in Mississippi. You start to ask what that means, but you already know what it means. Later, they list all of her flaws in a five-page report for you, printed single-space, so you know what you’re in for:

    Ears back, slightly hesitant to approach. Investigates only, does not approach. When called: does not approach. Massage: does not approach. Initially pulling away, then softened. Toe pinch: gently pulling away. Tense, whale eye on 2nd pinch. Toddler doll approach: loose body, waggy tail. Toddler doll hug: tried to move away but re-approached slowly. After scolding: approached and licked hand of yeller. Unusual person: walked away.

You put a deposit down, $50. They’ll call you in a week.

That week destroys you. To feel better, you show everyone at work a picture of her: This is my daughter. I think I’ll get approved. I should get approved soon. This is my daughter, I am her father. Nothing will ever be the same.

You don’t hear back in a week. You give up hope, but you still still look at the picture you took of her in the shelter. You love her a blindingly inordinate amount, though you’ve never met her, you’ve only seen her. You think about her all the time and start having the most vivid dreams about her.

Then, you get the call.

“Hi, Mr. Kim? Would you like to meet her?”

Of course you’d like to meet her. You leave work early but try not to get your hopes up. The volunteer brings you into an icy room at the shelter and tells you to wait right there. You wait for 30 minutes. You hear a dangling collar and you don’t know it at the time, but that sound will be, for you, forever, everything.

You take her home.

***

She’s wary at first, but eventually walks up to the food bowl and eats. She’s keeping an eye on you. Mona Lisa. At least she’s eating, though. And she’s not on the streets anymore or in that cold glass cage.

Over the next few days you keep your distance. You let her get used to the apartment, her bed. Slowly, you learn things about her, mostly things she likes and dislikes:

    Likes: licking your face, scrambled eggs and boiled carrots, when you hold her from the front where she can see you. Dislikes: when you touch her from behind where she can’t see you.

All at once she’s your roommate and your five-year-old daughter, one little heartbeat. Eventually, you start to cuddle at night. She nestles into the side of your arm and you sleep face to face. She snores and drools on the pillow.

You’ve both been so alone for so long.

***

You never know it’s going to happen until it happens. You go on vacation one summer and on the second or third day, you get a text from your dog sitter. Quentin, as you’ve named her, has a little spot on her stomach. It’s probably nothing, but she thought you should know. You put off the vet visit until you come home, and brush off the fact that it’s grown twice its size once you see it in person. Even the vet, when she draws her blood, tells you it’s probably nothing. Don’t worry.

But the next morning, you wake up to the worst call of your life: She’s sick. Really sick. You need to hospitalize her immediately.

You look over at her and she looks totally fine. It doesn’t make sense. She’s just had her breakfast and her water; her mustache is dripping wet and her tail is wagging. But you take her to the hospital. There, you find out she has a rare blood disease called immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, which causes the body to destroy its own platelets. The doctors are amazed she’s still standing. She could bleed out and die any moment. They have to keep her overnight, it’ll cost thousands of dollars, do you have pet insurance? No? Do you have thousands of dollars, then? Do you want your daughter to live or do you want her to die?

You don’t want her to die, so you leave her at the hospital. Though not without resistance. As the doctor tries to walk her down the long, narrow hallway into her cage for the night, she keeps looking back at you — you, the man who goes home without her. Aren’t you coming?

You turn the key to your apartment door and out of habit look down, forgetting she’s not there. Of course she’s not there. You realize how much you’ve taken the sound of that stupid dangling collar for granted.

You fall asleep watching a TV show, computer on your lap, and dream about her. When you wake up you’re crying, because deep down you already know she’s not at the foot of your bed. But you check anyway. She’s not there. She’s in a cold hospital cage all the way downtown, and worse yet, probably thinks you’ve thrown her away like everyone else in her life.

Her little face haunts you, that heartbeat in your chest.

***

The doctor calls you in the morning with an update. “Quentin made it through the night, but she’ll need to stay the week. Would you like to visit her?”

Of course you would. You pack a bag with all her favorite treats and head to the hospital. After the nurse takes you into a cold room, she brings your daughter on a leash. But it’s not your daughter. This dog is sluggish and collarless, hair shaven at various spots on her body for the ultrasounds and IVs. She licks you once, then goes to the corner of the room to lie down facing away from you. You take out a treat, one of her favorites—a cod-skin cracker—and hold it up to her mouth. But she doesn’t want it. The visit is only 30 minutes, so you lie next to her on the cool hospital floor until she falls asleep.

A few days later, you get to take her home even though she’s not any better. But the doctor says she can continue her treatment at home.

August, September, October, November, and December are filled with days like this. Her not eating, you lying on the floor with her until she falls asleep.

***

She’s lost so much weight, but at least she’s starting to feel better. The meds are working. She’s not eating much, still, but you have pounds and pounds of ground turkey in the freezer. You boil some and place it in front of her. You think she won’t like it because ground beef didn’t work, why would this?

And then, you watch her nose curl up into a sniff. She gets up slowly, her muscles now atrophied, and walks over to the food bowl. She eats.

You text all your friends: SHE ATE!

*Loudly crying face* and *party popper* emojis abound.

Later that day, at dinner, you try again. When she smells the turkey, she perks up from her bed and slowly walks over to the stove, staring at you with those Mona Lisa eyes. She eats and drinks the whole bowl. Again and again and again.

Weeks later, you still can’t believe she’s alive. You’ve both come such a long way. You think about how when someone in your life is sick, it’s so easy to fixate on the eating. You realize how much you’ve taken it for granted and you promise never to take it for granted again. You tell yourself: Now I know. What a huge thing this is. What a huge victory a little life is.

***

In the mornings, when it’s still dark out, she gets up from the foot of the bed and slowly nestles into your right arm. She rests her head there to sleep a couple more hours. She’s only been doing this recently, even though you’ve been co-sleeping for three years now. You wonder if it has something to do with all those nights you’ve laid with her on the hospital floor.

Later, in just a few more months, as she gains her strength and weans off the meds completely, she’ll start to do the thing she used to do every morning with you since the day you adopted her:

You’ll stir. She’ll pop her head up from the foot of the bed, yawn, stretch, and POUNCE. Both paws on your chest to hold you down, she’ll lick the morning off your face.

You’ll get up and feed her breakfast. And you’ll go for a long walk.

Why You Should Rescue a Dog

(1) “My little old dog:/ A heart-beat/ At my feet”: Edith Wharton, *Yale Review*, 1920.

Thank you so much, Eric! Eric is a senior editor at Food52 and writes the fantastic column Table for One. You can also find him on Instagram.

P.S. An open letter to dogs.

(Photos courtesy of Eric Kim.)

  1. Adeliana says...

    This made me smile and cry, it’s so beautiful and I love hearing someone else use the word daughter about their dog. I use it for my cats too, they are my daughters as my girls who have passed- they always will be.
    Possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever read.

  2. Donna A Tarulli says...

    What a wonderful story I’m so glad she is okay I don’t blame you I would do anything I could for my dog many happy years together

  3. Kim says...

    So beautiful! I’m in tears. If you’ve loved a dog, you know this. Any animal really. Beautifully written.. I’m so happy Quentin survived. Don’t buy, rescue.

  4. Anne says...

    Thank you for sharing this piece! As a veterinarian I’m all too aware of the millions (yes, millions) of dogs, cats and other critters that need homes. Please consider adoption, I promise they’re not all “broken” and you’ll feel so good knowing that you literally saved an animal’s life.

  5. Rue says...

    I’m a survivor of abuse and I rescued an adult stray dog who, as best I can put together, found a way to escape a neglectful home, and got picked up on the road after his brave escape. He rescued himself by leaving. I saved myself by moving across the country away from an abusive person, and starting a new life. My dog is part of that new life.

    I can’t describe how meaningful it is, to see how he’s adjusted to our life together. I know the same is true for me, but of course it’s easier to see those qualities in someone else, and he serves as a mirror. He still reacts strongly to certain noises. I still have PTSD triggers, too. We give each other comfort and calm, adventure and love, empathy for all we’ve been through to be here together. We absolutely saved ourselves and then saved each other. Who rescued who, indeed.

  6. Kate says...

    “You hear a dangling collar and you don’t know it at the time, but that sound will be, for you, forever, everything.“

    Such a beautiful story that I relate to so much. Young, single, I walked into a rescue and a little dog reached his paw out from a crate and touched my hand and changed my life forever. It never feels like the right time so sometimes they have to do us the favor or saying, “now”.

    A dog can be so many things; for me, the first person outside of my family to love me unconditionally. When we met he couldn’t yet walk on a leash and for weeks I carried all 35 pounds of him three flights of stairs.

    It’s still just the two of us, and maybe it still will be for a long time, but sometimes I think about him meeting the other people I will love in the future. In the past year he’s gotten to know my niece and appreciates her sticky hands and abandoned nutrigrain bars. Dogs will always find the best in a person.

  7. Erin Mary says...

    This wrecked me. I had a puppy that didn’t make it. And now I have a nearly-9 year old rescue who is often the only thing that makes me feel right. She’s the other heartbeat in the room, and I’m her favorite thing in the world (and she is mine).

  8. Rose says...

    I’m totally crying at work! Thank you – this was beautiful. I am also caring for my sick 14 year old pup right now so this really spoke to me. Your pup is lucky to have a dad like you!

  9. Christine says...

    WEEPING AT WORK.
    Thank you for a beautiful piece–for being able to put into words how so many of us feel about our precious furry friends.

  10. Such a lovely post. We rescued a Cairn terrier back in 2014, best thing we ever did. He was so badly abused and it took us so long to get him to the point he would even just come up to us.

  11. Oh my. I have no words so why am I commenting? Just – thank you. xoxo

  12. A says...

    Oh my. This made me bawl my eyes out. I’ll be snuggling my two little pups extra close today

  13. Brooke says...

    This is beautiful – thank you for sharing. Lost my boy after a long and beautiful life last week and reading Quentin’s story brought a smile to my face. We’re so lucky to have those heartbeats along side of us for however long they’ll give us.

    • Erin Mary says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss. How luck you both are to have done so much of life together.

  14. Darcy says...

    Our adopted older dog has had NO health problems and NO behavior problems. Totally easy.

    Yet my friend’s 5yo dog was just given a serious, serious diagnosis.

    It’s impossible to know how things will unfold—love pours in either way— so we should go for the most good we can do.

  15. Marsha says...

    Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Hopeful. Inspiring, Thank you for this, Eric. It speaks to everything that is in my own heart when I look at my own rescue, who is the love of my life. When we met, I knew I would love him. I just didn’t realize how IN LOVE I would be with him. Wishing you and Quentin a long, long, long and healthy life together!

  16. Martha says...

    Oh my, that was heart breaking lovely. Lump in my throat and rescue dog at my side as I read this. Thank you for expressing the love and gratitude a rescue dog brings.

  17. Gerri Madden says...

    Such an amazing story, thank you for loving her so much!

  18. Brooke says...

    Rescuing is THE BEST

  19. Mary W says...

    Oh man, Eric. I am your newest forever-fan. This was beautiful. Thank you.

  20. Lindsey says...

    This beautiful essay had me crying after the first paragraph. I can’t imagine our lives without our rescue pup and so enjoy hearing stories that share this sentiment. Our dog was with us at our first apartment, our wedding, and is now our 1-year old’s best friend. She’s a very important part of our family. I urge everyone to adopt – it’s SO worth it.

  21. Jordan says...

    This destroyed me in the best way. My rescue pup has been with me for 15 years and is going downhill quickly. Trying to prepare myself for the end/know when it’s time to let go. And for those who can’t commit to a dog, please foster. It’s an incredibly easy way to save a life!

  22. Linds says...

    I always thought I’d adopt puppies until I met my rescue. I’d spotted him on a humane society website months before adopting but I lived out of town and my landlord said no. 4 months later, I’d moved to a new town and my guy was still at the shelter. I moved on a Friday and picked him up on a Saturday. He came home before the furniture, before the first grocery run, or mailbox check.
    He was 3 years old and completely neurotic. Move one item out of place or turn on a fan, shut a cupboard door too loudly and he’d be hiding in the closet. I joke that I”m the emotional support human.
    Fast forward 2 years and I’m smitten. (I was back then too.) But waking up in the night and feeling his tail wag if you put my hand on his head, the fact he only eats dinner when I’m eating, or how he sits and growls if I look at my phone instead of playing…that’s what made this move feel like home.
    My boyfriend says getting a dog is the best way to ensure your heart will break in 5-10 years. It’s so worth it, heartbreak and all.

  23. Sam says...

    I will join the group of individuals crying at their desk after reading this. A beautifully written essay. Makes me want to run home and snuggle my rescue who looked at me like I was abandoning him this morning as I walked out the door to my job so I could afford his prescription only dog food and regular visits to the doggy dermatologist.

  24. Jackie says...

    I never comment but I loved this piece so much! Thank you Eric for loving Quentin so much that it just radiated from your writing and CoJ for featuring Eric’s work.

  25. Claire says...

    What a sweet, touching essay. Wonderful little dog too. It brings to mind this verse from Irving Townsend: “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle; easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we would still live no other way.”

  26. Kelsey says...

    We’ve always adopted our dogs. Usually from the streets or abandoned by their owners. We don’t know what its like to get a dog with a blank slate, with no baggage. This post made me feel so grateful for these broken hearts that learn how to love and trust again. Thank you for giving Quentin a good home, and for loving her so selflessly! More people need to make room for a dog with baggage, they are grateful forever!

  27. L. says...

    I have loved this Edith Wharton line for a long time, and now love this incredibly gorgeous essay. Thank you, Eric!

  28. Emily says...

    Crying at my desk. What a beautiful piece and what a beautiful soul for giving this sweet, deserving pup a home. I hope more people do; pets light up our lives!
    I want to rush home and cuddle my sweet rescues.

  29. Audrey says...

    gah definitely crying now. Adopting a pet is one of the most rewarding things you can do. My family adopted 2 dogs about 8 years ago and we’ll be so so sad when they’re gone.

  30. Jeannie says...

    Ok I’m dead.

  31. Jill says...

    This is so beautifully written and I am sobbing at work.

  32. jane says...

    Ugh, I would love a dog but just can’t do it yet. I definitely avoid shelters because – the heartbreak is too much for me, knowing their fate and what good boi’s and girls they ALL are. They love us so much better than most people including family that I’ve never understood how otherwise loving people just ignore them most of the day – or feed them processed food without variation! Dogs REALLY love delicious food just as much as we do.

    Saw this photo of Kristen Bell’s one-eyed rescue with the most enormous smile on it’s face – the biggest dog smile I’ve ever seeeen:

    Scroll down to Kristen Bell/photo 10, last one in her series, I think:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/the-lily/the-disposables/