Becoming Real

Last August, we got our first family dog. We all wanted to rescue a dog from the shelter, but I also was hoping for a dog that didn’t shed. We didn’t want one that was too crazy energetic, and we wanted a dog that would sit in our laps. So when we arrived at St. Hubert’s Shelter, I told them about our ideal dog. We thought we’d just have a look. But then we saw Zora’s face and it was an instant connection. She’s an Australian Cattle dog and she sheds too (!), but her eyes showed me that she was an old soul. We all fell in love with her and brought her home. We ignored the fact that she scored low on socialization—they said that was probably because she’d been matched with a St. Bernard during the socialization evaluation, she’d been out-sized. Well, it turns out that as much as Zora loves people, she hates other dogs. That socialization score was more than accurate—we found that out pretty much as soon as we got home, but it didn’t deter us, because when you fall in love with a dog (or a person) you fall in love unconditionally. So we just have to be careful. Who knows what happened to her in the past? We don’t know her back story—all they could tell us was that she came from an over-crowded shelter in West Virginia.

It wasn’t until I took her running that week that I noticed something else was wrong. Her back left foot never touched the ground. Then we looked at her hips, and they were cockeyed. And there was a big patch of fur missing on that side. We’ll never know her full story (unless she starts speaking English), but the vet thinks she might have been in a car accident, because some of her ribs are in bits and pieces too. There’s a little spot under her left front leg that we can’t go near.

But she’s as real as real can be, and she doesn’t let her disabilities get in the way of playing—each day around 5 she herds us into the living room and nips at our legs and barks her loudest bark, kind of ferocious. If you only heard her from outside you’d think she was trying to mount a rebellion!! But that’s how she plays. Sometimes she has trouble getting up onto the couch or bed, with just her three legs, but she doesn’t let that stop her. Cause she wants to be with us. I tell her she’s as real as The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my cherished books—I don’t know if it hurts her or not to go up and down the stairs continually, or jump onto our beds, or onto our laps. But I know she loves us and we love her and she’d probably do it no matter what.

Here’s a favorite section from that beloved book—

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt . . . By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and you get very shabby. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

That’s just how we feel about Zora. She’s a bit shabby, her hair is messed up, and she loves us so much it hurts. She’s as real as real can be.

Holly McGheeComment