My first dog was already home upon my return from the hospital. A tiny black cocker spaniel named Shadow Box, he soon learned to sleep either under my crate or in it with me, and became my fast protector and best friend. He bit my father for trying to correct me with a slight tap on the bum in my preschool years and waited on the stoop for me to return from my first day of kindergarten. He taught me exuberance and the joy of naps, and when he slowly died of cancer at the age of fifteen, I taught him the joys of ice cream and soaking in a warm bath.
In my life, dogs have always been the teachers and great givers of love. There has been not one day of my life that I did not own at least one dog, and few where at least two weren’t involved. One thing they all had in common? They have all been rescues. I had Coal, the black lab from North Georgia who really only liked my dad (the man smelled divine, after all). Big Red, an auburn-tinted Golden Retriever I found and then was forced to return when her owner noticed me walking her around the neighborhood (my first whiff of heartbreak). Then was Arizona, the mixed-breed puppy who died of Parvo in my arms at age 17. Slate, the Great Dane mix who still thinks that he’s a teacup chihuahua. I had Molly, a low rider mix who bosses around all the JRTs my mom has since collected (current count: 3). My brother has a pit bull named Emma, who thinks the permanent stink of my German Shepherd Somewhere is God’s most perfect perfume. And then there’s my best friend Elissa’s two boxer babies, Sadie and Parker, who call me Auntie Lo (at least, that’s what Elissa tells me). And this is only a small smattering of the canines who have ruled my roost.
For better (and sometimes worse), dogs have always been my constant source of companionship. All of my dogs have slept next to me in bed, accompanied me on road trips and long walks and laid at my feet as I worked to meet tight deadlines. They have endured my collection of collars, acquired Yankee neurosis (yes, I’m one of those who asks her dog for advice) and tendency to never keep any sort of “normal” schedule. No dog of mine would ever crawl in bed before 2AM, wake me at 7AM to ask to go to the bathroom, or pass up a shot at a spoonful of peanut butter – a true sign that they belong to me! The best day of my short 17 year old existence was the day I opened my hard-fought acceptance letter to NYU. My dog Luke’s reaction to the news? He promptly laid down and audibly sighed. He did the same thing when I first brought home my idiotic freshman boyfriend.
So how have I given back to these creatures who have so shaped and informed my life throughout the years? I’ve spent countless hours and days at high-kill shelters in the south, an amazing dog boarding facility in rural Northern Georgia and, most recently, coordinating a Brooklyn-based rescue called Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. Nevertheless, no amount of my “free time” and extra energy could truly pay back the difference that has been made in my life. Have you ever heard that dogs can cure depression? Well, it’s not an exact science, but how can you not feel a little bit happier to come home to a wagging tail? (Except for maybe when that wagging tail has been chewing the sofa… been there!) And have you ever heard that quote “The more people I meet, the more I like my dog“? For me, this couldn’t be more true.
In the summer of last year (2011), I was gearing up for a move to Los Angeles. I was getting laid off from my most recent gig at NBC and was ready to move on from my decade-long not-so-love-affair with NYC. The bags were (partly) packed, the journey was mapped. However, life intervened and I found myself roped into an amazing gig that I could’t pass up. The bags became unpacked and the joy in Somewhere’s eyes (a yard! I heard they have backyards in California!) faded. But while it didn’t take long for my awesome gig to turn noticeably sour, it was also around this time (and because of this job) that I heard about Badass and showed up with a work friend to check out a weekend adoption event. Immediately transfixed by the opportunity to help a small homebound group (working two weekends a year for the ASPCA isn’t exactly soul-shattering), I latched onto the three current rescuers of the group and slowly began to bend the operations to my ever-insanely OCD ways. And, lucky for me, they didn’t mind! They liked it! I was being helpful.
The next few months passed quickly. Badass, which brings dogs up from high-kill shelters in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas and West Virginia, and finds them new, loving homes in the city, was exploding. Adoption events changed locations, the weather got colder, we added on a new local rescuer, and the number of dogs being brought up from the South nearly tripled. The group (founded by NYC-based film producer Sara Cross) was pulling dogs with the help of shelter photo albums on Facebook, fully vetting and boarding them down south, and then paying to have them transported to the city and fostered until adoption events, now happening every Saturday in Williamsburg. I felt guilty that my, uh, super-shallow pockets couldn’t help with the rescue costs, so I dove further into helping with logistics, paperwork and the general facilitating of adoptions and drop-offs. Before I knew it, Badass was consuming at least 3 hours of my day, seven days a week. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
In the year that I’ve been with them, Badass has saved over 350 dogs from euthanasia. During that time, I have rented a truck and driven to Alabama to pick up a transport of 16 dogs (all to be adopted upon my return), spent two weeks on a PA farm tending to a new group of recruits (of the doggie variety, that is), fostered over fifteen fur balls in my tiny Bedstuy bedroom, and spent nearly 50 Saturdays getting these pups into the hands of people who showed them their first taste of true love. It is not uncommon for me to bike down the streets of my neighborhood and pass a few Badass dogs along the way. There is almost no surer way to make me smile!
All of this is explains why it’s so hard to say that Saturday, August 4th will be my last Badass event. The following week, I will pack up my suitcase (and my Somewhere) and head to California… it’s finally happening! But the role that this organization has played in my life has forever changed me. My ten-plus years in New York were often marred with loneliness, exhaustion from the rat race, and a complete disconnect from that which really matters in life. The rescue revived within me a drive to work hard and to care about and believe in something deeply, and (important maybe only for my ego) gave me the reminder that I can be truly good at doing something when I think that it’s worth doing. I can now leave New York with a plethora of happy memories and the feeling that I did something here that I can feel proud of for the rest of my life. It’s funny how life works out – I now know this is the reason I had to stick around for 12 more months. So while New York never gave me the film career I dreamed of, the partner I wanted, or the DUMBO apartment I so craved, it did give me something to be proud to be a part of. And, for me, that’s more than enough.