How I Became a Pet Rescuer

Twenty five years ago an angel woman stopped to pick up my sister’s dog on the side of the freeway. Laiya was not moving and appeared to be dead, but the woman got out, wrapped the dog in blankets, lifted her into her car and drove her to the nearest animal shelter, then waited to see if she would be OK.  Laiya was a medium-sized Shepard-Coyote mix so it must have been no small feat to get her into the car. After about a half hour Laiya woke up. She had been hit by a car but was only stunned. My sister who had left her in a locked back yard of a friend for only a few hours, had been frantically searching for her. Laiya must have known the direction she had gone and was on the freeway headed toward my sister.

Later that evening the animal shelter called and said that her dog had been brought to them by a woman who found her by the side of the freeway. They said she had stayed with her until she knew she was going to be OK. Laiya was one of those human-like dogs whom none of us will ever forget. She and my sister were joined at the hip. I don’t think my sister could have survived if Laiya had been killed. She was beside herself with guilt and anguish.

My sister was able to find the good Samaritan to thank her. When asked why she stopped in the night on a dangerous freeway to pick up a strange dog who appeared to be dead, she simply replied, “I would hope someone would do this for me. I am an animal lover and my pets are everything to me.” My sister sent her flowers and a card every year on that memorable anniversary. The miraculous story became part of our family lore and was shared over and over. She was known to us as Laiya’s Angel.

I remember thinking at the time what an extraordinary person she was. I felt a deep shame because I knew I probably wouldn’t have stopped under those circumstances. That was then, but life sent me a painful lesson, and I made the transformation from someone who loved animals but didn’t take action (unless it was convenient), to someone who goes out of their way to help a pet in need.

Next: How I became a Pet Rescuer

About 15 years ago, I went along with my sister to visit her friend’s pottery studio in the coastal town of Half Moon Bay where I live. On the fence was an abandoned kitten, sneezing and shivering. My sister’s friend said she was hoping someone would come along and take care of her. I secretly wondered why she wasn’t taking her in but didn’t know her well enough to suggest the possibility.

Being a life-long lover of cats, I yearned to take her. The resistance I had came from my (former) husband who was allergic to, and hated cats — always a bone of contention between us. In those days I was a total people-pleaser, afraid of rocking the boat in my already rocky marriage. Feeling horribly torn but too spineless to do what I knew was right, I walked away.

The searing guilt of not having taken the kitten tore me up.  I prayed continually that someone else would come along to help, trying to justify to myself my “impossible” situation. I finally called my sister and asked if she knew anything about the kitten. She told me that her friend called and said that it had crawled up into a truck engine that night to get warm and suffered a gruesome death the next day.

The news hit me like a body blow. How could this happen?, I railed at the universe. Why didn’t you send someone to help? Then the most astonishing thing happened, from a place deep within me it was as if I heard a voice say “I did send someone…… and it was you.”

There was the terrible truth staring me in the face. It was for me to do, and I walked away. And because of my cowardice she was dead.

I had always thought that my path to saving the world or doing a good deed would come with great fanfare, sort of like Joan of Arc hearing the call from God.  I would then stop everything and do the good thing when the need was presented. I never figured it might show up when it was terribly inconvenient and would require sacrifice.

Shortly thereafter my new conviction was put to the test. I was driving in a bad neighborhood in Oakland, California when an itty-bitty puppy darted into traffic. Terrified and confused, it circled back and forth among the speeding cars.

It happened so fast. I questioned whether I had actually seen anything at all. Besides, I was all dressed up in my white business suit and already late for an appointment. This was not a convenient time to be rescuing a puppy and what on earth would I do with it once I did? Here it was again, the voice justifying why I should not act. But this time I saw it more clearly, and the pain of doing nothing was freshly seared into my memory. This was not a dress rehearsal and I was aware that I was being given a second chance.

I instantly circled around the block praying intently that I would find him before it was too late. I couldn’t bear it if he had come to the same tragic end. Thankfully there he was, still frantically darting around in the street.

I stopped my car in mid-traffic and scooped him up. Shaking, filthy and traumatized, he clung to me for dear life, as my crisp white suit disintegrated into shades of gray.

But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered at that moment but saving this puppy.

I was filled with a huge sense of elation. This time I had acted and saved a life. I was fulfilling my promise to the kitten and the details of how I was going to take care of this little scraggly guy would somehow work themselves out.

Having to take care of an un-housebroken, un-socialized and traumatized puppy who had a proclivity for humping everything in sight was not my idea of fun. Somehow I thought I would receive some great reward for my sacrifice and help would instantly rush to my aid,  but the reality was that I was stressed out, exhausted, and felt very alone.

Taking care of him and finding a home proved to be an enormous hassle. Based on his degree of trauma, I could tell he had been abused. The little guy was so attached to me that he screamed bloody murder whenever I tried to remove him from my arms. I had to sleep with him on a chair next to my bed with my hand touching him at all times, and I had to take him out every three hours to pee.

This must be like having children, I moaned, and I specifically never wanted children. After a few days he graduated to howling inconsolably only when he couldn’t see me .My husband was furious and not speaking to me and neither was my beloved golden retriever Bruce, clearly feeling betrayed that I would bring this screaming intruder into his house.

After seven of the longest days of my life, my angel veterinarian found a good home for him. A young woman had come in looking for exactly that sort of puppy. I prayed to God that he would not show his humping proclivity and bond a little with her, but unfortunately he still only had eyes for me. Thankfully she took him anyway and gave him to her dad. I learned later that he quickly became her father’s favorite pet.

My cowardice caused a precious kitten to die, but the searing pain of living with that guilt is how I became a pet rescuer. Since then I have helped many little angels on my path and the blessings they have brought me far outweighed the sacrifices I might have made.

Please share your stories about when you helped, or when you didn’t, and how it impacted your life.

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Christine Jones
Christine J4 years ago

Lovely story Erica and I can relate. On my way to work I saw a baby bird who had fallen out of the nest and was being attacked by a large crow. Many people walked by and did nothing. I knew if I didn't intervene he would die a horrible painful death. I was thinking I'm already late for work, I can't look after a baby bird because I work fulltime and have dogs and cats, I caught the train today so how on earth can I get it to the vet, etc, etc. But I decided to just do it. I took the bird on the train! I phoned to say I wouldn't be at work that day and why, and used my own holiday leave to have the day off. Consequently I was in deep trouble with management. After some hassle, I managed to find a wonderful, loving home for the bird. I left that job and scarcely give it a second thought, but I will remember the wonderful feeling of saving that bird until my dying day.

Lady Az
Lady Az5 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Jesus is God :D

Vita Pagh
Vita P5 years ago

Touching story Erica, thank you for sharing.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you Erica, for Sharing this!

Heidi R.
Past Member 5 years ago

I have 2 rescued dogs now, a third died last year at the age of 15.

Rescues are a handful and the first month in particular is a nightmare. But, when you say, 'I love you', to your rescue and they look at you with their big eyes and then lick your face, it certainly makes you forget the problems.

Thanks for the lovely article.

Wendy H.
Wendy H5 years ago

Simply beautiful!

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago


Mike Wilkinson
Mike Wilkinson5 years ago

more animal rescue stories please.....