[Content Note: Euthanasia.]
One: It is late in the day, and I am hurting. The chondritis that inflames my cartilage slithers from its lair in my left side up into my chest, my neck, my shoulder, curling around to my back and gripping me like some maleficent constrictor. It hurts to move; it hurts to breathe. I sit at the end of the chaise, my feet on the floor, intending to stand, then instead lie backward, my body a fallen L of concession. Zelda comes over to me and curls herself around my head and shoulders. She licks my face then lays her head on my shoulder. Still and quiet, we lie there together, breathing in rhythm. I can feel her heartbeat in my hair. My body relaxes. The pain does not go away, but it gets quieter. I stroke her head and wonder if there is any way I can ever communicate to this dog how truly grateful I am.
Two: Iain is in the garage, running on the treadmill. I am using the opportunity to watch a documentary about shelter dogs that he cannot bring himself to watch. There is a terrible scene in which we are shown how shelter dogs are euthanized in many shelters—in groups, terrified, whimpering. Zelda, my shelter dog rescued from that very fate, has been sitting beside me, and at the sound of their desperate cries—a sound unique and unforgettable, maybe even for a dog—she stirs and her jaw visibly clenches. She looks up at me—for reassurance, I think. I grab her face in my hands and kiss her nose and tell her that she's a good girl. I turn off the television and cuddle her. She rests her whiskered chin on my knee, looking at me intently with deep brown eyes, and I imagine that she wonders if there is any way she can ever communicate to me how truly grateful she is.
It is trite to say I rescued her and she rescues me back. But it is also true.
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Right now, less than a third of pet cats and dogs in the US are obtained from shelters, where about 4 million (60% of shelter dogs and 70% of shelter cats) are euthanized annually. If you are thinking about getting a pet, please consider rescue.