Animals remind me daily why we as humans aren’t close to worthy of their unconditional love, undeniable devotion, and unwavering faithfulness. I thought I would start a series of short stories of five times they have proven this to be true. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I did writing about them.
Pictured: Cashew and Hazel
During my stay in Thailand last year, one of our platform dogs from the Elephant Nature Park was sent to our off site sanctuary so that we could better care for him, and keep a closer eye on him in his final days. He was in late stage kidney failure, and all that was left to do was supportive care to keep him comfortable. In his final week, it was a 24 hour job ensuring that he was safe and comfortable. When we weren’t keeping him hooked up to IV fluids, we were taking turns accompanying him on very short walks in the grass. Being outside was his absolute favorite thing. On his last two nights, we slept outside with him. The bats and mosquitos couldn’t keep us from making him the most comfortable in his final moments. On his very last night, I was sitting outside with him. Ryan had been his main caretaker when I wasn’t giving him medical treatments, but this was a quiet moment with just Memphis and I. The stars gave us light as I sat beside the peaceful, emaciated mutt that laid next to me in the grass. So caught up in the moment, I almost didn’t notice the two figures that also laid at my side. Cashew and Hazel, sibling pups that never left each others side, accompanied me on this warm, summer night as we all comforted this frail old man. I realized I had forgotten something in my room, and I brought myself to my feet to go grab it. Weary of leaving Memphis alone, I slowly walked backwards in hopes that he would continue to lay asleep. I had assumed the two young pups would follow me. To my surprise, when I looked out my bedroom window to check that Memphis hadn’t moved, Cashew and Hazel continued to lay faithfully at his side. It was in that moment that I flashed back to the entire week before. Whenever Memphis would be out for a walk, those two walked closely behind. Now, I was getting to see them move even closer when it was just the three of them. Memphis, too weak to move on his own, laid still as the other two inched closer until they were all almost touching. After a hard week, I broke down and sobbed as I watched them take over the job that needed to be done when I left. That very next day, after we put Memphis to rest, to no surprise, Cashew and Hazel were right next to me as I laid in the grass and cried after his passing. Intuitive and compassionate doesn’t begin to explain that brother and sister duo.
2. The Comforting Crew
Pictured: Gizmo, Lella, Tanya
Times on site in Thailand were difficult to say the least. Off days were non existent, and when you live where you work, off hours were equally non existent. After months of some relatively difficult times ranging from just about everything you could think of, there came a day when my body did what my mind was prolonging- it shut down. I became so exhausted I couldn’t leave the bed. Ryan handled it immediately, and continued to shut my blinds and lock me in my room to give me space for the day the minute he saw me in the condition I was in that morning. I was on site, but I was allowing myself to have a “day off”. At the time, I had a pack of 13 dogs that slept in my room with me. You read that right, 13. When I woke up, so did they. I had a lonely twin bed that I shared with four, yes four, full grown mutts that rightfully earned their place next to my head, shoulders, hip, and the most coveted space behind my knees. They were my crew, but I had fully expected them to go about their day when I was “off”. To my surprise, after a quick pee and breakfast, they all immediately assumed their positions in the darkened room to accompany me on my off day. These dogs, that were not on paper mine, were faithfully holding their ground to keep me company in my darkest of moments. And just when I thought that their faithfulness could not reach another level, a moment happened that I will never forget. Later that night, I had sunk into a full, unexplainable, depression. Ryan consoled me, and after he eventually left, I sat, alone, and sobbed uncontrollably. I felt so broken and alone. I eventually lifted my head out of my hands when I found the strength. I’m not sure if I was expecting no one else to be in there, or complete chaos as normal (you know, 13 dogs in one room), but what I found will forever shock me. I raised my heavy head to find 13 doting Thai mutts at my feet. They were silent, something that never had happened prior. Not only were they silent, they were all completely huddled together, as close as they could be at my feet and surrounding me on our little twin bed. If I wasn’t sobbing enough before, I for sure was sobbing then. Without a word, these furry creatures that would die for me, and I, too, would die for, reminded me that my tears and pain and exhaustion were worth it, for them, a thousand times over. They knew exactly what to do, even if they didn’t know what they were doing.
3. The Chloe Girl
I could write a novel on this dog, and I probably will, but for now, here is one of my most favorite memories to date of a dog showing unwavering compassion. Chloe is Ryan’s dog. He brought her from Australia, and she now accompanies him on every and all Thailand adventures. She is brilliant and kind and I am madly in love with her. To her fault, she is brilliant and kind. To everyone else’s fault, I am madly in love with her. One day during feeding, we were trying a few extra dogs in Ryans room to separate the packs. Ryan set the bowls down as usual, and left the room. We were talking outside as we both heard a dog fight going on almost immediately. There are scuffles here and there, so we both paused for a moment to see if it would continue, but were surprised to not hear it lessen, but grow louder. Ryan rushed in immediately. Although it sounds awful now, I didn’t budge as we had both grown so accustom to each other and the dogs behavior- I knew he could handle it. He came out of his room with Chloe in his arms, and immediately my heart dropped to the ground (if not lower). I rushed over as he set her down in the grass. She was limping, and I began to give her a physical exam of all of her wounds. She had at least five puncture wounds on her limbs and abdomen, and it didn’t take an expert to see what had happened. Obviously someone more food aggressive than her had went for her food, and any defensive movement on her end to protect her food could have triggered an outward brawl. Apparently, Ryan found Chloe on her back (a submissive position) as a few dogs continued to attack her, puncturing her limbs and abdomen. I was heartbroken, and as I looked at her oozing punctures, I was immediately taken back to a time when Ryan was off site. I was taking care of the pack in his room when he went into town. His room has upwards of 15, closer to 18 dogs that took shelter in his bungalow at night. Ryan was Alpha, and I was a mere peasant to these Thai mutts comparably. I knew I had to hold my own to be pack leader to these 65+ dogs when he was gone. The night he was away, we were almost all asleep, and all was well in the room. That is, until, Rocky, one of the Alphas, jumped up on the bed too close to Bob, another Alpha. The room erupted as the two broke out into full attack mode. Rocky, who was over 100lbs of pure muscle, had Bob, half his size but twice the ego, pinned on the bed next to me. I was no match for the two of them, and began to panic at what to do next. Just when I thought I was going to be throwing my body in between two stubborn male dogs that would have gladly accepted me into their boxing match, I realized Chloe was acting faster than I could begin to think. She was grabbing Bobs only limb that wasn’t being taken over by Rocky, and attempted to pull him out from underneath Rocky’s grasp. You could physically see the stress and pain in her eyes as she tried to save Bob from the evident danger he was in. My heart broke into a thousand pieces as I watched her struggle to save him. It immediately snapped me out of whatever self doubting trance I was in long enough to push Chloe out of harms way, and grab the scruff of both dogs necks to separate the two. I’m not sure what my world would have been like in the past without Chloe, or what it could be like without her in my future, but I sure don’t want to find out.
4. The Village Trio
Pictured: Sherry, Chase, and Nancy
There were three village dogs that temporarily became our own. Sherry and Nancy were found by Ryan, both severely pregnant and lethargic. He knew something was wrong. When he took them into the shelter clinic, he found out it was because they were both in dystocia (difficult labor), and emergency cesarean sections had to be performed immediately. During both surgeries, the doctor’s had determined they were given a shot to terminate the pregnancies, as all fetuses were no longer living inside of the emaciated mothers. They were both septic, and neither would have made it through the coming week without his intervening. By the time I arrived at the sanctuary, both had made themselves right at home as they recovered from their extensive procedures. When it was time for them to return to their own home, it was the warmest homecoming I had ever seen. It was clear that their owners loved them dearly, and they loved them just as much in return. With tears in my eyes, we left them to live out their lives with their brother, Chase, who had waited patiently for their return. After some time had passed, we were able to bring Chase in to the shelter to be neutered. Finally, they were all sterilized, safe, and healthy back at home in their village down the street. The sanctuary we lived on was completely walled/gated in, with little to no chance of an animal being able to make his way outside of our safe haven. We didn’t even consider that an outside dog could ever possibly make its way inside. That was, until, those three village dogs. In the weeks following their returning home, almost every day, one of us would be walking to a certain section of the sanctuary to do the morning feeding, and we would find not one, but at least two of the trio running with the pack that they had called their own during their healing. We had no idea how they were finding their way in, but it was clear that they knew that this sanctuary of ours saved them, and they felt at home and safe within our walls. Let me make it known, those dogs meant the world to us, and we wanted them to stay forever, but they had a home that could care and love them for much longer than we would be there. Who knew, that two dogs that we thought as just a few more lives saved, would have built a bond with us that couldn’t be broken if we tried. To this day, Ryan and I visit them at their home, and they greet us as if we never left.
5. The Frightened Duo
I often question myself in my job whether or not the animals know what we are doing. I am almost positive that when I am doing any stressful or painful procedure for their benefit, they are the least bit concerned about how I can possibly be helping them, and only focused on how they can remove themselves from whatever position I am holding them in. Other times, when there aren’t needles involved, it is much easier for them to see my intentions more clearly. Two particular instances where this is the case, come to mind immediately. Pandi was a very frightened dog that lived on site with us. She attached herself to one person, and wouldn’t let anyone else near her with a ten foot pole. She spent her days terrified of anyone that looked her way, which made it particularly difficult to give her treatments of any kind. One day, the person she had attached herself to, quit without a moments notice. Immediately, I thought of Pandi, and how she would cope in this new world without her human that she loved. With a pack of eleven residing in my room at the time, I knew that we had to make room for this girl. She had found comfort on the back balcony that could be accessed from the grassy area outside my house. After a few weeks, she made her way inside. Being such a timid girl, she was always the one to be picked on by other, more dominant females. It infuriated me to see anyone go after her, and although she wouldn’t let me touch her, I made it my duty to be her protector. I would hoist myself in between her, and whatever dog decided to make her a target at the time. The other dogs didn’t stand a chance against my mama bear nature, and my need to protect this sweet girl. This continued on for days, but I stood my ground and made it known that no one was going to mess with her under my watch. During feeding time, one of the dogs attempted to take her food, and she ran into the bathroom in fear. I followed quickly behind her, and planted myself next to her on the tile floor. I pretended to ignore her, and let her come to me. After a few minutes of hesitation, she proceeded to inch closer to me. Then, the unthinkable happened. Pandi moved her muzzle close to my cheek, and licked it. The kiss was the only thanks I ever needed. From that moment on, I was her person. No one messed with her during the day, and she laid confidently by my head every night as she slept peacefully knowing that no one could touch her with me by her side. Shortly after, a dog that we had treated for severe mange and wounds at the main park, was brought back to the resort until we could find his proper owners. Doi Lek was nervous and submissive, and he was lost and lonely in this new environment. He bounced from pack to pack, unable to fit in. He was a loner, and my heart ached for him. One night, I made my way to the kitchen area to do some laundry. In this main outdoor dining section, the pack that we called “Sib’s Crew”, made this area theirs, and not many dogs ventured that way willingly knowing that they were there. As I rounded the corner to the kitchen, I heard Doi Lek’s tiny paws following close behind me. I knew exactly what would come next. As soon as Sib’s crew heard him coming behind me, they jumped off from where they were sleeping, and all six, 50lb dogs came barreling towards us both. I dropped the pile of towels in my hands and immediately knelt down and spread my arms wide to stop the six of them from getting to Doi Lek. They came to an instant halt, and listened to my calm, but stern voice as I told them that they could not be mean to him. Then, when I felt it was right, I stood up confidently, and called Doi Lek to follow, walking right through the whole lot of them- and he did. The two of us walked side by side to continue on our business as we left the six crazy pups behind in shock. From that moment on, I had a personal shadow that would have followed me to the ends of the earth. I had accepted him into my pack, but it was a whole different story as to if my pack would accept him as well. The answer was made clear just the following day. I was hanging with the pups outside my house, when I heard the rushing of Doi Leks tiny paws racing on the stone to get back to where we were. He must have wandered into the kitchen, because Sibs Crew came charging after him. Before I could get up to stop it, two of my boys, Chang and Cashew, rushed passed Doi Lek, and stood in between him and the family that wanted to chase him. It was a standoff like I had never seen, and I couldn’t have been more proud. The crew had messed with these boy’s new friend, and that wasn’t going to fly. The crew backed down after Chang and Cashew stood their ground to protect their new pack member. Tears rolled down my face in awe as I watched it all unfold in front of me. I will never forget any of them.