10/26/2014 11:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Give Unconditional Love a Chance

We go through life using terms and phrases because it's just built into our vocabulary, instilled in us since we learn how to converse. We say things nonchalantly with what we assume is true meaning. I can wholeheartedly admit I had no idea what the phrase "joy in your heart" meant, until the day I actually felt it.

Taking in and re-homing strays is one of my earliest memories from childhood. My mother would let us name them even if we only had them for a short period of time. In the event we couldn't physically keep the animal- we would call the town shelter consistently to follow up on its story and make sure it got reunited with its owner. Growing up in a household of veterinary workers and animal lovers, it was kind of just in my blood to protect and nurture all animals. I specifically fell in love with dogs.


I grew up to become a vegetarian turned vegan, volunteer for town shelters, and now am currently employed as a 'dog caretaker' at a no-kill animal shelter. I guess you can say I kind of love animals. One important thing I learned from all of my experiences around dogs is to never judge them too quickly. Just because a dog is wagging its tail doesn't mean it won't bite you- and just because a dog is level with the ground and too scared to look at you, doesn't mean it can't wag its tail and learn to be happy again.

After watching happy fluffy dog after prancing playful puppy get adopted- and seeing all the sad ones who needed love the most sit for the longest I knew I had to do something. I wanted to break the statistic. I wanted to take a chance on a dog no one had hope in. The sad one who has been through worse than all of the people you know combined, while maybe being the maximum age of a human kindergartener. That is the stuff that tugs at my heart strings.

I first saw "Slug" on the Islip Animal Shelter facebook page. Volunteering for that shelter in the past, I know they treat their animals well and this dog in the picture looked absolutely horrified. The fist time I went down to meet him he had just gotten back from surgery, he had a pretty bad infection and was looking even more down in the dumps than normal. I crouched down and put my hand up against the gate of his cage ( FYI I highly recommend NEVER doing that ) and he slowly came over to me. He looked defeated in every sense of the word, and embodied every adjective that would deter a potential adopter from considering owning him. He licked my hand, and my heart shattered into a million pieces.


The next time I went to see him, about a week or so later, he was finally healed and able to come meet me outside of his cage! The shelter worker lead Slug into the room, he walked in with his head down, body so low to the ground [hence the name] and his tail so tight to his body and curled completely under. I kneeled down on the ground, he army crawled over to me and climbed as much of his body as he could, onto my lap. My heart was literally melting. He was covered in poop and was severely underweight. They said he was found as a stray and was obviously severely abused; he had been sitting there for a few MONTHS constantly being overlooked. They warned me that he was not housebroken, has probably never walked on a leash, and might have some form of degenerative bone disease and maybe heartworm. Upon further investigation we learned he had zero interest in toys, and wouldn't take a treat or a bone from anyone. I left the shelter that day empty handed and with a heavy heart. The only reason I left is because adopting a dog is a huge decision and a life long commitment. I recommend giving yourself at least a night to sleep on it and make sure you're making the right decision. Needless to say, the only thing I did that night was think about Slug and how badly I wished he was with me in bed and not sleeping on a concrete floor in a pitch black shelter.

I asked the shelter if they were willing to get him tested for certain things solely so I knew what I was getting myself into- medical bills wise; because there was no doubt in my mind I needed to save that dog. He tested negative for everything. The day Slug arrived home was scary and so exciting! I feel like I can relate to all mothers in the sense that at first you're just yourself, with an idea of a baby, and then one day there is this little living thing that appears who is completely dependent on you, and that you devoted to happily revolving your life around.

I have been sleeping with him since the first night he was here. He sometimes wakes up from nightmares, he also protects me from ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Ok that's not true- if anything goes *bump* at any time of the day or night he goes running with his tail between his legs- we're working on it. He hasn't had a single accident in the house. He learned sit within the first week or so living here. He instantly adjusted to my schedule and sometimes is the one who wakes me up in the morning to get going! I have never gotten more kisses from a dog in my entire life. He now trots and hops along and plays with all 20 of the toys I bought him within the first few weeks of him being here. He is particular to the stuffed lion we call "Chucky" because I have sewn him back together so many times. He was severely underweight and suspect to be a heartworm victim because he is terrified of food bowls and wasn't eating. I hand fed him three times a day for the first few weeks and now he just eats off of his food mat, next to his water bowl, which he was also afraid of. I had to hand feed him ice cubes to keep him from getting dehydrated, slowly but surely he starting drinking not only out of the bowl- but on his own!

Each day he comes out of his shell more and more. Things that most people expect their dogs to come programed knowing how to do- are milestones for us. He is now named Houdini, his tail is rarely down or between his legs, he stands tall and the only time he is close to the ground is when he is sleeping! To be the person to make the choice to start this dogs journey to a normal happy life that he deserves, is what truly brings joy to my heart. I feel it every time he wags his tail when I am near him, anytime he confidentially grabs a toy to play with, and even silly little things like knowing I helped him overcome his fear of the water bowl! I only hope this will inspire others to become educated about animals before just going out on a whim and adopting one. Know your facts and trust your instincts. I also ask everyone to open their hearts, see past the immediate situation an animal is in. Believe in the love all animals have to give, and give an overlooked dog a chance!

Lisa Emily