When Hope Has Fur

Friday, June 15, 2007

By: Daneen Akers

Reprinted from FM Online


Usually I’m a news person. I like to keep up on current events and typically I check news websites a few times a day. Lately though, I’ve been avoiding the news. Reading and watching the parade of bad news reporting ambushes, car bombs, kidnappings, and always more death has left me feeling helpless and, worse still, hopeless.
I’ve always liked to believe in the glass-half-full philosophy that individuals can change one heart and one life at a time. With the onslaught of bad news recently, I feel a profound sense of hopelessness creep through me—as if there is nothing I can do to change the course of events.

Every time I let myself get depressed about the truly bad news and my apparent impotence to do anything about it, I remember the story of how Leo came to our family and I’m reminded that Emily Dickinson was right. “Hope is a thing with feathers / that perches in the soul / and sings the tune without the words / and never stops at all.”

In this case, hope is a thing with fur named Leo. He is a lovable Tibetan Spaniel mix who narrowly avoided becoming coyote food and now happily perches—or in his case sprawls—in the soul of my family.

My husband and I found Leo while walking our dog in a rural area where unscrupulous people tend to dump unwanted animals. The owner of a nearby nursery said Leo had been wandering around since the previous evening and probably wouldn’t make it through another night. The pads of his feet were torn, his nose was sunburned, he was suspicious of people (particularly men), and he was dehydrated. As I carried him home, we decided to call him Leo after the astrological sign, since it was late July and he looked like a little lion with his golden, furry coat.

After a visit to our veterinarian, we filed a report with the local shelters, placed an advertisement in the paper, and put up “found” signs, even though we were sure nobody was looking for this dog. My parents, who live two miles away, somewhat grudgingly agreed to let Leo stay with them during the workday until I located a home for him.

My mother struggles with the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia and she didn’t think she wanted a dog. I had tried to convince her to get a dog for years, but she was afraid a dog would require too much of the precious energy she had. It didn’t take long for Leo to prove her fears wrong. He stole her heart within a week.

Looking into Leo’s timid yet hopeful eyes, she detected a soul mate and made an emphatic declaration that nobody would ever hurt this dog again as long as she was there to protect him. They’ve been inseparable ever since. On tough days, Leo gives my mom a reason to get out of bed in the morning and he seems to know just when she needs extra affection. I often wonder who really rescued whom!

At first life with Leo wasn’t always smooth. He was about four and hadn’t been thoroughly housebroken. For the first three months he had occasional accidents and he refused to use my parent’s backyard when he needed to answer nature’s call (he would only go while on a walk). He took to my mom immediately, but it took about six weeks before he stopped barking ferociously every time my dad got up during the night. The true test of commitment came three weeks into the adoption when Leo marked his territory all over my mom’s new couch.

We enrolled Leo in a training course and our trainer said that it takes about three months for an adopted dog (particularly one with a background like Leo’s) to adjust to a new home and begin to feel safe. Right at the twelve week mark, we all began to notice Leo relaxing and his eyes began to look like the eyes of a happy dog. He began to play with my dog when I visited and soon they became fast friends. His pads healed and when his nose healed we could see him start to sniff the air as if he were smelling for the first time. I still remember the day my mom called excitedly saying Leo had finally gone to the bathroom in their yard!

It’s been over a year now and consistent training, love, and a lot of patience have paid off— Leo is a now a full-fledged member of the family. He provides an endless amount of love to us all. His full devotion belongs to my mom, but since I was the one who first “rescued” Leo, we still have a special bond. Without fail, every time I visit, Leo greets me at the door enthusiastically with a doggie kiss and he suggestively places his paw on my arm, asking for some loving.

I love to look into his gentle brown eyes because I always feel tremendous joy, reassurance and, most importantly, hope. Looking at Leo, I feel hope that one person can make a difference in this often overwhelming world. I might not be able to change foreign policy, but I can change things in my small world. My sphere of influence may not extend to the streets of Baghdad, but I can still make choices that impact a life. Leo reminds me that I have the daily opportunity to listen to the thing with feathers (or fur) in my soul and make choices of hope that can change the course of a life for the better.

Daneen Akers first heard about fibromyalgia when her mother was diagnosed several years ago. She writes from San Francisco where she is currently producing an educational documentary for new FM patients and their families to give them an overview of the condition and hope through the stories of other FM patients (www.livingwithfm.com/) She has a special love for pets, particularly dogs, and believes they can do wonders for fibromyalgia patients. She’d love to hear stories about your pet. You can reach her at: daneen@trillusion.org