Danny found any place he could hide for his first weeks at home. (Credit: Melanie Haynes)


By Melanie Haynes | Posted at 7:55 PM

“Why do they call it ‘rescuing’ a dog? That word makes it sound like they, personally, pulled the dog from a burning building. It’s virtue signaling, for sure. Call it what it is: you went to the pound and got a dog.”

When someone said this to me, many years ago, I laughed and agreed with him. It did sound quite dramatic for such a simple transaction. “Rescuing a dog.” Hilarious.

With this conversation in the back of my mind, I continued to inwardly roll my eyes over the years, whenever anybody used that word with regard to acquiring an animal. Anyone who claimed to be a “rescuer” seemed to be instantly cast in the role of “hero,” even if the only action he or she took was to find a cute dog on PetFinder, pay an exorbitant fee, jump through the required hoops, and bring it home. That emotive word must make the dog owner feel quite virtuous, not to mention all the back-pats they can expect to receive on social media. What is the world coming to, these days?

Then the day came. It was time to get a dog of our own. Years had passed since that offhand comment. By then I had moved several times, and been through several family changes and job changes. It was just the kids and me, by this point. My daughter had been wanting a dog for a very long time. I had always been able to put her off by explaining all the reasons it couldn’t work. And now, all of a sudden, enough of those reasons had been taken away that I couldn’t justifiably put it off any longer.

Like it or not, apparently we were getting a dog. It was either that, or risk becoming a candidate for the “Most Selfish Parent” award. I strung out the process for as long as I could, discarding prospects right and left with the speed of a bored online dater, cruising the latest app. “Not a good fit for us.” “Too big for our small house.” “Not safe with our cat.” “Not good with kids.” “Too far away.” “Not house trained.”

Finally this past fall, with the prospect of yet another quiet holiday season as a single parent approaching, I went temporarily insane. That is the only excuse I can offer.

We made a whole road trip of it. The animal shelter in question was nearly two hours away from us, but we had the day off from school and work, so we piled into the car — my thirteen-year-old son under duress, and with promises of hefty bribery forthcoming — and went to go meet “Sparky.”

I guess the fact that the shelter was overcrowded and located in a rural area helped us. I’d heard horror stories from other suburban pet owners about intrusive home visits, drawn-out paperwork, background checks, blood samples, and an affidavit from the Pope being required before they had even been permitted to look at a dog. But somehow, against all odds, we left our house that morning … and returned that same evening with a dog.

All the way home, the drama of that word “rescue” continued to make me chuckle inwardly. This whole process had been surprisingly simple and easy. They had even given us a leash and harness, a bag of dog food, and a box to carry him home in. Not to mention the great deal we had gotten on our discount doggie: he was only $100! It had finally happened: we were dog owners. Adopters. “Rescuers.” My daughter was ecstatic.

I’m not sure what I expected. It was vanity, I guess, that made me suppose that surely OUR dog would be able to immediately see our good intentions and realize he was safe. I have a soothing presence and have always been able to make fast friends with dogs.

After all, years ago, when that big neighborhood dog had tried to chase my friend and me away as we were walking to middle school, who was the one who channeled her inner Dog Whisperer and was even permitted to pet him? Me. Who was the one who always ended up in a corner, playing with the dog, at parties? Me, again. I have always been good with animals. This would be a piece of cake.

And, all things considered, it could have been much worse. Sparky — now re-christened Dandelion — didn’t bite, growl, destroy furniture, or even bark. In fact, he didn’t do ANY of the stereotypical dog things. The days went by, and he remained curled up in a trembling yellow ball, hiding in the farthest corner of his cage. I tried to justify his behavior to my crestfallen daughter. We tried to lighten things up, calling him Eggdog, and Proto-Dog, because surely he would come out of his shell soon, once he realized that he was safe and loved, and he would become a normal dog.


Danny was quiet — too quiet — on the way home from the shelter. (Credit: Melanie Haynes)

Curious, I did some digging into “Sparky”’s past. It wasn’t anything too terrible. Nobody had pulled him out of a raging inferno, after all. He had simply been found, along with about 90 other dogs, in a place in Texas, then passed from shelter to shelter until he got to Missouri. I couldn’t make out that he had ever had much one-on-one contact with humans during his two years of life. It was like trying to make a pet out of a wild rabbit.

So we waited. And waited some more. I read as many articles as I could find about “shelter dog syndrome.” I learned about the 3-3-3 Rule (three days for the dog to decompress, three weeks to start to feel comfortable, and three months to feel at home). Finally, I decided that Dandelion wasn’t going to just suddenly realize that he was safe as long as we allowed him to stay curled up in a solitary, shaking ball, so I hoisted him out of his comfort zone and gently forced him to interact with us for short periods.

It took a long time, but Danny is finally coming around. (Credit: Melanie Haynes)

He was nervous. He was uncomfortable. He was, to my dismay, a fear-pooper. It felt like it was taking forever. After weeks of being patient, I wanted to tell him, “You are missing out on a wonderful life, STOP IT! You are in a position to be coddled and spoiled. You’ve got walks, snuggles, and treats waiting for you. I hand-crocheted you your own sweater, for crying out loud. You are a lucky dog. But you can’t enjoy any of it, because of fear. Let us love you!!!”

But outwardly, I was still patient. I kept reassuring the kids as I cleaned up the messes — so many messes! — on our carpet. “It hasn’t been that long yet. We need to give him more time before we can expect him to trust us.” I had to keep my bedroom door shut, because he kept darting under my bed, where he would remain indefinitely. I am still convinced that he would have happily lived out his life under there, leaving me to remove his starved skeleton at some future date.

I couldn’t help but see some parallels in his behavior and ours. So many times, we like to stay safe in our dark hole, where we can hide from the things in life that frighten us: conflict, loss, disapproval, and discomfort.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” — 2 Timothy 1:7

What is fear causing us to miss out on? What wonderful things do we have the potential to do for God’s kingdom? Are we spending our time curled up in our comfort zone, instead?

But just like with Sparky/Dandelion, fear can’t be vanquished quickly. It takes time. It takes getting to know and trust our Master. Little by little, we can slowly start to emerge from the walls of our safe space and know that, if we are obediently doing God’s will and trusting Him, “nothing shall by any means hurt us.” As we seek the Lord, we can come to know Him as our beloved Father. We can ask Him for bread, and confidently know that He will not give us a stone. He is our Rescuer.

As I write this, it’s been almost two months since Dandelion started his new life with us. He still has many moments where he forgets that he has been “rescued” and reacts with fear and distrust, but thankfully he has been making progress as he gets to know us better.

I pray that 2024 may be a year in which we seek the face of our Rescuer and walk more closely with Him. As a result, may our lives be characterized by uncommon courage and trust.

Melanie Haynes is a contributor to Open for Business. She is a music teacher and photographer; she also serves as Worship Director of Little Hills Church and FaithTree Christian Fellowship.

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