I Still Remember the First Time She Looked At Me
I still remember the first time she looked, truly looked, at me. Her quiet brown eyes fixed themselves calmly on the round flat object in my hands. Small and narrow, they showed an almost untraceable spark of excitement. I stood, frozen in our eye contact, watching her sickly thin bones protruding—almost ripping—through the filthy, rough yellow and brown skin forcibly stretched around her body. If she contained any sickness, she retained the pride of her kind and made no effort to prove her illness, nor to ask for sympathy. Holding her head high, she watched for any sign of movement. Suddenly, I snapped my wrist, releasing the light disc in my hand. She charged immediately, and with the grace and accuracy of pure perfection, flew into the air as if she had eagle wings and had flown in such a way her whole life. In a matter of seconds, she enthusiastically trotted back to me on her skinny legs, her emaciated tail wagging furiously, her prize clamped tightly in her mouth and her face fixed in that endless smile.
Jade came to me during winter time when countless other dogs were living comfortably indoors, relaxing on the couch by a soft warming fireplace or snuggling next to their owners’ feet. I was returning another dog to his kennel at the local animal shelter. Jade arrived, brought by the hideous jet-black Animal Control van, as a diseased nervous wreck— constantly pacing and growling, fearful for her life at every moment. Snatched from the squalor of her home, she had starved to a horrific condition— one’s naked eye could see every bone in Jade’s body, even from a distance. Her short and coarse fur was a tangled, matted mess covered in layers of crusted dirt that exemplified her suffering, making her a disgusting example of the consequences of neglect and cruelty. Her whines of confusion and terror grabbed my heart and mercilessly ripped it to insignificant pieces.
Above her loud growling, I talked to her in a soft, understanding tone. When I spoke, she seemed to let herself feel relaxed and safe again, and listened to the trust and love in my voice. With time to heal her wounds, I eventually approached with a leash in my hands without any fear for my safety; she would greet my presence with ecstatic barking and tail wagging while pawing at the gate, begging me to walk or play with her. We walked to a place behind the shelter; a quiet place that left all of the noise and turmoil of abandoned and abused animals behind. As I sat down, she ran into my arms and pressed her body against mine, longing for the love and security that I am sure she enjoyed before her previous owners betrayed her trust. Sitting there with her head lying in my arms and her muscles easing into a restful position, she fell asleep with her eyes on me and a smile on her face.
Meeting Jade created a huge impact on my life. Never being a pet owner, Jade introduced me to the many triumphs and setbacks of dealing with animals. She gave me the amazing amount of unconditional love and loyalty that only man’s best friend can give; a feeling that one can only understand through experience. She taught me resilience, patience, and hope, as she is the survivor of an unspeakable, unnecessary atrocity. Her previous owners treated her like an object because of a foolish societal bias against Pit bull Terriers. They viewed her as a vicious, bloodthirsty creature that could feel no pain and therefore could be subjected to any treatment. Despite this, she learned to trust, even when humans had provided the perfect reason to never trust again.
Because of Jade, I have seen that the will to live is all that one needs to survive, even when hanging on the very edge above a steep fall to death. Because of Jade, I aspire to be the one person that any animal- pets, strays, or the abused- can come to and find a safe, comfortable home where they, despite their appearances or breeding, will be respected as forms of life, and not viewed as objects to be subjected to apathetic, inhumane actions. To this day, I proudly admit that because of Jade, I am a vegetarian for life, despite the negativity that I know my friends, family, and society altogether will try to cast upon me. Because of Jade, I will not be biased against those who hunt or eat meat, but will respect and love all living creatures. Because of Jade, I will never stand for any form of cruelty and inhumane actions, and will always speak up for those in need- both man and animal. Jade taught me all of these life altering lessons, without words or lectures.
Jade and I have come a long way in our friendship. Though she is not perfect, I have confidence that she will improve. She cannot trust other animals yet, she will not tolerate the presence of small children yet, and she will not stand others tampering with her food bowl yet. I am sure, though, that with time, she will learn how trust as she had known before. I will learn how I can help animals in her situation as well, as to be well equipped with the knowledge and understanding that I will need in the future. For now, I look forward to those days when I walk towards the kennels, and- amidst all of the excited barking and screaming of 30, 40, 50 or more dogs- can hear her voice as clear as the sky, and can spot her smile- her endless, delighted, and beautiful smile- in the distance.