Sonia Toni - TTB writer
This is a remarkable story of how a rescue dog rescued me.
A few years ago, I was going through an incredibly challenging time, where it seemed like every door I tried to open not only closed, but closed with a collaboration of yet more and more difficulties. I was left feeling lost, anxious and unsettled with no direction or purpose; eventually coming to the disconcerting conclusion that it would be best if I started afresh, anew. I needed a new focus.
After a long tearful conversation with my Mother, I decided under her nurturing direction (which one never grows out of, trust me), to pop by one of the local animal shelters that I had recently showed curiosity over. Acting on this decision whilst it was still fresh and clear, I used the emotional momentum to power me to take the thirty minute drive from Muizenberg the very next morning.
To be honest, I have never really been a dog person, but more of a cat lover. This is purely down to the fact that dogs have more needs, which I can find somewhat overwhelming. Being rather a free spirit, I tend to gravitate to animals that operate under the same basis. Cats seem to flow in and out of your time independently, allowing you more freedom, with just the odd 'check in' to make sure all is well, which is much more up my street. But I had worked with all sorts of animals in my life, from sheep to pigs, rabbits to parrots, penguins to lions (continent dependent, of course) but I had never found myself interested in an establishment that was dog focused.
The entrance to the shelter is marked with a striped panelled fence that invites you in from the main road. I had followed its direction, entered, and parked. It took me a few moments to compose myself, as the sight and sound of almost two hundred rescued dogs all reacting in excitement really took my breath away. This was bound to be a bitter-sweet experience; bitter with contemplation over the sad reality of the fate of many township dogs; sweet with the knowledge that I can hopefully make a difference.
Up I padded to the front office, mind a-full of all of the clutter and chaos of my personal issues. I nervously introduced myself and asked 'what can I do to help?' .... a loaded question. I was kindly told to take one particular dog out for a walk on premises - an old dog, with a beautiful temperament - a displaced Africanis from the local Township. I obediently entered her enclosure and petted her whilst putting the lead around her neck. There was something profoundly luring in her beautiful gaze; her pupils standing apart from her chestnut iris'. With that connection came a wave of presence - where all of my minds clutter fell away for just one moment. In the next breath, she jumped to her feet and pranced around like a puppy, absorbed by the realisation of the imminent walk.
The grounds of the shelter are large enough to offer diverse exercise and enrichment. I decided to walk her around the field on the lead first, which I discovered, much to my horror, was also the playground for three cows, a species that I am terrified of thanks to some over curious young bulls during a hike when I was at school. I decided to pull myself together as my dog didn't seem to mind, nor did any of the other volunteers! After a quick ten minute walk, overcoming my fears whilst being distracted by the enjoyment and elation of a dog sniffing everything sniff-able, I took her to a large fenced space where the dogs can run, socialise and feel free. I walked to the far left of the field as I had spotted a stone bench and table that was placed under a tree that cast the only shadows in the field on this hot Summer's day. These hot temperatures were somewhat of a challenge, so shadow spoke to me like my cat does at feeding time.
I took her off her lead and gave her the universal signal to 'run free' which entailed my right arm being temptingly thrust forward whilst loudly whispering 'go girl! Run!'..... But instead, she sat down right next to me, wriggling herself tightly into the side of my thigh. She looked up at me and rested her head on my leg. It was as if she knew of my woes and could feel my pain. She had, without even knowing, comforted me - understood me - heard me - unspoken. She didn't run, she sat by my side and stayed with me. I accepted her gesture by slipping off the bench onto the grass, at which point she lay next to me, alongside me and placed her leg over mine.
In that moment, I was drawn out of my darkness and lifted by the hypnotic simplicity of animal therapy. We were strangers, yet, connected with such true sincerity that I could feel gratitude replacing fear. From that day on, I found myself driving almost sixty kilometers a day to come and see my new canine friend and take her for walks, on and off property.
When she hears my voice she is filled with such merriment and glee that my pores ooze with love. The healing power of rescue dogs. Symbiotic. Magic.