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Undoing the Danger

Updated: Mar 16

Looking back, it is clear that at the core of confusing family dynamic and parenting decisions my adoptive parents made was a deep mistrust and fear. My adoptive mother in particular was skeptical of everything about me. My interests? Absurd. My intentions? Bad. My attempts to communicate emotions? Attention seeking. Maybe even lying. My attempts to comply and excel academically and otherwise? Probably just a cover. I was a heartbeat away from some horrible behavior and a deranged life of sin in the eyes of my conservative mother. Unsurprisingly, this attitude left me subtly and deeply traumatized daily. I ended up believing I couldn't do anything right and I would never be good enough for anyone, ever. I came to believe I was full of badness somehow.


The attitude of my adoptive mother slowly seeped into the perspectives of the other children in the home too. I grew up the object of annoyance at best and fear at worst. It left quite a scar.


Enter dog rescuing. I know this is a weird segue but let me explain. Or rather, let me introduce you to Cora. Cora was dumped in our neighborhood with severe injuries, likely from a car collision. I saw someone pull into our neighborhood and kick her out of their truck bed. Horrified, I pulled over to try and catch her but in her fear and pain, she had already slunk off into the jungle. I figured I would probably never see her again. Her physical condition placed her near death.

Two weeks later I noticed a dark sliver wobbling along my back road in the middle of the day....it was her! With my heart I my throat I threw myself downstairs and grabbed a can of chicken.

I squeezed out the door and raced down my driveway with the desperate hope of reaching her before she found the bigger pack of aggressive wild dogs down the street. She didn't hear me approach the gate but when I unbolted the vehicle gate to approach her she jumped and feebly ducked toward some nearby bushes. I could see by now that her physical condition was much much worse. She was a fly-covered skeleton with a gaping open wound on the side of her face. Dust and mucus crusted her body. I couldn't believe she was still alive. I fumbled for the tab on the chicken can hoping to keep her from bolting. By my estimation, if she ran into the jungle she had only a few miserable hours of life left. I found myself suddenly on the verge of tears. "Please don't be afraid of me" I whispered.

She watched me from a distance, her breathing labored. I lowered myself slowly to the ground and without looking at her tossed her a bit of the chicken. She ignored it at first but her obvious hunger finally took over. For the next half hour, we played a game exchanging chicken for proximity until she was within two feet of me. I slid her the can of chicken and she shuffled to it, eying me hopefully. I left my hand outstretched just to see what she would do. At this point, I wouldn't have blamed her for attacking me, considering her recent history of abandonment and the obvious signs of a lifetime of abuse. She reached her bloodied nose to me and I held my breath.

To my surprise, she gave my hand a perfunctory sniff. Satisfied that I didn't smell like danger, she focused her attention on the last of the chicken. I took a photo of her (second image) and debated grabbing for her or not. Our introductions were going better than expected and I didn't want to undo our work. Too much was at stake. I sat still and waited. As she got close to the bottom of her can I realized I could probably lure her into my gated yard. Cautiously I reached for the can. She watched me take it anxiously. I tossed the pieces to her and lured her in through the gate. She eyed me trusting as she crossed between the gate and watched me bolt it close. She was off the streets for sure now. Thank God!


In the weeks that have passed between Cora's rescue and now, I have realized what an unbelievable amount of trust this dog has entrusted me with. She had every instinct to run from me, considering her obvious experience of abuse and neglect. But she didn't. Throughout her slow medical recovery, she has bravely overcome her fears and placed her trust in me and my partner. She cautiously followed us as we led her back into scary exam rooms at the vet, watched us trustingly as we locked the door to her crate for the first time, and even when we persistently cleaned her gaping wound she tried so hard to hold still until we were done so she could shower us with kisses. After a temporary panic, she accepted the restriction of a leash and let us show her how enjoyable walks can be. She has even learned to play again. Having her trust me so much has healed some parts of my childhood trauma in a way I can't explain. I've rescued lots of dogs. I've done a lot of healing work to address my own lack of trust in myself. But the look of patient acceptance - and the joy of Cora's full-body wags - has penetrated a part of me I feared would always lurk inside me. It is as if Cora wanted to teach me: you are not bad. You are not dangerous. I see you are trying to do a bit of good in the world, and I believe in you.

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