For those of you who might not know, Dexter was my dog, and he died three years ago. He was my second dog, the second one I’d lost to a treatable but ultimately incurable cancer. And if Sam is sweet, Dexter was pure sugar. I wrote a lot on this blog about losing Dexter, so maybe you’ve been here long enough to have already known that.
As you might remember, I recently was Christmas shopping and saw the cutest stuffed kitty. Dexter would have loved it so much. It was perfect, floppy and soft, legs filled with beans. He loved stuffed animals. I could buy him any kind, even ones not meant for dogs, and he was so careful with them. He had a monkey, a cat, and a ram that he really liked. His favorite was a miniature Cattle Dog just like him, (he was a Cattle Dog mix, we think). Little D had beans in his legs, and Dexter would chew on them, loved the way they’d flop around when he held Little D in his mouth and shook his head. If he was ever tugging with it and a stitch ripped, he’d stop immediately and lick it. One of Dexter’s favorite games was to stand at the end of our hallway and lure me back into our bedroom, hop on the bed, and start to throw his toy around. After a bit, he’d toss it to me, expecting me to do the same and toss the toy back. We’d take turns like this for about 20 minutes. It was his favorite thing, and he did it almost right up until the end.
So when I saw the stuffed cat the other day, I totally wanted to buy it, even though the dogs we have now can’t have those kinds of toys, (Sam doesn’t really care and Ringo is a murderer). For a brief second, I considered buying it for myself, but even my broken little heart knew how dumb that was. Then I saw a Giving Tuesday link for one of my favorite animal shelters, Richmond Animal League (RAL). Problem solved! If I give them $25 dollars, they don’t just give a dog a new toy, they give him new humans and a new home, and that’s so much better. (I regularly give the same amount monthly to my local shelter too, also in honor of Dexter).
A few days ago, I got an email from Elizabeth, Director of Development at RAL. I was crying before I finished it, and had to put my head down on my desk and cry some more when I was done reading. She said,
You mentioned finding a stuffed cat toy in a note with a donation to Richmond Animal League. Well, we turned the stuffed kitty toy into a real one and named him Dexter. This sweet cat came to RAL last week and was adopted this past weekend. Thank you for your gift to help the dogs, and cats. Losing a pet can be so tough. Thank you for loving Dexter and sharing his story. I don’t know if Dexter would have enjoyed a real cat, but his memory is still alive. Thank you.
RAL is an amazing shelter. The people who work there are everything that is good in the world. A story about one of their dogs, Wiffle Ball, recently went viral. The reason I wanted to share this with you is that it is an example of something I think is really important: converting your hurt to help.
Bad stuff happens, and none of us are immune. No matter how much privilege we have, none of us can escape the reality that we all get sick, maybe get old, and eventually die. Every relationship ends badly, because no matter how much we want to, we don’t get to stay together forever. And how much we love is exactly how much it’s going to hurt when we lose the one we love.
The only thing I know of that makes bearing the hurt easier is to use it as fuel to help someone else. In this case, I could have been selfish and bought the cat for myself, or I could have let the experience sink me into grief, closed up and felt bad, but neither one would have really made me feel any better. What I did instead was to convert that hurt into helping RAL. And Elizabeth was kind enough to let me know just exactly how I helped, and I can’t tell you how happy/sad it makes me to know that there’s a cat out there named Dexter that I helped find his way home.
When we feel hurt, it’s good to figure out how we might help. It supports someone else who is struggling or suffering, and it has the added bonus of making us feel better too.