Three years ago my husband and I helped rescue two dozen malnourished and abandoned dogs. Many were young enough to recuperate, but one older male, a white husky mix, was destined for euthanasia. “Champion” was filthy, sick with heartworm and kidney infections, and at least 15 pounds underweight. He had lived his life bound to a tree by a six-foot chain. Flies had eaten off the tips of his ears, he had lost a middle toe, and his teeth were worn from chewing on his chain. He looked weary with life.
We first thought that death would be a kindness. But I patted his head, and he licked my hand. We had to try. So Champ spent a month undergoing rigorous treatment. The clinic’s staff praised his gentleness and affection.
At home, he took easily to walking on a leash. He slept in my bedroom on his own bed. When he moaned from bad dreams, he responded to my pats and words of comfort. He loved riding in the car, his bright eyes staring at the sights as if making up for lost time. He became family.
We later fostered a litter of puppies that had to be bottle-fed. Champ sniffed and licked the pups, their eyes still closed. He became a surrogate mother, abiding the pups as they crawled on him and chewed his tail. He didn’t mind.
One day I saw Champ on his back, wiggling like a puppy. He grinned, murmured sounds of satisfaction, rolled over and grabbed a toy. This big snow-white dog was acting like he’d never known a day of mistreatment. He was reveling in life.
Champ taught me that youth lies in endurance, the appreciation of respite from pain, and joy in the love of family. He’ll spend the rest of his life in gratitude—and I will try to do the same.
AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Sue McCrosky is a reader from Sugar Hill, Ga.
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