Each Sunday we receive a list of dogs to photograph from the shelter staff. Far too often there is the notation, "fearful," next to a dog's ID. This notation can mean a dog is merely shy or it can mean a dog is feral and human contact is both alien and unwelcome. Mostly it means that a dog has been abused and has come to dread human contact. Today, I finished my shooting and was helping the other photographers by wrangling dogs for them. I often handle fearful dogs because I trust dogs and can handle large dogs, although I am always cautious when they are in a strange and stressful environment like the shelter.
I went to retrieve the last dog on our list, WD47-A244076, a dog that had this notation. The dog lay immobile while its cage mate, an adopted dog awaiting its humans, jumped about with unbounded excitement. WD47 would not leave the cage voluntarily and would not walk on a leash, meaning I had to carry him the length of the shelter. Once outside, he lay at my feet, unwilling to change position, unwilling to accept any of the treats placed by his nose, unwilling to look around at his surroundings. The dog I saw was a handsome boy, with a cheap camouflaged collar with no tags, but he was undernourished and severely chewed up. He appeared to have been a bait dog, with bite marks all over his head and body. As one of the other volunteers put it, he had given up. He was unwilling to do anything but be, awaiting his fate with a resolute passivity that might have made Gandhi nod in understanding.
When it came time to photograph him, Tricia carried him to our backdrop and we positioned him as best we could to make him look relaxed. He favored us with a direct and unyielding look. After his photos were taken and we started to break down our equipment and clean up, I invited our shooter, a first-time volunteer named Lauren, and her wrangler friend, Allison, along with Ashley, a regular and very competent and caring - if young - wrangler, to spend as much time with WD47 as they wished. They took him back to the yard and sat with him, petting and talking to him, as it rained intermittently. Within a short time I returned to find WD47 sitting up. His ragged eyes were closed and he sat still and trance-like, absorbing the strokes, pats and pets of the three patient ladies. As if their gentle hands stroking him were fertilizer and the rain were a catalyst, I saw this dog bloom like a desert flower. He was soaking up something he had never experienced before, something very elemental, something that caused a profound transformation to occur in this dog right before my eyes. I was in awe at the resilience of this dog and the ability of caring humans to bring a dog back from the brink of nothingness to the world of the living in no time flat. Soon he was eating all manner of treats from any hand that offered.
That is the special bond between people and dogs. That is the power we hold for them. We are their gardeners and they are our willing crop. We can take a beaten husk and transform it into a vibrant and balanced companion in a breathtakingly short time. What is not so obvious, at least to us, is the affect that this transformation has on the gardener. It creates a desire to replicate the experience over and over again. To save a life with a touch and a whisper.
Thanks to Lauren, Allison and Ashley, and of course to Tricia and Joan, without whom no miracle would have happened today. Please see all of Lauren's photos of WD47 here: http://shelterphotos.zenfolio.com/p1055084604 and please give this great dog a home, or contact anyone you know who can. You - or they - will receive a wonderful and attentive friend in return.