When I was a little girl I was invited to attend a church camp with a grade school friend. My family was not a regular church-going family and certainly not affiliated with my friend's denomination, but it sounded like it would be a good, wholesome experience for me. Several hours of car travel brought us to a remote, wooded campground. Upon arrival, we were assigned a cabin leader, a cabin number and a bunk bed. The cabin was cold, dark, and dirty and adorned with cobwebs. My cabin leader was a rather stiff woman with a stern side. The first evening we were served a mushy meal, sang some songs that I didn't know, and then listened to speaker who talked to us about the end of the world. I began to get this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach and I wanted to go home. I asked my cabin leader if she would call my parents and she said "no". The week was filled with strange food, strange doctrine, outdoor toilets and showers, and spiders in my bed. I was never so homesick all in my life and that week seemed to last an eternity. When I finally got back home to my parents, my brother, my grandparents, my dog, my room and my bed, I swore I would never leave again! The scars from that experience were worry and fear that I battled throughout the rest of my childhood, convinced that I and my whole "pagan" family would surely wind up burning in hell.
I often see a look on the faces of dogs that we rescue that reminds me of that awful homesick feeling I had. Maybe that is one of the reasons I have such compassion for these homeless ones. All of them had a home once. Most of them had people they loved (good or bad), since dogs love unconditionally, even when neglected or mistreated. They all had a familiar spot to sleep, their own bowl and food they were used to. They probably had other canine friends or siblings they had played with and slept next to their whole lives. Usually, abandonment has come after a long car ride when they are dumped out in a strange place, alone, totally disoriented and surrounded by things totally strange and frightening to them. When we rescue them, they again go for a car ride to a vet clinic (usually a first-time experience for them) only to be poked and handled by strangers. Then another car ride to be deposited at a foster home full of strange people, strange smells, strange sounds and other animals they've never seen (or smelled) before. Their faces tell us they are fighting fear, sadness and a deep longing to go home to the ones they have loved. Even with all the reassurance we can give, it is a terrible time for them. Usually, about the time they get settled and begin to feel at home with their foster family, someone adopts them.....so they experience the loss of the people they've grown to love and must start the whole fearful process all over again. Even when they have come from the worst of circumstances, it is still all they've known, so the rescue is dramatic adjustment for them. Their total vulnerability is heart-wrenchingly evident in those first days. They not only are introduced to new people but also to an already established pack in the foster home. They are entering at the bottom rung of the pecking order which is risky business at best. I wish there were an easier way to that new forever home but this seems the best we can do.
All the foster dogs and puppies we have fostered display one need beyond all others. They immediately attach themselves securely to me or to Rich, keeping one eye on us at all times. Establishing relationship with the other dogs comes only after they feel securely bonded to us. "Dogs might love a place, as people do, but the only place they love beyond all others is the place where you are." Without someone to whom they sense they truly belong, they are never really home. The fact is, that for a dog, home is a person not a place.