Life As We Know It: September 23, 2013

       One of the great things about love is that it has no limits. You can love your spouse. You can love your kids. You can love your God. You can love your Mud Hens. Your Rockets. Your Falcons. Some of us even love our cars, our IPads, our cheeseburgers, and of course, our cell phones. But just when you think you can’t love any more than you do, your heart tells you otherwise.

        A few years ago my heart was telling me it was broken. I read the stories in The Blade about a house in Stony Ridge and a case of animal neglect that absolutely staggered me. Responding to information about abuse, the Wood County Humane Society found 85 dogs, more than a dozen cats, and two doves – all in the same house. Out in the barn, another 20 dogs struggled to survive.

        The animals’ condition was unbelievably horrible. Malnourished, living in their own filth, their fur matted and clumped with feces that had solidified, they were brought to the humane society’s shelter in Bowling Green in small groups. Group after group, hour after hour, through the night. Volunteers were summoned to help log the animals in and find space for more than a hundred dogs and cats in a building that normally houses a small fraction of that number. Some were housed briefly at the Wood County Fairgrounds until exhausted workers could sort it all out.

        It was a calamity that humane society officials plainly acknowledge threatened to shut down the facility for good. The challenge of sheltering, cleaning, feeding, and nursing back to health so many animals was overwhelming in those early hours. Some of the dogs weighed less than the excrement that was removed from their coats.

Then the community found out. The next day they showed up at the shelter. With huge bags of dog food. With bowls and blankets. Stores donated food by the truckload.

        Eventually the first rehabilitated animals were ready for their close-ups. The humane society conducted its first adoptathon in Bowling Green.

        My wife and I made the rounds, more out of curiosity than anything else. We should have known better than to expect to leave alone. There in a cage, licking the fingers of anybody who’d stop and say hello was a little guy whose name tag said Duke. Trust me, he was no Duke. No more than 12 inches high, no more than 15 pounds, was a cream-colored mixed breed with the soft, velvety ears of an almost-cocker spaniel and the gentle wiry hair of an almost-terrier. They told us he was roughly a year old, but who knows?

        To picture his face, think Benji. We couldn’t imagine the terrible life he’d endured, but here he was, cleaned up, ready to go, and smiling broadly. If anybody ever tells you dogs don’t really smile, pat them gently on the shoulder and tell them they’re not looking with their heart.

        We hemmed and hawed for roughly six seconds and reached for our checkbook. I can’t remember the last time writing a check felt that good.

        We got him home and it was time to give him his new name. We narrowed a quick list of 10 or so possibilities to three: Casey, Clancy, and Bailey. Then it hit us. We remembered the main character in the immortal holiday film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Given this little dog’s past, and our obligation to provide him a better future, the choice seemed obvious. Bailey. Somehow I think Jimmy Stewart, rest his soul, would not be offended.