Two front paws dangle out of a car window, drool floats in the wind, and a wet nose
sticks up in the air as it sniffs for the nearest McDonald’s. She is my inspiration; what I aspire to
be, minus the drool and paws for hands: carefree despite people laughing in my direction, present
and focused on locating that McDonald’s, and unconcerned if a bug flies into my mouth.
I have never connected with another human the way I do with dogs, and I would bet my
Big Mac that I never will. It started with my mother who adopted me from China when I was
one. A stubborn, resilient woman, she set unattainable standards throughout my childhood.
Grades had to consist of A’s, emotions were neglected, and McDonald’s was forbidden until the
house was spotless. She molded me into a people-pleaser and self-critical child, and her
expectations eventually became mine. I came to view myself as someone who didn’t deserve
compassion and forgiveness; as an inadequate person. Her expectations became a dissonant
chorus of voices I never could quiet. But before I could resolve my relationship with my mom or
her many critical voices, she suddenly passed away.
My dog, who was rescued from a puppy mill, suffered unimaginable neglect and abuse
from someone who was supposed to protect and nurture her. Our traumatic pasts connected us.
There is a proverb in Italy: “Mal commune, mezzo gaudio,” meaning “When we suffer together,
it is half a joy.” Together, we endured our distressing lives, finding comfort in each other. After
my mom passed and I moved houses, my dog was the last piece of my childhood I had. But just
five months later, she unexpectedly joined my mom.
My dog – dogs in general – embodied the emotional stability and kinship my childhood
lacked. She kept my self-esteem from dissolving after my mom had sizzled it to the size of a
french fry. As I helped my dog recover from her trauma, she gave me the compassion and
protection I craved. She healed and transformed from a frail, damaged husk to a vocal, spunky sprite, but unlike her, I struggled to accept my imperfections as the chorus of voices continued to
grow louder. Somehow I could help another even though I could not do the same for myself.
Abandoned, vulnerable dogs left to fend for themselves are me: my lonely childhood self. My
dog found refuge when my family adopted her. I’m still seeking my haven though.
I want to become a voice for dogs and animals who cannot speak for themselves; to save
them when someone deserts them. Alleviating them from their past torments offers an
interdependent opportunity to heal their souls and transform their perceptions of being unworthy
of compassion and forgiveness. The people-pleaser and self-critic within me linger, but I no
longer give way to their disapproval as I once did. And my mom’s voice, which I once struggled
to ignore, has become still with this practice: a poor grade does not indicate inadequacy, grief
signifies how fortunate I was to have known and loved, and dripping ketchup on the carpet is a
gift for the dog. And though I am still awaiting that ride to McDonald’s, my passion for rescuing
my childhood self will always remain my priority.
Despite the roadblocks I will inevitably encounter on the path to the Golden Arches, my
belief that I am inadequate as well as the voice forbidding me to order a Big Mac will quiet.
Unwanted attention will be seen as admiration, unexpected detours will lead me to others in need
of rescuing, and any unsavory bugs I swallow along the way will tide me over until I arrive. And
when I do, I will order in peace.