Friday, February 22, 2013

Diamond Collar Award Winner

Every Year the Oregon Humane Society looks for their Diamond Collar Heroes of the Year.  About a month ago I was forwarded the request by multiple different people. Now that I am work in animal rescue and welfare, one would assume that I know some people and animal heroes. The truth is that I know many.  Every day my path crosses animals and humans who inspire me.  I would nominate them all, instead, I chose to nominate the one animal who changed my Asha. 

The award is given to two animals who have acted to save a human or animal life in peril, who have performed services within the community with undying loyalty or who have overcome incredible odds to survive.   

Here were the instructions on the nomination form:
Please describe in as much detail as possible what prompted you to nominate this hero. Questions to answer that may be relevant to your situation include: What did the hero do?; How do you feel regarding this hero's action; How do you know this animal (or where did you get the animal)?; How have the candidate's behavior, temperament and personality changed since the incident?; In the case of an animal's perseverance, what sets this animal apart from others who have suffered abuse or hardship?

 Here is what I wrote: 
 My dog  Asha is a hero because despite being born deaf, blind, epileptic and full of nuerological issues, she faces the world head on, unafraid and always with a smile on her face.  She is the single biggest influence on who I am today.  She has taught me more about myself and our world in last 18 months than I had learned in the previous 37 years of my life.  

My husband and I adopted Asha from OHS in July of 2011.    Asha had 6 brothers and sisters, the entire litter of 7 puppies was born deaf and blind.  When the person who bred her realized this, he drowned the pups.  Asha was spared and ended up at OHS.  She was placed in a foster home and we adopted her when she was 5 months old.   Asha seemed like a normal puppy, she just needed a little extra attention.  Then, two weeks after we she came home to us, she had her first seizure.  After that, she was never the same.  From that point forward, Asha struggled with anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors, spinning, barking, restlessness.  Our house was chaos, our lives unmanageable.  Asha could not sleep through the night and so I slept on the bathroom floor with her so I could be close when she woke in a panic.  Our other animals started exhibiting behavioral issues because of all the mayhem.  We had no idea what we  were going to do.  We searched for help and boy did we find it.

Having Asha in our lives has allowed us to find so many regular people doing extraordinary things.  She has allowed regular people to become heros and to me, that is part of what its all about;  To  inspire others to be heros in their own way.  Asha has certainly done that.

 We currently work with a behavorial vet, a trainer who comes to our home and a Chinese Medicine practitioner who treats Asha with acupuncture, Chinese herbs and food therapy.  These people have worked tirelessly to get Asha to a place of equilibrium.  Without them, I don’t know where we would be.  Because of them, we thrive.  We wouldn’t know these people if it weren’t for Asha.   They share her story and are always asking us to talk to someone who is having issues with their pet or struggling with treatments.  Asha’s story always inspires. 

No matter how bad things have been and how hopeless we have felt, Asha has always been happy.  She loves to meet new people and experience new things.  She is never afraid.  She is excited to get into the car because she can’t wait to see where we are going and who we will meet.  Many people comment how beautiful she is, they are surprised that she is deaf and blind. They will ask “what do you do with a deaf and blind dog?”  Or they will feel sorry for her.  But she is not sorry for herself and she leads a very full life.   She loves having the opportunity to educate people about special need pets and irresponsible breeding.

 One of my favorite experiences with Asha was when she met a deaf woman at the pet store.  The woman could tell Asha was different and asked me about her, if she was deaf. I said yes.  She asked if Asha knew sign language and I said that she was also blind.  The woman  sat down on the floor and cried while she pet Asha.  Asha, leaned into her, closed her eyes and comforted the woman.  It was beautiful and really made me realize what an effect this sweet creature has on others. 

Asha story caused me and my husband to become much more involved in animal welfare.  We started to research double merle Aussies, which is what Asha is.  We learned about breeders and rescues.  

After we had Asha for about six months, we contacted her foster father and asked if he wanted to meet her.  When Asha met Davis, it was obvious that she remembered him.  Watching the two of them together made us want to return the favor and pay it forward in some way.  When we truly realized the impact that this foster home had on our Asha, we decided that we wanted to be foster parents as well.

 In July of 2012, we took in our first foster pets.  We have fostered over 20 dogs and cats since then.

I know all the compassion and hard work that went into caring for Asha before she came to us.  The staff and volunteers at OHS who worked with her, who searched for information about her, who let her sit under their desk (and chew their computer wires), who longed for information about her after she was adopted.  We were at the OHS Top Dog contest last year and a woman in OHS scrubs come up and asked me if Asha was “Pinky”, I said yes and she started to cry.  She said that she worked in the vet clinic at OHS and treated Asha (Pinky) when she came into the shelter.  I was so inspired by all that and in August of 2012, I became a staff member at the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in Washougal.  

 While some of these things may have happened at some point in my life, they have happened now because Asha entered my world.    I know patience and compassion because of her.   I know meaning and purpose.  I know hope and life and love.  Many dark nights, I laid on the bathroom floor with her, wondering how in the world we would ever survive her. I knew we couldn’t give her up, but I didn’t know how we could keep her.  Some days I would cry at the impossibility of the situation.  At those times, Asha would come and lean into me, if only for a moment, as if to say “hang in there, it will get better”. She has taught me a thousand lessons about everything under the sun.   She held a mirror up to me and allowed me to see so many things that I had ignored.   Because of her, I took action on the things that I have always believed.   Those things are now my truths – compassion, selflessness, commitment, love, hope, service.   A true hero doesn’t just save you, they inspire you to save yourself and to save others. 

I am alive, in the true sense of the word, because of Asha.  She didn’t pull me from a burning building or sense that I was having a heart attack, but she gave my life meaning, direction and purpose.  In that sense, she saved me…she saved me from an ordinary life.  And for that, she will forever be my hero. 

I didn't tell anyone that I was nominating Asha.  It really just felt good to write it all down and send it off to someone.  Last week I got the email that she was chosen.  Next week we will attend an awards luncheon at the MAC Club in downtown Portland. Asha will be recognized as well as one other dog - we know him - his name is London and he's pretty amazing too! I am very proud of Asha, a little nervous about how she'll do at a luncheon with several hundreds of people.  I expect it will be her dream come true since she loves meeting new people.  Hopefully she won't jump up on the table and eat anyone's lunch!  I'll be sure to give a full report here...stay tuned..

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Happy 2nd Birthday Asha

Our sweet Asha is two years old today.  Two years ago today, our girl and her six brothers and sisters arrived in this world.  They belonged to a breeder.  They were raised as if they would be sold - dew claws were removed.  Then, around 7 weeks old, he realized they were all deaf and blind.  Double Merles, "lethal whites", the statistical result of breeding two merle Australian Shepherds, irresponsible breeding.  The solution?  Drown them.  Four of Asha's siblings were dead before the breeder's wife intervened. She took the remaining three pups to Oregon Humane Society.  They could only take one and that one was Asha.

From what the people at OHS tell me, they had a heck of a time with Asha. She didn't do well in a kennel, so they would bring her into their offices and let her lay under their desks where she would chew on their wires and take naps.  They searched for information about dogs like Asha and struggled to find anything.  They were able to place her in a foster home and she was doing okay.  I am sure they wondered how in the world they would find a home for her. Well, Trevor and I found her and in July of 2011 she came to live with us.  We kept in touch with some of the people at OHS.  About a year after we adopted Asha, one of them told me that she always expected to get a call from us saying that it was too much and we were bringing her back. 

Its been a long road, as I have documented here in my blog.  Its been way more than we ever imagined and had lead to so many different things for our family.

I have wondered a lot of things over the last 18 months - were we the right home for Asha, would she be happier some other place, are we doing the right things, what else should we do, have we totally screwed this up, will our lives ever be normal (what's that even mean?), the list goes on and on.  But  I have NEVER wondered if Asha would have been better off dead.  Others have wondered that, but not me.  EVER.  Asha is happy to be alive and it shows....every single day.

The fact that Asha lived is a miracle.  For whatever reason, she wasn't drowned - maybe she was the furthest away, maybe she was the cutest, who knows....but she survived.  She was the one who was taken in at OHS, again, who knows why she was the one...but she was.  The staff took care of her and fought for her, advocated for her, worked for her....working at the shelter, I totally get this part.  Then she came to us and we didn't know what the hell to do.  But we found help....lots and lots of help.  We all survived.

Asha is the best she has ever been.  She still doesn't sleep through the night. I come down and sleep on the couch with her around 2 am every night.  For a long time I was angry about that.  But I am not anymore.  Now I feel like its a priveledge to have that time with her.  She wants her mom.  And that is me.  During the day she is pretty calm.  Right now she is laying at my feet while I type.  A year ago, that just didn't happen.  She is growing up, we are learning how best to meet her needs and we have the treatments for her epilpesy, anxiety, restlessness and mania dialed in.  We have a team - "Team Asha" and they have saved our lives.

Asha is part of our family and I can't imagine our lives without her.  Today we celebrate her life and thank the Universe for helping her survive.   Here is what I can tell you about Asha - forget about the running and barking, the OCD, the not sleeping at night.  Here are the things that matter the most:  Asha LOVES to ride in the car, she jumps right in and can't wait to see where we are going.  She loves to lay on the deck and look up at the sun.  She likes to play with the other dogs and they have figured out how to play with her so that she doesn't lose track of them.  Asha gives hugs to people she really likes.  When Trevor and I get home, she knows if there is one of us there or both of us.  If we both come home together, she finds one of us and then goes to the other and hugs them, then back to the first for a hug.
Asha constantly amazed me with the way she navigates the world.  She lifts her paws higher when she is walking around a new place. She uses her nose and face to map out a room. She can go up and down stairs with no problem.    She has a million little routines and doesn't like when those routines are interrupted.

Our nickname for her is Sissy.  We call her Sissy or Sister most of the time. Sissy doesn't mind getting a bath but when she gets out, she is always really mad and will chase me down to bite my feet.   She can hear a monkey noise on TV and Maggie's highest pitched bark.  She likes soft toys and will carry them around.

Asha loves new things, she is unafraid and goes full speed ahead.  We had a garden this year and Asha really liked the feel of the corn stalks. She would walk through it and lay in it.  She liked pulling the cucumbers off the vine and eating them out in the yard.

She snores loud and often dreams.  I always wonder how she dreams - when you can't see or hear, how do you dream?

She is stubborn and smart and has crooked lower teeth.  And the fur behind her ears crimps when its wet.  She has a little nubbin' tail that wags furiously when she is happy.

She exists for all the wrong reasons and she survives for all the right ones. Today, we celebrate her life and hope that she has many more birthdays.  We know that we were meant to be her family.

Happy Birthday Sissy.  We love you.