An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. ― Martin Buber
Lady’s ribs protruded from her coat and her belly was swollen with milk.
Thirteen frightened rescue Labs who’d just endured a straight 12½-hour drive from Muncie, IN, combined with the anticipation of the adopting families, made for a chaotic scene at the rest stop Union, CT, that crisp autumn day.
“Lady” the handler called out and we came forward to meet our new family member. She looked at us with her sad eyes and immediately dropped to ground, presenting her belly in submission and desire for loving human contact.
Ostensibly, she was about 2-1/2 years old and despite being clearly underweight and having recently delivered a litter, Lady was beautiful. We couldn’t help but look for comparisons with famous beauties — high cheek bones, gorgeous brown eyes. Audrey Hepburn, the original Sabrina. She took to her new name immediately and we raced to the park to feel the joy of freedom and play. Off-leash, she couldn’t get enough of fetching the ball or the stick. Soon, we learned that she was an incredible frisbee player.
Until laying my eyes on Sabrina’s profile, my heart couldn’t entertain loving another dog. And what canine isn’t after the same love? I’d grown up with animals and while we maintained a diverse entourage, the loss twenty years earlier of our beloved German Shepherd was still a bit raw. Dennis, my husband on the other hand, had grown up with allergies and never experienced life with the warmth and companionship of any four-legged, furry creatures. I surprised him announcing the planned adoption on the train returning from a business trip to Washington, D.C. His face actually lit up (a dog!)
In Sabrina’s case, she couldn’t know the variety of family members that awaited to embrace her presence. Within days of the initial hair-raising excitement, the cat sought out occasions to groom her ears. Our pet rat was free to waddle the kitchen floor unbothered, and the pair of bonded bunnies in want of company, stretched out beside her on the living room floor.
Dog, cat, rat, rabbit?
And Dennis and me?
Like kids again.
Sabrina settled into the folds of our lives, well-nourished and exercised in Boston’s epic snowfall in the winter of 2010, taking careful watch over all of us. The fear expressed in her eyes pre-adoption disappeared — the classic love-story.
But in the vein of “who rescued whom?” there’s more to this story.
Thirty years ago, as a passenger in a VW Rabbit that was broadsided in a January blizzard, my abdomen was driven into the steering wheel—blunt force trauma that necessitated re-plumbing and iterative repair to my digestive system. The all but miraculous recovery did leave me with irritable bowel syndrome and permanent damage to the nerves that signal my bladder is full.
Working from home for most of the eight years following Sabrina’s adoption, I suddenly noticed that when I’m busy working away, Sabrina will gently place her head in my lap every couple of hours, prompting me to get up and make a trip to the restroom. And, when I suffer acute intestinal cramping, Crohns-like symptoms, she’ll sit at my side and lean her body against mine. Her calm and steady source of nurturing helps me to relax and mitigates the cramps.
In 2008, the Department of Justice amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include individuals with digestive, bowel and bladder impairments that limit major life activities, calling for employers to make reasonable accommodations and if the individual elects, to allow certified task-oriented service animals (dog or miniature horse) to accompany them on-the-job.
Sabrina demonstrated that she met the requirements and serving in the capacity of a sensory/medical assist was certified by the National Service Animal Registry (NSTAR). She was welcomed enthusiastically in a temp role I held at Sun Life Financial in Wellesley in 2016.
Her competencies and understanding of language constantly astound us. For bystanders in public, the grocery store, pharmacy, gym, dentist, doctor, gazes from cell phones are broken, conversations fall short.
Then, come the smiles. A question. Praises. The feel-good moment.
Sabrina brings people together.
In 2017, being hired for a role at a snooty Cambridge brand-analytics firm, the HR Director responded to a detailed email explaining my condition and Sabrina’s certification with an “enlightened” “you can’t bring your dog to work.”
I walked out of the place.
Most recently, her behavior on-the-job at Dell Technologies is so well-mannered, coworkers never run out of compliments about her.
The other day I read a distressing post from a woman who said every time she looks into a service dog’s eyes, she sees sadness. Even Ingrid Newkirk, CEO and Co-Founder of PETA, has told me, “the life of a typical service dog is a terrible one.”
It’s true. Any canine enslaved to servitude is doomed a dog’s life unlived.
Service animals are working animals, not pets.
The ADA confirms it.
In Sabrina’s case though, everybody won, and life couldn’t be better. She thoroughly enjoys the hikes and playing and gets plenty of it. Sabrina teaches me to exist in the moment—just like she does. We enjoy the sight of the sun shimmering through the trees, the call of the birds, and the fragrance of wildflowers when I tread beside her when we’re on our hikes. But she’s always there, as my devoted helper.
What more could a dog do for a girl?
Sabrina is just like heaven.
To see all of Lisa’s published work, click here.
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Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.