To begin, I need to disclose that I borrowed that title. I took creative license with a line from the poem, People You May Know, written and performed by Kevin Kantor. In it’s original form, the line is, “No one comes running for young boys who call rape”. It’s a powerful piece of art, it impacted me profoundly and you should watch it here. I’ve embedded the video below as well.
I also want to say that I promise this post relates to dogs. It’s going to take me a while to get there, but please be patient. The dogs, like grace, will appear.
There is something about bloggers that you should know. We write many more posts than we actually share. Sometimes, we write something that we fear is too personal and we shelve it. It speaks a truth too bluntly or loudly, or perhaps we are afraid that our readers will be turned off, so we tuck away these posts as if souvenir postcard confessions. We choose not to share them because the brutal honesty we poured into it reveals something of our lives we aren’t prepared to share; yet, we cannot bring ourselves to delete them, for you can’t unwrite the truth. I have dozens of these posts sitting around, collecting dust, awaiting an uncertain future.
But there are times that we choose to bellow from our blog. When this happens, we aren’t writing it or publishing it for you, our readers; we are doing it for ourselves. Although we hope it will resonate with you, the point is disclosure on our terms. Anything beyond that is gravy.
Bloggers create a platform for ourselves and every once in a while we allow ourselves to say exactly how we feel. We say it exactly how we want to say it, and in doing so, we give ourselves permission to be fallible and vulnerable and exposed to the bone in a public space for all to see.
We write it, we own it and we publish it. Consequences be damned.
Today is that day for me.
I am frequently asked, Why deaf dogs?. It’s an understandable question and my stock answer is that I always root for the underdog. Deaf dogs need advocates, they need awareness of their existence and people who share their lives with deaf dogs need both support and comraderie. For those deafies in shelters or private rescues, the odds are stacked especially high. These dogs are frequently big, adult, unruly dogs who have never been trained, often because their owner didn’t know he was deaf. He was written off as a stubborn, ill-mannered dog who refused to learn. And now he’s in the shelter system, often with a clock ticking loud enough that even he can hear it. These dogs deserve our help.
Advocating for deaf dogs is one part of the social contract that goes along with sharing your life with a deaf dog. You do it for all the deaf dogs out there, but you also do it for the one who changed your life forever. I made a promise to Edison very early on: I will work to help his people anyway I can.
But as honest as that answer is, it isn’t the whole truth.
It’s not an accident that I chose to go into animal welfare. There are reasons I prefer the company of dogs over any other species, especially human. It’s not a coincidence that pit bulls and other demonized breeds resonate with me and that I am drawn to injured, neglected or abused dogs. There is an explanation and it’s neither noble nor altruistic.
I recognize myself in them, and by saving them, I hope to save a part of myself that desperately needs a helping hand.
Between the ages of 6-10, I was sexually abused by a family member living in our home. The consequences have haunted me ever since.
Soon after the abuse started, I told my mother. She didn’t pause and she didn’t listen. I’m not sure she even looked up. Instead, she denied it. She matter-of-factly told me that it didn’t happen, that I was wrong, and then she went back to cleaning the bathroom, located at the top of the stairs that led to the basement where I had just been forced to do unspeakable things. That day it happened in a dark corner next to the sump pump. He continued to live in our home for four more years and he molested me the entire time.
One of the consequences of childhood sexual abuse can be deeply rooted, seemingly insurmountable trust issues, which I battle everyday. I find it extremely difficult to open up to people, to assume anything other than they will hurt me. This is an obvious and logical response for survivors that most people can understand.
The opposite and less obvious reaction is that sometimes I trust too much. To non-survivors, this probably makes no sense, but I assure you that it does- as much as anything about raping children makes sense.
If you are violated as a child, you quickly learn ways to cope and keep yourself safe. Pushing people away is a defensive maneuver that provides the illusion of safety. However, in keeping a safe distance, you inadvertently perpetuate those feelings of aloneness and helplessness you felt during your abuse. The rape was the trauma, but the aftermath is what will kill you.
If you don’t connect with someone, something, you have nothing to cling to during dark flashbacks and crippling anxiety. Sometimes, the little boy that still lives inside me is so desperate for protection, for connection, for the possibility of healing, that he reaches out too far, too soon or to the wrong person.
Personally, I use humor to both reach out and to push away. If I make you laugh, you will like me and that feels good to someone who is just now learning to like himself. Yet, I’m still safe because you only know the man I pretend to be, not the boy I really am.
But dogs. They are healing. In dogs, I trust completely. And when I focus my mind on them, I feel better.
Dogs are the most amazing creatures ever put on this earth. No other being will love you like a dog, unconditionally, in your darkest, meanest hours, those ugly days when you can’t make the flashbacks stop and you pace and pace and pace, waiting for it to pass.
Dogs are pure and loyal and true. They depend on us for everything. In this way, dogs represent the child I was before I was molested. Innocent. Trusting. Forgiving.
Dogs are also confident, clear about their boundaries and will fight back if cornered, threatened or hurt. In this way, dogs represent what I wish I could have been for myself when I was powerless to make him stop. Strong. Unwavering. Fighter.
Writing this now, I feel a heaviness in my belly, an ache, and the nausea. Some memories still trigger vomiting for me, and my mind is flooding right now.
But if I concentrate on my dogs, my anxiety subsides, my stomach unknots and I can no longer feel myself gagging like I did so many times so very long ago.
I have close, intimate relationships with each of my dogs. We share secrets, tell stories and lick each others wounds. Each of my dogs has a story, a past that still affects them today.
Darwin was a 6-month old puppy, running scared and alone, uncollared and unleashed, through a CVS when I found him. Like me, he was terrified of getting close yet desperate for love and safety and comfort. He spent a long time sizing me up, watching my every move before he allowed himself to approach me. I understand that caution and careful consideration.
Galileo was a 5-month old puppy who had been abused to the breaking point, literally. He had fractures in his lumbar vertebrae and was unable to walk on his hind legs. He is the sweetest, kindest dog, yet four years later we still see the scars of the abuse. He’s terrified of loud noises, of brooms, of sticks, and if you move towards him too quickly, he will cower to the floor. He dreams a lot, and they don’t seem pleasant. I can relate to that.
Edison and Foster are deaf and, accordingly, invisible to most of the world. Being invisible is a terrible thing. You know you have a body, you know you have a voice but, still, you live in the margins. Unseen. Unheard. Unknown. This one is personal for me.
I have so much in common with my dogs, individually and collectively, and I believe we found each other for very specific reasons. Each one helps me as much as I help him.
Because I allow myself to connect with them, I can more safely connect with myself and my past. My boys allow me to experience love, freely and unabashedly. They tell me their secrets and I listen, and in the very moment that I need them the most, they will wake up, walk over and nuzzle me with their nose.
They love me and protect me in precisely the same ways my abuser and my mother failed me. They are the safety I’ve longed for almost 40 years, and without them, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t be dead.
But that is the magic of a dog. They can turn chicken shit into chicken salad with nothing but a wagging tail and a lick upon your face.
If you are experiencing sexual abuse or if you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, please seek support and help. A good place to start is RAINN.