Companions

Posted by on Oct 8, 2017 | No Comments

Tintype by Margaret Muza

When Paige volunteered in South Korea, she’d pass a dog meat farm everyday. A new crop of dogs had been spray painted each morning with haphazard X’s, marking their kill day.

Even after she returned home, those X’s never left Paige. They blurred behind her eyes in quiet moments. They followed her to her new home with her husband in New York.

To some, New York City is synonymous with expansive freedom. To Paige, New York sometimes felt like a trap. Her medical student husband worked long hours so she was often alone . To ward off loneliness, they adopted a Shiba Inu/ Border Collie mix from a pound and named him Koji.

Koji’s companionship shored up Paige. She often looked at other dogs who needed to be rescued out of extreme cruelty and imagined what it would be like to bring them into their family.

Betty had been rescued from a kill pound in South Korea. She’d been living in a cage for three years, and her whole history was unknown but undoubtedly filled with brutality. From across the world and through a computer screen, Betty looked silly and sad, and Paige loved her instantly. Since their apartment didn’t allow dogs, she tried to forget Betty and hoped she’d be adopted into someone else’s caring home.

But a year later, when Paige checked the dog rescue website again, all the other dogs that had been listed had been adopted, but Betty’s face remained. She still looked a little homely and very sweet. That night, when her exhausted husband was on the brink of sleep, Paige asked him if they could adopt Betty, and he agreed. The next morning, the conversation was so hazy in his mind that he had to ask her if it was real, but she’d already written the email to try to make Betty theirs.

Six weeks later, a frightened Jack Russell Terrier mix flew Air Korea to La Guardia. Paige took a series of busses, and a taxi, and a shuttle to get to her. It took six hours. When she finally arrived at the airport, she signed for a crate, her trembling little dog inside.

Their first weeks were difficult. Betty was fraught with separation anxiety, trauma, and fear. She was territorial over food and aggressive with Koji. There were many days it looked like this had been a mistake, this melding of lives just too complicated.

Paige understood that Betty just needed steady love and leadership, and she promised her husband, who was less certain, that sweetness was buried in Betty.

The day after that conversation, Paige took Betty on a walk in Central Park and took her off leash for the first time. Untethered in every new way, Betty bounded in joy. It would be two more months until Paige’s husband could touch Betty, but that day sparked a confidence in both of them that compassion could command, that fear and abuse were going to have to cower before love and not the other way around.

Some days, they took five hour walks to release frustration. Every day, it took Paige and her husband choosing to put on the role of calm and patient leader. And slowly, Betty felt safe, and Paige felt less alone.

Paige’s grandmother had been named Betty, and it seemed fated that this little dog who would become her constant companion shared the name. Through their years in New York, when Paige couldn’t find steady work or make many friends, when the noise suffocated and the sidewalk was unrelenting, she could curl up with Betty, this little dog whose curly tail sticks straight out when she’s excited, this little dog who now sleeps soundly and sits in her lap for hours. Their companionship lightened the blows the rest of the world dealt.

For Betty and Paige, and any of us, that is no small love.

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