“This is your dog,” my mom said, emphatically shoving a phone in my face that presented a picture of the scraggliest, oddest-looking kangaroo/deer creature I had ever seen. I’m not sure what caused me to pick up the phone — whether it were desperation after having searched for a dog to adopt for months, plain curiosity, or the same witchy premonition I must have inherited from my mother — but I did. I then proceeded to read one of the saddest accounts of animal neglect and abuse I’ve ever heard; this dog had been locked out by his “owners” and left out on the streets without access to food or water. He was terribly malnourished, heartworm positive, and of course not neutered. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of strangers, particularly that of the St. Andrew’s alumni who ended up fostering him, Bonsai’s story would have ended very differently. Instead, I ended up driving a few blocks over to Belhaven Heights one Wednesday afternoon to see about a dog.
I wish I could say that from the moment we saw each other he jumped into my arms and that I knew he was my forever companion, but I met a dog who was clearly coming out of years of traumatic abuse. He was precious with his massive ears and lopsided white blaze on his face, but he was shy. He would wag his tail and let me know that he didn’t dislike my presence, but that first meeting was more of a sneaking-furtive-glances-from-afar type interaction. Despite his seemingly aloof nature and clear fear of unfamiliar people, I saw something in his eyes that reflected a deeper kind of knowing than I see in most dogs, an intelligence and capacity for love that I knew could be nurtured and cultivated in the right circumstances with the right amount of careful attention. Two days later, I went to pick him up and we haven’t spent more than a night apart since.
You see, when I got Bonsai, I was broken. I had been diagnosed with mental illness a half a year prior and in intensive outpatient treatment for many months, and I was just beginning life at Millsaps with shaky confidence and fearful uncertainty about my future. When I adopted him, another broken creature, I learned what it truly meant to have to be strong for someone else. I knew I was responsible for this little life and that I had made a commitment to care for him till the end of his days, and I had to make adjustments to accommodate his needs. If I were to say it was a walk in the park (so to speak), I’d be lying. While he was already incredibly sweet and clearly smarter than most; he had his scars both physically and emotionally that needed tending to. Thank God I had the help of my mother for the first few months of adjustment, who took on the role of canine grandmother and savior for Bonsai with the grace and compassion of which only she is capable, but ultimately it came down to Bonsai and me.
It didn’t take long for us to fall into rhythm with one another, and within a few weeks we were locked in as a duo. I can’t explain how it feels to click into place with another being, to fall into synchronicity with unspoken natural ease, but I knew once it happened that this dog was more than a pet or even a companion. He was my heart. He was an extension of me, filling in the indentation I make in the world. We had embarked on a life journey together, and I thank the Lord every day that he chose me to be the one with the opposable thumbs in his once-in-a-lifetime soul-bound relationship.
Today, the similarities between my dog and me are something of legend around the Jones household. He is scared of the dark and loud noises like I am, and he struggles with his appetite just like I do. He would never dream of eating raw meat, and he isn’t afraid to speak up (I mean literally howl, in his case) when he takes issue with something. He cannot stand any form of physical violence or even rough housing, something I believe to be a result of past physical abuse. If I dare to play slap my boyfriend or do something else remotely violent, he will jump up and bounce his front legs off my upper body, as though chastising me for bad behavior. He knows we don’t hurt others in this house. He is far too intelligent for me, and I swear he knows more English than I do. He is funny and brilliant and the light of my life.
My journey with Bonsai, though not always easy, has changed me fundamentally and irrevocably for the better. He is my protector, my support, and my soulmate. The reason I promote adoption instead of buying a dog from a breeder is because I know that there are so many dogs out there like Bonsai who have not been lucky enough to find their happy endings despite being more deserving of those happy endings than any living organisms on the planet. Bonsai was neglected, abused — he had Animal Control called on him (and probably would have ended up euthanized), left on the street, almost went on a transport to the Northeast United States — all before finding his way into my home and heart. There were so many instances that could have made this story play out in tragedy, and this remarkable, amazing dog who is beloved by everyone he meets, from vet techs to strangers on walks, could have ended up living out the rest of his short life in a cramped cement cage and ultimately dying. The thought of that alone brings tears to my eyes, but it is the reality for so many dogs that owners couldn’t make the commitment to keep or that came from unwanted litters of unneutered/unspayed pets. Adopting just one dog makes a difference. I know it changed my life for good.
The first night I had Bonsai was the first night he encountered stairs. I led him carefully on leash up them, but when it was time to come down again he whined anxiously, looking up at me for help. I told him, “I’ve got you.” He paused for the briefest of moments before locking eyes with me and leaping from the landing with all four legs up, fully trusting that I whatever craziness I was leading him toward wasn’t going to hurt him. He was willing to make that jump for me because, even in that moment after only knowing each other for a matter of hours, he knew he could trust me. Every day I thank him for taking that leap with me.