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A Dog Named Rachel

 

            Before I was born, my parents had a dog named Rachel. She was a stray they’d picked up along the way, a black dog of unspecific origin. She was old by the time I came around, but there’s a story that when I was six months old, my mom called for “Rachel,” and the dog hobbled over to Mom thinking she was the one being asked for, and I crawled.

            I like my name, it’s a good name. There are a lot of biblical names with negative connotations, but mine is pretty clean and positive. So I should be happy.

            Except, my brother wasn’t named after a family pet.

            My father said the names were a coincidence. I was named after a great grandmother named Rachel, and Rachel dog was maybe named after Rabbi Ralph or one of the rabbits my parents kept in the backyard before I was born.

            There’s a Jewish custom, or superstition, against naming a child after a living relative. I’m sure there’s a long tractate somewhere explaining the reasons, but I remember being told that it was wrong to take a name from someone who was still busy using it. As if you’d steal some of their years along with their name. And Rachel dog was still alive when I stole her name. She didn’t live much longer after that, either.

            I feel like my father was sending me a message by giving me the same name as the family dog. He made a point of not talking about it, just leaving the truth in the background, for me to discover on my own and guess at the significance. It was a message he could hide from the outside world, who would only see the loveliness of the biblical Rachel, and never see the humiliation.

Animal Cops

Sometimes I watch the animal cop shows on Animal Planet. I usually can’t watch a whole episode at once. They intervene in cases of abuse and neglect: a dog left in a yard with a chain embedded in her neck, kittens left under a porch without care, a horse starving in a filed, a duck with a knife wound in its backside.

Watching those shows makes me feel guilty for not wanting to be a veterinarian or animal cop or doggy social worker. And then the guilt expands from neglected and abused dogs to neglected and abused children, until I end up curled in a ball on the floor, feeling useless and awful, and still having no idea what to do.

There used to be a show on TV called Dogtown, about a well funded animal rescue facility in Utah, called Best Friends. They had areas for all kinds of animals, but the show focused on the dogs. They had trainers and groomers and veterinarians on staff, plus volunteers and adoption counselors and caretakers and on and on. It seemed like somewhere I’d want to go myself, to be rewired and retrained and adopted out anew. They also had a policy that any dog who couldn’t find a new home would always have a home with them.

Orphanages would come back into style if they were run half as well and with half as much compassion as Dogtown. And it makes me wonder why we can’t do better for children in foster care, or for dogs across the country who are being put down by well meaning people at understaffed shelters.

It was an aspirational show, but nothing I could imagine living up to myself. After each episode I’d think, maybe I could learn how to train dogs, or join a local rescue operation, or at least foster dogs while they’re waiting for their forever home. But then I’d crumple again, and feel guilty for having only the one dog and not even being able to train HER.

I guess my question is, could the people who create these shows take the next step, the one that allows people like me to step out of the guilt and have a manageable task to do that would actually help. Is there a think tank working on this? How can rescue organizations marshal the millions of pet owners and animal lovers to help, instead of overwhelming us with so much guilt that we can’t think straight or even remain upright?