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What Gatsby Has Taught Me About Joy

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Gatsby was found on the side of a road in Augusta, Georgia on Christmas Eve. Two of my friends were headed to dinner, when they saw his white coat standing out among the dark and cold of the winter night. They pulled over to help him, and found him malnourished, starved for affection, sick and without a collar or tags. He came to them willingly, as if he was asking for help, for someone to show him just little kindness. Into their truck he went, and off to his first Christmas dinner, where he ate for the first time since goodness knows when. Later that night, as my friends laid in bed, he cautiously approached them and nudged at their hands, begging to be loved. For hours, they petted him and he kept begging for more: and they realized this might be the first time he had slept indoors, or had been shown any kind of love at all.

For weeks they searched for his owner: they posted in Facebook groups and drove around to shelters, with no one stepping up to claim him. Rumors surfaced that he had been someone's "yard dog"; an abandoned dog in an abandoned home who escaped on that cold winter night, looking for something better. My friends took him to the vet and he was 68 pounds; he had never been vaccinated and he had heart-worm. They decided to take him in, even though they already had three dogs of their own and they started the long, tedious process of getting him healthy again. 

In March they approached me about adopting him. I had just lost Warner, I had just moved in with Kyle and was balancing change and grief: I wasn't sure I was ready to be a dog mom again. At the urging of my friends, Kyle and I drove two hours to Augusta to meet him. He cautiously approached us, nudged at our hands and begged us to pet him. Within minutes, we knew he was exactly what we needed to make this chapter of our lives complete. And, in May, a heart-worm-free, 82 pound Gatsby came home with us. It's been months of learning and nurturing: Gatsby's history is unknown to us, so we constantly remind ourselves to embrace new beginnings. We aren't sure why he only ate once a day, only at night for the first month he lived with us or why he prefers men over women. We approach new situations with caution; including but not limited to dog parks, crate training, interactions with other dogs and, most importantly, children. 

Three little girls ran up to Gatsby as I walked him on Friday evening, squealing with joy. As they got closer, they marveled at his size, and though he was as big as they were (hell, he's almost as big as me!), they politely asked if they could pet him. My chest tightened: Gatsby has never been around kids, that we know of. Though sweet around adults and most dogs, I've not certain he's ever seen little ones before and I worry about his reaction to less-than-gentle children's hands. 

Cautiously, I knelt down and gave Gatsby an encouraging praise and embrace. I warned them to be gentle and as they approached, but Gatsby leaned in to their little hands and begged to be petted. When one of the girls, too little to know the difference, was hitting more than petting, Gatsby just looked up at me with a trusting look on his face, then nudged at her hands, begging for more. 

One of the girls, the oldest of the three, told me she had a dog walking business and asked if she could take Gatsby sometime. She told me how much she loved dogs, but that she couldn't have one of her own because her mother is allergic. Her mother, smiling down at us, told me this was how they made the best out of a sad situation: they couldn't get her a dog of her own, so they let her walk the neighborhood dogs (with supervision, of course). 

Just like that sweet little girl with her dog walking business, Gatsby has shown me how to make the best out of a bad situation. It's funny, now that I have Gatsby around, I can't imagine life without him. I always find myself in awe of his spirit: no matter what happened in his past, he remains trusting and gentle. He could not be more different than Warner, yet I know in some weird way, Warner sent him to us. He reminds me daily that with just a little love and trust, new beginnings can be oh so sweet. 

And now he gets to help bring joy to a little dog-loving girl's life. It doesn't get much better than that.