.Who’s Rescuing Whom?

Dog is ‘god’ spelled backward

When my daughters used to beg for a dog, I always pacified them by saying that if we ever met a foster dog that truly needed us, we’d foster one. Of course, when I said that I didn’t actually believe we’d meet such a dog. Last spring, my eight-year-old daughter Delilah and I were about to walk right by a Rocket Dog Rescue event when she suckered me in.

“Look at that one,” Delilah said, while tugging me toward the most unusual dog I’d ever seen. His ears were shaped like trumpet vine flowers, his eyes mismatched and his body so thin each rib was fully visible.

“Can we get him, Mom?” Delilah asked me repeatedly. The Rocket Dog volunteer offered to let us take the dog, which was named Trumpet Vine, like his ears, for a walk. My 11-year-old daughter Espi joined in.

Watching my daughters walk this one-of-a-kind dog tugged at my heartstrings. Trumpet Vine had endured homelessness and an accident that had knocked out most of his teeth and resulted in a pin being put in one of his hind legs.

“I think this dog needs us,” Espi and Delilah took turns telling me as we escorted him back to his Rocket Dog Rescue friends.

Although I reluctantly said goodbye to Trumpet Vine that afternoon, I couldn’t get him out of my mind all night. I tracked him down at a pop-up event on College Avenue in Oakland the next afternoon and signed up to foster him. Nine months later, Trumpet Vine is an official part of our family.

Since becoming Trumpet Vine’s humans, we’ve necessarily expanded our makeshift family into a village of caregivers, fans and kindhearted people. A 74-year-old woman in my building requests Trumpet’s companionship multiple times per week while I’m at work.

When she’s not free, P, a man in his 60s who is a husband, a dad of several grown children and the human for a golden retriever,  jumps in. In the evenings, we often chat and swap stories and advice about life, children and dogs to the extent that I consider him a friend.

On one of the walks, P described an amazing groomer named Melanie Jackson. I ignored him at first, thinking I was just fine at the more economical, self-serve wash line at Pet Food Express. But he got my attention when he shared Jackson’s selfless approach to dog care that makes it accessible to everyone. Finally, this week, I decided to investigate. And, wow!

Before leading me back into the grooming area where dogs roam freely, Jackson, the owner of Orinda Pet Grooming and who happens to be deaf, chatted while sizing up the energy of Trumpet. Wearing a shirt emblazoned with the word “love” in sign language and sporting superstar glittery glasses, Jackson watched my lips when I spoke and then vocalized her response.

She may not be able to hear per se, but she listened deeply—engaging all of her senses except her ears, while relying most heavily on her eyes. “Your dog is so super stoked to be here,” Jackson said. “He’s excited and anxious.” 

Studying Trumpet, Jackson said she could tell by his skin that he had anxiety and that he was likely overcut somewhere along the way. She described the way she connects with the dogs, even the anxious ones. Earlier that day, Jackson lay on the floor beside one who was particularly scared. When Trumpet hopped up on her table and cried and howled at the top of his lungs, she talked right back to him the whole time. “It helps them feel more at ease,” she said.

On the wall hung a sign that read, “We have the right to refuse service to anyone except dogs.”

“If you spell the word ‘dog’ backward, you get the word ‘god,’” Jackson said. “I learn the name of every one of them. I tell them ‘Welcome to the family!’ when they arrive, and I love them when they leave.”

She once had a client who dropped off his children’s dog and referred to the animal only as “it.” When she pressed him for the dog’s name, he didn’t know. When he returned still not knowing his children’s dog’s name, she made him wait until he knew the dog’s name.

“His wife thanked me, and now he and his dog have a special bond,” Jackson said.

Jackson reiterated that she wants everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic situation, to bring their dog in for grooming.

“I give people a chance to get their dogs groomed at a price they can afford, and I give free grooms to people who can’t afford the service,” Jackson said. “Dogs are part of the family, and it’s hard to look at dogs that need grooming and not feel sad. Anyone can come in and ask for a comfort groom.”

Dogs that belong to homeless people hold a special place in Jackson’s heart, along with their unhoused humans.

“Those dogs are so loved,” she said. “They are companions. They get attention and give their owners attention and love, and they keep them warm at night. Those are some of my favorite dogs to groom.”

Jackson pointed out a growing pile of blankets in front of her shop and a large box of chips.

“Those are for homeless encampments,” she said. “In this weather, can you even imagine being outside without a blanket? Every three or four days I visit encampments in Martinez or sometimes Oakland and bring dog food, blankets and food from Genuine Goodness [a nearby restaurant].”

While on the topic of unsheltered people and dogs, Jackson inserted a public service announcement about the nearly 4 million unsheltered dogs in the United States.

“Shelters are so incredibly overcrowded right now,” she said. “The dogs are packed in. I can’t bear to see it, but I have friends who bring me back a few dogs that I care for until I find homes for them or until they pass away. If anyone can take one or two or help them from a shelter, please consider doing it.”

That brings me full circle to how it is that all of these beautiful experiences and people have come into my life in the first place—through the love of Oakland-based Rocket Dog Rescue sanctuary. I recommend that anyone called to have a pet considers saving a life by fostering or adopting from a shelter.

When pets need grooming, and they all do, consider visiting Melanie Jackson at Orinda Pet Grooming or Alamo Pet Grooming, even if it seems financially prohibitive. People short on change can tell Jackson what they can spare or request a comfort groom.

And the next time someone makes disparaging remarks about the unhoused owner of a pet or questions their humanity, consider what Jackson says. I myself believe in the magic of the universe, and keep in mind that God(s) can appear in many forms.

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