I broke my dog.
I still can’t believe this happened, but I hit our dog Winter in the driveway with my car. Of course it was an accident, but I cried for days.
After multiple vet visits and surgeries, he’s back home with a wired-shut jaw, a face and head covered with stitches and a feeding tube.
I’ve learned a few important things in the past few days.
One is that while shame is tenacious, it doesn’t always win. Each time I had to explain to a receptionist or a vet tech or family member that I did this to my dog, I thought I would be eviscerated. What I found instead was tremendous sympathy and grace. While the mean voice inside my head whispered to me, “I can’t believe you broke your dog’s face and head. You have got to get your act together. This is so bad,” the voices of friends and family and even strangers were stronger and kinder.
One of my girlfriends texted me to “Talk to yourself the way we’d talk to you.” I’m not quite there yet, but it’s a great goal to have.
Shame had me believing that this was an unforgivable thing that I’d done, but that wasn’t true. Based on the number of people who confided in me that they or their mother hit their family animal, I’m kind of surprised there are any dogs or cats left on the planet. It’s a pretty common experience. People seemed relieved to tell me about their experiences and I was grateful for their honesty.
Shame didn’t multiply as more people found out. In fact, shame lost some of its power. I wouldn’t have expected that, but now that I know that shame gets diluted by sunlight, I won’t forget it.
The other thing I’ve learned is that it is a gift to participate in fixing something you messed up. When we were told we could bring Winter home, my husband and I tackled this challenge with the same single-mindedness with which we cared for our infants. I bought puppy formula that he could easily digest; Bryan figured out how to make slushies that we could inject into the feeding tube that goes straight into his esophagus. We’re crushing meds and monitoring water intake; we’re keeping an eye on stitches and facial swelling; we’re changing bandages and flushing lines. And I’m so relieved to have tasks to do.
Through all of this, my dog hasn’t snapped at me or shown any aggression. He certainly has the right to, but he’s letting me care for him. I didn’t know this before, but it’s a true gift to get to participate in healing. It feels less like penance and more like grace.
I’m starting to realize that letting people try to fix their mistakes might be one of the kindest things you can do for someone who has hurt you. This is true when you’ve hurt a person or an animal that you love; it’s probably also true between spouses and between friends and for all kinds of heartache.
Even if we can’t totally fix what we’ve broken, the trying to make amends is a balm for a heavy heart. It’s what healing looks like.