Heart animals and angels flying too close to the ground

written July 18, 2011

If you had not fallen
Then I would not have found you,
Angel flying too close to the ground,
And I patched up your broken wing
And hung around a while;
Tried to keep your spirits up
And your fever down.
I knew someday that you would fly away
For love’s the greatest healer to be found.
So leave me if you need to—
I will still remember
Angel flying too close to the ground.

Fly on, fly on past the speed of sound.
I’d rather see you up
Than see you down.
So leave me if you need to—
I will still remember
Angel flying too close to the ground.

(Willie Nelson, Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack, 1980)

Here’s a couple of things I’ve observed during my brief time advocating for homeless dogs in my community and since joining the advocates’ community on Facebook.

A lot of us animal lovers who devote (pretty much every free moment of) our free time to advocacy, rescue, shelter reform, and other animal-centric pursuits often have experienced ourselves what it’s like to suffer at some point in our lives. We’ve lived through a serious crisis, or trauma, or loss, or have lived with (and may still be living with) depression and its relatives. We love and care about these homeless animals facing death in pounds and shelters because we know how it feels to be cast off, unwanted, unloved—and sometimes unlovable—misunderstood, perhaps used or abused emotionally or physically… and to have the control of our destiny seem completely out of our hands. We understand the loneliness and the estrangement of the outsider.

Here’s a second thing most of us have in common: we’ve all had in our lifetimes at least one “heart” animal—a dog, cat, bird, horse… the species doesn’t matter—who was there for us, and accepted and loved us unconditionally, at the point in our lives when the humans all around us let us down, judged us, abandoned us, back-stabbed us, dismissed our pain. That heart animal didn’t care if our jeans made us look fat, if our bad hair day turned into a bad hair, face, body, and attitude week, or if we felt too damn sad and hopeless to bother taking a shower for days (they still loved us stinky!), or if we stayed home from work in bed half the day because we couldn’t cope. They wanted to be with us anyway. They accepted us exactly as we were right then, and loved us anyway. Who does that? Only a heart animal.

For these two reasons, we often remark we like animals better than we like people. Animals don’t screw us over; they only break our hearts when they die. So if we’ve known that kind of acceptance (and in some cases had our lives saved by it), we want to give back to others of their species in need. We feel we could devote an entire lifetime to caring for animals and still be unable to repay the debt we incurred with that one heart animal who saw us through the darkness.

Two major reasons we care as much as we do, and two major motivations for giving back: empathy (knowing first-hand how an unwanted being feels) and gratitude (for being the recipient of unconditional acceptance during our toughest times).

Jake Angel  by Galen Hazelhofer

Jake Angel
by Galen Hazelhofer

I’m not suggesting that all “hard-core” animal lovers, rescuers, advocates and the like, are dysfunctional wrecks. I wouldn’t insult you like that, especially without knowing you! A lot of you really have your act together, and make great role models! I’m speaking for myself here; I’ve been a dysfunctional wreck off and on since my teens and am just now getting a handle on life, nearly five decades along. But I’d bet most of you, as you read this essay, can celebrate and remember an animal friend who saw you though your hardest times when two-legged people weren’t there for you. And I’ll bet most of you have experienced at least one bout of alienation from the rest of the world that makes you relate to the plight of unwanted companion creatures. I don’t know that either of these experiences makes us special or superior in any way, but it makes us different.

These two common experiences bring us animal-loving, sometimes maladjusted, broken-but-healing humans together, too, and give us a bond no matter how diverse our backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences. I really, really appreciate that. A small group of people I’ve met via volunteering at my local AC facility, via advocacy, rescue support, and shared threads of humorous, serious, and heartfelt conversation on Facebook over several years have helped remind me that there are some good folks in the world. I’m glad to have met you. I’m glad to know the animals have you. I sure couldn’t do what I’m doing—what I still want to do—for them by myself.

So who’s really the angel flying too close to the ground? You and I. Saved—sometimes once, sometimes daily—from crashing to earth by our heart animals.

The stray, homeless, thrown-away dogs, cats, and other animal friends who are lost without one or many people to care for them… they’re wayward angels too. And if your heart animal was (or is) a rescue or a stray or a shelter dog or cat, the cycle of angels lifting angels has no beginning and no end. We lift them; they lift us so we can lift them again…. and this goes on.

I knew someday that you would fly away, For love’s the greatest healer to be found. So leave me if you need to—I will still remember, angel flying too close to the ground.

They have to leave us eventually; they don’t live as long as we do. If we rescue and rehome, they leave us for a forever home here, before they leave earth. They keep spreading their unconditional love along their way. And we remember, and we keep repaying our debt. There’s a quote I’ve held in my mind for years and years, though I can’t find its source, so maybe it sprang fully formed from my own thoughts (though I doubt it):

Dogs [companion animals] are God’s way of teaching us to love, to let go, and to love again.

Dogs Need Angels by Judy Mackey

Dogs Need Angels
by Judy Mackey

I believe they give more to us than we can ever hope to give back.

It is incredibly sad how little dogs and other companion animals need, and how greatly we humans can fail them. I will do my best for the rest of my life to keep offering shelter dogs and strays good lives and second chances. I can never repay them for the times they’ve saved me and the ways they’ve enriched my life.

This essay and my mission are  in memory of my heart dog, Hoover, a cast-off hunting dog who wandered out of the woods, starving, shot, and unwanted, found me and started me on a journey in 1986. He disappeared during a thunderstorm in Fall 1991, but he’s still with me.

about the illustrations:

Jake Angel by Galen Hazelhofer. Available as a print and in other formats: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/jake-angel-galen-hazelhofer.html

Dogs Need Angels by Judy Mackey. Available as a print and in other formats :http://fineartamerica.com/products/dogs-need-angels-judy-mackey-poster.html

One thought on “Heart animals and angels flying too close to the ground

  1. What a great blog post. I truly believe in heart dogs and that our animals are teaching us things about ourselves that we need to heal. You are right on with this in my opinion. Thanks for writing this and sharing. I’m going to share!
    -Barbara Techel

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