PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Dogs, Politics And Refugees

My dog disappeared for a few days this week.

Marti is beagle terrier cross, with the energy of a terrier and the intelligence and roaming instincts of a beagle.  She’s a sweet little dog who is terribly anxious, because she was abused before I got her from the Humane Society in Willmar, Minn. (my hometown — where my first dog, growing up, was also a beagle cross).

I was always nervous about her dashing out of the house and getting hit by a car. She is small and quick and if she smells something, she can take off running. As any owner of a beagle will tell you — once they’ve caught a whiff of something, you can call all you want, but they aren’t coming back.

Last Wednesday, I was coming home from work with my arms full and when I came in the house, Marti went out. Normally in the winter when she gets away, she is only gone for a few minutes, and that was true Wednesday.

The only problem was, a few minutes was long enough for her to run in the street in front of a suburban. The poor driver slammed on her brakes and didn’t hit Marti but skidding on the ice, ran over her. Marti took off running and yelping after she came out the side or the back of the car.

There was no blood, but I wasn’t sure if she was hit or bruised or wounded. All I knew was that Marti was nowhere to be seen.

For the next hour or so, the woman who drove the car and my next-door neighbor, her daughter and I searched for Marti. I continued after they left and when there was no sign of her after a couple of more hours, I texted my son, who is best buddies with Marti, to tell him Marti was missing, and then I posted in on Facebook.

That is when an incredible thing happened. People kept sharing it and sharing it and sharing it. The next morning, when I got up, I contacted the pound, the vet, and the city auditor sent an email to everyone on the city list to alert them.  I posted Marti’s picture on the Casselton Rummage Sale site, and the word continued to spread. In the end, her picture was shared nearly 200 times on Facebook.

I stayed home Thursday to alternate looking for Marti and working. But I wasn’t the only one. I was astounded at the support. I heard people yelling Marti’s name all over town. Our alley, where she was last seen, is normally a quiet place, but I can’t count how many people drove down it, looking for her.

I talked to almost every neighbor on the alley, some to whom I had never spoken and most of them had already heard her story and were keeping an eye out for her. Day cares went out calling her name. I went to the post office, and everyone asked about her. And the amount of support I received on Facebook was astounding, along with ideas and advice. It felt like everyone was concerned.

On Friday morning, I was up early again, looking for her, but I had a funeral to lead, so I had to leave home. Someone suggested that I leave out a blanket of hers, allowing her to follow the scent home, so I put out one of Ian’s blankets because she always cuddles in his bed when he is away at college.

Shortly after getting to church, I had a call that Marti had come home — after being gone 48 hours, and the woman who saw her let her into my house. I came home immediately. She was wet and cold and tired but not hurt. My best guess is that my nervous little dog got scared and went into hiding until she calmed down. If only she could talk, I would love to know where she went.

As I was reflecting on this whole experience, I began to think about the unity this little dog brought to a lot of people during a challenging week. I know for a fact that many of the people who searched for her, gave me advice and offered support are not on the same page as me politically. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they cared about me and they cared about Marti.

We live in an incredibly divided world and at times, it is easy, especially in the world of social media, to shut down people with whom you disagree. To write them off. To characterize them.

But, as I have written previously, I know that many of the people with whom I disagree are not bad people. They aren’t hate-filled. Or cruel. Oh, make no mistake about it, there are those people out there. And more are coming out of their own dark corners and wretched shadows. The rise in hate crimes and the fact that some people think it is OK to say racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic things are a reality. We can’t ignore that or normalize that behavior.

But I truly believe that at their core, most people are not cruel nor do they believe it is OK to sexually assault people or lie. Most people want what is best for others and want to be good neighbors. Most people want to be decent human beings.

I believe if we can harness that essential goodness and focus it, we will be better able to hear each other, and learn from each other. To face our fears, rather than segment ourselves, and perhaps, if we do that, we will find that we have more in common than we think.

People went the extra mile for me not necessarily because they liked me but because they have dogs and they know how much a dog is like a family. They made a personal connection and that connection moved them to an act of kindness, as well as concern.

If we find out how much we have in common with others who may seem different than us, we are better able to see the humanity of those around us. Rather than focus on the “otherness” and what separates us, we can find a way to see what links us. And once we have a connection, we are better able to see and celebrate our diversity.

When we see others as humans, not labels, we can be moved to compassion. When we cease to focus on what tears us apart but rather what binds us together, we can learn to feel another’s pain and help bear their burdens because it isn’t “them,” it becomes us.

During a week when I thought I was going to feel alienated from many around me because I am deep blue in a sea of red, I instead found people united because of a little dog.

I write this as I am preparing to leave for Uganda, to go to a refugee camp. My prayer as I leave is that I will be able to find stories to share that will make the connection with the people living in the camps, so that maybe, we can become as united about the plight of the abandoned people in the world as my town became over a lost little dog.

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