I know it was crazy to bring Fig on this trip to Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I saw the looks of concern on my friends’ faces as we piled pet food and supplies in and around the trailer we were loading for my trip. I understood what it meant when Linda offered, “Want me to take Fig to the kennel?” as I was getting ready to pull out with the loaded trailer.
Taking pets on disaster relief assignments is a no-no for a thousand very good reasons: distraction, disease exposure, liability, etc. As a former director with a major (the major) disaster response organization, I helped write many of those rules.
Originally, I had planned to go on this trip with one very good friend, and possibly two. We would share the driving, spend some time on-site volunteering with local relief efforts, and then head home. Unfortunately, life intervened in very personal and very unexpected ways, and they were both forced to deal with critical issues that would keep them home. My life is unusually flexible, I’ve driven across country myself several times — including through Hurricane Rita — and I wanted very much to keep the commitment to the donors who had filled the trailer and the recipients in Houston who were counting on receiving the pet supplies we had secured.
I knew that the solo drive with the trailer would be a challenge — and tedious. I also knew by that point in time that one of the most effective ways I could volunteer on the ground would not be the original plan of helping with shelter operations, but to use the rented trailer to deliver supplies from central storage locations to outlying areas desperate to get pet food, crates, and other pet needs met. So Fig could come with me on the trip to keep me alert and mentally active during the long drive, and he would not be exposed to any risk during the Houston visit itself. Everybody wins.
What I didn’t expect was how impactful his tiny three-pound self would be.
Fig is a tiny senior citizen with very few teeth, a fancy nose, a tongue that dangles to one side, and bright brown eyes. He has been mine for a couple of years now, and I’ve always known what a dear, sweet soul he has. He is relentlessly joyful, game for anything, and wants nothing more than to be included in … whatever … it doesn’t matter what … he just wants to be a part of it. I have no idea what his backstory is, but I will forever be grateful for that call from my friend Karen at the county animal shelter asking me to please please consider taking this very sweet tiny little guy home.
On the trip to Houston, Fig put up with my shenanigans as I made silly videos to keep us both entertained during rest stops and the two overnights on the way. He listened to me sing badly to Adele, and let me talk to him as we listened to hours of Rural Radio’s rodeo broadcasts — which I have to admit are addictive in the extreme. He was the best company I could have asked for. (If only he had thumbs so he could have taken on some of the driving…)
Fig really came into his own when we arrived in Houston.
Our mission was to deliver pet supplies, so the people we came into contact with were animal lovers from the outset, but I’ve seen many many people interact with this little guy over time and this was truly something special. Most of the people we met were under extreme stress, having lived through a major disaster or were then working as part of a massive relief effort. Some had lost their homes, their belongings, their own pets. Some were rescuers who had set up shelters to respond to pets left homeless by the storm and were under extreme stress trying to find ways to support those efforts.
Everyone who saw Fig greeted him the same way — arms out, hands out, “May I please hold him?” He spent the time being passed from person to person, melting into each one as if he or she was a beloved family member. Kisses, snuggles, and love. All day, every day. Comfort, comfort, comfort. Many dogs love that for some time but then need their space. Fig couldn’t get enough of it.
I’m so proud of him.
I caught this image (below) of his little bottom in the kind hands of one of our wonderful supply recipients whose story I will share with you another day. She had been working 24/7 since the storm to care for hundreds of homeless dogs and cats. Fig knew she needed his special magic, and it was his pleasure to give her his love.
Thank you, Figgy. My sweet boy.