A different kind of pain

     Today one of our staff, Emilee, lost her beloved friend Rex forever. Rex was a mighty silky terrier, possessed of a demanding nature and a heart reserved only for his momma. He tolerated so many foster friends, and even acquiesced to the addition of some new family members along the way because, well, that's the nature of a dog. They do for us whatever we ask, without complaint and without remorse. Rex was Emilee's first dog, that one special one we all have the pleasure of knowing, the one who, for so many, becomes a life-altering influence. Our hearts are heavy for the grief this family will feel in the days to come.

     Rex's passing comes just 2 days shy of a month after my own dog Kajsa also passed away. I knew, eventually, I'd have to write something for her to help my heart heal, to pay tribute to an extraordinary being with whom I was so lucky to share so many years. I'm still not ready to do that writing, but Rex's passing in the wake of Kajsa's does have me thinking a lot about what motivated us to pursue this thing we call BDAR in the first place, and to reflect too on what lies ahead.

     Kajsa was the founding dog for us. You'll recognize her from our logo. Through three iterations of it, Kajsa's likeness has appeared. We called her "the original black dog." In her loyalty, friendship, and utter reliance on me, I found the inspiration and motivation to try and offer other people and pets the chance for a lifetime of companionship and happiness, just like we had. She was just a little mutt, and everything she needed and had in the world depended on me and my family.

    As easily as we pledged ourselves to honor a lifetime's promise, we could have also taken it away at a moment's notice. This is the reality of what so many pets experience every day. And it was the realization that something could be done for those pets, and that so many people in our community were ready and waiting for the opportunity to provide that second chance, that brought BDAR into existence and has carried its torch for almost 10 years now.

    But with Kajsa gone, and now Rex, those soulful little creatures who fueled our flame, it's hard not to focus on tougher realities. Wyoming's economy has taken a downturn, and our still-fledgling nonprofit, which relies so heavily on community partners and private donations, is already feeling the pressure. Our recent fundraising event resulted in a loss for us, and the spontaneous donations from people compelled to pledge just a little bit have dwindled.

     When I go around town here in Cheyenne, or on the occasions I have to visit Laramie and Casper, where we also have volunteers working, people are always incredibly excited about the work we do at BDAR. When the topic of where I work, or how I came to be involved with BDAR inevitably comes up, the conversation turns to one of deep respect, often including reflection on the powerful relationship that person has with his or her pets at home. 

     A friend of mine who serves another local nonprofit organization recently remarked to me about how much "social capital" we have. There is a tremendous social media following to be sure, but there's also this sense of pride at the organic, genuine, grassroots success of BDAR. There are few politics in animal rescue. Because really, who would ever oppose kindness and compassion for dogs and cats? We are fortunate to spearhead a cause for which there is essentially no opposition - and because of that, the love and welcome we feel here is tremendous.

     But in reality, the goodwill is not nearly matched by the contributions. We have a recurring monthly donor program people can join for as little as $10 per month, and yet, the number of people donating to it has decreased since last year. Two years ago, our board established a strategic goal of increasing our donor base and finding new people to help support our cause - but despite all of the voiced support for BDAR, we have failed to bring enough new donors to our table.

     For two years we probed the community for interest in a new facility for BDAR, someplace that could become our permanent home, but the support just wasn't there. We can continue renting our current facility, despite its inadequacies - but for how long? And where will we go when the lease runs out?

     To be clear, BDAR isn't going anywhere anytime soon. We still have enough support from those who do give a little (or a lot) to continue plugging away at our life-saving mission. But, we've reached a plateau, and our ability to continue to add innovative or life-saving programs and services has stalled. We recently had to apply a threshold for our capacity for animals, despite available foster families, because our staff and veterinary partners couldn't keep up with the volume anymore. Never before have we had to turn away animals when we have had empty foster homes. But now we do, because we had to come to the stark realization that our capabilities, though numerous, were maxed out. We were running the risk of compromising the core processes we'd established just to keep up with the number of animals in foster care. 

     They call these problems growing pains. And painful they are. These are tough realities we are facing and difficult decisions we are making for our programs. It's been hard at times to keep our fire stoked when those we hold most dear leave us, and when the vision we had is challenged by the reality of the day.

     For months leading up to Kajsa's death I wondered if my passion for this cause would die with her. She'd come to represent so much for me. But in the weeks that have followed, I've found that even in her loss, there is hope. I have hope that through our work, more people will have the chance to experience the kind of love and grace I stumbled upon in Kajsa. I hope they'll have 16 years at least of faithful friendship, of quiet moments of reflection, of joy and sorrow, and inspiration. As the saying goes, I hope they'll learn to be the people their dogs think they are.

    In a manner of speaking, I hope that BDAR will become the organization this community thinks we are, and that the people who profess their love, support, and encouragement will find it within their means to also make a contribution. Because at the end of the day, despite the love, we can only go as far as our budget will allow.

     Goodbye to Kajsa. Goodbye to Rex. For so many of you out there who have also lost those pets closest to your heart, today we are feeling your pain. But rest assured, though they are gone from this world, their memory is enough to keep our team here going.

     Because we want for you what we had with them. And we want for all those homeless pets the chance for the life they had.