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Leslie's Indispensable Rescues

Years ago, having just bought her first house, Leslie Sarna adopted a dog. The American Eskimo came to her from an abusive situation and settled in with the family. Some time after the dog's arrival, Leslie had her child Alan, leading the dog to appoint herself guardian. Parking herself outside the door of the baby's room, the dog allowed only Leslie and her husband over the threshold. The new baby had given the dog a meaningful role in the family, but this was only the beginning.

As Alan got older, he began to walk in his sleep, and the dog took notice. Any time Alan moved out of the bed at night, the dog went to Leslie, alerting her, keeping the child safe. You never know how a dog will change your life and make itself indispensable by finding its niche in your family.

Since those days, Leslie has been taking in retired greyhounds. "They are big but they are very docile and easy to handle," she says. A dog with low energy and a gentle demeanor can be a calming presence. Leslie says she loves the breed so much because "they're laid back and lazy like me."

Having worked with Leslie for many years at an alternative high school in Springfield, lazy is not a word I would use to describe her. As the administrative assistant in the school's main office, Leslie was the hub of information. She heard and saw most of the chaos that occurred in the building, helping to manage difficult situations daily.

To put it mildly, our days were tough. As the saying goes, hurt people, hurt people. Of hurt people, the school where we worked had no shortage. Most days, working at that particular school took more energy than we the staff could muster.

"When you get home after a crappy day at work, your dog looks at you and asks: 'What can I do to make you feel better?' My dog loves to go for walks. Instead of lounging around on the couch, I strap my shoes on and take him out." Getting out and moving around can help us to stop dwelling on the tough stuff in our lives, but inertia can be a tough opponent. Knowing your dog needs a walk can be that boost we need to get out the door; a sled dog pulling us forward through the cold. On one particular day Leslie really needed a boost from her dog. "It was the day I decided to retire." Leslie Sarna realized she had had enough on the day a student with a bloody hand ran through her office. In a fit of rage, the young man had put his fist through the window of the principal's door and was rampaging. The school was locked down until the police arrived, which seemed like forever.

Things had probably never been good at this alternative high school. Most students arrived with mental health issues and limited support networks. A large portion had been abandoned by a parent or other caregiver, so they kept safe from further abandonment by doing things to avoid forming attachments with school staff members. By refusing directions, ignoring rules, and making threats, as well as just learning which buttons to push, students could ward off well-intentioned teachers, counselors and administrators, keeping us at arm's length.

In this particular year it almost seemed as if punching out a window had become a student rite of passage. Every week district maintenance personnel were arriving to replace what had been broken. Fixing the building was the easier part though, as each explosion by a student also left staff souls in a state of disrepair. This school year had seen too many of the building's windows broken already, but this day was an outlier among outliers. Mrs. Sarna could not wait to get home and see her dog.

Leslie values the presence of dogs because they "take our focus away from ourselves; take the selfish part away." We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves from reality, checking out the Kardashian clan on little screens, but sometimes mundane activities are what we miss. Besides, when we feed, walk and are just plain kind to our dogs, they return the favor with dividends; be it by watching over our kids and the house or by letting us pet them, breathe and just be present. The presence of a dog can help us to again inhabit our normal, baseline selves.

When asked why she likes to have dogs around, Leslie does not miss a beat. "Dogs," she says, "make me a better person." We are surrounded by people all day yet it takes a dog to help us feel human.

**Stray would like to thank Greyhound Options, located in Ware, MA for providing retired racing companions to Leslie Sarna and hundreds of other humans!!


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