I've made a lot of new friends in the wake of the passing of Harley "Freight Train" Taylor on Sunday; Harley was the 2015 Hero Dog, one of my "clients" and one of my personal heroes.
Like many who have followed Harley's story, I am still struggling to process the fact that he no longer walks the Earth. Our sense of community loss simply cannot compare to the loss of Rudi Taylor and Dan Taylor or even those who spent a lot of time with him like Michele Burchfield, Teddy and National Mill Dog Rescue founders Theresa and Richard Strader. I mean no offense at all when I say that I'm still getting choked up knowing that he is no longer here. I don't really have a right to feel that way, but I do.
As I think about how we all came to know Harley, I think we can all agree that the whole sequence of events was extraordinary, if not magical. He was left in a bucket to die. What are the odds that he would be saved? Surely those odds were against him from the start. Mill dogs die each and every day in ways most of us would find criminal. It is a miracle that he was saved at all.
Then when we think about the family who took Harley in and made them their boy, that is also extraordinary. There are a lot of people who love dogs and a lot of people who could have given Harley a charmed life, far removed from his suffering in the mill. Surely the odds were against him crossing paths with the Taylors who we all must admit are extraordinary people. Their incredible work to help educate the public about mills and to help save other mill dogs is just something magical to behold and it is something many of us would not have the strength to endure.
When I think about the success of the Harley to the Rescue campaign, I just have to smile. Who could know that casting Harley and Teddy as little superheros would affect us all so profoundly? Saving mill dogs is dirty, difficult heart-wrenching work, but because of the incredibly positive energy behind the way it was and is handled, we all smiled and cheered every time they set out on a new mission to save more dogs.
Like all of you, I voted every day for Harley to be named the American Humane Association Hero Dog last year and when I heard he had won, my heart swelled with pride not because I had anything to do with it, but because I knew what it meant to his family and to Teddy's family and to the Straders and to every person who has supported or volunteered with National Mill Dog Rescue. I knew that him being named would change the national discussion about mills and reach so many more people so we can end the mills once and for all. When I watched the ceremony on television, I knew he had already won but I still got all choked up watching the process and hearing Theresa's voice when his name was announced. I found myself crying with a smile on my face so wide that it made my face hurt.
I will not compare losses with any of you. That would just be selfish. But I will say that life has taught me that no one gets to stay, human or canine. We all have a finite amount of time to live and love and learn and try to make a difference. When I find myself so incredibly sad for the loss of Harley, I am reminding myself how incredibly fortunate we all are that we even knew about him in the first place.
Harley's life was both extraordinary and magical. I plan to hold that in my heart when I think about him and as I move forward, working to honor his memory with my new projects related to mill dogs and related to National Mill Dog Rescue.
We are all so very blessed. It's time to get busy to continue Harley's legacy and to honor his truly extraordinary life.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson