To be such a small word... it holds so much meaning.

At some point in each of our lives, we've all experienced guilt, in one form or another.

Sometimes... we feel guilty, because we've done something wrong. Maybe we hurt someone, or failed someone, or lost someone.

At those times, we should feel guilty, because we made choices that compromised our integrity... and we hurt others in the process.

It's important for us to acknowledge, accept, and process those feelings of guilt, because that's what makes us human-- humans who actually give a crap. But also, that guilt can be leveraged for good. It can push us forward... challenging us to right the wrongs, and become better people. 

In those cases, guilt provides us with an honest opportunity to apologize, make amends, grow, and heal. Obviously, these are good things.

However... far too often... we feel guilty for things that we shouldn't feel guilty about. And I'm calling myself out on this one... big time.

I'm guilty of... excessive guilt.
Chances are... you are too.

What do I mean?

Well... I feel guilty when I work too much. I feel guilty when I work too little. I feel guilty when I ask for help. I feel guilty when I don't even ask.

I feel guilty when I say, "Yes." I feel guilty when I say, "No." I feel guilty when I take chances. I feel guilty when I avoid risks.

I feel guilty because I did too little. I feel guilty because I did too much. I feel guilty when I put myself first. I feel guilty when I put myself last.

I feel guilty for about 37 million other reasons too, but I think you catch my drift...

Sooo... at this point, you're probably thinking 1 of 2 things: 
1- "OMG! Me too!!!"
2- "This chick is sooo lame..."

To those of you in that second group... you're absolutely right. I'm way lame.

But to the first group... that "me-too-crew", I feel your pain. Trust me... I do. I'm always worried that I've let someone down, even when I haven't. I'm always feeling like I haven't done enough, even when I have. And I always seem to apologize for things... that need no apology.

With that last line about apologies, I can guarantee you that every person who knows me personally... just laughed and thought, "She sooo does that."

Here's a classic example:
My friend, Kirk, is also my most dedicated volunteer. Every single weekend, he comes out to help walk my dogs. While he's here, he smiles, he works his ass off, and he never complains. Oh, and he brings breakfast. Yep.... he's awesomeeeeee.

So, a couple of weekends ago, Kirk headed out the door to walk a dog. About 10 minutes later, it started pouring down rain. I immediately thought, "Mother-son-of-a-french! I just sent Kirk out in this shizz!"

A few minutes later, Kirk walked back, smiling and laughing-- completely freaking drenched. And I said, "Oh my gosh, Kirk! I'm soooo sorry about the rain!!!"

He looked at me, laughed, and said, "Ash... did you seriously just apologize for the rain?? I mean... I knew you had a lot of power and all... but I really doubt that you're actually to blame for this..."

I laughed and said, "Well played, sir. Apology retracted."

So, what's up with the guilt complex? Well, for people like us, it actually stems from compassion. We feel guilty... even when we shouldn't... because we care. In general terms, that's a very good thing...

But what I've realized is this: It's okay --even honorable-- to put others first. Just don't always put yourself last. That's the quickest way to lose your power in this world. That's the quickest way... to stop being... you.

Don't trade your power for guilt. Trade guilt... for your power.


The Best Year of My Life

One year ago today, on January 12, 2011, I published my first blog post: My Story. That day, Lucky Dog Rescue Blog was born.

When I wrote that first post last year, I honestly didn't know if anyone would read it. As I poured my heart into every word, I wondered if anyone would care. And when I clicked "Publish" for that very first time, I thought to myself: "Good luck changing the world with this crap. Never gonna happen."

Well... today, I'm here to say... I was wrong. Because, in my own small way, I did change the world with this blog. And it all started... one year ago today...

It's funny... because I almost didn't start this blog to begin with. Sure, I've always been a writer, and I've always been a rescuer. And over the years, a lot of people have asked me to start a blog. But honestly, I always thought, "Hmm... not so much."

So... I never did.

Then, last December, a friend strongly encouraged me to do it, and she offered to build it for me. I distinctly remember saying, "I really appreciate it... but... well... it's just... I'm not a 'blogger.'"

It's not like I thought a "blogger" was a bad thing; that certainly wasn't the case. I guess I just figured I wasn't one of them.

Sure... the word-itself kinda freaked me out a little bit: blogger. It sounded a little weird, or silly, or ridiculous: blogger. I think it reminded me of the word: booger... and that's just not really something I wanna be associated with.

But my friend insisted that I at least give it a try, and honestly... I didn't have much to lose. If no one reads it, oh well. And if even one person does... maybe it will inspire them in some way. Maybe.

So... I said: "Okay. I'll do it."

In coming up with a name for my blog, the choice was pretty obvious: Lucky Dog Rescue Blog. Then, I sat down to write my first post.

I asked myself: "Who am I? And --more importantly-- why am I that person?" The answers to those questions would soon become my very first blog post: My Story.

Before it was even published, I nearly deleted the whole thing. But instead, I asked a friend to read it first.

This particular friend is not a "rescue friend." She's just a normal-person, non-animal-freak, friend of mine. So, I was a little worried that she wouldn't relate to it... or maybe... she just flat-out wouldn't like it. But I knew she'd be honest with me, so that's why I asked her to read it.

Then, she called me in tears, and said, "Ash, it's perfect."
I asked, "Are you sure? I just don't think anyone will want to read this thing."

She said, "Just wait... your life is about to change."

I remember laughing, and saying: "Yeah right. No one is going to read this crap, and my life will be exactly the same one year from today... as it is right now..."

Famous last words, right?

When I look back on the last year of my life, I'm truly blown-away. Has this blog changed my life? Damn right it has. Has this blog changed a lot of people's lives? Amazingly... it really freaking has.

As I've said many times, I honestly didn't think that anyone at all would read this thing. And even today, as tens of thousands of readers visit my blog each month, I'm still shocked that anyone at all even comes here. 

But... in just one year... more than 350,000 people have visited my dinky-ole blog, with well-over 550,000 page views. It's completely freaking unbelievable.

Even still, I guess I didn't realize the impact of my blog... until people started to contact me. And not just any people... important people. Magazine people. Website people. Pet company people. People who love my work, love my writing, and for some crazy reason, love... me. And insanely enough, they wanted use their work... to feature my work.
Do what now???

In just one year, Lucky Dog Rescue Blog has been featured in 5 national magazines: American Dog, Bella Dog, Life+Dog, Dog Fancy, and Cesar's Way (Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer). I've also been contacted by major websites, pet companies, and big-time news stations about my work. By documentary producers, respected animal activists, and some pretty big-name peeps.

All of those people... are pretty-freaking-important people... who shouldn't even know who-the-hell I am. And yet... they are contacting me??

Blog reader, who is now my dear friend
But more than any of that... it's the connection I've made with each of you that means the most to me. I've received thousands upon thousands of amazing emails, messages, and letters from all of you... with words that have moved me to tears. Words that have healed my heart. Words that have changed my life.

Thousands of words... like these:
"I just wanted you to know how much you've inspired me..."
"I just wanted you to know how much you've encouraged me..."
"I just wanted you to know how you've changed my life..."

"I followed my dreams, because of you..."
"I don't feel alone, because of you..."
"I saved a life, because of you..."
"I adopted, because of you..."
"I volunteer/foster/transport/donate, because of you..."
"I started a rescue... because of you..."

"You told me it was possible, and I believed you..."
"You told me I could do it, and so, I did..."
"You told me not to quit, so I didn't..."

"I thought it couldn't change, but then, you changed it..."
"It seemed like it was hopeless, but you gave hope..."
"I swore it was impossible, you made it possible..."

"I've never had a hero... but now I do. And I wanted you to know: my hero is you."

Wow. Just... wow.

When I started this blog one year ago, my greatest hope was that I'd inspire at least one person to get involved. Just one person. But I never could've imagined... that my words would inspire thousands. Hundreds of thousands.

It's just more than I ever dreamed possible. Much more.

If you don't believe that anything is possible, just look at me. If you don't believe that one person can make a difference, here's your proof. I'm your proof that anything is possible. I'm your proof that one person can do it. I'm your proof that the world can change.

And for me... here's why that matters: Because, in proving that to you... I was able to prove it... to me.

Honestly, it changed my life.

My name is Ashley. I'm just a girl... in Mississippi... with a dream of changing the world. 
And look at what I did... in just one year.

*From the bottom of my heart, thank you for making my dreams come true.


While I Wasn't Writing...

Warren needs a family
So much has happened around here since Christmas. Obviously, you all know about my grandparents' car accident, and the toll it took on me and my family.

But a lot of other things have happened over the last couple of weeks... so I thought I'd share some of that with you.

I've been working at Lucky Dog each day... feeling like a shell of a person. While I was physically-capable of completing the daily tasks here, my body just felt heavy... or numb... or both. My mind felt foggy... or empty... or both. I just wasn't... me.

My grandparents' accident happened on Christmas day, which was one of my busiest work days of the year. On that day, I had so many boarding dogs in my care, as well as all of my rescue dogs, and they each needed me. They needed me to be... me.

Maybe I wasn't "me" that day --or many of the days that followed-- but I refused to let my dogs know it. It just wouldn't have been fair to use my pain as an excuse to deny their needs. I'm here to take care of them... not the other way around.

I won't lie... I was really struggling on a personal level, but the bottom line is this: my clients trust me with their "babies." I trust myself with my own "babies." And I've earned that trust... because I do take my responsibilities to these dogs so seriously. I'm always here for them... no matter what. No matter how heartbroken I may be... no matter how sick I may be... no matter how exhausted I may be... I never abandon them.

Sonny needs a family
So... like I said, the holiday season is Lucky Dog Retreat's busiest time of year. In turn, it's my craziest time of year. It's the time of year when I rarely stop, or think, or eat. That's always the case for me during the holidays, even without the personal family crisis that occurred this particular Christmas.

But, in addition to the ever-present holiday craziness around here, this also happens to be the time of year when everyone decides to call me about a dog in need. And obviously, it's the time of year when I'm least able to help them... with absolutely no space to do so.

Often, the "emergency" is simply a stray dog that wandered up to someone's home. Or a litter of puppies that someone dumped on their doorstep. Or a family pet that suddenly needs to go... today, right now, this second.

When people make these "desperate" calls to me, do they care about the insane amount of stress I'm already dealing with this time of year? No. Do they appreciate everything I'm already doing for dogs in need? Not really. Do they accept any of my offers... to do everything in my power to help... other than physically taking the dog? Nope.

Do they care that it's my "Christmas" too? Negative.

Despite the fact that I have little left to give... I always offer help anyway. I'm told: No. Despite my increasing financial burden... I offer to pay for all of the dog's food, vet care, etc... if they can just foster the dog, or help me find someone who can. I'm told: No. Despite my personal overload, I offer to use my time and energy to find a loving home for the dog, if someone can just foster for me in the meantime. I'm told: No.

Warren wants a forever home!
It's insanely frustrating. Everyone needs my help... but no one is willing to help me help them.

So, after my help is repeatedly rejected, I'll kindly say, "This dog wandered up to your home. Not my home. Your home. And even though this isn't really my problem, I've still offered to help you in every way that I possibly can. Even though I'm extremely overwhelmed at the moment, I've still taken time out of my day for you, and offered to help you find a wonderful home for this dog. Even though I don't have the money, I've still offered to pay for this dog's food and vet care, so you don't have to. And even though I didn't have to offer any of that to you, I still offered, because I want to help this dog. I'm sorry if my offers weren't enough for you, but honestly, this is all I have left to give."

I pause... and wait for them to feed me a load of excuses, give me a hateful guilt trip, or rudely hang up in my face. Or all 3.

But what those callers don't know... is that I'll spend the rest of the day... beating myself up, because I couldn't do more. I'll cry, for the dog I couldn't help, and the people who didn't care. And I won't sleep that night... because I'll feel as though I failed.

Then, I'll get up the next morning. Go to work. Get another call about a different dog. Have another rough day.

Every single day of December, I received calls about this-or-that dog in need. All the while, I had a building-full of dogs already in my care. Each caller thought they were the only caller, with the only dog in need. Each phone call took time away from my dogs getting what they need. Even still, each person received offers of my help. And not one of them accepted.

So... in addition to my stress at work this holiday season, and the constant worry over my grandparents' life-threatening situation, my burden was further increased each day... because there are just too many dogs in need... and too few people willing to help them.

Honestly, one person can only take so much.

Sonny wants a forever home!
I guess I shared all of this... to share the heartbreaking reality for those of us in animal rescue. We're over-capacity. We're under-funded. We're overwhelmed.

And still... with nothing left to give... we offer to give anyway.

We have feelings. We have hearts. We feel pain.

But... few people seem to care.

We have needs. We have families. We have... lives.

Yet, we often deny our own needs, families, and lives, over-and-over again... so others can get what they need, be with their families, and live their lives.

I am an animal rescuer. I am also... a person.

So, when you call me (or someone like me), because you have a need, please remember that I have needs of my own. When you want my help, please understand I may need your help, too. When you are busy, please keep in mind that I'm pretty darn busy myself. When you have a crisis, please realize that I may be dealing with more than one crisis in my own life. And when you feel inconvenienced by some animal at your home, please know that your call is an inconvenience to me.

And yet... I'm there for you... in every way that I can be. I don't owe you anything, but I offer it to you anyway. I put my needs aside... to try and help with your needs. I add to my stress... to try and reduce your stress. And I take time from my life... to try and make your life easier.

All the while, I'm going through my own personal hell... and still... I'm the one comforting... you.

Please, remember these words in your dealings with others. Maybe, every now and then, you should offer help to someone else, instead of simply expecting others to help you. But... at the very least, when help is offered, you should always say "Thank you."

My dogs always do...

*If you'd like to help Lucky Dog Rescue, donate today!


Grandparents Update

My Gran, with my dad (left) & uncle (middle)
As many of you know, my grandparents were in a near-fatal car accident on Christmas day.

My grandfather was left with 9 broken ribs, a broken sternum, and a broken neck... amongst other injuries. My grandmother broke all of her ribs, as well as her sternum and her back. But the biggest concern for my Gran was the lack of function in her lungs and her heart. She was in critical condition... and it was truly life-threatening.

Here in Meridian, I felt terrified, alone, and helpless. With each text and phone call, my heart would stop... as I waited for an update from my family.

My brother, a 3rd-year medical student, was very honest with me about the reality of the situation. I asked him to tell me everything, from a medical standpoint, and from a brother standpoint. After he rambled-off some doctor jargon, he stopped, and said: "This is bad, Ashley. Really bad."

I responded, "I've worked it out for me to leave town. I'll be there tomorrow."

He said, "I just pray she makes it through the night."

My brother & I
I started sobbing... and tossing items into my suitcase. I sobbed even more, as I packed a black dress and black shoes... just in case.

That night, the night before I left town, my Gran's heart stopped beating while my family was in the room. Thankfully, the hospital was able to bring her back. But... that wasn't the last time they'd have to bring my Gran back to life...

The next morning, I headed toward north Alabama. I don't even remember my drive there, but I certainly remember arriving at the hospital. I pulled into the parking garage, took a deep breath... and headed for ICU.

ICU has strict hours for visitors, with only four, 20-minute visiting times per day. When I walked into the ICU waiting room, I was greeted with a big hug from my brother. Across the room, I saw my dad, who smiled when his eyes met mine. It was the first time he'd smiled since Christmas Eve.   

After I hugged Dad and the rest of my family, it was time to see my grandmother.

As I walked into my grandmother's hospital room, tears quickly filled my eyes. In the midst of all the tubes, monitors, and IVs... I saw her. My Gran. I stood next to the bed, picked up her hand, and said, "I'm here now, Gran."

She opened her eyes, looked up at me... and a gentle smile came across her face. Then, she mustered the words: "Who's watching your dogs, Ashley-Cakes?"

I said, "Don't worry, Gran. I made sure they're all taken care of... so I could be here with you."

Gran whispered, "I knew you would, darlin'."

I fought back tears, as I said, "I love you, Gran."

Gran gently squeezed my hand, and said, "I love you too, darlin'."

After my visit, I walked out of the room, wiped my tears, and said a silent prayer: "Please don't let that be our last 'I love you.'"

That night, I was visiting with my grandfather, when he asked me to gather the family together. When I got everyone into the room, he began to talk about the reality of Gran's situation... and the likelihood that she may not pull through this. He wanted us to know that he would try to stay strong... for us.

As he fought back tears... I fought back tears. But it turns out... my Granddad is much better at fighting tears than I am. Mine began streaming down my face. That's when I felt my dad's arm around my shoulders, and I turned to bury my face into his shirt.

We left the hospital and drove to my grandparents house to stay the night. I walked into their home, and looked around at all the smiling, happy, healthy pictures of my family. I just couldn't believe that my super-health-conscious, high-energy grandparents were suddenly so sick.

As I scanned the photos on the walls, I saw the photo of my grandparents on their visit with Mayor Rudy Giuliani. I saw them at the Presidential Inauguration. I saw them with presidents of major universities, famous football coaches, and famous players.

I smiled and thought, "Damn, my grandparents are cool."

Then, I quietly headed toward my favorite place in my grandparents' home: my dad's old bedroom. Dad's childhood room is like a time capsule... filled with... my dad. I guess that's why I love it so much.

On every visit to my grandparents' house, I find myself digging through my dad's old desk drawers. I'm slightly fascinated by the contents... old photos, letters, and report cards. No matter how many times I look through that desk, I find something new and super-freaking-cool each time.

His desk contains tons of photos of my dad throughout his life. In some of his childhood pictures, I could swear I'm looking at a photo of myself. In his college days, I could swear I'm looking at my brother.

My parents
But my favorite photos... are the ones that are ripped in half... with just my dad remaining. The other half of those pictures used to be an ex-girlfriend... before my mom got her hands on it. Back in college, Mom ripped that other chick out of every pic she could find. Those half-Dad pictures make me laugh out loud every single time I see them.

In some of the other drawers, I'll find a stack of sappy, old love letters from my mom to my dad... and I'm always touched by those. I guess it's just cool to "meet" my parents before I was even alive. My favorite line in those letters is: "I can't wait until we get married and have blonde-haired, blue-eyed children one day. One girl, one boy."  That one makes me smile... because my mom was wishing for me... years before I was born.

Next, I'll dig through some old report cards, which also makes me laugh, because they look like every report card my brother and I ever got: "Extremely smart, but unable to focus. Easily distracted. Talks too much."

Later, after I finished the raid on my dad's room, I walked back upstairs... so I could complete my next grandparents'-house-activity: looking through old photo albums. I just love looking through their cool old photos, so that's a must-do on every visit to their home. But also... that night, I welcomed any good distraction.

My dad started laughing, as I proceeded to make my usual mess, by pulling out every old photo album in the house, excited to look through them.

As I flipped through those pictures, I made my usual smart-ass remarks about the clothes: "Dad, seriously... what was up with men back in the day? Why in the world would any respectable man wear Daisy Dukes??"

For the rest of the night, my dad, my brother, and I sat and looked through photo albums together. We smiled. We laughed. We hugged. In the back of each of our minds, we were wondering if these old photos would soon be all we'd have left of my Gran. But even as we thought it... we never let ourselves believe it.

But then... sometime over the next few days, my Gran slowly started to improve. Her heart got a little better. Her lungs got a little stronger. And her spirit finally returned.

When her spirit returned... the fighter inside my grandmother returned. And she fought... to live... for us.

And that's just what she did. She lived.

I'm so thankful to tell y'all that my grandmother is fighting her way through this, and so is my grandfather. As I say those words, I can hear my grandfather's voice, reciting the special phrase I've been told all my life:

"You're an Owen. There's nothing an Owen can't do." ~ Tom Owen

*If you'd like to donate to Lucky Dog Rescue in my grandparents' honor, please click the link: http://luckydogrescueblog.blogspot.com/p/donate.html 


I'm Back

Today, I was working at Lucky Dog... when it happened.

I felt the urge to write again.

So... for the first time in nearly 2 weeks... I sat down, and turned on my computer. Then, I started typing.

Then... I stopped.

What in the mother-crap-face should I write about??

As I sat here, staring blankly at the screen, I realized that I didn't quite know what to say.

So, I'd type a few words... then delete those few words. Then, I'd do it again. I continued this useless process for what felt like an eternity. In reality, it was more like 20 minutes.

In my return to my blog, I guess I wanted to write something worth reading. Something compelling. Or inspiring. Or at the very least... decent.

At the moment, I had none of that.

So... I got up, walked away from the computer, and decided to do something else.

But, for some reason... I kept looking back at my computer... just longing for some sense of normal. I kept thinking: I should write something. Anything.

Even though it's only been a couple of weeks since my last post... to me, it feels like months have passed. I guess the recent chaos in my life helped skew my concept of time... with each day seeming about 2-months-long.

So, today... as I felt the urge to write again, I was suddenly worried that maybe I had nothing left to write... worth sharing.

I stopped and asked myself, "What did I write about before? And why did anyone read it?"

Well... I wrote about animal rescue. I wrote about shelter dogs. I wrote about action, change, and justice. I wrote about wishes, dreams, and reality. I wrote about life, love, and hope.

That's what I wrote about.

In doing so... I wrote with honesty. My words were genuine. I shared tears, and smiles, and laughs. I was candid, heartfelt, and real. I was... me.

And that's why they read it.

With that realization, I thought: Maybe I don't have to write something amazing. Maybe I should just... write. Maybe that's enough.

And so... here I am. I'm back.

I took a break... because I needed a break. Do I still need a break? Well, yeah.

But... while there are plenty of things I could (and should) take a break from... there's one thing I just can't do. 

I can't take a break from being me.

I am a writer, who is also a dog rescuer. I am... Lucky Dog Rescue Blog.

And Lucky Dog Rescue Blog... is back.