STORY AND PHOTO BY JC JOHNSON
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One winter day, I was walking my dog when my neighbor invited me to sled with her and her friends. “Don’t worry, we are all over 30 and from the neighborhood, so take a turn. I’ll hold your dog’s leash while you go.” I was so excited to have a snow day and to finally have some pandemic-era human interaction, along with the chance to live my inner child.
New friends! I thought, as I was added to the neighborhood text group.
“Sometimes we meet up in each other’s yards and connect. It’s how we’ve gotten through this year with COVID. I’ll text you next time we do something,” the friendly neighbor told me.
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What makes some people decide to give money to a cause and a virtual stranger? I’ve never been one to jump on the online funding train, but this time it was different. A lot of people were commenting, sharing, posting, and contributing. I kept refreshing my page to see if she would get enough to pay for the surgery. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one obsessed with the outcome. More money kept coming in, but why? I mean, I’m a pet person, so I understood why it mattered to me, but I was shocked that it mattered to everyone else.
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I saw the fundraising campaign shared in a random place in my Facebook newsfeed: “Mona was hit by a sled, and the vet says she will probably not make it.”
The post was about my neighbor and her dog, Mona! The same neighbor who had invited me to sled just a few days ago. She had held my dog’s leash for me, and now her dog was not expected to live.
I had just been there with them. With my dog. Sledding. My dog is fine. Her dog is dying.
I spent the next three days waiting for the updates about Mona. Will she survive? Will she walk again?
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I think there are three categories: pet people, non-pet people, and people who have pets. The degrees in each category vary in extremes, but pet people need other pet people. Pet people choose their homes and lifestyles because of their pets. These pets have better diets, insurance, and medical care than their “parents” do. Pet people will sacrifice trips, evenings out, and their social lives to support having a pet. Pet people sometimes have families, but their pets are always their family. For some, their only family.
Pet people know that one day they will have to make a hard decision. They dread the unbearable loss that will happen, and they suffer this dread silently. Only other pet people will inherently understand. They each dread the moment they will have to ask themself, “Is this the best thing for their quality of life, or is this about me not wanting to let go?”
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I found the online funding page—I’ve never given money online like this, but this time I will, a small token to try to ease her pain. Again, pet people wrestle with this reality: Some people will commend you for your sacrifice, and some will hate you for wasting money on an animal. Pet people accept the judgment and the stigma. Pet people need other pet people.
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I’ve met a lot of my neighbors briefly in passing, especially anyone who has a dog. We discuss day-to-day things, talk about our dogs, and wish each other a nice evening.
So I know Mona is a therapy dog. What I don’t know is whether she will survive. And if she does survive, she could still be paralyzed. But even paralyzed, she could be an inspiration to all those kids she helps in therapy. Perhaps she will get enough money to pay for the expensive treatment.
It’s been three days, and I’m still fixated on Mona. Why did so many people give money to this one cause? I didn’t think our community had that many pet people.
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I saw my neighbor walking across the street, and I ran over to talk to her. She was relieved and smiling. “Mona comes home tomorrow! … It will be a long road, but it’s been a healing moment for us all. This was about the community,” she said.
“So many people reached out to me, and so many people wanted to hear good news. It seemed like a healing moment for everyone, not just Mona. No matter what, I will use this for something good. I will help the community in whatever way I can.”
Our conversation ended with well-wishes and optimism. I walked away, realizing I wasn’t the only person fixated on this story. Maybe we all needed something to root for, I thought. It’s been a hard pandemic year, and we’ve all felt metaphorically paralyzed this year. I think we all needed to feel like we could make a difference by doing something. Maybe each dollar represents each reason we all needed something good to happen. Maybe Mona gave us hope for the future? Maybe we needed that?
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JC Johnson, Anthrow Circus's creative director, spends most of her time as a photography and arts instructor in Nashville, Tennessee. She is often overwhelmed with wanderlust, photographs internationally, and has a passion for travel and study abroad as both an artist and instructor. Her photographic work makes associations to childhood as well as to the nostalgic and the whimsical. Common themes in her photography include European architecture and history, fashion, travel, toys, and miniatures.