A True Phoenix

Written By: Jacqueline Christopher Waldman

A few years ago my childhood dog passed away. Yes, I realize this is a solemn way to begin a story and I apologize. However, I have come to think of her death not as the end of my time with her, but the start of a new beginning.

My grief after her death was expected as many pet owners can identify. Pets are not just animals, they are part of your family. I am reminded of our shared times with every sunset walk on Long Beach, Labor Day Parade in Sag Harbor, and stray tennis ball at Mashashimuet Park.

The pain from the “miniature poodle-sized” hole in my heart seemed endless and irreconcilable. My mother suggested we adopt a dog to cope with our loss. Initially, I was reluctant. I did not want a new dog to replace her. However, one December evening my mother called me over to her laptop. Everything changed.

The Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (ARF) website was up. Staring at me from the screen was who would become the newest member of our family. He just didn’t know it (or me) at the time. I had misgivings because I felt guilty at the expectation and excitement of even the remote possibility of adopting him. The next day we went to ARF to meet him. Instantly, he became part of our family. Ten minutes later he fell asleep in my mother’s arms.

The following day we adopted him. I was delighted to have a dog again, but I knew my time with Phoenix was going to be very different than those with my other dog.

Phoenix’s pre-adoption biography is sad and brutal. He spent the first six years of his life in a Missouri puppy mill where dogs were bred, raised, and sold under inhumane conditions.

Once his eyes opened he was removed from his parents. Cramped in a cage with his siblings he spent his first few years physically and emotionally deprived. His bleak, unloved existence was characterized by a lack of activities and as the recipient of physical brutality. To workers he was regarded only as a source of revenue.

Considered one of the healthier puppies, Phoenix was kept at the puppy mill and not adopted out so as to propagate while others were marketed. He lived mostly in the dark, never seeing the sky or walking on grass.

Over the course of his life Phoenix proved himself useful to the mill, but he soon grew old and overworked. The puppy mill tried to rid themselves of him as cheaply as possible: food and water deprivation were ideal strategies.

Fortunately, Phoenix and many other dogs were rescued from the puppy mill by animal rescue organizations. Many like Phoenix were brought back to health by these organizations while other dogs were not as fortunate. He was thus moved between Midwestern shelters until he was finally transferred to ARF. ARF assessed his condition as severely underweight with rotten teeth, most of which were extracted. ARF’s work saved Phoenix from what would have been an inevitable fate.

The work of the East End’s shelters such as ARF, its volunteers, and the public’s gracious donations to help save dogs like Phoenix counteracts the cruelties perpetrated by puppy mills. The East End’s ability to come together as a community to recognize this issue, foster public awareness, and support work to challenge these practices is what makes the East End such an admirable place.

After all, Phoenix’s name symbolizes rebirth and renewal. I am proud to say that he experiences his new life in this magical place that erases the horrors of his past.