A Little Child Shall Lead Them

“Guess what I want most in the whole wide world, Grandma!” I looked at Taylor across the table, munching the fries from her Happy Meal. I knew right away – I remembered her talking about it on the phone a few days ago. “That toy puppy, what did you call it, um, that rescued puppy you told me about?” “Yes, yes! Only, do you know why they call it that?”

I’m not sure what this toy actually is. It sounds like one of those stuffed animals that wags its tail and barks and does all sorts of doggie-stuff so the poor kids won’t have to use their imaginations. But thinking it must refer to a puppy rescued from a pound, I answered her without thinking.

“Maybe it’s like when you go to the pound and rescue a dog or cat.” Taylor frowned in confusion. “What do mean, rescue them?” Oh, no. Shit. I’m in a corner now. Well, let’s see. She’s 6 years old now. Her Mom works real hard to be honest with her. I tried to wiggle out, but she kept catching me. Finally, I broke it to her, “Well, it’s when someone goes to the pound and picks out an animal to take home and saves them from being put to sleep.” Maybe she’ll be satisfied with that, I thought.

No, not so easy as that. “But Grandma, how long do they have to sleep for? Is it a really long time and that’s why they need to be rescued?” Sigh. I really wasn’t going to get out of this.

“Forever, Taylor. They sleep forever,” I said gently. Her eyes grew large. “But, Grandma”, she protested, “that’s just like dying! Do they DIE?” Oh, crap. Crap, crap, crap. She was staring at me intently. I slowly shook my head yes. “But Grandma, that is really sad. I think it’s so sad I’m gonna cry!” Which she proceeded to do. Tears streamed down her shocked face, her cheeks flushing with anger at the unfairness of it.

I drew her to me. I smoothed her hair and let her cry. I would try to explain later about overcrowding, about how they would suffer if they had to live their lives in a small cage, how there seemed to be no other answer. But for now, I let her cry. She would have a rebuttal for all my excuses, of course. Bigger pounds with huge fields for the puppies to run in. Large staffs of volunteer helpers to bathe and feed.

As I sat stroking Taylor’s hair, I remembered something I’d read recently about dolphins. About how they do real work, use language, play using a high degree of whimsicality and even seem to reflect on death, exhibiting high concern when one of their members dies. There was a description of a fishing boat carrying a garbage heap of dead dolphins that had been trapped in drift gill netting for tuna. The dolphins were being tossed overboard, while the dolphins who had escaped the nets bobbed beside the boat, watching and making an eerie, wailing sound almost like crying. The article finished by showing evidence that dolphins are beaching themselves out of despair when caught in polluted water.

Dolphins despairing, weeping over what humans are doing to their waters. Suddenly, that image merged with Taylor’s weeping and my own eyes filled with tears. “Oh, sweetie,” I murmured into her hair, “if only grownups had the tender heart of a child for animals, for each other, for the earth.” I wept with her, wishing for a world where humanity cherished creation.

And a little child shall lead them,” I thought to myself.