I remember it like it was yesterday. It was freezing cold outside, but snow was falling in the peaceful way it does in a snow storm. I was watching Jo watch the flakes fall from heaven from my favorite vantage point snuggled against the crook of her tiny legs. Carols were playing softly in the background, and the house smelled like hot chocolate and cinnamon.
It was Christmas Eve, and though Jo and the man with the leather belt didn’t have much, the man found it in his (usually stone cold) heart to make something special of the holiday. There were presents wrapped under the Christmas tree he helped Jo and I decorate, and as Jo opened them I was overcome with the purest sense of joy as I watched the giddy glee take over her usually very serious face.
It didn’t occur to me in the least that something under the tree was for me. I had never gotten an actual Christmas present. Joy had always been enough. Or so I thought.
If I thought Jo was joyful as she received her gifts, that was nothing compared to how she embodied happiness as she handed me my gift. It was wrapped with pretty paper and a ribbon, which I remember thinking was so silly since I obviously couldn’t unwrap it myself. “To Wiley, from your Jo” she read the tag to me before tearing into the box. Out she pulled one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. A collar she put together using things she had around the house (ribbons, broken head bands and the like) and a shiny tag that read “Wiley.”
If dogs could cry, I would have been bawling. But alas, all I could do was lick her and love her even more than usual, which was no hardship for me by any means. That was the very first collar I had and in many ways it remains my favorite to this day.
It wasn’t all that long after that blessed day that I remember feeling my heart break when the man with the leather belt ripped my precious collar off that day he left me on the side of the road. I loved being Jo’s Wiley. I was her protector, and she was mine. I will never forget her, or that beloved collar she gave me.
But I realized many (many) blessed days later that it’s not about the collar. It’s about belonging. It’s about knowing where I belong. Where home is.
I know there are dogs who nip and scratch and tear at their collars. I’ve never been one of them. My collar says who I am, but more importantly it says what I am. I am somebody’s. I belong. My people have changed the collars themselves up a few times since finding my forever home, but the one I’m wearing now says it all. “Rescued” it reads. Having a home, and having reminder of that to call my own is the best gift I could ever be given.