When Kisses first set foot in Shangri-La, she walked right into the arms of Butterflies, to whom she was to become one of the most important beings in the world. But even then, she could never have known that she had hit the jackpot; that she was, in fact, one of the most fortunate dogs on the planet. Lost, alone and no doubt frightened for her very survival, Kisses had been wandering in the bush since someone presumably abandoned her in the Department of Conservation reserve located a mile or so from our home. It’s a popular drop-off point for unwanted animals; those who are dumped like living garbage to fend for themselves in a world in which they don’t belong and with which they have no skills to cope.
Kisses was a troubled girl. Her early years were spent in the company of someone who hurt her very badly. The details of her abuse are unknown to us, but as with any other damaged person, the mystery could be understood one clue at a time. From the pieces of the puzzle she showed to us, we learned that her tormentor was likely a tall man who wore a hat or a hood, and also had an abusive relationship with a human woman.
When anyone came to our door, Kisses would bark like a nut. She had one of those high-pitched barks that could knock you into the middle of next week if she suddenly let loose too close to your ear. It was exasperating to those of us whom she had already known and trusted for years, but at least she stopped when she could see or smell us. For visitors to Shangri-La, who had no way yet of knowing that barking was as far as she would go, it could be out-and-out unnerving.
Our New Zealand center might have seemed an unfortunate situation for a dog who was sure that all unknown humans present the potential of profound danger. Sometimes we had new people arriving multiple times a week, and Kisses had to, against her better judgment, learn to trust that each one was harmless. But for someone who needed desperately to learn that there are, in fact, humans who are good, kind, and caring; humans who are non-violent and gentle in their actions toward others, no matter the species… It was the perfect fit.
In her early days, Kisses would cower in the corner in reaction to the simple stress of a person passing her by. If a man were to accidentally reach over a woman sitting on a couch, or attempt a goodnight hug while Kisses was nearby, he could find himself on the receiving end of a threatening display of frenzied barking and exposed teeth.
It was easy to forget that Kisses had good reason for behaving the way she did. It was easy to get frustrated when you found yourself having to say, for the thousandth time, “Kisses… It’s me!” or when you found yourself again apologizing profusely to someone paying the price for simply forgetting to remove his hat. But Kisses had been taught to fear. She hadn’t just chosen to believe that humans were dangerous. She had been forced to accept it on a very primal level – she had had it beaten into her.
In her later years, Kisses’ eyesight deteriorated, and it was even harder for her to tell who was familiar and who was suspect. But she also mellowed, and her barking episodes became fewer and more short-lived. In her final summer with us, though her ailing body was weakening and her vital systems preparing to shut down altogether, her temperament also became calmer, and she almost began to act as though she wasn’t really dying at all.
But on May 10th of this year, Shangri-La welcomed her home for the last time. A visit to the vet had revealed an aggressive tumor pressing on her organs, and thankfully, she passed quietly and serenely. As she rests peacefully under the sacred ground of Shangri-La, we are honored to be able to offer her a refuge from the world forevermore.
Unable now to offer us her physical protection against all the dangers that lurk just beyond the safety and sanctity of Gentle World’s borders, it is our belief that she is protecting us still, and that Shangri-La will always be a safer place because of the spirit of Kisses.