Soulmate - one who is perfectly suited for another
I am at the end. This is the end for me. I lay on the floor. The muscles in my legs are aching. My body shakes as I slowly stretch out my paw to lick my wounds. I inhale, and a ravaging pain of hunger flows through me like a current. I see an object, the shine of the metal meets my gaze. I close my eyes and exhale. Crippled in fear, my body tightens and I can feel as if the object is coming closer. The pain is unbearable. I see a light. I cannot stand or move, but I feel my body being lifted from the ground, by the gentlest of hands. It is the end. I am free.
Steve Fontenot arrives at Animal Care Services on a cold day in 2012. He’s anxious because he has never received a call from them to visit a dog that has yet to be placed up for adoption. In Steve’s many years of rescuing huskies with his wife Kassia, the stories of neglect and abuse never cease from being tragic. Yet today, there is an uncertainty about his impending meeting that gives today an unknown sense of importance. Though he has yet to fully realize, today will be a day a critical day of importance for the lives of many. Today was the day he would meet Bellin.
“Hi, it’s so great to meet you!”
Anais Biera welcomes us with a bright and cheerful greeting for our tour of The Children’s Shelter on city’s west side. Nestled deep within the community is a beautiful campus with a wealth of care put into the people of whom it houses. Anais begins our tour by explaining what The Children’s Shelter is all about. This is not only a place where children can come to feel safe from difficult situations, this is a place where their mental healing and rehabilitation can begin.
The Children’s Shelter is a private and nationally accredited non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing a safe place for victims of abuse, neglect, and abandonment in Bexar County. Established in 1901, The Children’s Shelter has served thousands upon thousands of the city’s youth by not only providing them with a safe place to live, but also by providing them with a place in which they can begin their healing process with a multitude of mental health programs.
Anais walks us through the lunch room and explains the daily nutrition schedule for the children. As she explains, for so many children first coming to the shelter, the meals provided here are the first real meals they’ve had in a long while. Different sizes of tables and chairs occupy the cafeteria space, highlighting the diversity and age ranges of the different children whom the shelter serves. Children at the shelter range in ages from birth to age 16.
As we walk to the mental health center, we pass by a housing building for older children. Nearly 30 bicycles are lined up around the outside of the building. You can see these bicycles and imagine the fun all the children have riding them around. I imagine the children coming across puddles, either choosing to avoid them, or driving right through them. The Children’s Shelter provides the children with the ability to run right through the literal puddles that occupy their past. - to confront and recognize the challenges of their lives and give them the healing power they need to rebuild.
“This one won’t be in the system, and it’s very important to have this one checked out.” The words had rung through Steve’s head since he heard them from the Animal Control Services Coordinator the previous day. Everything surrounding this day had been odd, yet that only heightened the importance of the events yet to come.
“The nursery area houses children up to age 2,” Anais explains. We see several children in a large play area interacting with the staff and having a great time. They wave at us as we pass by, and one little boy even offers up his football as a gift..
One important and crucial aspect of the children’s shelter is its focus on mental therapy and well-being. The campus contains a new mental health clinic that provides trauma-sensitive therapeutic interventions for children impacted by maltreatment. These interventions include regular sessions with counselors in confidential and calming settings. The shelter also provides family strengthening programs that involve parents and counselors in supervised sessions with the children. The purpose of the program is to teach nurturing parenting skills to families in need.
As Steve reaches out to pet the dog, everyone watches him anxiously. The scars and cuts are impossible to ignore. The dog freezes up at the touch of Steve. He is paralyzed with fear. Steve thinks to himself that this poor being has been taken to a place of abuse where there is no coming back. The fear of getting hit again is too strong to create any kind of bond or meaningful connection. He looks over at the Animal Control Officer and both share a sad glance. Just as Steve begins to turn away, the dog reaches out and licks his hand. Everyone watches in disbelief as tears begin to flow from all eyes looking on.
The Children’s Shelter is much more than a temporary place of residence for children in an immediate crisis. While the shelter is a safe-haven for victims of abuse, neglect, and malnourishment, the goal of The Children’s Shelter is to provide the people it serves with the tools necessary to overcome trauma and begin a long healing process. A unique facility and dedicated staff work tirelessly every day to ensure the success of the many lives looking for a new start and second chance. For the children that come in every day, this is a crucial opportunity to show them that people care about who they are and the potential that they have to live a life full of love and happiness. Countless volunteers and foster families play a huge role in improving the lives of so many, and guiding the lost souls to the light of the future.
The days following the first kiss from the badly abused dog have been full of uncertainty. Steve worries that the owner who put the poor dog through unimaginable pain will still come through and take him back. The thought angers Steve to no end. Steve has seen and felt so much hope for his poor friend. On this day, the final day of reclamation, Steve awaits the phone call that will decide the fate of so many lives for years to come. The phone rings, “Hello, this is Steve…”
“We hear from many people that have come through The Children’s Center,” Anais explains. “It’s truly touching when they share their success stories with us. It really shows that what happens here can be life-changing.” The success stories and generosity of the community shine such a positive light on what would otherwise be a dark and oppressive setting. Through the work of volunteers and a wonderfully dedicated staff, children are given a chance for success every day.
Our trip ends with a visit from Bellin. As soon as they see him, the children run over in excitement. Bellin is a celebrity here and it’s not hard to see why. As he’s being petted, he gives everyone kisses. He’s calm and happy, feeding off the love and energy from the children around him. Watching Bellin with the children is a perfect symbol of the rescue process coming full circle. Bellin and the children came from situations no one would wish upon anyone. While the children are still in the healing process, Bellin has already come full circle and stands as a symbol of hope for them. He is proof that there is love out there that can heal and strengthen a broken soul. He represents their future. Bellin has been there before, and almost as if he feels it’s his duty, he’s here now to play his part in improving their lives, one pet and tail wag at a time.
Come to me my friends! Words cannot fully explain how happy I am to see you. How happy I am to lick your faces! How happy I am to have you hug me! The time before, when things were bad, that was the end for me. It was not the end of my life, no, it was the end of my pain. Sure, things would hurt for a while, but I was surrounded by love … for the first time in my life! I realized how powerful love could be in healing the scars of my past. I know it is hard, and I know your pain more than you know. You and I, we are one in the same. We are soul mates. I was meant to be here, in this moment for you, and you were meant to be here in this moment for me. The love I feel from you, it drives me, and it gives my life a bigger purpose. Thank you. And don’t worry, if things ever get difficult, remember how you feel in this moment … surrounded by the people that love and care for you. I’ve made it to the other side and let me tell you, I can’t wait for you to be there with me. I’ll help guide you on your way. We’ll make it there … together.