Monday, September 17, 2007

Beautiful Joe

Driving into Meaford we are welcomed by a sign that announced that "Beautiful Joe" hailed from here. After joking with Joe that they knew he was coming, we both wondered who "Beautiful Joe" had been. We saw the sign indicating where to turn to visit the "Beautiful Joe" memorial park but ignored it an continued on our journey to Wiarton where I was to present for a couple days last week, a couple days this.

Once into the hotel room, I hooked up the computer and looked up "Beautiful Joe" and discovered that Joe had been a dog that lived in Meaford in the late 1800's. He had belonged to a deranged and abusive man who over time had mutilated and disfigured the dog. Hacking off ears and tail, treating the dog as property to be abused at will, Joe barely survived. He was rescued by a caring family and once brought back to health he brought love in abundance to his new caretakers.

Beautiful Joe's story was discovered by a relative visiting the family in Meaford and then written into book form, the story was relocated to an American location in order to compete in a Humane Society competion and thereby win publication. The book, won, was published and has sold millions and millions of copies. It is still in print over a century later.

I had never heard of the story but I immediately was moved. Eric, our little dog, was an abused dog who rescued us. I choked with emotion at Joe's rescue and foamed in anger at his past abuse. On our way back this week we went to the memorial park and found a statue there in Beautiful Joe's honour. The artist captured Joe lying down with his head raised looking into the distance. His ears, mutilated, his spirit unwounded.

I didn't expect to be so moved. But then I remembered only weeks ago doing a consultation with a woman with a disability who had lived a life of rape and violence. I remembered a young boy with intellectual disability, eyes burned out with cigarettes. I remembered measuring a bruise and documenting it onto a report.

Joe, like all these, was given to care to others.

Joe, like all these, was vulnerable to the temper of another.

Joe, like all these, felt all that was done.

We, who are in the position of care providing are given such an incredible trust. Lives are placed in our hands. Skin that can be cut. Bones that can be broken. Souls that can be destroyed. It seems sometimes that we become casual with that trust. It's all to easy to forget the strength of our grip, the tone of our voice, the harshness of our demands.

I got out of my wheelchair to make my way, with assistance, to the statue. I ran my hand gently over that dogs head. I touched at his ears. Felt the jagged remains. And was reminded, again, of my responsibility. Reminded again of the depth of human depravity. Of the creativity of cruelty.
I prayed that Joe had forgiven us, we humans, for what we had done to him.

I prayed that we humans would find in Joe a reminder of what it means to survive.


Belinda said...

I loved being made aware of Beautiful Joe.

On my December 4th O6 post on Whateverhesays, I told the true story of "Edith" a woman with a developmental disability, who one Christmas Eve began to preach a sermon on a van ride that transformed the staff's perspective. Here's an excerpt:

"Edith proceeded to preach a sermon about a man and his dog. They lived on a farm and the man had a dog and the dog would bark in the barnyard. The man would yell at the dog but the dog would keep on barking. Then one day someone came to the farm and told the man that if he would be nice to the dog the next time the dog was barking, the dog would stop barking.

So the next time the dog was barking, the man spoke softly to the dog and patted his head, and the dog stopped barking. And that, said Edith, is how Jesus teaches us to be kind to each other.

Annie’s eyes filled with tears. She knew that she would never forget this night. Suddenly she didn’t mind working, in fact she would not have missed these moments and the opportunity to hear Edith’s unexpected sermon for the entire world."

Edith was preaching a sermon on kindness a simple virtue that we can never be reminded of often enough.

Kei said...

Thank you.

lina said...

Too touched for words.
thanks for sharing another amazing story.
And thanks to Belinda as well.

Susan said...

If you check out my blogger profile, you'll find "Beautiful Joe", by Marshall Saunders, listed as one of my favourite books. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou, Dave, for this beautiful tribute to a story I have loved all of my reading life and to a dog I have never forgotten...

Anonymous said...

I am so delighted to know that someone else has read about "Beautiful Joe". I think I read that story when I was about 8 year old and reread it many many times. I think that story was one of the things that led me later in life to teach special education feeling like you, that these innocent people needed to be taught be someone who believed in their value.


Anonymous said...

That was one of my favorite books as a child, and I still have my old copy. I never knew it was a true story.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for visiting Beautiful Joe Park and for telling Joe's Story. I am a director with the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society and we hope that Joe's story will live on through the ages and that all of us will be humane and caring during our lives. I shall tell Gunter Neumann who made the bronze statue of Joe about your visit. Let us know if we can put your story on our website. Bless you!