dog-walking - By Alvimann-morguefileWas I ever glad to get home. The day was spent walking dogs outside during a Wisconsin ice and sleet storm. My clothes were soaked and a hot shower sounded good. Gus, the 12-year old boy I was mentoring with, looked just as cold when we had called it a day. He was a petty thief, chronic liar, and also was being raised in a very dysfunctional home (as I had been). We were walking dogs at a pet adoption center. The animals needed tending to, no matter what the weather was like outside. Gus was earning money to pay back the victim for a phone he had stolen.

I don’t think Gus had listened the entire day. We talked about his stealing and about how gangs were calling him into their direction. I liked Gus and did not want him to experience what waited for him from foolish actions. Gus was not a ‘bad’ kid. He was 12-years old and life had taught him to be tough and put a front on that he was cool. He looked up to the gang life like it was a honorable calling. The whole day he kept trying to push the limit with things and even once let a large pit bull loose. The dog started a fight with a smaller dog I was walking. Gus wanted to see how I would responded being in the middle of these two sparing dogs. Would I show weakness and look afraid? He later said it was an accident but I knew it hadn’t been. I got a little frustrated by it but I didn’t show him any reaction at all. I separated the dogs and looked at the puncture wound on my hand. He asked if it had hurt and I simply said that it was part of working with animals. Gus was not going to see any reaction other than taking care of business. He did get the ‘look’ though.

The next day arrived with the same cold weather. I held off on picking Gus up until the roads were safe to travel on. When we arrived at the pet center we talked some about the day ahead. I told him that I wished I could trust him alone while tending to other animals. There was a small donation box at the main desk and I was concerned about him snatching money out of it. He promised he wouldn’t because he was too “big” time for that. He said it made him uncomfortable to always have people not believe him or trust him. This was the opening I was hoping for. A small crack into what Gus was really feeling and thinking.

We spent the next 2 hours walking dogs, in the rain, and dealing with real things. His home life was spent bouncing around from one city to another with his mother and siblings. Gus’s mother was out on parole and dealing with a lot of her own personal issues. She loved all her kids but life just never seem to get any better for her. As an ex-convict jobs were limited yet her desire to change her own life around was strong. Gus shared that she had been laid off from her last job and was looking around for work again. I told Gus that his mother seemed like a good person and that something would come up. I made a conscious effort to try and contact a business deli owner I knew, and inquire if he had any openings. The rest of the day went smoother and Gus felt the pride of a job well done. He even had fun doing it. He trusted me, the environment he was in, and he was a pleasure to be around. I don’t know if anything we talked about stuck but I did know that he did not spend the day smoking cigarettes and stealing cell phones. Most of the time real change does not come overnight. It happens slowly and hours at a time. The hours become days and the days become weeks.

Gus looked forward to quitting time each day. We would finish up whatever we were doing and then stop somewhere to eat before taking him home. The guy could eat! We were struggling in our own home, trying to save every dime, but I had no idea what this child had to eat at home. I wanted him to at least have a good meal inside him before he slept that night. This was not a kind act but simply something that helped me sleep better at night as well. When I got home I called the deli owner and the next thing I knew Gus’s mother called saying that she had been hired. I took no credit and shared it was simply someone I knew.

I don’t know if my time spent with Gus did any good. I know he will think back to these days and remember them. I did not ‘have’ to do what I was doing but I’m sure glad that I did. The ripple effect could go far on this one.

Photo by Alvimann via morguefile

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