For this week’s Spring Break, five Clinton School students have traveled to Houston to participate in rebuilding efforts with SBP for Hurricane Harvey. Throughout the week, the students will be posting reflections on their work. Today’s post is from Emily Loker, a second-year student from Madison, Wisc.
When I imagined our time here in Houston, I thought we might be dog-tired or I might make a mistake and be relegated to the doghouse but I certainly didn’t think home restoration would be such a slobbery, muddy, tail-wagging experience. And I’m not talking about building materials here.
During orientation the first day, our site supervisor, Paulina, casually mentioned that the homeowner had a dog, named Paloma. “Volunteers always fall in love with Paloma, he’s a huge fluffy dog!” Paulina said knowingly. We went out back and were greeted not only by Paloma, who is as beautiful as his name—which means “dove” in Spanish—implies, but a German Shepherd puppy.
Our group, which included three AmeriCorps members and the five of us, let out a collective squeal as we took turns playing with the puppy, who was making noises somewhere between a sheep and a pig. “I’ll call him Baby,” Paulina soon declared.
Baby and Paloma, as well as half a dozen stray or loose dogs have kept us company as we work and, ironically, have humanized our experience. Since many of the homes in the neighborhood are also being rehabilitated or are still empty, the dogs represent the life of those forced out by the flood.
Until today, Rambo had been one of those dogs for me; he winded between mailboxes and car chassis with as much purpose as an eight year-old free from their parent’s vigilant gaze. A sweet little terrier, Rambo seemed to be mixed up in a rather fraught situation with two other dogs. “Yes, that used to be his girl,” Jack, another AmeriCorps volunteer at our site told me on Monday. We have watched as he, in the earnest innocence only a dog of his size can, tried to growl away a boxer at least twice his size from a female pit bull mix. From the boxer’s nonplussed reaction, it appeared that the odds were not in his favor.
This morning, as Brian as I continued to embrace the steep learning curve of tiling a bathtub for the first time, we had an unexpected visitor: the neighbor across the street, Ronnie. Not only did Ronnie graciously show us the progress he had made on his house (and a far more efficient mortaring technique to boot), he revealed that he was Rambo’s owner. I beamed at the small bit of newfound understanding. Although not as pint-sized and adoring, meeting Ronnie textured my service experience as much as his tiny companion.
On Saturday, we hope to meet the man who owns the house we have been working on. I look forward to hearing more about his experience during and after Harvey and his sentiments about the renovations almost as much as I anticipate the big hug Paloma will give him as he approaches his space in the backyard.