We Got A Story To Tell

CHICAGO IS FOR RUNNERS - SHARON ZAUGH

 
The image-is-everything nature of social media makes it easy to label and pigeonhole people based on what’s in their feed – the mom, the foodie, the jetsetter, the liberal, the hipster. Although I love social media, I’ve always hated being labeled. My belief was that labels were lazy, and they keep people from connecting on a deeper level.

It also didn’t help that I got labeled “The Dog Girl.”

In reality, I’ve always been a dog girl, but I became THE Dog Girl when I began volunteering at The Anti-Cruelty Society. We had lost my childhood dog, Rusty, a few years before and ever since, there had been a void in my heart. As a young twenty-something, I wasn’t yet ready for the full-time responsibility of dog ownership, so I chipped away at the void by first volunteering at the shelter and then, when it was too painful to leave the pups at night and return home to any empty apartment, by fostering dogs that were sick, too young to be adopted or those that just needed a break from the shelter.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about dog behavior and training. I learned basic things like how to address housetraining and separation anxiety. I also learned the importance of never leaving a window open. I learned that lesson the hard way: twice. First when one jumped out of the car window and second when another jumped from an apartment window. (First floor thankfully! Both were fine).

As I relayed my fostering escapades through social media, friends, family and acquaintances began to take note and come to me for advice on what kind of dog they should get, how to deal with a behavior issue or how to get started volunteering. My label as The Dog Girl was actually starting a lot of conversations.

Fast-forward a few years to a surprisingly warm March when I didn’t want to be stuck inside at the gym. I decided to head outside and force myself into something I had tried in the past but never enjoyed enough to stick with: running. A few months later, I went to my first Three Run Two run. Neither navigating a new group of people nor the actual act of running was easy at first. But as I showed up week after week, I realized that not only was I getting stronger physically, the encouragement of others was making it easier for me to stick with it. I knew then I had become a runner. And as more running pictures showed up in my Facebook feed, my friends and family knew it too.

I had found encouragement to commit to running, and soon after, I was ready to commit to dog ownership too. Enter Spud. After 33 fosters, The Dog Girl finally found The Dog.

So here I am, a full-time dog owner, about to run my first marathon. The labels of The Dog Girl, and Runner – labels I had resisted – have actually helped me start conversations and make new connections – they are starting points rather than restrictions or limitations. Of course there’s more to me, but I’m proud to be The Dog Girl, and a Runner. You can call me either. Or both.
— Sharon Zaugh