Not long after my friend Maria came to work at Farm
Sanctuary, she got permission to start a foster program with the local
dog pound (just a dog pound -- apparently most people in that area
didn't care what happened to the stray cats). Missing my own dogs back
home in Illinois, I quickly agreed to help her out. Working with the
Schuyler County Humane Society, she was able to get free dog food and a
deal for spaying and neutering.
The first dog she brought home with her was Stormy, some
sort of black Lab, I think. Stormy had been hit by a car, and his owner
didn't want to bother with the medical expenses. So Maria took him home.
Horribly underweight, Stormy looked like a walking skeleton. He also
walked with a limp. Since Maria's golden retriever's name is Geronimo
(G-mo to close friends), we joked that Stormy's Indian name should be
Wounded Knee. But, he just stayed Stormy.
Stormy was eventually placed in a good home, and Maria
next brought home a mother and her four young puppies. Walking back from
the education center after "work," I was greeted by Maria (who lived on
the farm), telling me to come see the mom and her pups. After scratching
some pigs, I headed to Maria's cabin. There in the back room was a
medium-sized black dog and her four teeny puppies. I'm not good at
guessing, but I'd say they were not even a month old. Two little black
ones, a tan and white one, and a black and white one (the only male). I
was hooked immediately.
Not long after that, I finally went with Maria to the
pound. It is a small building behind someone's house. You can only visit
by appointment with the Sheriff, and volunteers stop by once a day to
feed and water the dogs. They are never taken for walks, given any
exercise. The dogs are kept in small cages (about 20 in all) with cement
floors to lie on. A metal door in each of their cages could be lifted
and the dogs allowed outside to a small, fenced-in cement "patch" to run
around in. Some of the smaller dogs were placed in cages together.
The first thing to hit you is the barking. It's a small
building, and the noise was so loud you had to shout to be heard. Most
of the dogs had knocked over and spilled their bowls of food and water
in their excitement. Most jumped and pawed at the cage doors, others
cowered pitifully, cramming themselves into the corner of their cell.
The natural (and very, very, very strong) reaction is to let them out of
their cages and let them run free. The most we could do was let a couple
out for a few minutes while we filled their water bowls. As was often
the case, the dog we let out would run from cage to cage, sniffing and
licking the other dogs' noses through the chain links.
Most of the dogs were mutts, but there were two Huskies,
a Chihuahua, a German Shepherd, and two yellow Labs. The mutts were
various lab/shep mixes, four husky/shep mix puppies (all in one cage by
themselves), a very pregnant beagle/fox terrier mix, a 14 year old shep
mix (Paddy -- his owners abandoned him when they moved), a beagle mix
and several other mixes I couldn't identify.
A few days earlier, Maria had brought me a little
Sheltie (mix, I think) to foster at Vegan House (where the interns
stayed). She knew that most of the remaining dogs at the shelter were
going to be killed (oh, I mean euthanized) soon because no one was
adopting, so we wanted to try and bring back one or two more. I already
had one in mind; a 12 year old female Shepherd. Unfortunately, a court
case on her was pending, so she had to stay there. Instead, we brought
home 14 year old Paddy. Sadly, after a few loving days at Vegan House,
he had to be returned to the pound where he and around six other dogs
(including "my" Shepherd), four puppies, and a mother dog and her not
even day old puppies were "put down." Very "humanely", too: a shot right
into the heart. And afterwards, their bodies were thrown into the
The night before the dogs were killed, Maria and I went
to the pound. I wanted to videotape them, take pictures, and say
good-bye. I took the Shepherd out for one last run. On a cold rainy
night in November, I ran around a muddy yard with this beautiful dog, so
full of life. Powerful for twelve years old. She pulled me, leapt in the
air, rubbed against my legs and licked me like it was the happiest night
of her life. And I stumbled along behind her, blinded by tears and
sobbing over and over again, "I'm sorry." I knelt down next to her,
kissed her face, hugged her, looked into her eyes and named her Dorothy.
I didn't want her to die without a name, without someone caring enough
to give her an identity. And love.
We returned to the pound, and I put her back into the
cage. I went to each cage, petted every dog and whispered "I'm sorry" to
every one. I looked into their eyes and swore I would never forget them,
that I wouldn't let them die in vain. They licked my hands and
whimpered, and I think they knew something was wrong. I said good-bye to
the young mother and her newborn puppies and the other pregnant female.
I said good-bye to the four older puppies and two young dogs.
I lingered the longest at Dorothy's cage. I took a
picture of her right before I left, the last time I ever saw her. I've
sent it to Susan [EnglandGal] along with this e-mail, and hopefully
she'll pass it along to the list. The look in her eyes haunts me
everytime I close my eyes. Everytime I see my own dogs playing, I
remember her last night alive. It breaks my heart that I couldn't save
her. But because of her (and the other dogs who's lives were wasted), I
have the power to spread an important message. I have the fuel to carry
on fighting for those who have no voice.
This is the message: PLEASE spay and neuter your dogs
and cats. Do not "shop" at pet stores, but rather, adopt a shelter dog
or cat. Make sure your yard is safe for your dog, that he or she can't
escape. Always put a collar on your dog or cat with a tag that includes
your animal's name, your last name and phone number. If you have a
hectic life and don't have time for animals, don't bring one home. If
you are moving, make inquiries in advance as to where you can find
housing that will accept your animal(s). You wouldn't leave your
children behind if you moved, why should this not pertain to animals? No
one likes to be abandoned, especially when the only outcome is death.
And yet, after all this, I have one wonderful, living
memory of that awful pound: my little Tank. The four little puppies I
mentioned earlier, the ones Maria brought home from the pound. The only
male puppy... what can I say? He fell in love with me! Everytime I saw
him, he would go berzerk, jumping, whining, licking. Believe me, I tried
not to get attached. But when the time came to leave Farm Sanctuary, I
knew in my heart there was no way I was leaving without him. The two
month old black, white and brown Beagle mix sat in my lap for the whole
eleven hour drive back to Illinois. Thankfully I had the foresight to
put a large towel and some newspapers down, as he had a few accidents
(of the vomit kind) on the way.
Now ten months old, he lives up to his name. And he's
too smart for his own good. Once my sister shut him in my room. He
jumped out the window and ran to the front door looking for me. He's had
more than a few mishaps though. In January he fell through some ice and
almost drowned. Later on that same month, he ate some D-con that my
cousin put down after we specifically told him not to. Obviously and
thankfully he survived it all. And every night I curl up in bed with
Tank and my cat Freddie, and I fall asleep thinking maybe the world
isn't such a bad place after all.
Some have left
and others are about to leave,
so why should we be sorry
that we too must go?
And yet our hearts are sad
that on this mighty road
the friends we meet can set
no place to meet again.
-- From the Sanskrit
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