Animal Writes
8 March 2000 Issues
The Power of a Dog

by [email protected] 

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 dumpster outside.

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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