I am not normally the type to share poetry that I write. But there is one short poem that I wrote several years ago that is very near and dear to my heart.
For those of you that are in the animal rescue field, you know all too well that the warm months of summer bring about something that most of the general public is not aware of: kitten season. This is when female cats go into heat and start churning out litters of kitten like little, furry, kitten-factories. This is also when we are euthanizing kittens like crazy; either because they are too young, or we are full to the brim with kittens, and foster homes are full. Or we are euthanizing the poor adult casualties of kitten season; nobody wants to adopt an adult when there is a cute, bouncy, cuddly kitten in the next cage.
Euthanzing feral cats can be the worst because we have to tranquilize them first, but often need to get their kittens out prior to tranquilizing them, and so have to euthanize their kittens first. I always did my best to euthanize the kittens out of site of their mama cat; perhaps I was projecting a bit to assume that mama cat knew what was going on (like they’ve seen a syringe before?), but I figure its better to err on the side of caution.
I wrote this poem one day at the shelter after a particularly bad day. We had received numerous orphaned kittens, and mother/kitten combos, that we had to euthanize because we had no space from the plethora of other moms and kittens streaming through the door. I was frustrated and fed-up with the state of things, and it just kind of poured out of me as I put pen to paper. This poem is somewhat sad, and perhaps a little resentful, but I suppose the point of putting pen to paper in the moment is to catch a “snapshot” of how you are feeling right then and there.
I may have killed your cat today
This is just a note to say, that I may have killed your cat today
I wonder if you had even noticed that she had run away?
And do you know about the kittens she had? I think watching us kill them made her pretty sad
But soon it was her turn, with sad and frightened eyes
Did you know that for every kitten born, another kitten dies?
Of course you wouldn’t know that, or bother to even care
Because if you did, you would have spayed her, and not let her wander everywhere
And of course its all my fault, because I’m the animal killer
I bet you think I like my job; death is such a thriller
Well I assure that I don’t, and it rips me up inside, to know that for every kitten born, another kitten died.
~ Jessica Stout
This is an article that I wrote awhile back, but I came across it recently and smiled to myself. I wrote it after I had gone through a major event in my life that knocked me back a few pegs and caused me to have to restart my life in a lot of ways. I toyed with whether or not to reprint this because it wasn’t a commentary so much on shelter work. But then I realized that it is commentary on my commitment to my animals; which in the greater context, speaks to the commitment to all animals and their owners/guardians.
You see, my pets have been with me through thick and thin. And sometimes very thin. Back when I was much younger and struggling to support myself alone on a meager shelter salary, there were definitely close calls when I thought, “Great, I am going to have to live in my car with my critters”. Luckily, I always managed to pull through. But in all of those times, giving up my animals was never an option, or a glimmering thought in my mind. They were my rocks; my children. Permanent fixtures in my life that would be there “until death do us part”.
And now, as I prepare to utter those same vows to my wonderful fiance in less than a year, with my two dogs there as the “fuzzy witnesses”, I realize that the next exciting chapter in my life is a new beginning for my whole furry family. Our reward for having stuck through it all together; the good times and the bad times.
So here is my old article, “Epiphany while buying cat food”, and it comes with two comments:
1) I rarely have any sympathy for people who simply give up their pets; regardless of the circumstances surrounding it. Where there is a will, there is a way, and you wouldn’t give up your own kids because “times got tough”.
2) The day that I got to put my pets back on “the good food” made me appreciate what I had so much more.
Epiphany while buying cat food
I had an interesting epiphany while buying cat food at the grocery store the other day.
You see, having been in the animal care profession for 12 + years, I know first-hand the importance of quality dog and cat food. I have personally lectured those with dogs and cats on how vital proper nutrition is in animals, and the difference between higher quality, and lower quality, pet food.
On the other side of that, I have also personally seen people neglect their animals to the point of starvation, and thought to myself with disgust, “Would it have killed you to spend 50 cents on a can of Friskies?”
So there I was, at the grocery store, with a very cheap bag of cat food. Why? Because the tides have changed in my life, as can happen to all of us, and I have had to pick myself up, and dust myself off, from a recent major life change. As such, I have had to go back to the very basic commitments that I have made to the animals that I have taken-on in my life; food, water, and shelter. Unfortunately, this does not mean the very best, and very expensive, food that they have eaten in the past. I simply cannot afford that.
As I saw a woman glance down at my bargain cat food selection, I felt myself automatically getting defensive at my assumption that she was judging my choice, and I came up with a laundry list of explanations for my “failure” as a pet-parent; “I am doing the best that I can”, “I am going to put them back on the expensive food as soon as I am on my feet”, “they seem to be doing ok on this stuff”.
After she glanced down at the bag of food, she looked back up and said, with a slight smile, “I lost my cat about a year ago to cancer; I sure do miss her”. I quickly let go of my own insecurities, and as I began offering my apologies to her for her loss, it hit me; I will not be ashamed that I cannot afford the best food out there right now. I will take pride in the fact that, despite my current struggles, I am making my pets care my top priority. I will take pride in the fact that I am keeping my basic commitments to always provide food, water, and shelter.
And I will never again make assumptions about someone else for buying the “cheap stuff”. Hey, at least they’re trying.
Recently while I was driving, a song came on the radio that is one of my favorites. It is that song, “Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen)”; you know that one that starts off, “Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 1997” and then delves into a long list of good advice, and ends with “Don’t forget to wear sunscreen”. I believe it became the big graduation song of that year and was played at commencement ceremonies everywhere.
One piece of advice that stands out to me in that song is: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” As someone who grew up in New York state, and now lives in Northern California, I cannot agree with that sentiment more. But it also parallels something similar in the animal field.
Having worked at many animal control facilities, and being in charge of the euthanasia of unwanted animals, I can tell you that working in that environment for too long can be very damaging to the psyche. While you are there because you love animals, you are also the one that is taking their lives. I have seen many colleagues turn to drugs and/or alcohol to cope, and several who have finally taken their own lives. After some time working at the shelter in the capacity of a euthanasia technician, I finally had enough and left. At that point I was chronically depressed, and had an overall disdain for the general public after spending time cleaning up their mess.
After spending some time managing a veterinary hospital, I took a job as General Manager for a luxury pet hotel. By luxury, I mean just that; luxury.The dogs had suites with flat screen TV’s and beds. They could spend time in our spa for pawdicures, facials, or massages. Or, if they were feeling a little on the warm side, they could go for a refreshing dip in our indoor pool. And the clients that we saw at this facility were nothing but those who spoiled their dogs rotten. Yes, some may say that this sounds a little absurd; but let me tell you, after spending years at a shelter where I saw nothing but people take their pets for granted, turning over their dog of 5 years simply because they did not want it anymore, or giving us a litter of puppies to put to sleep because the owners were “going on vacation and couldn’t care for them while away”, this was a welcome experience. It renewed my faith in people and helped me to see that not all pet owners are the types that I saw at the shelter. But before too long, I found myself getting out of touch with the realities that I knew to be true from shelter life, and so I left to go back to advocacy. Nonetheless, I needed that time at the hotel to balance me out from what I had become at the shelter.
So the moral of this story, and my advice to fledgling advocates, is this; work at a shelter, but leave before it makes you hard. And work somewhere that offers nothing but happy endings for animals, but leave before it makes you soft. Oh yeah…and don’t forget to wear sunscreen.
I have written a few times about the frustrations of working for a county-run animal control facility. They are quite different from privately-run shelters. For one, they tend to be at the bottom of the barrel for funding because animal control is actually a black hole, revenue-wise, for the county. They spend a lot of money housing animals, feeding them, cleaning them, and all of the other expenses that go along with animal husbandry, but make very little money back in comparison. Add to that the normal red tape of getting anything progressive accomplished in a county-run facility of any kind and you are left feeling like you are knocking your head up against a wall.
The day came when I inevitably had enough of county shelter life and decided to leave to preserve what little sanity I had left. About the same time that I had made this decision, the shelter received a small goat that had been found wandering the rural streets of a nearby city. This was not an uncommon occurrence, finding stray livestock. This little goat was one of the coolest goats that I had ever met. He was more like a little dog, and he followed me all over the shelter’s barnyard area whenever I was there. When I stood still, he would hop on top of the picnic table and push his head into me, waiting for me to push back or scratch his ears. Whenever he saw me even walk near the barnyard area, he would excitedly pace back and forth the length of the fence, waiting for me to pay attention to him.
At the shelters for which I have worked previously, we sent any unclaimed livestock that we received to farm animal rescue. Unfortunately, however, my particular shelter had an animal control office that adhered strictly to the book and insisted we abide by a law that had been on the books since the 1920s. This law states that when a shelter receives a stray livestock animal, if the animal goes unclaimed, then it goes up for auction to the highest bidder. In my shelter career up to that point, I knew of no animal shelters that actually paid any attention to this law. It was one of those obscure laws that probably made more sense at the time it was written. Further, there were simply no controls over with whom, or where, that animal ended up if it was sent to auction.
As my last day at the shelter began, I was impatiently waiting for it to be over. By this time I was embittered towards the whole county shelter process, frustrated with my executive director’s lack of interest in making any changes, and at my wits end at the county’s refusal to look into what was a clear violation of some major ethics occurring by our higher-level management. As I went out to the barnyard area, I saw my little goat, who was lying down in the far corner, hurriedly get up and run towards me when he saw me walking his way. It dawned on me: who was going to look after the little goat? I did not want him going to auction under any circumstances.
After racking my brain, I made a call to one of the women who volunteered for the shelter’s sister non-profit organization. She had a lot of land and fantastic facilities for livestock. I explained to her the situation and asked what she thought of taking a goat onto her farm. She agreed and I told her that I would come to her with the goat.
After closing time for the shelter came, I waited until everyone had left for the day, logged-on to our shelter database, and pulled up his records. Once his record came up, I marked him as “Sent to rescue,” closed his file, and logged out of the database for the last time. I then pulled my little Volkswagen Jetta around to the barnyard, packed the back seat full of blankets, and ran off to get the little goat. Bringing him around to the backseat of my car, I silently prayed that getting a goat into the backseat of a compact car would be easier than it sounded. It wasn’t.
After much pushing and coaxing, I finally got a very bewildered goat into the back of my car. As I drove away with my little stowaway, I wondered what the penalty was for technically stealing a goat from shelter property. Too late to turn back now. As rain started to pour down, I turned on my windshield wipers and glanced back in the rearview. I saw the goat’s head move back and forth really fast as he tracked the movement of the windshield wipers, a new experience for him I am sure.
I slowly pulled into a convenience store to grab a few things for the road, and while in line, I glanced out to my car to make sure that my little goat-friend wasn’t making a meal out of my car. I watched a woman pull up next to my car to park, completely unaware of the goat in the Jetta next to her. As she got out of her car, she glanced up just in time to see him let out a loud bleat while intently staring back at her. I’m pretty sure he shaved about 5 years off of her life; she looked quite startled.
After finishing up at the store, I pulled out of the parking lot, and we began our journey down the highway, girl and goat, both off to start new chapters in our lives. His arrival on the farm went well as we slowly led him to his new dwelling, and he made short work of settling in. From time to time, I still speak with that volunteer who took him, and he is still a happy and thriving little goat, blissfully unaware of how close he came to the auction-block.
I should probably insert something here about feeling badly for smuggling an animal out of the shelter or make some public service announcement about how it is bad to steal “shelter property.” But the truth is I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And I’m pretty sure my little goat friend had no complaints.
People are always shocked when I tell them just how many purebreds that I’ve come into my shelters. According to statistics gathered by the Humane Society of the United States, 25% of all animals entering shelters each year are purebred animals. To put that in a different perspective, with between 6 million and 8 million animals entering shelters in the US each year, a good 1.5 to 2 million of them are purebred animals.
Anytime I hear someone wanting to obtain a purebred animal, I always recommend that they go to a breed rescue. The fact is, there is a breed rescue group for just about any breed out there. The benefits of rescuing an animal from a breed group is that these animals have already been living in foster homes with people who have learned their temperments. This way, they can match you and your family with the pet that would be the best fit for your lifestyle. Further, you are saving a life!
With my strong advocacy for rescuing purebreds in mind, I was particularly excited to come across an organization that is producing the coolest books! Happy Tails Books, at www.HappyTailsBooks.com, is a book collection of stories written by people who have rescued their purebred, and mixed breed, dogs. Each book is specific to one breed, with a seperate book being dedicated just to mixed breeds. These books highlight what wonderful animals you can adopt through rescue groups and shelters, and do an enormous service in helping save the lives of these animals by spreading the word.
Kyla Duffy is the founder, and co-editor, of Happy Tails Books, and tells us here about her wonderful organization!
Confessions from the Animal Shelter: Can you tell us a little bit about Happy Tails Books and their purpose?
Kyla Duffy: I’m a foster mom who founded Happy Tails Books in an effort to raise awareness about dog rescue and the deplorable conditions that some breeding dogs live in (usually the ones that are the parents of the dogs you find in pet stores and on suspect Internet sites). For a long time I felt helpless to do anything more than help one dog at a time by fostering. Then, the idea of Happy Tails Books popped into my head. I thought that by sharing the stories of adopted dogs, including the joy rescued dogs have brought to their new families and ideas about how to put an end to the suffering, I could help more than one dog at a time. My favorite thing about Happy Tails Books is that it’s not just a socially responsible company, it’s a project that is driven by the love and compassion of owners of rescued dogs, and it benefits everyone involved.
Our books are compilations of stories written by people who have adopted dogs. The dogs included in the books can come from anywhere, the only ones who are excluded are dogs who were bought from breeders or pet stores. I think it’s important for me to clarify here that HTB doesn’t have anything against reputable breeders, their dogs just are not what our books are about. As people submit stories through our online submission form, we organize them into breed-specific or regional books (for mixed breed dogs).
CAS: What breeds have you covered so far?
KD: Because I work with Boston Terrier rescue, I naturally turned to them for help with the first book. Nine rescue groups stepped up to help us collect stories, and I think the book came out quite good! It’s called “Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspirational Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers.” We had twelve rescue groups help with our second book, “Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers.” Both books are available on our website and on Amazon. They will be available through bookstores and pet stores once we finish a few more breeds. Dachshunds, Labs and Chihuahuas are up next. We’re still collecting stories for those books and will begin editing soon.
CAS: What are your goals in making these books?
KD: First, and foremost, our goal is to produce books that are enjoyable to read and thought-provoking. Second, our books are a venue for proud owners to share the joy their adopted dogs have brought into their lives. This is important because people should know that many of these dogs have come from dire situations and have gone on to lead a life of love, trust, and companionship. Third, our books dispel misconceptions about rescued dogs. For example, they teach readers that not all dogs in rescue arrived there because they were neglected – some are from families who truly loved their dogs but fell on financial hardships. Fourth, the breed-specific books (we’re doing mixed breed books too) share information about the breed, and inform readers about breed-specific rescue groups. Lastly, the books give rescue groups exposure and provide a source of donations, as a significant portion of proceeds is donated back to the groups that help us to collect stories. Interested non-profit rescue groups can apply to be a part of our Rescue Partner Program at our online Rescue Partner Program Form.
CAS: Do you have any other plans in the works to expand or try other directions to add to your collection of books?
KD: Each year we will publish 3-6 breed-specific books about adopted dogs. We will also be publishing regional books about mixed breed dogs (for example, “Amazing Dogs of the Rocky Mountains”). We are also working with a few other authors of dog-related books who are committed to our mission. We’ll help them publish their books, too.
CAS: Can you recap one of your favorite stories?
KD: Oh, there are so many! One of my favorites from “Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspirational Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers” is about a woman who was freaked out by how “googly” Boston Terrier eyes tend to be. She went online and looked for a Boston without protruding eyes, and thought she found one. When she went to meet him, he was standing at the top of the stairs of his foster home with the most googly eyes she had ever seen! (They really are – you can’t even tell which way he is looking! Picture included). He ran down the stairs, jumped into her arms and starting licking her, which sealed the deal. These days, his eyes are her favorite part of him.
CAS: Do you have any rescued pets of your own?
KD: I’ve got two eight-year-old cats I adopted as kittens, and my dog Bill is a three-year-old ex-puppy mill breeder. Funny enough, my husband didn’t want us to get a full-time dog so we gave fostering a try. Bill, one of the most traumatized dogs our group had ever seen, was one of our fosters. Long story short, we had him for an hour before he got out of our yard and spent three weeks living in the woods. We were so glad when he was found, and put so much effort into his rehabilitation, that we couldn’t possible give him up! He’s with us to stay, and we try and keep a foster dog around for him as much as possible (he loves to play!). His full story, if you’re interested, is online here, and I keep a blog of my experiences with foster dogs here.
CAS: I know that you are looking for story submissions from those who have rescued animals; can you tell us what kind of stories that you are looking for, and how they can be submitted to you?
KD: Because we mean for the “Lost Souls: FOUND!” series of books about adopted dogs to be entertaining and educational, the book includes several different sections. The main section of the book is comprised of 600-1200 word long stories about adopted dogs. The best stories are emotional, and have a clear point. We also have a section of anecdotes about the dogs. These are paragraph long stories that tell something cute, funny, heartwarming. We always have a challenges section as well. These are paragraph long stories about a challenge with the dog (usually medical or behavioral) and how it was overcome. Lastly, we like to include a favorite recipe and some poetry. We are also always looking for professional photographers who would like to support this cause – we need photos for the front and back covers of the book. The FAQ’s section of our website is comprehensive, and stories should be submitted through the submission form.
CAS: Thank you Kyla! And I suggest that my readers run to their computers and snap-up their copies right away! And for something really neat, check out Kyla’s latest venture!
So she turns the dog in. The next day she comes back and pays to get him back out and tells us he is a really great dog and she definitely wants him.
By: Anne Speakman
The van pulled slowly up to our shelter building. I looked out and saw three children with noses planted against the window. Were they coming to adopt their first puppy? I hoped so. It was the beginning of summer, and we had so many. A woman was out in the parking lot putting a leash on on a large bouncing dog on the other side of the van. As she walked him to our door, he jumped with anticipation. He was ready to play. No adoption this time. She came in the office and filled out the papers to relinquish the dog. The family was moving to New Jersey.
The dog’s name was Nike (like the shoe). Her youngest had found him a few years earlier. He was a good dog – loved kids, etc. But he would be just too much trouble to move along with all the children. They would just find another dog once they got settled. The papers were signed and they left.
I watched the van pull out of the shelter lot. The window was down on the van and out of it came a little tow-headed boy with tears streaming down his little red cheeks. He cried out with hurt so big it tore my heart apart, “I’ll come back and get you some day, Nike, I’ll come back….”
I turned and headed to the back of the shelter. I gave Nike a little pat on the head as I passed his run. He didn’t understand and I couldn’t explain why he was there or the terrible pain I felt for him and his little blonde friend.
Inmates – trustees from the county jail – work each day at our shelter. They help clean, feed, and exercise the animals. Many have come and gone over the years, but Tony, the first inmate who worked for us, remains a dear friend, and comes to visit often. He had been sentenced to ten years hard labor under the Habitual Offenders Act. He had abused drugs and alcohol, and he had been convicted of many crimes. But his life was changed, he told us, because of the shelter, and the things he saw and learned there.
While he worked for us he became attached to one dog in particular. He was a black Husky-mix, with translucent blue eyes. Old Blue Eyes was “his” dog, and Tony loved him. When there was time, Tony, a “hardened criminal,” would take Blue Eyes for walks in the nearby woods. He really wanted to find the dog a home. Being locked up wasn’t much of a life – this Tony knew.
Months passed and no home was found. We had talked about putting Blue Eyes to sleep. Tony came in to work a few days after we had discussed it. He looked as though he had been crying and his heart was heavy. We talked as we worked. He had come to a decision about “his” dog. It was time to set him free. Tony held Blue Eyes as we injected the lethal solution into his vein. The dog’s head dropped as life left him. He lay limp in Tony’s arms.
Tony carried his friend into the woods they had walked in and buried him under an old oak tree. He came back to the shelter afterwards, his eyes red and swollen. “It ain’t no life to be locked up, even for a dog. I did what was right, I know I did.”
Blue Eye’s end was a beginning for Tony. After he finished his prison sentence, he married and bought a farm. The unwanted dog with the translucent blue eyes did not die in vain – he taught a man about living and changed his life.
There were people who turned in their adolescent animals because “they’d gotten too big.” They were Christmas puppies and kittens doing the natural thing – growing up. There were those who told me they “had too many.” They had not spayed their female dog or cat, but they had found homes for her first, second, third, fourth, and even fifth litters. Now they had decided to keep one of her off-spring, and bring her to the shelter. The list of reasons goes on. The surrender cards list the litany of reasons: “don’t want,” “too many,” “too much trouble,” “can’t keep,” “won’t stay home,” “chews,” “barks,” “too protective,” “not protective enough,””in heat,””pregnant,” “moving,” “too big,” and on and on and on…”You won’t kill them will you?”. We are silent. Then we say that speech, “just so many homes…too many…if people would spay and neuter…” They turn and walk away. Their conscience is clear. The responsibility is now ours. Each animal is unique, trusting, and loving. We feed them, care for them, talk to them, and then we must end their lives. They have been betrayed.
The first story of this series is a special one. It was written by Amy Shapiro who, upon my quest to find her personally to receive her permission to reprint, I found led a full life of animal advocacy. Her life seemed devoted to protecting and speaking out for the animals. Sadly, I also found out the the animal world lost Amy Shapiro-Espie just last year. So in honor of her memory and dedication, her story “For Gray Cat” will be the first story that I reprint here.
For Amy Shapiro-Espie; may you rest in peace, finally reunited with your little gray cat.
For Gray Cat
By: Amy Shapiro-Espie
A friend and I take our dogs for a run in the park. The afternoon sunlight is pure gold, and a fresh breeze rustles the tall grass. A family approached us on the trail – a man, a woman, and two small boys. They are accompanied by a large tan dog with the distended nipples of motherhood and an adorable pup who looks just like his mom. The pup pesters the older dog, taking five leaping and bouncing steps for every one of hers. She patiently tolerates him.
It’s a heart-warming scene that depresses me deeply.
What has happened to me? I love dogs. I love puppies. And yet the sight of puppies saddens me. Every time I see or hear of a litter of kittens or pups, I can also see the cages full of homeless once and the bins full of dead ones at the shelter.
Its 8:00P.M., time to go home. I walk past the cages in the Stray Cat Room. A calico cat and her two kittens sit quietly on the shelf in their cage. The mother grooms one of the kittens. A pink card attached to the cage tells me it’s time to say goodbyee to those three. I feel the all-too-familiar mixture of sadness, anger and bitterness, but I try not to let my emotions show. A huddled gray ball of fur catches my eye. In the furthest corner of her cage, a bedraggled cat hides her head under the sheet of newspaper lining her enclosures. I peer between the bar, “Hi, Kitty,” I say softly. “Are you totally miserable? I don’t blame you.” I chatter on, more for my own benefit than for hers. I put some treats into her bowl and leave.
A small, frightened black rabbit is rescued from a cellar by one of our officers. That evening, in a room full of noisy cats, she gives birth to five babies. Four days later, when her stray holding period is over, the babies are injected with sodium pentobarbital. A few seconds later, they are dead. The mother is put up for adoption.
Gray Cat clings to her corner, still facing the wall. I notice that she’s eaten the treats that I left, which encourages me. I talk to her again. “I know it’s hard to believe, but actually you’re pretty lucky. Decent food, a clean litter box, people who care about you – and with a little luck, one special person to appreciate and adore you forever.” Gray Cat was not impressed.
I talk to the people in my dog-training class about spaying and neutering. “Of the more than 10 million dogs and cats who are killed every year at animal shelters in the U.S., nearly 3 million are purebreds,” I explain. “And all the others had a purebred in their recent genetic past. Stand at our front counter any day of the week and you will hear the same stories again and again: ‘We’re moving’; ‘The landlord says no’; ‘He barks and the neighbors call the police’; ‘She messes in the house.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s a purebred; an expensive pet with a problem is just as disposable as an all-American mutt.
“Spend a day at the shelter and you also hear the repertoire of reasons people give for not having their animals spayed or neutered: ‘We want the children to experience the miracle of birth’; ‘Neutering is unnatural’; ‘It’s cruel’; ‘I wouldn’t want anyone to do it to me’; ‘My cat is from champion stock’; ‘We’ve already got homes lined up for all the babies.’ But try to explain these reasons to a loving, beautiful animal – or even an ill-tempered, unlovable one – whose time is up, who is receiving a death sentence when the only crime that has been committed is by a human who allowed the animal to be born, instead of facing the reality of the pet overpopulation disaster. I’ve never heard a rationalization for not neutering or spaying that didn’t just fade into meaninglessness in the face of even just one death.”
After class, one of the dog owners comes over to me. “We were planning to let our dog have just one litter,” he says, “but we had no idea about how bad the situation really is. We’ve decided to have her spayed instead.” I smile. I feel I’ve done a good day’s work.
On my way out, I stop at Gray Cat’s cage again. “Hi, Gray Cat. Still memorizing that bit of wall, I see.” She turns and looks at me. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but she seems a little less frightened, her body a shade more relaxed. “Listen,” I tell her, “you probably came across some pretty irresponsible humans out there. We’re not all like that. Give us another chance, okay?” She blinks dubiously. This is progress.
The animal care technicians at the shelter are the bravest people in the world. I watch them scrub kennels and clean litter boxes. I hear them try to calm frightened animals. I see them take a moment to play with a kitten or hold a lonely pup. And every now and then I force myself to witness what they must face every day. That same dog, who they cared for, petted and talked to must finally be given the only thing we have left to offer: a gentle, respectful death. What have we come to when the best we can do is to kill them kindly?
Jim puts a leash on the Labrador mix. She cowers in the back of the kennel, tail between her legs. He tugs on the leash. She whimpers and crouches down lower. He kneels beside her. “It’s okay, pup. Don’t be scared.” She stops whimpering but won’t move. He scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the Euthanasia Room.
She’s been at the shelter for two weeks. She’s so frightened that all she does is lie in the corner. No one wants her. So now she will die.
Carol holds her while Jim shaves a small patch of fur from one of her front legs. She is quiet and trembling. Jim continues to talk soothingly to her. He gives her the injection. She slumps on the table. Carol carries her body to the “Chill Room” and adds it to the pile.
In the Cat Room, Gray Cat is still in her usual corner, but she’s not facing the wall today. The room is noisy. Adorable kittens fill row upon row of cages. Friendly adult cats come forward, asking for attention. When I open her cage to give her a treat, she tenses a little. “It isn’t fair, “I tell her. “You have every right to distrust people. But if you don’t act “adoptable,” how can you compete with all these other cats?” I reach my hand closer to her. I touch her. She lets me! I thank her.
At home, someone from a rescue group calls me to find out if I have room for another “unwanted”. A local veterinarian has a young Abyssinian cat. The owners brought him in to be euthanized. Why? They’re moving out of state. They don’t want to take the cat. They haven’t found any friend who will take him, and they don’t want “a bunch of strangers” coming to their house to see the cat.
When I go to work, Gray Cat is not in her cage. I look everywhere. I try not to be too hopeful. I tell myself not to pursue it. I ignore my own good advice. I go to the Chill Room. She is there, in one of the bins, her body curled up against that of a Golden Retriever. I touch her, for the second and last time. Her body is just now growing cold. She is gone. I will mourn her. But who will mourn the calico kitten underneath her, or the Angora rabbit in the next bin? Who will mourn all 10 million of them, one by one?
I walk through the auditorium. The children’s humane education group, Critter Crusaders, meets once a week. They are using recently donated video equipment to make public service announcements about pet overpopulation for local TV stations. As I watch them rehearse their lines about the importance of spaying and neutering, I feel hopeful. They won’t forget. They’ll tell their friends what they’ve learned. They’ll grow up to teach their own children. I wish Gray Cat were here to see it.
An interesting conundrum was recently presented to me; what do you do when you know of an animal that is being poorly treated, but not badly enough that Animal Control can, or will, get involved?
In many municipalities, access to food/water/shelter are just about all you need to be in legal compliance of the law. Obviously they will step in when there are extreme and obvious signs of abuse or neglect, but what do you do when it’s bad enough to be objectionable, but not bad enough to be illegal?
I was recently contacted by a woman, “Natalie”, whose neighbor’s dog, a sweet, female, pit bull, had gotten into her yard. When the neighbors realized the dog had gotten out, and Natalie let them know that their dog was in her yard, he came over, yelling at the dog to “come here” at the top of his lungs. Upon hearing his voice, the dog allegedly cowered under a chair and started shaking. Not necessarily indicative of anything, right? She could just be a fearful dog. But then he proceeded to grab the dog by her scruff and mention that he was going to beat her when he got home. So here are the two issues: 1) Animal Control will not keep Natalie’s name anonymous (she knows this from having previously called on these neighbors, and then suffered retaliation from the neighbors as a result). 2) Many times, Animal Control will not, or cannot, investigate based on something that a complainant simply overheard. So what, Natalie asked, can she do?
There are a few avenues she can take, none of which, most likely, will result in any sort of action as long as the dogs basic needs of food/water/shelter are being met, especially if Animal Control does not actually witness any sort of abuse. Even in times when a witness will tell Animal Control that they saw someone hitting their dog, Animal Control is often bound in terms of any sort of action they can take. Remember, in many states, animals are property – not living creatures who feel pain or fear. And while particularly heinous crimes against animals will be acted upon, it can take a lot to be considered “heinous” and many times the owner just gets a slap on the wrist.
My very first pit bull rescue, “Pele”, was a dog that had been rescued from the owners backyard because a concerned neighbor called, and the situation was dire. She was chained in the backyard, and was actually choking because she had managed to get the chain entangled around her neck. Her face was cut up by a knife, and the owners had poured acid on her back, maiming her. Her water dish was bone-dry, and there were a few leftover chicken bones on the ground around her. This was considered egregious enough to confiscate her from her owners. She was taken straight to the emergency clinic where, by the time she got there, she was in shock and nearly died. The owners punishment for what they had done to her? A $500 fine.
In Ben Affleck’s 2007 movie, Gone Baby Gone, two detectives investigate the disappearance of a little girl. The little girls’ mother was a hardcore drug-addict, who paid little, if any, attention to this little girl. The little girl’s mother was involved with some very dangerous people and dealings, and had even gone as far as to steal a lot of money from one of them; putting both herself and her little girl in danger. When her little girl disappeared, she showed little care or concern. Finally the girl was presumed dead, and the detectives gave up. SPOILER ALERT: in the end, the two detectives found out that the chief of police had been the one who had kidnapped the little girl, and she was being raised by him and his wife where they gave her all she could imagine and had nothing but love and attention to give her. Now came the dilemma for the detectives: do they abide by the law, and return the little girl to her deadbeat, drug-addicted, mother? Or do they simply walk away and pretend they saw nothing…knowing that little girl would have a completely different, and presumably much better, life with the police chief and his wife?
This is not an uncommon dilemma faced by those in the animal care field, and those who simply love and look out for animals. What do you do when an animal is in a situation where they are being mistreated enough to be inhumane, but not enough to be illegal? Do you do all that you can in accordance of the law and hope for the best, or do you take matters into your own hands?
Well…what would you do?