Monday, April 29, 2013

Friday is the Day We Deal with Death

            I have no statistical proof or theory as to why this is, but Friday seems to be the day we deal with death.  Maybe it has something to do with it being the end of the week.  I really don’t have an explanation.  What I do know is that on Friday we deal with more surrenders and request for euthanasia then any other day.  Last Friday in the first hour we had six surrenders going on and two requests for euthanizes at the same time.  “Society” by Eddie Vedder played in the background popping up on my coworker’s Pandora causing peoples’ tears to fall like rain. “Society you crazy breed. I hope you’re not lonely without me.” –Eddie keeps singing on.

           Even though I am often harsh on people, there are those whose hearts break like glass when they have to turn their animals over.  Those who surrender because they lost their homes, have no money, have had a death or medical illness overcome the family.  Their lives are broken and now they are forced to give up a part of their family.  There are also those who make the decision that their pet should no longer live, that living would be crueler than the alternative. 

            One girl in particular has stuck with me these past few days.  Her beloved companion, a 15-year-old Boston was suffering from cancer.  The dog’s owner, a 21-year-old girl, came with her mother to do what needed to be done.  She cradled her dog, crying, whispering into her ear saying everything would be okay.  Her mom signed over the paperwork explaining to me what was wrong with the dog.  The girl waited in one of our visitation rooms for the appointed hour.  When the paperwork was finished we give people as much time as they need to say good-bye.  While they weep over their loss, we wait outside the glass window like undertakers.  We wait silently as the people in the lobby room stare, sensing the tragedy.

            One cannot help but feel like the grim reaper.  We are the death coming.  If you are the person who leads the dog or cat back, it is as if death is using you to achieve its goal.  Of course, logic tells you that it is more merciful to put this animal down than to let it live but being a part of that process is an entirely different experience than just knowing theoretically it is a suitable action.  How does one even know what the right thing is when it comes to such a morally grey area such as death?  We don’t.  Society tells us that we are doing the proper procedure and when we stare at the animal our hearts goes out to them.  Surely this suffering must end.  But death is not quick.  It is not gentle.  It is not quiet.  The process of dying is not peaceful.  No matter how one goes about it.  Sitting in the euth room holding, watching, injecting, we cry, shudder, and laugh. 

            We offer people a viewing after their pet has been put down, one final moment to say good-bye.  We do not allow them to be present during the process.  Unlike at the vet’s office where one can pay hundreds of dollars for euthanasia, at a humane society the animals are not always put to sleep beforehand.  People come here because it is cheap.  There is a reason why it’s cheap.  We grab a leg, get a vein and inject the fatal liquid.  I suppose it’s quick.  The animal shutters, collapses and is gone.  A needle is injected into the heart.  When it stops moving, death has come. 

            When people do a viewing they usually follow an almost preset conversation.  They sit staring at their lost pet.  The girl held her Maggie and through tears she muttered, “At least you are out of pain.  You were the best dog.  I love you.”  Her mother trying to comfort her said, “It’s okay her soul is gone now. It wasn’t painful.” 

            “It was painful though!” My heart screams.  Perhaps not as painful as dying of cancer, but it wasn’t painless.  Still, these are the words we say to make ourselves feel better, because death never feels right.  These are the actions we take because we cannot stand to see pain.  Would the dog rather have died at home in her own time?  No one will ever have the correct answer to this question.  I don’t write these thoughts down to judge people who euthanize their pets or because I think this girl did what was wrong by her dog, I am merely recounting what has happened.  In the grand scheme of things, this girl did what was best.  Somehow knowing that there is no longer life in the absence of suffering offers me little solace.  Games of Thrones had it right though, Death is a God and all we can shout is “Not Today!”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Giggling Little Girl

      Sorry there was no post last week.  We had an emergency in the family.  It has finally started to resolve itself, so today was the first day I have had a chance to hop on my blog.  I hope you enjoy the following story!
      The moments that make me absolutely beam with joy at the humane society are when there is a perfect match between animal and human.  It’s almost magical.  You can see it in the people’s faces.  That look that they cannot leave without this animal.  That particular animal because they have touched something deep within that person’s heart.  Instant love.  Not because the animal was necessarily the cutest or the youngest, but because on some level these two living creatures have connected.  That connection is contagious and everyone can see it.

            We had a moment like that this past week.  It was right before closing when we had an older father and his seven-year-old daughter come in.  He politely asked if he could visit with the guinea pigs.  He thought we closed an hour later.  Normally we would grumble and say, “Okay but we are closing in 5 minutes so you will have to decide quickly.”  Unlike what most people think, we do have lives and after a 9-hour day we do want to go home.  But this specific man had someone very special with him: his seven-year-old girl.  When she saw the guinea pigs, she squealed with delight.  Apparently they had already built a large cage and had been just waiting for some to go up for adoption.  The gentleman told his girl that they were going somewhere very special tonight.  It was a surprise.  Being convinced that they were going to McDonalds, the girl was shocked when they rolled up to our doors.  As our rules dictate, we had to set them up on a visit before they could adopt them.  To my absolute joy, I picked up both guineas and placed them in the room with the little girl.  She started giggling and laughing and simply, as only children can do, whom are not self-conscience of others watching, she began to have an entire conversation with the two pigs.  She told them all about how they would come home, live in a fantastically large cage, and have tea parties. She named them Chocolate and Oink.  Her dad left the room to do the paperwork, but we could still hear her chattering away to not just a couple of pets but two new best friends.

            Kids have a unique way of seeing animals.  They see them as equals. As if they are only their stuff animals that have now come to life.  Kids haven’t realized yet that they are “just animals.”  They hold them as if they are something precious.  They talk to them as if they understand every word.  In doing so, children treat animals not as something below them, but as another friend.  Imaginary dragons, make believe princesses, and mysterious lands all exist, so why can’t the animals just be another companion that one meets along the way?  To a child, animals can talk, they can go on phenomenal adventures, and they are whole beings.  Some how when we grow up and learn animals can’t really talk and they don’t quite have the same capacities as us, we convince ourselves they don’t feel the same way either.  If only more kept on believing in magical escapades maybe the animals would fare a little better.

            For this seven-year-old, she brought home two new buddies.  Never to be discarded, only to be loved.  She walked out the door still chattering to them in their little boxes.  Telling them everything would be okay.  I can only imagine what kinds of adventures they have been on since.  I can’t help but picture two guineas dressed up in Barbie clothes drinking fake tea, eating bits of apples.  I don’t think the guineas mind though, for the girl is probably in as of equally a ridiculous princess costume as well.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Pit Bull by Any Other Name

            Why is it that some breeds just attract certain types of people?  Labs attract families, border collies attract people who want something fancy and pit bulls attract people who want to appear tough.  I know stereotypes have a role to play, but pit bulls always seem to get the worst of it.  There are many perspectives on pit bulls; many large cities have bans against them.  They have been shown in temperament studies to be more aggressive towards other dogs and fiercely protective of their owners.  In a shelter environment, we call this, “highly reactive.”  They seemingly have a high prey drive, but then so again do Huskies and German Shepherds.  Still, at the humane society it is the pit bull that draws the most irresponsible people.  When every a pit bull goes up for adoption, we at the front desk dread the visits.  We try and explain their personality.  With Pits, you have to be the dominant one.  You must give them direction and obedience training, otherwise you will have an uncontrollable dog with triggers for aggression that you do not understand.  This combination of bad owners and raw disposition breeds unpredictability; which by in large, makes a community unsafe.  Since cities cannot force people to train their dogs or assert themselves, your only real option left is restrict the breed itself.   A dog bred to bait bears and later for dog fighting needs good people.  A pit bull from a humane society is like a foster child straight out of juvie that craves structure.  It is not the dogs themselves that are the problem but rather years of unregulated breeding and rotten owners that have created a breed in a state of chaos.  

An Example of a Blue Pit

           Several examples come to mind when I speak of pit bulls.  The first was a beautiful blue pit bull by the name of Norman.  He was a pure bred pit, rippling with muscles.  His ears stood erect alert at everything he heard.  His gaze was fixed, focused, and ready to be told what to do.  As one coworker put it, “He was a beast.”              

            When he was put up for adoption, he went through the normal process.  After a week, he found someone who adored him.  He thought Norman was an amazing creature that he must have.  He adopted him on the spot not giving it a second thought.  Two days later, Norman came back.  His new wonderful owner had taken him over to a friend’s place to visit.  The friend had a cat.  Norman started out friendly enough, playing with the cat, mouthing it gently.  Then the cat ran, stirring up in Norman his prey drive.  Chasing after the cat, he grabbed hold and shook until the cat no longer moved.  

            Bad owners cause violent situations.  Didn’t this person ever hear of the stories as a child of the dog who chased the cat?  True cats and dogs can be great friends, but some dogs simply see them as something to run after.  No different then a squirrel.  Who brings a dog they have not trained yet over to a friend’s house that has a cat and just allows them to interact?  Before that dog went anywhere with other animals, his owner should of taught him how to “leave it” and know that he could break his dog’s prey drive.  

            My second example is a poor dog by the name of Henry.  Henry also was a magnificent pit bull.  He stood tall, his red and white coat glistening.  He got adopted to a hippy lady who, following the ways of Caesar, wanted to create a “pack”.   She already had two tiny Chihuahuas whom she had spent a great deal of time training.  On Henry’s paperwork we put a waiver on him stating that he had a high prey drive, meaning that something like a Chihuahua he might find amusing to chase.  This particular woman did not care.  As she put it, she “Trusted in her own ability to train this dog.”  Granted, mind you, a Chihuahua is not a pit bull.  A month later, Henry came back.  He had attacked one of the dogs in the home and had fought with three others at the dog park.  Again, where was the training?  Maybe this lady trusted in herself, but that did not give her the right to trust in a dog she barely knew.

            In both cases, the dogs were put down.  Heartbreaking.  But the right owner, a good owner for a pit is one in a million.  Good owners create fantastic dogs.  But if the people who are looking after you can’t even control their own lives, how can they give you guidance?  There are many controversies surrounding pits, but for my own opinion, it is hard for me to not stand by a dog instead of a person who really simply doesn’t have a clue. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Case of Tiny: An Example of the Rule

            People can be incredibly stupid.  Especially when it comes to animals.  They expect animals to be no work.  For them to just be.  And in being, be perfect.  Animals, however, like people have their faults.  They have histories.  Histories that shape their personalities and reactions to various situations.  Tiny was the case of a dog with bad reactions combined with very stupid people.

Example of an Aussie 
            Tiny was an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix.  The breed has its own set of problems, but for the most part they are kind, warm, loyal, very intelligent, and extremely high energy.  They also don’t back down.  They stand up for what they believe in.  Shyness is considered a fault in both breeds.  This can spell trouble for the unknowing or uneducated individual who really does not understand their new dog that they have just brought home from the humane society who looks, well, cool.  Aussies are known for their fantastic and wide array of colors.  They come in blue and red merles, swirled together with black, browns, and different shades of white.  They also come with stunning eyes.  Having either marbled or completely different colored eyes, Native Americans actually called them ghost dogs.  This beauty attracts all kinds of people.  Stupid ones.  Who don’t understand that this breed needs to run, play, direction and most importantly, needs to figure out puzzles.

            Tiny’s people were a special kind of stupid.  Ignorant.  I first meet them when they came back to the shelter to return a dog they had adopted the previous week.  Things, according to them, weren’t going well.  The dog just didn’t fit their lifestyle.  There is something to be said for this.  A dog, if it wants to stay with its people, must fit their way of life.  Which is almost certainly why people have breed over 150 various kinds of dogs.  Beauty, the dog these people had adopted previously, was not the right kind of breed.  They said she had just too much energy.  She kept door dashing, running for miles before they could catch her.  She was just too fast for them (granted the mother in the group looked like she had eaten at the Country Buffet for every meal of her life) but Beauty just had too much of a get up and go spirit.  So they returned her.

            While this always makes us sad, we expect it, and give a voucher for a new animal.  We never give people a refund, but know that people can show very bad judgment when it comes to picking their own happiness. 

            After issuing them their voucher, these people proceeded to look through all our available dogs as if they were shoes on the rack.  They found a few dogs they wanted to visit with and I had the misfortune of doing the introductions.  As I told them about each dog, their personality, their traits and behaviors, it became apparent that these people had no idea what they wanted.  They had a boxer mix at home that hated anything bigger than her.  But they wanted a guard dog for the 16 year old for when he went running (somehow a boxer mix doesn’t fit this description).  I told them about various breeds, but they kept finding problems with them.  After an exhausting hour, they finally left and said they would come back the following week.

            And back they came.  I didn’t deal with them much the second time around, except to process the actual adoption papers.  When I saw that they were adopting Tiny I was astonished and shocked.  I hated every minute of it.  But as an open admissions shelter, we are also open adoptions.  Wrong?  Yes.  But only being a front desk clerk I felt my hands were bound.  I tried to explain.  I tried to tell them about his personality.  I tried to convince them to do a dog-to-dog in which both dogs could meet one another.  But no.  They wanted Tiny and no reason would suffice.  Illogical?  The entire thing.  And so out they went with a wonderful dog that had no luck and not a chance. 

            For animals it’s all about luck.  That is what draws me to help them.  For people, at least most, they have some say in their destiny.  They can and have many choices to make each day.  This shapes their future.  Will I do my homework assessment?  Will I help out with the chores?  Will I run away?  Will I marry this man?  Of course there are many who are forced into their futures, but for all animals there is little to no choice.  They don’t have a say in where or whom they go home with.  It doesn’t matter where they are born or what animal they are, they are subjects to our will.  Even if we are kind, they cannot tell us what they want.  This means they are subject to our every whim and desire we possess.  We cast their die.  Their odds are with us.  For many, this is a terrifying and overwhelming truth.  It can end well.  Or it can end in disaster.  But when you’re a dog or a cat sitting in an open admissions shelter, and you look up at the people coming to see you, I am sure all you can think is, “What will you be like?  Will you be kind? Will you destroy me?”  So many people and you’re just hedging your bets on if you are cute enough, if you are sweet enough, and the most imperative of all, are you lucky enough.   

            Tiny was not lucky.  A week after his adoption he came back through our doors.  The kid’s arm was in a cast.  They justified it by saying that Tiny had attacked the other dog.  When the kid tried to break it up (which is the stupidest thing a person can do) Tiny latched on and dug in.  The second time it occurred was that evening.  Supposedly, the other dog was lying on the couch with the boy’s arm wrapped around him.  Tiny lunged for the dog and instead grabbed the teenager’s arm tearing it to shreds.

            No hope was left for Tiny after that.  They took the kid to the emergency room, had his arm bandaged, and the next morning brought Tiny back to us giving their version of what happened.  They knew.  They knew their dog would attack Tiny because Tiny was bigger than their other dog.  Instead of attempting their mistake they stood there and lied telling us their dog would never attack another dog.  When just the previous week, they had told me different.  Enraged I could do nothing.  I couldn’t say anything to their disgusting faces.  I told my coworkers.  I told my manager.  But Tiny didn’t have any hope left.  After the surrender, Tiny was lead back by a catchpole, never to be touched by a human again.  This is necessary.  Once an animal has bitten, they are quarantined off.  No one is allowed to handle them.  It is needed and keeps people safe from rabies.  Still, it can be cruel when applied perhaps unjustly to guilty yet as equally innocent animals.  Tiny spent his last night in a familiar kennel that he dreaded.  A scary place with lots of other dogs howling trying to escape some future they do not know and cannot control.  In the morning, they came for him.  Thus was his end. 

            They knew.  Those stupid people knew that their dog did not like dogs bigger than her.  But they didn’t care.  To them, Tiny was disposable.  They shrugged him off like you would of an old sweater that doesn’t fit anymore.  After we led Tiny back, they went into our adoption room and proceeded to pick out another dog.  Gloria, a Chihuahua was selected.  This time we required a dog-to-dog with their boxer mix.  The meeting went okay.   Still, as they adopted out Gloria (of which I refused to have anything to do with) and walked out, I couldn’t help but mutter, “Dead dog walking.”