Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tripping Over Death

            People are horribly selfish.  Especially when it concerns their own children.  They do it in the name of making their children better.  From an outsider’s perspective it would appear that they are doing exactly the opposite.  It’s a shame what parents teach their children.  Today I had a woman come in to return a cat she adopted several months ago.  His name was Teddy, an orange tabby.  Very sweet and loving.  On the paperwork she wrote, “It’s not fair to my son to keep this cat.”  When I inquired upon this further she said, “My son keeps pulling on the cat’s tail.  He rolls on top of him and even will bite his tail.  I just don’t want my son in trouble all the time. It’s not fair to him.”  I stopped.  Looked up from the form stared her straight in the face and said, “Or to the cat.”  She looked back, blinked, and uttered, “Oh.  Well that too.  I just don’t want to keep punishing him.”  Is it too much for parents to teach their kids to be kind?  To be gentle?  As I looked at her, I couldn’t help but think with sorrow, “I can only imagine what he will do to his future wife.”

            To make matters worse, half way through the surrender she told me she thinks the cat has ringworm.  Ringworm in a shelter environment is not treatable.  It is an airborne disease and as such in a shelter can spread rapidly.  We can’t control it so even though people can easily treat their pets in their homes, in a shelter these animals are euthanized.  When I heard that the cat had ringworm, I told her if our vets confirmed the cat had ringworm he would be euthed.  “That’s fine.”  She said.  I looked at her in almost wonderment.  In what universe is that fine?  In her mind she made the decision that it is better to kill this cat than punish her child.  The selfish gene at its best.

            Hearing her words doom this cat, I let one of my coworkers finish the paperwork.  Wrapping myself in PPE I picked up the cat out of the visitation room and carried him back.  I waited in the hallway for the vet.  Just waiting is unbearably.  When she finally came she determined we would black light him in the euth room.  (Using a black light is a quick test for ringworm).  Carrying the cat into the euth room I almost tripped over a dead dog.  I was shocked to enter upon them doing the list.  Such an ugly word in a shelter: list.  To be listed means to be put to death.  The list is all the animals that have to be euthanized in one day.  With the summer coming it has gotten very long.  There is no more room.  I hate the list.

            Stepping around the dead dog, I sighed.  Betty. A pit bull.  Sweet when she first got here but being here over three weeks has caused her to become aggressive with other dogs.  She was no longer safe.  I handed over the cat telling the euth team the situation.  I left Teddy there waiting.  He rubbed up against the kennel bars purring wanting out.  Wanting affection.  There just doesn’t seem to be enough love in the world on some days.   This cat was offering his heart.  But no one was listening.  I walked back up to the front to plaster a big sign on the visitation room that read, “DO NOT USE.”  The woman still finishing the paperwork stared at me.  I cursed her with my eyes. 

             “I just can’t deal with this.  Seeing my son suffer.” Those were her words.  She never stopped to think how the cat felt.  How it might want to live.  Even in today’s modern world animals do not feel to many people.  They are just controlled by instinct.  We insist that we are “higher.”  That we are not flesh and meat, not animals, something greater.  We have purpose.  Not them.  What instinct is we cannot define.  Yet it is there controlling their minds.  Somehow feelings got magically put into us, but not other creatures.

            To treat animals as we do, they must not feel.   Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy said it best, “How can we be gods if animals are like us?”  They are the others.  The others who are distinct and separate from us.  They live in the wild.  Not in civilization.  They live below us.  They are not of us.  God didn’t make them in his image.  They will always take a back set because we insist that we are mighty gods.  If I may say so, I think God would be truly pissed at this conclusion. 

            If you learned in the eyes of God you were no different than a mouse would you be hurt?  Many people would be outraged at such a humiliating question.  For others they would be proud, believing the mouse to have more virtue.  Free of sins.  But mice eat their children, fight for territory, rape each other, and all-in-all play out all the same dramas of life as we do.  How devastating would it be for this child if he every learned he was just meat?  For any of us to learn that?  

            I don’t believe that we are just dirt.  Neither the others nor us.  We are constantly fighting for our children, for our genes.  But maybe in our pursuit of godliness we can see even gods need the companion of others.  The soul is turned into greatness when we see beyond ourselves and recognize the glimmer of life in another’s eyes.  For this mother she will never go beyond seeing her child as a king.  Piety.  I guess it just goes to prove she is no better than a mouse. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

To have a pet? Or not have a pet?

            The earlier stories I wrote of pit bulls reminds me of another dilemma; how does one decide if one can afford if they can have a pet?  This week I had a girl come in to look at an extraordinarily large pit bull/mastiff mix.  She was very excited about the dog and after meeting with him had to run to borrow some money for the one hundred dollar adoption fee.  As we were going through the paperwork, I told her there would be an additional $12 license.  I told her she could put it on her credit card, but she said her cards were maxed out due to her paying some bills.  She said she would look in her car for change and when she came back in she had a very large plastic bag full of pennies.  She spilled them out over the counter and proceeded to count every one of them.  To her dismay she only had $2.06.  I sat there not knowing what to say next.  Awkward silence followed.  I cleared my throat and simply said,

            “There isn’t anything I can do. The dog must be licensed.”  She pretended to play on her phone a little while and then got up and left.  I wanted to tell her, that she probably couldn’t afford this dog if she cannot pay for the $12 license.  But this situation made me think, “How does one decide if they can afford an animal?”  For this woman, it’s hard for me to believe that she could afford food for this large dog let along vet bills.  My personal guideline has always been, good quality food (Blue Buffalo), annual vet bills, and enough money for a trip to the emergency room once per year.  But what kind of emergency?  

            This past year I was faced with this very problem.  One of my dogs ate something that could have been potentially lethal.  Taking him to the emergency room the vet quoted us, to start with, a $1,000 over night stay.  My husband and I swallowed, hard.  Not willing to take him home and just watch him die we put the charge on our credit card.  The vets the next morning informed us that he would have to stay hospitalized for at least three days for his kidneys to repair themselves.  Again, we swallowed hard.  But the vets wanted to see our little dog live.  They pooled their own money together to help us pay the cost.  With their help we didn’t take out any loans or have to sign up for care credit.  Because of compassion, our dog lived.  When we first realized he ate some pills we right away set a budget.  As much as I love my animals, I cannot go broke because of them and I think most people feel the same way.  My dog and I were extremely lucky.  We were able to pull through this emergency.  But if the bills had gone any higher, I know we just simply did not have the money to cover it.  Other people have the means to push that line even further.  They give their dogs kiMo, hip replacements or even knee surgery.  I wish I could afford this for my animals, but I know deep down, that I could not.  Does this mean I should not have my dogs?

            We all have our limits as to what we can pay for our animals.  Where is that line that states some people just simply cannot afford to have a dog?  That owning a dog or a pet is a privilege not a right.  Even as I think about this I recall very brave dogs that live with homeless people.  These dogs are these peoples’ sole protection.  Stories persist of homeless people dying and their dogs sleeping on top of their cadavers to protect them even in death.  They bite unwanted groping hands, they growl to scare strangers away, and they bark to alert their owners of danger.  They do not leave for a better life.  They don’t break away and run to find some comfy sofa to sleep on.  They stay.  The dogs didn’t choose that life.  They certainly must love their owners though.  Still, I wonder what the dogs would have to say about it.  Would they give up being a homeless dog, to live somewhere where they would have a hip replacement when they are 8 and live until they are 14?  Or to them, is the devotion and companionship they share with that one person more powerful than security?  I don’t know.  It’s hard not to imagine that the former is not what they would choose.  But love is powerful and friendships eternal.  What’s in a dog’s heart, I cannot say.  Yet, their capacity for love makes it difficult not to believe that they would do anything only to be loved in return.