What is it about animals that compels us to bring them into our lives, while knowing that it is akin to inviting a series of tiny tragedies into an already stressful existence?
I am an animal lover. But I was also, for a long time, not a good animal owner. I liked having the pets, the companionship, when I wanted it – but all the other stuff was largely optional. I had cats but never cleaned their litter box. I left them shut into a basement for weeks, alone, only occasionally remembering to feed them. Their little paws would appear under the basement door whenever I came home, and more often than not I turned away from them. I can add here that I was in my early 20’s and just into the “single life” at this time, but that is no excuse. The guilt still haunts me, as it should.
Now, I try to redeem those cats’ misery by providing decent care for my current pets while also keeping an eye out for any other animals in need. I have 2 dogs and 2 cats, plus 2 guinea pigs.
A few weeks ago, a stray dog appeared in my backyard. In my neighborhood, very few of the yards are fenced and the ones on my side of the street all back to a drainage ditch. That is where this dog was, just laying down, watching my dogs playing. I eyed him cautiously, because one of my dogs is small and I wasn’t sure if this guy wanted to eat her. The dog did nothing, just watched for a while and disappeared.
He came back the next day. He approached the dogs cautiously. Our male dog, Gus, is a doberman pinscher. He is also my nemesis. But I digress. Gus played with the stray dog nervously – he is afraid of new dogs, he’s kind of deluded about his appearance – and during their play the other dog kept his tail between his legs and repeatedly rolled onto his back. Clearly he wasn’t looking to take over – but what was he looking for? We noticed that he was very skinny – his ribs and spine were sticking out – and he had scars on his hips that looked like maybe he’d been shot. He was playing very well with my dog, though, and stayed far away from the people.
Long story short – I began feeding him.
I don’t remember why, or when, I decided to try to save this dog. Maybe it was during his efforts at playing with my maladjusted, pampered dog. I recall an analogy I read once about how ducks make swimming look so graceful, because they are paddling like hell under water where no one can see. This seemed to explain the dog’s behavior – he was trying for something while not letting on as to how badly he wanted it.
Dogs, being pack animals, need a pack to survive. Instinctually, dogs know that if there are more of them together, there is less chance of starving or being killed by other animals. My guess is the dog was desperately needing a pack, and he chose ours to court.
After about 5 days of feeding him, he came close enough for my husband to pet him. He remained wary of us, never aggressive but fearful. He would run if we came too close. We couldn’t push things with him, it all had to occur on his time or else he’d bolt.
Eventually, we let him in the house. I know, I know. I have small kids and other animals and I must have been fucking crazy to allow this. But, I can’t describe it – I felt like I could trust him. And he proved to be a very nice housedog. He only had 2 accidents in the house. He was a tad snippy when the little dog tried to hog his food so we began feeding him outside, away from the other dogs, and this was fine.
There were casualties, of course. He chewed up my crocs one day, when he was downstairs and I was upstairs with the kids. He caused Gus to become more dominant – so Gus began growling if the kids came near his chew toys. He had fleas, so $50 later all the dogs had Frontline. Sometimes he played too rough with Gracie, the little dog, and she’d complain.
Yet, despite these things, he was such a bright light in our lives. The only one of our dogs to have a tail, he thumped it happily every morning when we came down the stairs. The look on his face when he lounged in the dog chair was one of gratitude – he was truly happy to be our dog.
But we did not want 3 dogs. Although this dog chose us, we were not in a position to have 3 dogs. So I began trying to find him a home. We could not afford to bring him to the vet, and he really needed to be seen as his hips appeared to be painful from the shooting injury.
Then, a few people came over to buy something from me that I had advertised on-line. The dog, who we called ‘Puppy’, was outside when they arrived and I let him in a little while after. And he went nuts. Barking at them, growling, hair standing up on his back – and then he lunged at one of them as if to bite. He did not make contact, thankfully, but it was shocking to see. I chalked the incident up to him being surprised by the people in the house and became a tad more cautious.
A very nice young lady showed up to meet him. Being planful about the introductions, I thought things would be fine as long as he saw us welcome her into the house. Alas, things were not fine. He was very agitated by her presence and eventually bit her on the hand. Yeah, she didn’t want him.
It was a devastating turn of events. The nice dog I had been trying to save had now become a HUGE liability. Although we do suffer from a “friends deficit”, people do occasionally come by and really, how was I going to keep the pit-mix from eating them? I was scared, for Puppy and for us. I didn’t know what to do.
In the end, I called animal control to come and get him. To save them from shooting him on the spot – because I knew he would try to attack anyone who came into the house – I was able to get the dog into Gus’ large kennel. The cop who showed up was a bit of a meat-head in a shroud of body odor. He shot the dog with a tranquilizing dart while he was still in the kennel – I was grateful for this, fearing how stressful it would be for Puppy.
I did not realize, though, that tranquilizing the dog meant the dog would have his eyes open but no body control. I did not anticipate the cop dragging the dog out of the kennel by his neck with the leash pole, Puppy’s amber eyes wide but his body slack as if dead. I did not foresee the cop trying to carry incapacitated Puppy by the fur above his tail and the scruff of his neck. I did not know the cop would need to drag Puppy across the entire length of my living room and out the front door by his neck. How he got him up into the truck I don’t know, because I closed the door.
Puppy’s fate was determined the day he showed up at my house. See, I called animal control within those first few days and was told that they euthanize all pit bulls and pit bull mixes that come into the shelter. I wanted to help Puppy avoid that ending. But it was my decision to ultimately have him sent to his death.
The cop told me they would quarantine him for a period of 10 days and then he would be euthanized. Throughout the next week I wondered if Puppy thought about us at all. I hoped he could tell it was sunny outside. I comforted myself somewhat with the knowledge that he was getting fed regularly and was warm at night. I imagined he had his own dog bed – perhaps for the first time in his life? I tried not to think about how frightened he must have been. I wanted to block out the picture in my head of beautiful Puppy, limping down to the gas chamber, liquid amber eyes roaming the place until he made eye contact with someone…and then, in the midst of his death, giving a few wags of his tail.
I am a HUGE skeptic. I live a Godless existence. I rebuff the notion of ghosts, fairies, angels, and aliens. But I am a believer in fate. I believe things happen with purpose, with intent. I know with 100% certainty that Puppy came into our lives – and left them – for a reason, but the reason escapes me right now. I hope to eventually figure it out.
Who wouldn’t have loved this dog?