“Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Coming out of Buffalo, we walked by the station of the cross, a local radio station, followed by a Madonna, and a church in Lancaster. As the dogs prostrated themselves before Madonna, I reflected on their “Hail Mary”. What sins had they committed, if any, that had put them into shelters, or caused them to be abandoned into a sea of 4 million animals in America awaiting death or some slim hope of redemption or adoption?
In Duke’s case, I had a little clue. I had been told that they were sick of not being able to constrain him, and that he had put his own eye out. He had scars from fighting on his face. He presented with every symptom of abuse when I got him: terror at crossing a doorstep, tiptoeing on asphalt, aversion to all contact with unfamiliar humans. He was unneutered and heartworm positive. (80% of all stray dogs arriving at the shelter where I found him are heartworm positive. A poor heartworm status at the shelter is almost a death sentence with the cost of treatment, if the additional pit bull stigma and legislation were not already the seal of death.) With his flight tendencies, I had had him neutered almost the next day. He had also been treated with doxycycline, followed by weekly ivermectin for the heartworm. Whatever was in his past, he was very gentle and contrite, and I feel certain that, with his humility, God forgave him. I was so sorry about the suffering and brokenness that he had experienced.[i]
With Petey, it was a little more complicated. He had been abandoned in coyote country with a very tight collar. He was missing skin in his collar area. At his size and with the boldness of the coyotes in the area, he would not have made it through the night. I had already opted not to take another very pregnant dog on the street leaving her to find her own solution to her pregnancy. He was number 17 in a pack that at the time had 11 pups. I did not want any more dogs, but I couldn’t leave him to that fate. He had no social skills whatsoever (dog or people). It took quite a bit of effort to catch him, growling and nipping. With the fact that I was managing 2 litters at the same time from abandoned very pregnant dogs, he got very little attention. After all of the other dogs from the pack had been placed, I kept Duke and Petey because I considered them to be the least adoptable.
Petey, like his namesake the apostle Peter, was nippy (although we were working on this). With no knowledge of his past, I imagined him brought home by a young kid whose family wouldn’t let the dog in. So perhaps he was tied out on a stake, never socialized, and the collar started to grow into his neck because the kid didn’t know better to check, and, as with most children, they lose interest in a pet when they don’t have family support. Someone let him off his stake, and probably set him in front of me knowing that I would pick him up. They were lucky I did. 17 dogs is an overwhelming number for me, but none were crated (and I had some big ones as well as the puppies and 2 pits). Everyone managed to get along for the most part. We had made a stable pack until homes had been found for most of them.
There are people who use animals as a drug, hoarding them under situations where the animals are miserable. Sometimes, the label “animal hoarder” is applied casually by people who don’t really like animals, and don’t value their lives. Other times, it is applied by those who love animals, but are not really able to process the overwhelming facts of animal rescue and the sheer number of animals, the cost of spay-neuter, vet care, and the alternative of euthanasia in a situation where resources are limited. Lastly, it is often applied by those who have mentally done the math, performed the euthanizations, who with one quick, soft, but firm nod can say yes or no to the dog life that has tumbled into their hands. Sometimes these are breeders faced with an imperfect or sick dog. Sometimes they are vets faced with bankruptcy if they provide resources for these animals. Sometimes these are shelters who know that statistically certain kinds of dogs will never be adopted if they come into a shelter. They make the decision to euthanize. In the end, it is an intensely personal decision: how painful is it for one to know that an animal will die, or suffer injured or abused on the street? For some people, the painfulness of the alternatives for the animals without an individual’s intervention outweighs the pain the individual will experience by including these animals in their lives. Personally, I look at my individual capacity to accommodate without going insane, and then look at the animals: are they happy in their situation with the care that is being provided? Are unwanted puppies being produced because animals’ heat cycles are not being noticed? What happens to the unwanted puppies? In my opinion, a poor person who provides a pack to a community of dogs that is not reproducing if resources are scarce is a much better choice for a dog, than a very rich no-kill shelter caring for 100 dogs. There is no way that 100 dogs in one place can have a sense of belonging to anything more than a jail, nor will their caretakers be able to notice their emotional and physical needs. Freedom, as well as a position in the pack, is important to dogs and achievable in a pack of 17 if most are pups.
Picture of Petey in front of a church sign: “You are no accident because God chose you.”