Part 1: In Beginning (Bereichit) – how the New York trip began
It was the end of August and the days were sweltering. I was spent, and ready for a change. I had passed the few weeks before volunteering at a dog kennel in West Virginia coal country. The work had been grueling. We had 40 dogs that had to be walked, and their kennels cleaned. I was up from sun up to sun down walking dogs up the mountain in nature. Many of the dogs were now trained by me to walk off-leash in groups. Their spirits all needed time socializing and smelling nature. The kennel had started out as a fee-for-board kennel, sharing their services with rescued dogs for a fee. The problem with rescue dogs is that many of them come from unknown situations and their health status can be shaky. So, the kennel quickly moves from mixed commercial to all rescue. Rescue can’t pay. The kennel loses, and can’t pay the water bill, etc. In mathematics, we call this kind of critical point, highly unstable and poorly behaved space. One little perturbation and the function explodes, deteriorating into a situation where vast resources need to be pulled in to save anything. So, I was shoveling dog poop all day in the kennels, and walking the dogs. We had 40 dogs, and they all got time every day. It was just me. Then, someone raided a puppy mill. The workload, already at its limit, doubled. The dogs were piled up 4-5 dogs/run. In control systems theory, this wasn’t an epsilon, it was a force of such magnitude that even a reasonably stable and well behaved system would have had problems restoring itself to within its radius of convergence. Rescue needed rescuing.
A few weeks earlier, I had pulled some dogs from the kennel, and moved them up north. One little puppy, Louie, never got walked because his leg was hurt, so I took him. I had the leg x-rayed. Three vet consults later, 2 of 3 vets were saying he had a nonunion fracture that couldn’t be fixed. It was too late. We would have to amputate. The third vet said amputation could wait, but wasn’t really optimistic about being able to fix it. Through me, the pup moved into high profile – “rich” rescue.
With this tragedy in the very near background, another little 5 month old pup, Cassie, shows up from the puppy mill crowd with a hurt leg, sharing a kennel run with 5 other pups. I don’t wait, but move the pup immediately to the vet for an x-ray which showed a completely broken femur that had started to heal at a right angle. The vet again recommends amputation. At the same time, I’m dealing with the fact that I’m a type 1 diabetic and my insulin had overheated and degraded. I had been injecting more and more, but it was no longer working.
The kennel was trying to raise money by selling donuts at Wal-Mart. They had promised me some insulin. I had no money, and had been eating one meal a day at the local food bank every day for lunch. I waited and waited, and when I couldn’t stand it any more, I moved Cassie across state lines into “rich” rescue so that her leg could be saved, and I could get insulin. Maybe I wasn’t thinking right. My blood sugar was so high that I was staggering by the time I got insulin. I left the kennel a note explaining where Cassie was. I couldn’t leave her behind.
Cassie’s leg is saved.
Up north, Cassie is rehomed through a vet who told me she could fix her leg if the surgery were done immediately. When I came back to West Virginia without Cassie, everything hit the fan… What had been like entering a war zone every time I went into the overcrowded kennel became a concentration camp with dogs facing lethal injection or gassing. The stress exploded and everyone lost their tempers over Cassie. We agreed that I should leave if I couldn’t handle having sick dogs around me, and following protocol. I left. Unbeknownst to me, the kennel closed a couple of days later.
It was time for some fresh air. I headed north with my 2 rescued dogs, Duke and Petey. The trip began with a land deal that fell through. I had been living in a car for a few years, and had thought to purchase a piece of property where I could build a cabin – a place where the dogs and I would be safe. With the daily 30 minutes of computer time that I had every day at the public library, I had found some prospects in Maine. It would be cool there. On the day and time when the decision had to be made, the only affordable properties that showed up were in New York. So I bid on the land and then decided to go up to New York and visit it. At the same time, I was trying to raise awareness about the 80 or so rescue dogs that I had left behind. I had taken pictures to try to get the kennel dogs moved as quickly as possible from their situation. Now, with a little distance, I progressed to trying to get them adopted by posting flyers in conspicuous places up north where the dog ethics are stronger. Restaurants, churches, supermarkets…they all became outlets.
When we arrive at the property upon which I had bid, it was truly beautiful as described in the ad. A potato field on one side of the road, a corn field on the other. Like deer, in the right season, I would never go hungry. I had with me a rescued 5 year old pit bull that was blind in one eye. His name was Duke. He came from a shelter that systematically euthanized pit bulls and was heartworm positive. When I got him, he was initially terrified of everything, and couldn’t negotiate the simplest jumps to get on a bed, presumably lacking the depth perception to accomplish this. His eye injury was likely recent. Perhaps, it was why he was relinquished to a shelter – so he could get care. Perhaps those who turned him in didn’t know, he had no chance of ever getting out short of someone’s unlikely (illegal) intervention. He had an intimate affinity for freedom, however, and could climb fences, get out from harnesses, and was super smart and self-sufficient. He was the only dog I have ever known who would try to fish in a stream, plunging his head into the water at the right time to catch a fish. I had rescued him 8 months before and he had learned to love the freedom that he had with me. Here on this property I was considering buying, Duke, especially, was delighted, moving in quick leaps across the property that abounded with wildlife.
There were a few problems, however. The property was high on a hill far from a town. The unpaved road was unsuited to the hybrid I was driving, and it descended quite steeply into a creek. It was a hunter’s lot, and was supposed to have a deer blind on it. I did not find the blind. It was midsummer, and the road was barely passable. I knew that with the least bit of snow or bad weather, we would be trapped and unable to get in and out. This was upstate New York, and it is not as if snow were unlikely. No one would be able to get in to help me if I needed help. So I opt not to spend this last little bit of almost inaccessible money that I had set aside for an emergency on this property. I thought that I might find something more suitable for the immediacy of the situation I envisioned. Meanwhile, I had been using a gas card to put fuel in the car, and only had about $20 in cash from panhandling, plus a cashier’s check drawn off of a New Jersey bank for the property. Somehow, on the steep incline of the property, as I followed the dogs down to the creek and back up, the gas card fell out of my pocket. The area was heavily forested, and covered with leaves. I made a few attempts to find the card, but it was hopeless. I was strapped.
I was a couple of hundred miles from Buffalo, NY, and I remembered that I actually knew someone there who might be able to help me to cash the check I had with me. So, I head up to Buffalo arriving on a wing and a prayer using the $20 that I had, in the car whose air-conditioning had been sabotaged by the “green police”. Whatever it was, (probably an opened Freon valve), the damage had been quickly done during a library visit. For all I knew, they had harvested the Freon. They were clearly upset that with the 100 degree heat, I was leaving the hybrid running with the window open and the AC on and dogs inside. They wanted the dogs out of the car. I had nowhere to put them. My logic was: “This is a hybrid, folks; someone has put some thought into the catalytic converter. Running the AC can’t be that bad for the environment. It had to be better than AC in a house.”
I visited my friends in Buffalo, this city which sits on the Canadian border, all the time continuing to advocate for the West Virginia dogs. I had always had an affinity for Canada with their green values, and even once before unsuccessfully tried to visit Canada with a self-made ID. This former attempt merits a little explanation.
Between my animal activism and vagrancy, I had become a constant target for the police who, with the advent of the Patriot act, had begun to follow, detain, and often run my license (probably to broadcast my location). I had been arrested, and jailed several times by now. With each arrest, they would conveniently “forget” to give me insulin, driving me into keto-acidosis, until I would vomit, or urinate in shackles. The court had begun to put all kinds of terms of probation on me – one of which was an order to obtain identification, since I had made a point of performing day labor, hustling construction work with the “illegals” in the hope of learning enough to one day be able to build a house. So, I had done what I felt any “illegal” could do. I created my own ID, with its own picture of me and my pit bull Casey whom I had snuck into a mall photo booth. The ID also had a statement of nonviolence and beliefs about animals and the environment, as well as my signature and my fingerprint, both notarized.
(Obviously, I lost the car later, and ended up walking over 600 miles across the state with a tent and Petey, unable to cash the check. Although I started the trip with Duke as well, he would not have the strength to finish the trip.)