It’s 1 AM and I can’t sleep because every time I close my eyes I keep thinking about a dog.
It’s a story I heard earlier this week, a story about a dog that died while in care at an animal shelter somewhere in the U.S. It’s a horrible story about a dog that died a horrible death, because someone somewhere along the line made a mistake.
You hear horrible stories about dogs all the time, whether it’s dogs abandoned in a house in Los Angeles or puppies thrown away in the trash like garbage in Rochester. And bad things happen to animals even in the best of circumstances. Shit, as they say, happens.
I don’t know why this story bothers me so much. I didn’t know the dog. But I just keep thinking about how lonely it must have been for him lying there in pain wondering where everyone had gone, and everyone thinking someone else was taking care of his problem,until finally the only problem left was what to do with his body.
That gets me to thinking about the dogs at our shelter, alone at night in their caged runs. I don’t even like leaving my dogs overnight at the vet, because no one is there on staff overnight. My dogs sleep with me. When the dogs got neutered, I worried like crazy all night and called to check on them several times every day they were there.
For some dogs, I suppose the kennel is a safe place, an alternative to the streets where they’d been running loose when they were picked up. It means shelter, food, someone to care for their wounds or ailments, and the possibility of a new home.
For others, it’s a sad purgatory, the confusing place they’re sent because an owner is moving or sick or can’t or doesn’t want to care for them any more. They don’t know why they’re there or when they’re going home or where everyone they love has gone.
I think about the dogs that were there yesterday but weren’t there today, and I hope the reason is because they found forever homes and not because they’ve gone forever home, if you get my drift.
I had a dream a few days ago that I was watching through a window at my daughter’s dog, Dali, being put to sleep. In my dream, my daughter was crying and I was banging on the window yelling, “There’s been a mistake! Stop!” until the dog closed her eyes and breathed her last. Then finally the window opened and the vet – who thankfully I didn’t recognize – said he was sorry but they just didn’t know who the dog belonged to and didn’t hear our yelling. “Oh well,” he said, “that’s life.”
I went to Petsmart the next morning and had a new tag made for her collar, just to be sure.
Maybe that’s why I’m so troubled by the story I heard, why I feel the need to check in on the dogs that have been adopted, why I needed to make sure Dali had her tags. I look at Scout and Bandit, curled up on the bed, and the thought of them in a shelter makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t even know if they’d pass a temperment test and make it to the adoption kennels, what they’d be thinking locked into a strange place with strange people and strange dogs and strange food and no Mommy.
I feel guilty when they don’t get enough play time; yet these are dogs that sleep in bed with me, have had lots of training, eat holistic dog food and wheat free treats. These are living, breathing animals for which I feel a profound responsibility and a joy at fulfulling that task. I get back way more than I give.
I’m not one of those crazy PETA animal advocates who won’t eat a chicken because it’s inhumane. But I do advocate for humanely raised and humanely processed food if I’m going to eat meat. And I’m not elevating dogs to the level of humans.
Man has a responsiblity to care for all of God’s creatures, and we humans have helped the dog become the faithful canine companion he is today. And with that comes a responsibility to care for him, to work together in a relationship where we each provide for the other’s needs. Shame on any one of us who moves and leaves dogs abandoned in the house, or turns over our dog to the shelter because we’re too lazy to train him or because we’re tired of him, or abuses or neglects or mistreats any animal.
And dying alone isn’t right – for a dog or for a human.
And that’s why I can’t sleep tonight.