Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The dog we couldn't save...

        Red Bull in hand, Shantel hopped up and into the passenger seat next to me. Sitting on an upside-down water bucket, I was sandwiched between Kate and Shantel in our new van, donated by some good Samaritan the previous week.
       "Donuts, Kate?" Shantel asked her.
       "Of course! We need to gas up anyway." Skinny as they were, it made no sense between the donut and diet coke breakfast and fast food and Red Bull lunches.
       "I hate you." I said. The two laughed.
       A local news crew was following us today. They’d heard about Kate from an article in the Kansas City Star newspaper and wanted to get in on the action.
       Our first stop was to a house involving an injured Rottweiler. A man left a message on the COH machine. He said his dog was dying and he didn’t want to deal with a dead dog.
       Usually the weather doesn’t make a difference when these dogs live outside during 100+ degree days and -10 degree days however, days like today it did matter. The heat was oppressive. Air conditioners couldn’t keep up. Cars overheated on the interstate. Dogs without cool, fresh water could face dehydration or death.
      "I have this professor who breeds English Bulldogs. I’ve gotten in several arguments with her. Well, I guess you could call them debates but regardless I’ve asked her repeatedly why she needs to breed. Just drives me nuts. If I didn’t have to have this class for my major I’d drop it. With the quickness." Shantel spoke eagerly of her undergrad studies.
       Kate laughed.
       "What?" Shantel asked.
"You’re so young!" Kate said. "You’re studying geology, you named a dog Cale after, what was that jewel called?"
       "Caledonite." Shantel said. She laughed and took a long swig of her Red Bull.
        Shantel went out with Kate every single day for months during her summer break.
       Kate spoke of her recent move into a new town home in the dead of summer. I sat still, motionless, not wanting to move in the heat. From where I sat I had a perfect blast from the AC.
       The neighborhood had a heaviness to it; the sweltering heat and heavy humidity weighed everything down. Trees seemed to sag under the weight.
       We pulled up outside the house on our right. The news crew was behind us. Kate and Shantel opened their doors and hopped out. I reached behind me for pamphlets and treats- a staple for every stop.
       Nearly spraining my ankle as I jumped out of the van, I saw Shantel and Kate approach a man. Dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, I glimpse his boxers showing underneath.
       I pick myself up from the ground and jog over to the trio.
      "He’s in the back. He’s almost dead. I don’t know what we gonna do. You need to get him out of here." The guy said.
     "What do you mean he’s almost dead, what is wrong with him?" Kate asked. She glanced at Shantel, then me. My stomach dropped, my pulse was rapid and I panicked. This kept me motionless.
      "He done get all skinny. He got some kinda sores everywhere like he’s got AIDS. Man, I don’t know. We fed him. It ain’t our fault he gone die on us."
       Shantel looked at me, I glared back. People never cease to amaze me.
      Another man and a woman came out of the house. They stopped briefly on the porch then came down the steps to us.
    "Turn them cameras away. We don’t want no cameras in here." The woman said.
      I’d nearly forgotten about the news crew.
     "We’re here because you called us to help you. The news crew is following us around today. They’re here with us. Do you want our help or don’t you?" Shantel said exactly what I wanted to say but was scared too.
      The new man said, "I just done get outta prison. I ain’t gone have no news crews up in here. Send them away or we don’t show you the dog."
      By this point Kate was already around the side of the house; Shantel and I followed. I motioned to the news crew to back off and stay in the front yard.
      The back yard was mostly shaded. Willow trees eerie limbs touched down throughout the lot. A chain link fence surrounded us. We walked to the back right corner. The very back of the yard to a dirt circle with makeshift dog house.

      They called him Jose. He was laying in dirt with no shade. There was a food bowl in front of him. Maggots circled the bowl full of green and moldy water. I fell backwards holding my mouth and tripped over an old plant pot. The smell was intolerable.

      We tiptoed closer. Jose’s front right leg was missing below the first joint. At the infected end of his leg were maggots, flies and exposed bone. He didn’t move. His head rested on his left front leg.
      Tumors bulged through his thin skin; his torso, his neck, his head, even the side of his face near his eye. His ribs stuck out from his thin skin. He was starving, dehydrated and dying, without a doubt. Before I knew it I backed away and was throwing up in a bush.

      In all our years doing outreach, helping abused animals and working with strays, we had never seen anything like this.
      Shantel and Kate were yelling at the owners. I couldn’t hear much of what was going on the whole situation was so surreal. The pain and sorrow in this dog’s eyes haunted me. I knew the look; he’d given up.
     "You don’t fucking ever let it get like this do you fucking see his leg?" Shantel yelled at the men and the woman. "No, you can’t see his fucking leg because its gone!"
      Kate never looked like this before; shocked, appalled and helpless. I think today a little part of her heart was taken away.
     "Sarah, go get a pet taxi from the van." Her voice was emotionless, her face stark-white.
      I ran to the van as fast as I could fighting the vomit in my throat the whole way. I could hear them all in the background, behind me. The men saying it happened overnight, Kate and Shantel yelling back that this didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen in a week and it didn’t even happen in a month. Infection, starvation and disease like this took months if not years to get to this point. This dog had suffered in silence longer than we’d ever know.
      The reporter and camera man approached as soon as I ran from around the side of the house.
     "Sarah, can you tell us –" She stopped when I threw up in the bush next to us.
       I grabbed a pet taxi from the back of the van. I hurled it out. I was light headed and nauseas.      
      Normally I wouldn’t have difficulty lifting a 40-lb pet taxi but I could hardly stand up straight. The camera man helped me carry the crate to the backyard.
      "Now you lift your damn dog and you put him in that crate. It’s the least you can do. You fucking let him live like this you owe him at least the decency of putting him in the pet taxi so we can get him out of this hell hole!" Kate yelled at the men.

      The men walked cautiously toward Jose. They almost tip-toed.
      "Do you ever come back here?" I asked.
      They ignored me.
      "Do you ever fucking come back here? Cause if you ever did, you wouldn’t be terrified of your own fucking dog you mother fucking pieces of shit!" I was crying now.
      Shantel came over to me and put her arm around me. I looked down and the ground and said,   
      "Sarah go back to the van. We got this."
       As I walked to the van the two men loaded their dying dog into the plastic pet taxi.
      "…better not call Animal Control…don’t call the cops….ain’t need no trouble ya hear…..just got outta prison don’t need no attention…wasn’t our fault dog wouldn’t eat…."
       I nearly threw up again.
      Shantel sat in the back of the van with Jose, Kate drove and I sat in the passenger seat. The news crew followed. We all sat in silence.
      I looked back and watched Shantel. She cried silently; her tears fell on Jose’s nearly dead body. She stroked him gently through a hole in the pet taxi. She sat next to it, leaning into him. It suddenly seemed very dark in the world.
      We renamed him Atticus. Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird was the most moral and just character. Atticus deserved to know we were trying to bring justice to the world of animal cruelty.    
      We took him back to the shelter. Kate got the concoction of sedative + euthanasia prepared as Shantel fed Atticus small bits of a hot dog. He received love and attention in his last moments alive. But nothing would ever take away the pain and neglect he suffered over that last year. Cancer had literally eaten away his leg; the tumors found all over his body were malignant.
       And, although his owners did set food near him he couldn’t reach it nor chew it, had he been able to reach it. A tumor had taken over the side of his face and his teeth were gone, a result of his trying to chew his way out of his chains.

       The cancer began eating away at his paw from the inside out. When it went untreated, the cancer tore away at his leg and finally ate away at his bone and skin leaving the infection exposed to the outside elements. The food left for him rotted and attracted more elements such as maggots. In life he was helpless to the attacks on his body; yet mentally, aware of every last ounce of pain.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Dog's Dying Day

A group of volunteers went out Sunday. They were on a mission to get hay to dog houses. They were on a mission to make sure dogs had a chance in the freezing cold months to come.

The volunteers came to a house. There was a white dog lying on the ground, his head laying in a bowl. There was another white dog running around. There was no dog house.


Upon further review, it was concluded the bowl was empty. The dog's mouth just rested in the bowl. Maybe in hopes he wouldn't go hungry yet another day.

The dog didn't move for the longest time. Some volunteers thought he was stuck to the ground, as in frozen to the ground.

One volunteer threw a rawhide over the fence. The white dog struggled to get to it. He was able to lift his front legs but that was all he was able to move. The owners of the house wouldn't answer the door (although please note two vehicles and a very clear and easy-to-read license plate) and both the front yard fence and back yard fences were padlocked. The volunteers decided to leave and come back with backup (such as police or animal control) to get the dogs some shelter or medical care.
Exactly 1 1/2 hours later the volunteers returned. The white dog, unable to move himself before, now lay dead. What you see in the picture is an infection (although it looks like a bullet wound it is not) chances are he died of exposure. It was in the single digits with windchill Saturday night and Sunday. He had no shelter, and was frozen to the ground.

 Rest in peace little man, rest in peace.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I rescued a human today...

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels.  I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her.  I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid.
As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage.  I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today.  Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.
As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldn't feel sad about my past.  I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life.
She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me.  I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to comfort her.  Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship.
A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.  Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms.  I would promise to keep her safe.  I would promise to always be by her side.  I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes.  I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor.  So many more are out there who haven't walked the corridors.  So many more to be saved.  At least I could save one.
I rescued a human today.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Eating Animals

My cousin Katie is a student at the University of Iowa (Go Hawks!). She is in an animal welfare issues class and read "Eating Animals" by Jonathon Safran Foer. Being an activist myself, she passed the book along to me.

I am lying on the couch while my husband watches "Man v. Food" (disGUSTing) reading this book. I've nearly vomited twice and my eyes have teared up so many times I lost count.

Chickens once had a life expectancy of 15-20 years. Now the modern chicken (broiler chicken, a chicken used for meat not eggs) is killed at around six weeks. The growth rate has increased 400 percent. This means the chicken puts on as much meat in six weeks as the chicken used to put on in 15 years. Disgusting.

What happens to male chickens? Man hasn't designed male chickens for meat and nature hasn't (obviously) designed them to lay eggs so, what happens to male chicks? Well, they're destroyed. More then 250 million chicks are destroyed every year in the United States alone.

How? Well, they're sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate. They're electrocuted. Alive. Another way farmers and factory farms 'destroy' the male chicks is by sending them - FULLY CONSCIOUS - through a macerator (which is a wood chipper full of completely aware baby chicks).

Another disturbing fact is that in most of the states it is perfectly legal to throw a 'downer' into a dumpster while still alive. What is a downer? While being transported it is common for cows and pigs to become seriously injured and become a 'downer'. They're too weak or injured to regain a standing position. At this point they're of no use to the farmers because they aren't worth enough money. There are more than 200,000 'downed' cows every year (reported so obviously this number is much higher. Farmers don't report - they're too busy making money) and these cows are left to die. They starve, dehydrate and are in pain. Countless video tapes have caught men bulldozing live cows into dumpsters.


Here is a quote from Foer's book. The quote is part of an interview with Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur. (Farm Sanctuary is a sanctuary for abused and neglected farm animals to live out their days).
     "I was driving around the Lancaster stockyard and saw a pile of downers. I approached, and one of the sheep moved her head. She was still alive, and left there to suffer. I put her in the back of my van.......when we got the farm we took her there and she lived ten years. TEN YEARS."

Some veterinary care, love and TLC was all it took for this abused, neglected and left to die downed sheep to live.

Most people know about the cruelty that takes place on factory farms or have at least heard of it.The cages are small. The slaughter is violent.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My love of dogs...

So I am writing this book and everyone in my critique group wants to know, "why do you do the things you do?" What's your motive? What's your inspiration? Why do you go into the ghetto and risk your life, that isn't normal behavior. What drives you?

This is a loaded, heavy and intense question. I could get all Freud-ish and say it has something to do with losing my first dog ever (Hugo) to my parents' divorce. I could say it has to do with the fact that I think people are cruel and let you down and dogs, aren't and don't.

I don't just love dogs. I have a passion for helping abused, abandoned, neglected and homeless animals. I abhor breeding, animal cruelty and neglect, chained-dogs, puppy-mills and dogfighting. It is frustrating when people say "Ohhh you love dogs!" Yes, I do love dogs but I'm not just the crazy dog lady living at home with 14 shitzus and yorkies. My heart goes out to abused (Stella) chained (Max) and neglected (Tyler) dogs. The extent of the misunderstanding goes to people who are close to me, have tried setting me up with a breeder. A BREEDER. "But Sarah, he LOVES dogs! He breeds labs!" Then he doesn't love dogs!! Guys who have approached me and wanted to take me out tell me they have a beagle which lives in a kennel in their garage, or a Great Dane who lives her life outside, or a min-pin for which they paid $2000. First of all, I wont give you the time of day if you keep your hunting dog in a cage its entire life, secondly I wont look at you if your dogs lives its life outside. I dont care how big it is! Dont get a dog if you dont want one!! And lastly, the more money you spent on your dog while 12 million are euthanized each year just reaffirms the fact that you are an ignorant, uncaring idiot!

Everytime I see Sarah McLaughlin's ASPCA commercial I cry. Sarah's song "In the arms of the angel.." plays while they show abused and dying dogs and cats. Just breaks my heart. I would give my last dime to that organization. Oh wait, I did and have.

Random thought - Barack Obama, in all his insight, vowed to adopt a 'shelter' dog for Sasha and Malia. He said as he is a mutt, he wanted to bring another mutt into the White House.

God I love that man.

Whatever that piece of shit Michael Vick did by glorifying dog-fighting, millions of people will now see the glorification of adopting from a shelter since the leader of the free world made it "cool".

I watched "Whale Wars" on Animal Planet last night. I had been eagerly awaiting it's premiere. Last week when Jessi and I went to "Nights in Rodanthe" there was a preview for this new Animal Planet Documentary; Whale Wars. Its basically about these 35 men and women who risk everything aboard the Sea Shepherd: Steve Irwin. There are 6 Japanese ships in the Antarctic who are bludgeoning and massacring this gorgeous, soon-to-be-extinct breed; the Orca Whale. The Sea Shepherd: Steve Irwin, is out there to try and stop the Japanese and scare them into turning around and going back to Japan. In the Japanese fleet, there are 3 "harpoon ships" 2 "GPS" ships and a processing ship. The 2 "GPS" ships cruise around the "Whale Sanctuary" in this portion of the Antarctic ocean just southeast of Australia. The Whale Sanctuary is preserved and whale hunting is illegal HOWEVER the Japanese have "research" written across their ships and can get away with murdering 935 whales/year in the whale sanctuary in the name of research. The Japanese claim they're researching migratory patterns among the whales. What the fuck do they care? Let the Japanese "research" ships loose in those waters and there will be no whales to have migratory patterns!! So while the 2 "GPS" ships are navigating around the waters, finding the innocent and helpless whales, they call on the 3 "harpoon" ships. The harpoon ships have a missile-like harpoon which, like military missiles, when the person guiding the harpoon finds its target (the whale) they push the button and the harpoon (which looks like an anchor the size of an SUV) at about 35 mph, goes directly into the whale, and since it is still connected it drags the whale back to the killing machine. Er, I mean, Ship. Whales are Mammals. They feel pain. In fact, their central-nervous system is as complex as human beings, which means, the whales feel all the pain that is expected when you have a 3-ton harpoon shooting through you. They're dragged up a long ramp into the ship where the Japanese "researchers" saw its tail off for easier manuevering. Once the animal - still alive - is tortured and miserable, the "processing ship" comes by. On the processing ship, the Japanese "researchers" finish cutting up the whale for edible whale meat.

So, Paul Watson is the captain of the Sea Shepherd. Apparently Paul and Steve Irwin were best friends, and I think Steve's widow Teri, donated money for the ship the Sea Shepherd: Steve Irwin. Paul was the founder of Green Peace, a respectable activist-organization also trying to stop whaling and killing in the Antarctic however they're using very submissive techniques. Paul had a falling-out with the other founders/members of Green Peace when they wanted to remain calm and submissive to the whalers and Paul decided the only way to "fight" whaling was to literally "fight" it. Paul was asked to leave Green Peace and started the organization of 35 crew members in this season's documentary "Whale Wars".

As far as I can tell, the 7-episode series will document the hardships the crew aboard the Sea Shepherd face; sea-sickness, capsized boats, and there is even talk of a hostage-situation. Thank God there are people out there who are taking things into their own hands. I realize this area is International waters however, wouldn't you think the government should be doing something to regulate the laws of the Whale Sanctuary?

Whale meat is served at restaurants in Japan. Whale fat is used in lipsticks and other cosmetics. (See list below of companies who either animal test or use animal bi-products in their cosmetics)

Avon Cosmetics
Johnson & Johnson
The Body Shop/L’Oreal+
Lever Fabergé
Christion Dior
Miners Cosmetics
Colgate Palmolive
PZ Cussons
Reckitt Benckiser
Estée Lauder
SC Johnson
Virgin Vie
Yves Rocher
Yves Saint Laurent
Helena Rubenstein

Here is a site to utilize for safecosmetics:

I must say I feel that jumping fences and stealing pitbulls from abusive owners just doesn't feel like I am doing enough. Then again, its so difficult to feel as if we are making a difference and so easy to feel insignificant and like we are hardly making a dent in the world of animal cruelty.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Maggie - The Dog in the Basement

I have interspersed this story with random photos of rescued dogs.

Chapter 13

We were canvassing an area that fall day. I wore cargo pants and a flannel jacket. Kate drove the van, Angela had her Cavalier and a few of the other volunteers drove their cars. I can’t imagine what the people in that neighborhood thought when we pulled up. All of us.

Kate split us into groups and we canvassed the neighborhood. Each group had a box of small bags that each contained a pamphlet explaining the benefits of spaying and neutering as well as contact information on low-cost veterinary services. The bags included information on micro-chipping and other pet resources in the Kansas City area.

Kate takes each situation on a case-by-case basis. After each call she receives from a dog or cat owner needing veterinary care, she looks at the money in the account – either for Chain of Hope or her personal account –start negotiating with vets around the area. I don’t think Kate ever turned any pet owner away. We have treated parvo, a serious and oftentimes fatal disease that puppies get, we've been able to amputate legs that became infected after dogs were hit by cars and we were able to get vets to remove cancerous tumors from strays.

Generally, Kate and I knocked on a few doors and the same dialogue ensued each time.The homeowner skeptically answers the door. Usually they left the screen door closed in between us. Rarely would they speak first.

"Hi. I’m Kate. This is Sarah. We’re with Chain of Hope."

Usually a pause, rarely did the homeowner speak at this point.

"Do you have any dogs or cats?" One of us would usually ask.


"We’re a non-profit organization. We encourage dog and cat owners to spay or neuter their animals. We also like to make sure dogs aren’t living in inhumane conditions such as on the end of a chain or without shelter. Is there anything we can help with? In exchange for your cooperation we can provide dog and cat food, vaccinations, heartworm prevention and treatments…."

At this point they still wouldn’t admit to having a pet.

"We aren’t animal control. We just want to make sure pets are being taken care of."

Once we assured them we weren’t animal control, they spoke. "Oh okay. Well yeah, we have a couple dogs living in the backyard. They’re outside dogs. They don’t come in the house. And there are a few cats that run around the neighborhood. My wife feeds ‘em although I ain’t sure she should be.

"Can we go back and look at the dogs?" Kate would ask.

There was a chance of hearing ‘yes, you can look at our pets in the backyard.’ Usually if the dogs were living in tolerable conditions, the owners would give us permission to go in the backyard. There was always the chance they might say ‘no’ in which case Kate had to try an alternative route.

"Ok sir (or ma’am). Well, here’s our information" and she would hand them the bag full of literature, "give us a call if you decide you could use us. Remember we give free dog food as well."

"Oh wait. Well, can’t you – can’t you just leave some food up here with me?" They would inevitably ask.

"I would be happy to leave it with you. However I need to check on the living conditions of the dogs. We are not animal control. We cannot take your dogs from you and we cannot ticket you. We are just here to help you."

Best case scenario the owners would then let us in the backyard. Usually the conditions were appalling. Part of Kate’s mission statement was to first try to educate the owners. If that approach didn’t work, we would liberate the dogs. To ‘liberate’ meant to get the dogs out of the situation regardless of the owners’ wishes.

This particular day we knocked on a door expecting the same scenario. An older lady in her nightgown answered. She opened the heavy door and left the screen door shut between her and us.

"Can I help you?" She asked.

"Hi ma’am. We’re with Chain of Hope. We are an organization that helps owners care for their pets. In these rough economic times we help with food, medicines and shelter. Do you have any pets?"

"Why yes ma’am, sure do." The woman had one hand on the door and one hand on her hip. I heard a football game on the television in the background and someone mumble "Ma". She looked behind her and yelled at somebody in the room. "Don’t you talk to me like that Tyrone! Do not talk to your mama like that!"

She looked back at the three of us. "Don’t mind him. He don’t know nothin. We got a dog. She downstairs."

Kate repeated, "You have a dog and she is downstairs?"


"Like, in the basement downstairs?"

"Yes ma’am. That’s what I said. She in the basement."

"Ok well, could you bring her up for us to see? We’d like to make sure she is healthy. That way, when we give you free dog food we can also determine if you need medication for her."

"Oh no, ma’am. She never come upstairs. She live there. In the basement."

I looked at Kate. My heart began to beat faster. I panicked.

"I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t understand." Kate said. "Your dog lives in the basement?"

"Oh please call me Phyllis. Yes, she live in the basement." The lady cocked her head and looked at us thoughfully. "Is there something wrong?"

"Well, what about when she has to go to the bathroom, Phyllis?" Kate asked her.

"She go down there."

Kate and I looked at each other.

"You can go down there if you like. One of the boys go down there once every few days to feed her. My husband and son." By this time the two men were at the door.

"What’s going on? Who’re you?" The son asked us. He was probably twenty or so.

"We’re with an animal organization." I said. "We help dog owners. We’re here about your dog in the basement."

He looked at his mom.

"Oh now you just go back to what you were doin Tyrone." She said. He rolled his eyes, looked at his dad and sauntered back to the room and out of sight.

Phyllis turned to her husband. "Larry, these ladies want to go down and see the dog. You take ‘em."

"Oh, damn you, Phyllis. The game is on." Larry, smoking a cigarette, glared at us after speaking to his wife.

"Don’t you dare talk to me that way! You hear me, Larry?"

"Uh, Phyllis, Larry, let me talk with my volunteers a moment. Can you just wait a second please?" Kate said to the couple behind the screen door. "It will just be one moment." Kate grabbed my arm, "Come here, Sarah."

We walked down the sidewalk leading to the street and Kate’s van.

"Oh my fuck. Oh my fuck, oh my fuck, oh my fuck." Kate repeated under her breath. She motioned to several groups of volunteers who could see her. She looked down at me; I could see her lips shaking. "Do you have any fucking idea what we may see down there?" She looked at me. Kate never got rattled, never got scared and was never faced with too much.

The volunteers gathered near the van.

"We need to make this quick so they don’t think this is a big deal. We have a dog living in a basement. The owners don’t remember the last time they went down there. Maybe the son has been feeding the dog. We know the dog has not been outside. Ever." The eight or so volunteers who had gathered stared blank and listened to Kate in disbelief.

"Judy, grab three masks from the van. Sarah, you me and Judy will go in the basement with Larry." Kate looked at Judy. "Larry is the father, husband, homeowner, whatever. He is going to take us to the basement."
Kate grabbed the lit cigarette from Shantel’s hand and inhaled fiercely and quickly.

"We can only pray this dog is alive. If she is, God only knows what we’re dealing with. An unsocialized, starving dog with –" Kate’s voice faded away. "Grab a few flashlights." She asked a volunteer named Shantel.

Judy, still in the van retrieving the face masks, grabbed two flashlights and tossed them to Linsday. Judy put on her face mask. She handed Kate a mask, then me. I put mine on.

"Let’s go get her out of there."

Judy and Kate walked up the cement walkway and I trailed behind them. Larry was waiting. We walked into the house. I could smell the weed, the beer and the cat litter. We hadn’t even gotten to talking about cats yet.

Larry led us around the kitchen and through a door to some stairs that led down. It was pitch dark.

"Isn’t there a light?" I asked.

"Nah." Larry said. "Well, I spose there is but we ain’t got no lightbulbs for it."

I turned my flashlight on. Judy turned hers on and handed it to Kate who was directly behind Larry.

I used the flashlight to look around below. I dipped my feet to the next step to feel the stairs as I descended into the basement.

At the bottom of the stairs Larry stepped aside and motioned for Kate to go ahead.

"Go ahead. I ain’t goin no further."

I wanted to scream at the man. "What kind of human being keeps a dog in a basement. Alone, living in her own urine and feces. No human attention and no love. Never knowing when her next meal was coming or if she would ever get fresh water?" I wanted so badly to scream at him but, in a dark basement I realized I wasn’t in any position to tell him I didn’t approve of the way he took care of his dog.

I felt the rickety stairs change to cold cement under my feet. Judy stayed near the last stair. I heard Larry step back up the stairs and step up on the kitchen linoleum. He left the door open at the top.

Kate’s flashlight lit up the left side of the cold, moist unfinished room. My flashlight lit up the baseboards and shone up the wall. I slowly steered the flashlight along the middle of the room and came to a pile of bags.

They were dark navy blue bags. They looked like cement bags or dog food bags. They were stacked four feet high. I shone the flashlight along the bags slowly. Then, movement. The tail looked black. It barely budged but there was some detectable movement.

"Kate. Judy." I whispered.

Within moments they were at my side. We looked at the nearly lifeless lump on top of the bags.

"Oh my God." Judy said.

"What do we do?" I asked.

"Kate, you should go near her. Try at least." Judy whispered.

Kate handed her flashlight to Judy. Judy and I shone our flashlights near the dog but not directly on her. I could hear my heart pounding. It was so quiet in the basement. I could hear Kate’s quiet shuffle across the floor. And then there was my heart. What would a dog be like, in this situation? Would she bite? Would she be aggressive?

Judy and I watched as Kate neared the bags. She stopped short of the pile, and slowly, ever so slowly, she put out her right hand, palm down. The dog didn’t move. Kate rested her palm on the stack of bags. Still, no movement.

Kate leaned her hip against the bags. We waited. Kate rested her left elbow on the bags. We waited still.
We waited. The dog slowly looked up. She lifted her head from the bag upon which she lay. She looked at Kate. Her nose seemed to creep closer to Kate’s hand. She looked black and fluffy. Her eyes looked tired and sad. She deliberately diverted her eyes from the sack to Kate’s hand, then to Kate’s eyes.

My pulse was racing. I was freezing cold yet breaking out in a sweat. Thank you, God, for making her live through this. Now all we had to do was get her out of the basement and into the sunlight. Show her a better life. I realized I’d been holding my breath that whole time. My muscles unclenched at the same time I exhaled.

The dog smelled Kate. Then rested her sweet head on Kate’s hand.

We were able to slowly and calmly take the dog from her life on the bed of bags. Kate lifted her and realized she needed two of us to lift her. We weren’t sure if her muscles had atrophied so we carried her up the stairs. Once upstairs, while Kate and I carried her, Judy blocked the view of the living room. Referees’ whistles from the football game echoed through the home. I made eye contact with the older man. He looked up at me and right back at the TV. As we walked past, Phyllis sat up in her recliner and looked at us.

"We’re taking her outside." I said. "We’re going to access her health, her condition, then we will talk to you."
Phyllis nodded and smiled. She then looked back at the TV.

Kate had her upper half while I had her bottom and back legs. We walked outside into the sunlight and crisp fall air. The pale blue skies and quiet volunteers loitering around the front yard. Kate set her down on the grass. We all watched as she took what could have been quite possibly her first steps. Kate named her Maggie by the time we got to the cement walkway.

Volunteers who’d been canvassing the neighborhood quickly made it back to where we were, once they realized what happened. We stood huddled around Maggie, as she stood in the grass. Before each step she carefully lifted her paw, glanced at it, set it down but not entirely. She set it down until it touched the long, un-mowed grass then very slowly set her paw down. She did this with each paw for a long time as we stood there and watched.

"There’s no sign of mistreatment or abuse." One of the volunteers said quietly.

"You didn’t see the fucking basement." I said.

"You know, these people are just ignorant. They kept her well-fed. They just didn’t realize she needed access to the outdoors. I honestly think this is a situation we could improve and monitor." Kate said.

We all stared at her in disbelief.

"Lindsay, grab an igloo dog house from the van. Shantel and Ben, grab tie-outs, metal food bowls and water buckets. We’re going to set Maggie up right here." Kate said.

I was in disbelief. The volunteers’ faces showed disbelief. Shock that we weren’t going to get the family to relinquish Maggie, shock that we were going to set her up right there.

Kate saw our faces. "If they thought they were doing anything wrong they surely wouldn’t have admitted to having a dog in the basement. They honestly didn’t know. They are ignorant." Kate dug into her jean pocket and pulled out her cigarettes and a lighter."We’re in this neighborhood at least once a week anyway, this is a situation we can monitor." She put a cigarette to her lips and lit it, then inhaled. "She still has it a hell of a lot better than half the dogs we see."

Kate exhaled.

      **** TO BE CONTINUED***

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Angel in the Ghetto

This is the third chapter in my book which is yet untitled. The book is about Kate Quigley, a local animal activist, but primarily just Chain of Hope's Dog Rescuer Extraordinaire.

Chapter 3

            “We’re going to Antony’s house.” Kate said.
            “Ok.” I said.
            “Antony is a neat one. You will love him. He has a dog tied outside but don’t judge – this is one dog that is truly happier living her life outside, tied out.”
            Kate rubbed her right hand on her jeans while steering with her left.
            “Damn my hands hurt. Walked Tyson and Sampson yesterday and they’ve never been on a leash. Much less on a walk. They pulled so hard my fucking hands have rope burn.”
            “I know, right?” I said. “I walked Sampson the other day and the little guy is a hell of a lot stronger than he looks!” I looked out the window at the passing downtrodden houses and obvious oppression all around our beat-up van.
            “Anyway, about Antony. After years of working with him, he agreed to pull Melody inside a long time ago. She sat by the door and scratched. And cried. Until he let her back outside on her tie-out.” Kate shook her head. “I couldn’t believe it. He had such good intentions bringing that sweet little dog in during those cold winter months. But she wasn’t having it.”
            I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I judge people and their treatment of dogs. Had I passed Antony’s house without knowing his story I would have assumed he was another ass hole who kept his dog on a chain.
            “Here we are!” Kate said. She steered the van to the curb next to a yellow and brown house with a deck off the second floor. A set of rundown stairs descended from the deck to the concrete below. The house was not as dilapidated as the others in the neighborhood, but still did not look safe.
            “Melody needs antibiotics, food and let’s give her some treats too.” Kate gave every dog treats. Usually we have donors who give food and treats as well as vets who donate meds but if the rawhide supply was scarce, Kate would pull out of her rent money to make sure these dogs had their rawhide. It was like Christmas for these dogs whenever Kate came around.
            The door off the deck opened and a man walked out with a huge smile on his face. “There’s my angel!” He exclaimed.
            “Antony, hi!” Kate said. She walked to meet him and they met with an embrace.
            “Who is this angel?” Antony said and pointed at me.
            “This is Sarah. Sarah, this is Antony.” Kate said.
            I walked to where they stood and extended my hand. He put his arm around me and pulled me in for a hug.
            “Sarah, let me tell you about Kate.”
Kate groaned.
            “Now don’t be actin like that Kate, my angel!” Anthony teased and poked Kate’s arm. He was a big man at six foot two.
            I walked to the dog, Melody, who was protecting her turf of five foot radius that her tie-out allowed for her. I recognized the dog house as one of a handful donated to us years back. Getting down on one knee I extended my right hand. Melody came right to me, sniffed my hand and dove into my chest for some attention.
            “Ok Antony, let’s hear about Kate.” I said.
            “It was about two years ago.  I was working third shift at Ford. It was freezing cold, winter. I’d just gotten off work. I got home and opened the door. The house was freezing. I hadn’t paid the gas bill because I couldn’t afford to. The gas had been shut off.  I turned around and went back outside. Melody, my dog was in her dog house. I went to pet her and she wouldn’t come out. I remember wanting to climb in that house with her. I knew she was mad. She was hungry. I hadn’t fed her in days but I couldn’t afford dog food. I went back inside hoping to get my wife to love me. There was a note from her, Marni. The note said she would pray for me but my drinking was too much. She left me. I couldn’t believe it. I fell to the floor and just sat there. Hours must’ve passed by. I was freezing and hungry. I worked a double-shift that next day."
            Antony was animated as he spoke. Kate stood with her hand on her lip listening to him speak. She had a smile on her face.
            "I stood up and brushed myself off. I walked to my car with the same clothes from the night before and my full bottle of Jim Beam and my car wouldn’t start. This happened before. The bus wouldn’t be across the street for another 20 minutes and I had to switch busses twice. There was no way I was going to be on time. My landline had been shut off so I walked to the nearest pay phone. The pay phone down the street at BP didn’t work so I walked another mile to the 7-Eleven and called my supervisor at Ford. He told me not to even come in. This was my third strike. I was fired. I walked into 7-Eleven and bought another bottle of Jim Beam. I walked home through the snow and had the first bottle gone by the time I got in the door. I drank the second bottle and just waited for Jesus to take me home.”
            I stopped petting Melody for a moment and watched this man talk, with a gleam in his eye as he spoke with such raw honesty. I felt ashamed, once again.
            “There was a knock at my door. I don’t know how long had passed but I could hardly stand up or see. The cops were there to ask me to come identify a homicide – shooting victim from the night before. They believe the victim to be Kendall, my son. They left. I begged Jesus to take me home.”
            As he spoke, Antony didn’t have tears in his eyes. He didn’t plead for sympathy or pity. He spoke again.
            “I didn’t have any pills in the house, not even Aspirin. I didn’t have any money to buy any pills to wash down with the Jim Beam I almost had gone. Then, there was another knock at the door. To be honest with you, I think at the time I thought it was Jesus, come to take me home. I opened the door and there were two ladies. Two skinny white ladies. One was old, white-haired and the other was younger, dark hair.
            “Good afternoon sir, we were in the neighborhood and saw your dog. We were wondering if you needed anything, dog food, dog treats or maybe some medicine to help the sore on her back right leg heal.”
            I couldn’t believe my ears. I didn’t say anything at first. Then the other white lady, the younger one, spoke to me.
            “Sir, are you ok?”
            I couldn’t answer her at first. Then I said, “Who are you?”
            “I’m Kate and this is Judy” said the younger white lady. “We are with Chain of Hope. We were in the neighborhood. We saw your sweet dog and thought she looked a little skinny. Could you use a couple bags of food?”
            I started crying. I didn’t understand who these two angels were. The old one sat me down on my coach. I was embarrassed – the couch was falling apart.
            “Do you need anything else?” The old one, Judy, asked me.
            “I got fired from my job. My car won’t start. I don’t have any money for the bus. They turned my gas off. I have no food for my dog. My wife left me because I have the demon, it makes me drink…”
            “Shhh…its ok, its ok.” And then, the old white lady hugged me. Just like that. Then, the two of ‘em starting getting stuff done.  They went outside and one took Melody on a walk while the other cleaned out her dog house, put fresh hay in it and gave her a new water bowl. She filled the food bowl and put two brand new bags of dog food on my deck. Judy was the one who took Melody on the walk. I just stood at the door staring at what was going on.
            I remember Kate came up the stairs with a Styrofoam cup in her hands. I opened the door and let her in. She gave me the Styrofoam cup and said “here’s some hot coffee for you, would you like coffee? I haven’t even touched it yet.”
            I stared at her and took the coffee. She went on to tell me that dogs really shouldn’t be living outside in the dead of winter, especially Melody cause she was kind of a smaller dog.
            “Ma’am, I mean, Kate, I would love to have Melody inside with me but she don’t like being inside.”
            “Can you try, for me?” Kate asked me.
            “Sure will ma’am.”
            Judy had come back from her walk and put Melody back on her chain in her dog house. Judy came inside and held out her hand. “This is for you to get your heat turned back on, and for bus fare to get you a new job.”
            I opened my hand and saw several twenty-dollar bills folded up. They were my angels, them two white ladies. I owe my life to them. I’m working now, and Melody has food every day. And this here Kate – she’s my angel cause she come to my house once, maybe twice a month to make sure me and Melody are getting along ok.”
At that moment, Antony put his large arm around Kate’s tiny frame and squeezed her close to him. He kissed her on the forehead and said “Kate’s my angel.”
Kate pulled away and brushed his arm off her jokingly and said, “You are a good man Antony. You deserve all that’s come your way.”
“I thank God every day. I pray and thank God. That day, that dark day back then two years ago when I begged my Lord to take me and bring me home to him, I prayed and prayed. He gave me you.”
I let Kate and Antony catch up and walked back to the van. Moments later Kate returned to the van. She hopped up into the driver’s seat and started the van.
“He is why I do this. Because I know there are good people out there who just need help. When we first met him I assumed he was purposely starving and neglecting Melody. Not at all the case. Just goes to show you there is always more to the story.” Kate lit a cigarette. “And, don’t judge.” Kate started the van.
“He is why I do this. Because I know there are good people out there who just need help. When we first met him I assumed he was purposely starving and neglecting Melody. Not at all the case. Just goes to show you there is always more to the story.” Kate lit a cigarette. “And, don’t judge.”