My father was a chemical engineer by trade but an entrepreneur at heart. A steady stream of ideas surfaced through the synapses of his well-organized brain. I don’t imagine he expected to strike it rich from any of these schemes. More likely he had hoped to earn extra cash to support his wife and six daughters, and through the varied experience, to add to his prodigious arsenal of knowledge.
Raising Irish Setters was one of his ideas. To this end, naturally, he acquired a male and a female, Mac & Ginger. He offered the profit of one puppy to the daughter who agreed to care for the litters until they were sold. I jumped at the chance. Not for the money. I would have done it for free.
I spent so much time with my terra cotta charges that I became their surrogate mother. We traveled in a pack, my puppies and me. Up and down the hills of our rolling acreage, they tailored their gait to mine: a slow amble, a jog, or a run as fast as their stubby legs would transport them.
We tumbled together in the grass heavy with dew. I wrestled with their pillowy, pliable bodies, their fur smooth as the finest silk, their breath a bit too fragrant with recently consumed kibble. They trounced along my supine form, dueled with my t-shirt, and gnawed at my fingers and toes.
I fed them, cleaned up after them, taught them small tricks. I gave them names, and shed tears as they were sold. I learned early on the commitment required to care for animals.
A year ago my 14-year old Lab died of old age. More accurately a vet came to the house to end her life. She’d been sick for a long time, and I could no longer bear her suffering. What pet owner does not wish vehemently for the animal to die quietly in their sleep? Why do we put ourselves through the ache knowing we are almost certain to outlive them? Emily followed me from room to room never wanting to be anywhere but by my side. We loved each other well, Emily and me. That’s why we do it.
This summer when Muffin, who had loved Emily as much as I did, arrived for her annual trip, our plan was to visit the Animal Shelters to choose a dog. And so we did, visit the shelters, but we did not choose a dog.
Overwhelmed by the numbers, I wanted to rescue them all. I thought of the commitment, and of Emily, and I couldn’t go through with it.
It turns out that if we wish to allocate blame for the abundance of Chihuahuas we might lay it at the feet of Elle Woods, Paris Hilton, and Madonna. Really? Who buys a dog because they see it popping out of the oversized purse of a celebrity? Apparently many do just that. When they realize the cute little toy requires food, exercise and love they deliver it straight away to a shelter.
Who buys a scary Pit Bull to tear at the flesh of a feared and hated intruder who never makes an appearance? Quite a few people, it seems. Why? I’m inclined to point to Fox News, and their preferred broadcasts of hate and fear mongering. But, that’s just me.
When they realize Pit Bulls require substantial training, patience, devotion, and all the other necessaries like food and clean water, they deliver it to a shelter. Pit Bulls get a bad rap. Blame the owners who encourage the dogs to be fierce. It is not the inherent nature of the dogs.
Like children dogs require boundaries and lots of love. When freely given they return it unconditionally, and a thousand times over.
What would we do without county animal shelters, the volunteers who staff them, and all the other organizations that aid in caring for abandoned animals? I shudder to consider. Have you ever traveled to a third world country and noticed the starving, skeletal wrecks that pass for dogs? It is not an image soon forgotten.
Decades later I still see my terra cotta puppies tumbling down the hillside in hot pursuit of my attention and love. Soon I’ll find that special dog. I’ll visit a shelter, he or she will speak to me, and I will answer.
Do you have experience with shelter animals?