Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The dog I (almost) left behind.

I am posting this essay in light of all the dealings going on with Micheal Vick, and his dog fighting ring. I, of course, do not support animal abuse in any way. Being an animal lover, myself, of course I wouldn't. I used to volunteer at the Michigan Humane Society. In my time there, I fostered over 20 sick and injured animals, I spent my weekends walking dogs at the shelter. This is a story of one dog I met at the shelter, that I almost didn't walk one day.

It was an early Sunday morning at the Detroit Michigan Humane Society Shelter. I liked to go on Sundays to walk the dogs. The Detroit shelter had a nice fenced in park, as well as a decent block to walk around - with a big church next door and several houses on the block. I always started with the adoptable dogs, to get them a good walk before the shelter opened to the public. I would try to give every dog a walk before I left for the day. After the adoptable dogs, there were some dogs that were sick and injured. The ones that were capable of a walk would get a nice slow walk with me, or just a few minutes to sit in the park. Then there were the dogs that weren't available just yet - some were on the waiting period for their owner to possibly claim them, some were awaiting evaluation. They all got walked too. Then there was the last room. The room with the dogs that were never going to be adopted. Recognize that I support kill shelters like MHS that make the best decision for the dog. A highly aggressive dog may hurt a child, or end up dying in a fighting ring. A dog that is too sick or injured to ever lead a healthy life is better off having their suffering ended in a painless way. And then there were some whose lives had to end because of fighting rings. American Pit Bulls are never adopted out from the Michigan Humane Society, as a rule, not because the breed is vicious, but because these dogs usually end up coming to a brutal end in a fight ring. MHS puts them down through lethal injection, instead of taking the risk of a dog ending up in a fight ring. And honestly, most of the Pits that end up at the shelter were rescued FROM fighting pits. And I have seen fight pits. They are not pretty.

So on this Sunday, as I walked each dog in and out of the building, I walked past this room. It's the closest to the back door. The room where the tags on the gates were white (as opposed to blue or pink for the adoptable pets) Some of the tags had numbers written in bright red. That was the time that day a dog was going to the euthanasia room across the hall. The room where, when the light was red outside the door, I always averted my eyes. As I pulled each dog out for a walk, I didn't realize that I kept walking past one cage. I grabbed my keys and was about to leave, when I realized I had left one behind. He wasn't aggressive, he wasn't even barking. He watched me numerous times walk past, and just looked at me with big brown eyes. I went back to his cage and looked at him. I told him I was sorry I didn't walk him, and that I kept walking by. I told him that society told me to fear him. He was an American Pit Bull Terrier. He was covered from head to toe in scars and scrapes, and was missing part of an ear. The big red numbers on his cage said "2:00." It was noon.

I went back and picked up a leash. I slowly opened his cage, and gently slipped the lead around his neck. He smiled, I swear, and he walked right next to me, slowly, out to the fenced yard. When we got outside, I took off his lead so he could run and play - one last time. I sat on a bench and tried to throw him a ball or a stick. He just looked at me. He walked over, and hopped up on the bench and sat down next to me, leaning against my legs. I found a little spot on the back of his neck that had no scars or scabs, and I scritched him there. He put his head down on my knee. And we sat there, probably for a good 30 minutes just smelling the air, and enjoying each other's company. This dog that had been put to fight - that was covered in scars and fresh wounds - he trusted me. This dog? He could sit next to me and just be content? One that didn't seem to have known anything but survival and brutality. He just sat there with me. I hated to take him back. He may have made a great pet, but I knew the policy at the shelter. After a while, I gently slipped the lead back around his battered neck and we walked back to the shelter. He didn't resist going back in the cage, like so many other dogs do. He just went in and sat down. I told him goodbye, and I knew I would never see him again. But I also knew that in a life of torment, that dog had 30 minutes of peace and love before the end. 30 minutes where he could trust without question, and just be loved and love back.