“I have to put that one down tomorrow”, the animal control officer mutters under her breath as I walk back inside.
“Who?”, I ask.
“That pit you just took outside”.
My heart dropped to my toes as I asked the reasoning. She went on to tell me that she bit a child on the back of the ankle. With a zero tolerance policy I knew all too well about bite cases down there, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to change the outcome for this happy go lucky girl.
We had only been at the shelter for a few hours, and yet I still felt as though it had been weeks of emotional abuse.
I’m not sure why I’m surprised, I always feel this way when I arrive here.
We continued on our work for the evening. Room by room we took the animals out of their tiny cages to have a breath of crisp, desert air as we cleaned the weekends worth of urine and feces from underneath their living areas. Their water bowls were bone dry and the single dish of food given to them days prior had been licked clean twice over. I can’t imagine the feeling of being stuck in an enclosed space, hungry and thirsty, as you wait days for someone to care for you.
With minimal staffing, they do the best they can.
We all worked silently, processing the scene in front of our eyes, as my team of volunteers continued to work quickly ensure everyone had full bellies and clean floors to sleep on for the night. Tomorrow, we would work all day to start a year of slowly bettering the shelter you called “home”.
As I made my way through each room, I stopped at your door. Your muzzle poked through the small opening a previous tenant chewed through. As I reached my hand out slowly to assess your temperament, you softly sniffed and gave a lick in acceptance. I couldn’t get the make shift lock undone fast enough to give you a kiss in return. Just as I got the final tie undone, I heard her voice again. “That one is under investigation, she can’t be transferred out”. I closed my eyes and nodded my head before continuing into the four walls you would temporarily call your home.
I knelt down and allowed you to investigate me. I did my usual “nervous dog tango” as we continued to build each others trust. It was in one quick moment you buried your head in my lap and sat there with your eyes closed. It was in one quick moment I realized that I was your only friend.
I ran my hands over your head and felt the scars down your neck from years of being chained outside. Your visible mammaries show multiple litters that you had taken from you. You were shaking but thankful as your head pressed harder into my body, hoping to somehow escape from this place.
My chest tightened as I reran the words through my head,”That one is under investigation, she can’t be transferred out”. She didn’t need to say more as I knew far too well that that meant you would spend your last days in these scary four walls.
With no sign of affection given in your past life, and no chance of leaving this room, I wanted you to know that you would leave this world having a friend.
The next day we got to work, trying to better this place for the others around you. We each took our breaks, giving you love and cuddles. We gave you an extra bowl of food and a brand new blanket to call your own.
You sun bathed next to a raggedy toy, and helped my mom sketch a mural to go on the main entry way walls. You even made an escape through the door, and got to run around the shelter.
You were walked outside and got to breathe fresh air. I’m sure you thought you were free, but only I knew you never would be. Even I, for a fleeting second, thought about letting your leash slip through my finger tips and watching you run off into the distance. But that wasn’t for me to decide.
It becomes an art, really, when you have to push your feelings aside to get the job done. When you know in your soul that you can’t change an outcome but simply have to make the best out of it anyway. When you know that this beautiful girl resting her face in the palm of your hand, will stare at these scratched up walls until the day she is taken from this earth. When you know she will never have another friend a day in her short life, so you do everything in your power to let her have one good day with her only friends.
As the day goes on my chest continues to tighten as I know our friendship is soon ending. I made my way back into your room. You rushed over to me and sat at my feet, staring up at me. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach when I realized someone had taught you to sit. You had a home. And now, this is your final home. Alone. In this room.
I did what I knew best when dealing with frightened babes. I laid on the floor and invited you to lay next to me. You quickly took the opportunity for affection and got as close as possible. You snuggled to my chest and we laid there, you and I. Just a couple of friends. I told you over and over that you were a good girl, and I was sorry that this world failed you. I closed my eyes and tried to keep the images of your sure death out of my brain. Instead I told you stories of when you would come back into this world.
Would you have kids to play with all day? Would you be born into a world that was more fit to care for you? Would you have a cozy bed and spend holidays under the tree? Would you have a vet that kept you healthy? Would you be strong and beautiful and live until you were old and grey?
I squeezed you tighter as I reminded myself it was not the shelters fault you were in this situation; there is no space or funding in these rural communities. It wasn’t the animal control officers fault that she would be the one to end your life; she’s just doing her job, the job that feeds her family in a community with little to no resources. It wasn’t your previous owners fault; they don’t know any better.
It’s the world we live in that put you here, sweet girl. A world where people push a no kill movement with a purebred lab sitting by their feet as they bash the shelters that “kill” these innocent creatures. A world where people continue to buy and breed thinking that their “one” they bought won’t make a difference. Don’t worry sweet girl, I know that their one equals your life. A world where spay and neuter is not a priority, so you were forced to have litter after litter while tied to a chain alone. A world where we turn a blind eye to these corners of the world so that we don’t have to feel sorry for you. Maybe, sweet girl, if we don’t know you’re there, you won’t feel this pain. You aren’t the first and you surely won’t be the last. I’m sorry, sweet girl, that I was your only friend. Maybe in your next life, you will have many friends. Until then, we will lay here as long as you’d like. Us friends. And when tomorrow comes, and you are frightened and alone. I hope you can remember this moment that you gained your very own friend.