Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rescue Heartache (with a good ending for one guy)

This is a blog I've been procrastinating writing. Chris and I do what we can to volunteer with the HBMDC rescue (occasional transport, foster), but in all honesty, it isn't like there are hundreds of Berners pouring into the rescue every year. This is a testiment both to good judgment on part of breeders and Berner rescuers, and more significantly, a breed that isn't that common. As the breed becomes more common, as they are more often on sale in pet stores and byb, rescue numbers will inevitably climb.

Chris and I have had tough fosters before (Polo and Hannah come to mind), but those dogs have been physically healthy (at least healthy enough) when they came to us, just REALLY fearful from lack of socialization. The dog pictured below we didn't foster, all I did was drive him from Wichita to North KC. I spent about 3 hours with this dog, but he is the one that is lingering with me, making me lose sleep at night, motivating me to do more... not because of him necessarily (he gets a happy ending), but because of the class of dogs he represents and how hopeless the situation appears for that class of dogs.

His story... Brute (now Sirius) lived with a woman in TN. This woman never treated her dogs very well, and rescuers had pulled dogs from her before that were starving. It begs the quesiton why some people even get dogs? Anyways, woman decides to move, and "asks" her son to come take care of Sirius until he can find him a new home. Son does not do this. Sirius is left tied up in woman's yard, uncared for (except just enough to survive on from neighbors) for the majority of the summer (think how hot it was).

Good hearted dog people who also do rescue take him from the yard and he is in horrible condition. Emaciated, COVERED in ticks (handfulls of black tick soot or whatever it is called...unbelievable amounts), but still sweet as can be. They take him home to OK for 2 days, contact HBMDC rescue who is willing to take him. I am taking my bar exam, but follow the emails, volunteer to go pick him up the day after and take him from Wichita to North KC.

We did the transfer in Wichita, and I was shocked to see what he looked like. I've never seen a dog in that bad of shape in person. He clung to either car (not picky) to soak up the A/C. When we walked him, he calmly clung to our legs, wagged his tail... to be perfectly honest, I think his temperment was more solid/friendly than any of my 3 dogs who would not be thrilled about getting in a car with a stranger (except for Lemon who would be crazy).

On the ride from Wichita to North KC, he laid in the back floor of the truck and didn't move for the whole trip. He never once stood up, didn't look out the window... just laid in the same position, sleeping off and on. Throughout the trip I would reach back and poke him a little, just to make sure he was still with me. When we got to North KC (met a transfer who would take him the rest of the way to Des Moines) and I got him out of the car for a potty break, I was shocked all over again to see what he really looked like. But again, he clung to me while we walked around the grass, and was as sweet as you could ever hope he would be. I was afraid someone would call the police while we were there, but no one did... Hopefully the reason was it was obvious he was on transport, not that people didn't care.

The pictures below show how thin he was. But there was something about touching his coat that really brought home just what bad shape he was in. His coat was coarse to the touch, sunburned red, and you couldn't touch his coat without feeling the handfulls of grit and dirt, caused by fleas and ticks. However, Sirius was taken to the vet who runs the HBMDC rescue, got healthy, and ended up in a wonderful home.

Unfortunately, after leaving Sirius in North KC with the vet tech, my day did not end. Chris and I drove to rural MO that evening to pick up the motor home (which had been broken down a few weeks back, different story) from a tow yard. The tow yard was at a man's house, the man wasn't there yet. Chris and I step out of the car, and don't make it more than a few feet before we start hearing dogs barking. I walk to the outside kennel and see two labs in separate runs. They are thankfully well fed and have water, but their runs are filled with feces and... they live in runs. After spending the day with Sirius, I shake my head but remind myself that at least they seem healthy enough.

About an hour later, a cat comes limping out from the tow yard ("must have been bit by something"), with a foot that has obviously been flattened by something. The cat is yowling every step it takes, and I'm looking at this guy telling him he needs to get the cat to the vet. He dismissively says he will... a certain kind of rural mentality. At that point, I'm looking around and off into the distance at his neighbors in rural Missouri... wondering how far away I am from the closest Sirius, tied up and slowly starving to death, how far I am from the closest puppy mill... 20 mile radius? 10? 5? 1? Probably.

I don't think the people are bad people by any means, but they have a mentaltiy about their animals that I don't agree with and that I hope will change in the future. I'm not surprised by that... my folks grew up in rural Missouri, and while their perspectives have certainly evolved throughout their lives, when remembering visits to grandparents as a child, it is easy to see that the people in their community continue to have a different perspective on animals.

I read a line in a book recently that stuck out to me, so much that I just flipped back through the book to find it, and then was surprised at how unremarkable it actually is. But the quote is from a vet in a fictional book, "This is Maine. We have people who still think that taking care of a dog means chaining it up in the backyard and throwing food to it once a day." I don't know anything about Maine, but I do think that expresses the problem. People lack compassion for dogs and their needs, which are both physical and mental, because they don't see dogs as thinking, feeling beings. Those of us who have close relationships with our dogs understand that not to be the case and have a very different understanding of how deeply they feel.

I'm not saying you can never have an outside dog. I don't think it is ideal for the dog as they won't be getting the necessary socialization, however I think an outside dog that recieves daily attention, clean living space, clean food and water and vet attention is okay, and certainly in a better situation than most. I understand that some dogs enjoy living outside. Some dogs are true working dogs, not pets/companions, and so they live outside. If they are being used in the way that they were bred for and are being challenged and mentally satisfied through their work, then I think that is ok.

I'm not quite sure where this blog is going, other than to get out all the frustrations of the past few weeks. But, I'll end with this story and my response. The Berner-L was up in arms a few weeks ago because a man drove to the mall, left his golden mix and chihuahua mix in the car, they over heated and the golden died. By up in arms, I mean there were threats of a planned seige upon his home... really enraged by what he did. I never responded, but here is what I wanted to say...

Granted, he made a stupid mistake... perhaps didn't know how quickly cars heated? But I strongly doubt he maliciously brought his dogs to the mall, then left them in the car so they could die a slow death in which they would draw attention to other mall-goers at which point he would be arrested and charged with animal cruelty. The more likely scenario is that he brought his dogs along for a car ride, didn't understand how quickly cars heat up, then was shocked/grieved to find out what happened. At the end of the day, my feeling was that while of course you shouldn't leave a dog in a hot car, at least he cared enough about his dogs to bring them along for the ride. Its a little bit of a sad and jaded place to be (especially since I'm not really the jaded type), but at some point you start to measure people's bad acts towards animals against each other... saying this is really bad, this is kinda bad, this isn't perfect but better than kinda bad, etc... and the whole situation is really overwhelming. It is getting more difficult for me to think about the individuals rather than the situation as a whole, which is much more disheartening.

But enough negative blogging for the day. Remember that for Sirius, all is well, and that sometimes it is important to look at the individual cases. Even one less dog sitting in that type of situation is nothing but a success. On a happier note, next blog with be swimming lesson pictures!

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