If I ever lost one of my dogs, I don’t think I could eat or sleep until I found them. They are the loves of my life, and they rely on me completely for just about everything, like all domesticated animals.
Some do everything in their power to find their beloved companion when they go missing. Somehow, people manage to keep going when their pet is lost; as the days stretch into weeks, into months, and then years, they somehow find a way to move on, always loving, never forgetting.
A few years ago my best friend’s cat escaped. She put up hundreds of posters, and drove to the Humane Society three times a week to check for her. We would go on weekly runs through the neighbourhood, calling out for the cat, Gretchen.
Gretchen’s story has a happy ending- she eventually wound up at the Ottawa Humane Society, nearly half a year later, unharmed, but skinny.
Dogs are supposedly man’s best friend. There is absolutely nothing in this world like the unconditional love of a dog. But we as a species are not really their best friends. Abuse is still too common, and many people, while they may not quite make it into abuse territory, fall squarely into the “don’t give a damn” category. In some ways, that’s an even more dangerous attitude.
My friend Amber was walking her disabled pit bull foster dog Puddles recently when she witnessed a dog get hit by a car. The driver slowed down for a second, but then continued. The dog managed to get off the street and start running. Amber followed, determined to ensure if he had injuries that they would be tended to.
He was black- large, long and lean, a big goofball. To maximize his chances of being reunited with his family, Amber decided to take him to the Ottawa Humane Society. Because that’s the first place people go when their beloved family member is missing, right?
But for this black beauty, being hit by that car had sealed his fate. Days passed and nobody came for him. Nobody called. Let’s be totally honest; nobody cared. While I’d be going out of my mind and doing everything humanly possible to find my girl, whoever lost this boy didn’t even bother to make that obvious first call.
But Amber cared. She posted him to various spots on the web for missing pets, and even began preparing posters to put up in the area where he was hit. She checked regularly for posters from his family. Nothing. Then, after the prescribed time period, he was assessed for adoptability. He showed signs of aggression, as stressed out dogs in shelters often do. (OHS does wait to assess temperament until the stress levels can be expected to be at or near normal, based on studies.)
Deemed unadoptable, on March 13, he was put down.
The knee-jerk reaction of many will be to blame the Ottawa Humane Society. It’s always easier to blame the janitor for not cleaning up the mess to your satisfaction, than it is to blame the careless, selfish people who are responsible for making the mess in the first place.
The OHS, and every other shelter, receives thousands upon thousands of animals each year. They have strict protocols in place that they MUST follow because the volume that they’re contending with is so high. Those protocols are not ideal, nor are they always fair to individual animals. It’s probable that sometimes the wrong decision is made, and innocent, beautiful animals become collateral damage.
Believe me, as a vegan, I don’t want to see any animal die needlessly. According to some estimates, being vegan saves up to 200 animals a year from being killed; I can take credit for 2,000 saved lives. I say this only to ward off any accusations that I think it’s “ok” to kill animals. It’s never ok. Ever. I am deeply uncomfortable with the whole concept, enough so that I’ve re-worked my entire life to revolve around that very tenet.
But the blame needs to be assigned accurately. Here’s a hint: It’s not Amber, it’s not the OHS, and it’s not even the jerk who hit him with their car and left. In this case the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the people who took on this dog – probably purchased on kijiji or taken from an irresponsible friends’ litter – and completely and utterly failed him. The blame rests on each and every person out there who takes on an animal, and then chooses not to care enough.
Let’s be clear- there are absolutely situations where somebody’s life circumstances completely and unexpectedly take a turn for the worse; critical illness, or situational poverty for example. But the OHS exists to provide a safety net for those types of situations. The reason resources are so stretched are because of all the other people out there who don’t give enough of a damn to love and cherish the innocent animal who depends on them for everything. They are taxing our system, and taxing the already spread thin resources.
Amber is crushed. She and her husband held a small vigil in honour of this dog, who they had in their company for a total of 45 minutes. She hopes he knows that she cared about him, and loved him.
Through her tears, she wants this poor dog’s fate to serve as a lesson for us all. We need to look at ourselves, and those around us, and ask what we can do to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Instead of railing against the imperfect organizations that are struggling to deal with a never-ending stream of unwanted animals being dumped at their doorstep, do something to help. If you already are, then you’re already part of the solution.
At a minimum, it means spaying and neutering. It means keeping our dogs on leash when it’s not safe to have them off leash. It means adopting or fostering animals. Donating to and volunteering with animal shelters and rescues. Standing up for animals by advocating for adoption, against cruelty, and providing for the animals in our care no matter how we acquired them. This includes training them to behave appropriately in public. It means recognizing animals as sentient beings, and giving them their due consideration. If you want something you can do right away that can have immediate impact, go vegan.
So… if this was your dog, you’re out of luck, and unfortunately, so is he. I hope you think long and hard before you take another animal into your care.