About a year ago, I posted a blog entry announcing the arrival of a two year old Aussie Shepherd – Chow mix in our family. She came from Project Rescue Chicago, a rescue organization sponsored by a doggie day care center in the city. Then, in a rather tortured analogy, I compared her frequent sniffing stops in the same places during our morning walks to a reader returning to her favorite books over and over to see if there was something new to discover.
It was a reach. But it was a fun exercise. Truth be told, it’s been a wonderful ten months with this dog for me and my family.
Partly because of social media, but mostly because I rather like them, I have stayed in touch with Project Rescue. Summer (my dog), my youngest daughter and I attended a “reunion” at their day care center a few months ago and it was so much fun to meet fellow PRC alumni and see the dogs featured on Facebook up close. Recently I signed up to volunteer with them for a day at the Animal Welfare League in Chicago this past week.
I’ve been to animal shelters before and even volunteered for a few years at the Tree House Animal Foundation in the city. There’s no way around it. Hundreds of animals, mostly in cages, mostly dumped on shelters by owners who either no longer want them, or can care for them. Even the best “no kill” shelters that I visited while we were looking to adopt left me feeling sad.
But this trip to the wonderfully caring AWL with the people who made it possible for our family to adopt this lovely dog has left me shaken, and it will take many more days of long walks, hours in the garden and on the bike, and hours in the office working on lengthy projects to clear my head of these images.
“My dog was in a cage like this” I kept repeating to myself. And even though the AWL staff showed real care and love and concern for these dogs, “My dog was in a cage like this.”
I doubt she remembers. Dog’s aren’t wired that way. But I am.
Our first project was sorting out food and helping with some housekeeping activities that make it possible for the AWL staff to do the important work of caring for the animals. Then we moved on to getting the dogs out of their cages so they could be cleaned and out into the yard for some socialization. I first helped with two incredibly adorable pittie/boxer mixes. They proved to me that so many of the myths about these breeds are just plain wrong. These two animals, who probably never experienced much in the way of socialization or human touch were responsive, friendly and would be wonderful in the right home.
Then I met the dog that will break my heart for a long time to come.
If you’ve never heard of a breed called the Dogo Argentino , that’s OK. They’re a large breed “hunting” dog and while not rare, there’s also not an enormous number of them around. They were bred in the late 1920’s in South America as a “fierce hunting dog that would then be gentle with his family” Dogo’s look like oversized blindingly white Pitt Bulls. In other words, the first time you see one, you can’t help but take a step back.
But they’re not scary at all. She was reluctant to walk into the yard. Her story was that a breeder used her to breed a lot of puppies (so much so that her teats sagged), then dumped her when she was no longer any use. While Dogo Argentino’s aren’t too friendly with other dogs, they truly are gentle with people. A volunteer took her into a locked kennel and then sat with her for an hour (The day was full of amazing volunteers like her). Just petting her, befriending her, talking to her, and finally getting licks, cuddles and “dog hugs” from this giant who was truly gentle.
After a while, I switched with her and entered the kennel. We sat, we talked (well, I talked), I petted her, and got some slobbery licks and hugs in return. I noticed that her white fur was dirty, her nails long. But she seemed happy. Would someone see past her fierce appearance and rescue her?
Social critics have a wonderful time critiquing our society. And we make it so easy for them. We spend too much on war and not enough on schools. We’ve known for a long time that we are too dependent on carbon based energy and we’re only now just starting to think about it. We use our resources like they will never run out. We build huge skyscrapers and fancy office towers and luxury hotels. And roll up our car windows when a homeless person walks by. We treat political ideology like religion and politics like professional sports instead of public service. We treat religion like private clubs for the very special. A simple reading of history would suggest that it’s been that way for us since the beginning of recorded time.
But with all we know now, I wonder, why would we continue to treat our companion animals like any other disposable widget we’d pick up from the nearest Walgreens? How can we do this?
I took her to the washing station and with the guidance of another volunteer, I got her bathed and her nails trimmed. The whole time, this big, scary looking dog just stood there, wagging her tail, licking our hands, smiling. Just being her marvelous doggy self. How much of her life had been spent locked in a cage, being mated time and again. How often had she been outside in her old life? How could she be so calm and trusting of humans after all of that?
Would we be a better society if we treated our animals better? If we spent as much licensing these “breeders” and “inspecting” them as we do our buildings and machinery and automobiles, would that stop this abuse? Who will tell this mature, 90 pound Dogo Argentino, “Yes, I like you, I love you, we want you to live with us and be our family?”
Thousands of generations ago, the first dogs crept into the fire circles of our ancestors and allowed themselves to be domesticated. They did it because the food was better, there was companionship and there was warmth. Even back then I am sure that we periodically broke our bond with our dogs. I’m inclined to think, I have to think, that even at this late date we can do better and that we want to. If we treat our animals with more care and dignity, I think our future could be brighter.
And the first step would be for someone who can, to take in this heartbreakingly wonderful gentle white giant.