In just a few weeks, I will pass a milestone – one full year voluteering my time making images of adoptable dogs and cats with animal rescue group Animal Friends for Education and Welfare (AFEW) as well as some time shooting at the Hamilton Township Shelter. One of the things I noticed, is that it takes a special person to be involved in this kind of volunteerism. Someone who can look past the sometimes poor condition of an animal when they arrive and see the potential that is waiting to come out. Someone who can give the dog the care that they need, sometimes when they’ve never had it before. (There are few things more soul-crushing that giving a dog a toy and s/he doesn’t know what to do with it because they’ve never had a toy.) Someone who can live the ebb and flow of the process of socializing, feeding, caring and be genuine with a dog as they recuperate in a safe spot, hopefully only to be adopted out to their forever family, only to start the process all over with a new animal. And perhaps mostly, someone who can deal with the weariness stemming from the seemingly never ending supply of animals who have been mistreated and need support. I’ve volunteered in countless areas in my life, starting with Boy Scouts through the gamut of working in soup kitchens, and even working in areas hit by weather emergencies to build sandbag walls to prevent small towns from flooding. But I’ve never experienced the ceaseless nature of case after case of dogs who are in genuine need of basic medical care, food, and perhaps most importantly, love.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this repetitive nature, is the level of numb-ness one can acquire when reading in the news about dogs who are mistreated by their owners, neglected, starved and in some cases left for dead. It seems to take more and more extreme levels of abuse to get noticed.
Well tonight for me that question was answered, when reading a news report here – of a 23 year old Neptune, NJ man who had two pitbulls removed by animal control officers near death. A ten month old pittie boy who is currently in ICU in a local veterinary hospital in a heated kennel because he is too thin and frail to maintain his own body heat. And an adult female tied up with a collar so tight, that it had to be surgically removed by a veterinarian.
No, I mean it, Why?
Despite my best efforts I fail to understand and rationalize this level of human behavior toward an animal. Could a person own a dog and just forget that s/he is tied up to a tree in your backyard for days? Could a person have it within them to own a dog to devise the slowest and most painful way to injure or ultimately kill the dog? Is there a middle ground between forgetting and malicious intent? Something that encompasses a lack of the most basic sense of human decency?
To me this speaks to the title of this post – Why Get a Dog? I mean, there is no local, state or federal law that says you have to. Buying or adopting a dog is a task that takes some effort, some time, and definitely an outlay of money. So if a person has it in them to live on that spectrum ranging from forgetful indifference to criminally malicious behavior, wouldn’t it be easier for all parties involved in the first place just to not get a dog at all?
I hope this case serves as a reminder of a few things for us. If you don’t like dogs, just don’t get one. Cool. Makes me think of a conversation with my college roommmates about what the movie Jaws would have been like if I wrote it. Sheriff Brody in the real movie risks life and limb to save townsfolk and his own family. I wonder what a version of the movie would have been if after the first attack, the sheriff and his family packed up and moved to Nebraska? No more shark attacks. End of movie. Five minutes and done. Don’t like dogs? OK, just don’t get one.
Another reminder from this case I hope will be the widespread good will of people at large, many of whom are already stepping up to volunteer to donate funds toward the medical expenses of these dogs. And hopefully a caveat to this reminder – that we as responsible members of society should keep our eyes open to see how animals are treated in our own community. These two pitties who were saved today, were found only because of a phone call from a concerned neighbor.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, a reminder to the rescue and shelter volunteers that their work is necessary, and impacts animal lives each and every day. It might feel never ending, it may in fact be never ending, but it is important. And there is something to say about helping those who can’t help themselves. I even recall a bible version, Luke 12 – “To whomever much is given, much will be required, and to whom much was entrusted, more will be asked.” I can’t think of a better embodiment of that verse than those dedicated and unseen volunteers who interact with animals in need to help and support them because they can’t help themselves.
So out of this terrible case of abuse in my own state, remains the question. Why Get a Dog? Well, look at this picture and I think you’ll have your answer..