In any career field, there are different definitions of success. A good day. Scoring one for the home team. Cause for celebration. A job well done. Most define that as closing a big deal, winning a big case, hell even getting through the day without being arrested is a win for some people. Good for you, I’m not here to judge. Everyone has their own battles to fight, and each can celebrate their own little victories. Life is all about the little victories.
It’s been raining a lot here, it seems every day. At night, there are storms that blow through, some severe. A few tornadoes here and there. We get a few days of sunshine, then another week of daily rain arrives. I’m not on field enforcement right now, so I’m not knee deep in torrential downpours and muddy fields. I’m enjoying the office work, learning new computer programs and routines. I’m not(in my opinion)spending enough time with animals, but I’ll get my turn. I sneak in as much quality snuggle time as I can with the hissy kittens that need socializing (yes i will make you love me), and the old chihuahua that has still not been adopted. Because he’s old. And no one wants an old dog. Old dogs are my favorite. If I could find a man that liked old dogs, I would happily cook him (and all our old dogs) dinner every night.
Old dogs show up at the shelter frequently. Some surrendered by people who don’t want to deal with the baggage that accompanies old age, or maybe they don’t get along with the new puppy or kitten they just got. Animal control picks up many older dogs in the field as strays, and you would be unpleasantly surprised at how often people are not looking for them. Many dogs we pick up are being held by caring citizens who have captured and contained them in a yard or garage (because everyone wants to be a dogcatcher, I’ll get to that one later). Citizens love to offer a full dissertation on an animal they have spent less than 60 minutes with; things like temperament, ownership status, treatment history, even what type of canned food they prefer (and we never like to hear “baked beans” by the way). I’m sure he’s very friendly, but please don’t put him with your other dogs. I’m sure she was a little skittish when you approached her, that doesn’t mean she was abused. I’ll bet he gobbled up those two cans of pedigree chunky stew, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been fed in two weeks. And of course, I’m sure he belongs to somebody. Absolutely he does. With rare exception, and I mean like South Dallas or Detroit exception, all dogs found wandering the street, at some point in time and most often recently, belonged to somebody. It just depends on whether the person who owns the dog wants them back.
Caring citizens don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth. Shelters are full of animals that clearly have an owner, like sometimes even the microchip proves you are the owner, and these people don’t want their dog back. This is our reality. At least an owner surrender will tell you why. Sometimes they lie, but at least they make an effort to bring the dog in, to assure the dog gets taken care of, not left in a carrier on the side of the road, in a cardboard box at a dumpster, in an empty apartment for 2 weeks, or allowed to run loose and lost until someone else decides to catch it. Owner surrender is ten times better than simple abandonment, so I try not to criticize. Those who have never seen the dark side of true irresponsibility jump at the chance to belittle owner surrender, but at least those people are fessing up, paying the small fee, and have to look someone in the eye when they do it. It’s much easier on some people’s conscience to simply let the dog “run away” and not try to find it. Especially when it is so easy to acquire a new one. Thanks Craigslist.
I might be lying if I said that we get used to seeing dogs wait out their stray hold and becoming the property of the city. To an extent I guess some of us do, but getting used to it doesn’t mean we become numb to it, or expect it. Some strays are harder to swallow than others. The unclaimed three year old Pomeranian mix will get adopted as soon as she’s available, no doubt. But shelter workers bear the extra weight of disappointment when we see an old soul that was found wandering alone, because deep down we know there is a good chance no one will come. And many times no one does. As long as his medical issues aren’t too serious, we make him comfortable and he is moved to the adoption floor, the staff hopeful and enthusiastic but knowing his chances are slim. We watch as the viewing public stands at the counter clamoring for the puppies in 208, while he sleeps away the day, lifting his head on occasion to watch the people pass by his window.
With rare exception, it’s hard to place an old dog. They come with bad hips, failing eyesight, poor hearing, incontinence issues, high vet bills, and short lifespans to share with their new owners. There is a certain heroism involved in what we call foster/adoption hospice; you are taking the animal in knowing that the remains of his time with you are short, and things like pain management and death will need to be addressed in the very near, sometimes immediate future. But for those who take on the challenge, it can be very rewarding; loving and comforting an animal in it’s golden years, it’s last few months, it’s final days. No animal deserves to endure this final, most delicate stage of life in a kennel at a shelter, or in boarding at a rescue. Even if it’s only a week of spoiling with cheeseburger dinners and slow short walks in the woods followed by a peaceful goodbye at a vet’s office, it takes a very special person to be strong enough to give these gifts.
Papa came to us a stray. His eyes are cloudy, and he’s pretty much deaf. His back legs wobble when he walks, his coat is dull, his back is bony,
his belly sags a little. The person who found him wandering alone swore they would adopt him if the owners weren’t found (a common sentiment among finders), but they decided not to (another common sentiment 5 days later among finders). Someone did adopt him, and we celebrated! He was returned within a week because they realized he would need vet care. Our hearts broke again.
Papa gets exited when he sees us. He knows his routine, and does very well with it. The staff loves on him, the volunteers load him with cookies, the officers save the best donations for him, like the cannoli from the dog bakery that I’m sure we could have easily convinced a human to eat, that’s how fancy it was. He follows you around playfully outside, and gives kisses with gentle enthusiasm. He howled a little when he first came to us, but since has never barked, growled, or shown a dislike towards anyone or anything. If you are seen carrying him somewhere, you’ll be stopped at least three times by someone asking if he’s getting adopted. Our hearts break a little when the answer is no, because we know him, how amazing this little senior citizen is. We won’t give up hope.
And that, in our world, is sometimes as close to a win as we can get. It’s not a fairy tale ending, it’s not a pot of gold rainbow finish. But if this is as good as it gets for little man, if this is the best we can do for him, it’s success. As long as he continues to show us that he is coping with his situation well, we will keep on loving him and looking for a good final home. We may never find it; a few of us are silently aware that we may already BE it. For now he has a roof over his head, good food, fresh water, and many, many people that love and dote on him daily; I’ve seen owned dogs in the field on patrols that don’t have it that good.
Papa’s life may not be a fairy tale, may not be perfect by some people’s definition. But he is no longer wandering the street alone, cowering from the rain, searching for something familiar, searching for family. He has a devoted family in us, and we are the lucky ones, blessed with souls like him to care for and love when no one else will.