It’s been a rough week. I spent a couple of days worried over a neglected dog. I spent another couple of days waiting for calls back from deputies. And in the end, there was a bit of a showdown – one a friend dubbed “the animal activist versus the child molester.”
The child molester came out looking like the morally upright citizen.
The animal activist ended up with egg on her face. Okay: I ended up with egg on my face. A vegan with egg on her face.
It happened like this:
A volunteer called this week to tell me one of the dogs in our caseload had lost the use of his legs. He’s 13 years old. The family told the volunteer on the phone that the dog was out in the yard, lying down, and they were giving him food and water by hand. They would not agree to euthanize him. They would not allow the vet to visit. They would not give any more details for fear of incriminating themselves.
By the time I heard about this, it had been a week. The dog was in day seven, non-ambulatory. The sheriff’s office said they couldn’t do anything. And so the battle began.
I called three members of the sheriff’s department. I left messages asking for an explanation as to why they couldn’t at least check on the poor dog. I got no answers. And then I called an attorney who does lots of advocacy in animal abuse cases. He started leaving messages too.
The tone escalated. The attorney was talking lawsuits and harsh media exposure. I was talking civil disobedience.
I needed the cops out there, because there was no way – I mean NO way – that dog could be okay. I just knew too much about the family.
The family is a mess. Friends from their church have long taken responsibility for providing the family with everything from food for all of their animals to school supplies and clothes for their five children. The 120-pound dog was so poorly cared for that the friends spent years trying to convince the family to give him up. When they heard about our program to unchain dogs, they contacted me for help. At least maybe they could get the dog off his chain.
The dog had spent ten years on a chain. TEN! Chained to his dog house alongside the driveway, because when he was six months old, he and his littermate broke out of their 4×8 dog run and ran in the street. The littermate got hit and killed. The remaining dog got chained up. And there he stayed. He’d have been there for his entire life if his family had gotten their way.
They would not allow him a fenced yard, thought it was a ridiculous idea to give him the whole yard. They wanted me to simply repair his 4×8 kennel, which had long since been devoured by brambles. I refused to take the dog off a chain and put him in a cage. This impasse lasted for two weeks. By the time we arrived to build what amounted to a large dog run, I’d already grown to despise the family for the total lack of compassion they showed their elderly dog. My disgust felt even more justified when I learned the man of the house is a convicted child molester. A father of five and a felonious perv.
I wanted to finish the fence, unchain the poor dog, and walk away, wash my hands of the entire despicable lot.
But that wouldn’t be possible, because the dog had a congenital condition of his eyelids. His eyelashes grew to the inside, rubbing constantly on his eyeballs. There was green goop in his eyes. Always. For years. The family did nothing.
After some arm-twisting by their church friends, the family reluctantly agreed to let the dog see a vet, at no cost to them. And when they were told the painful condition and the chronic infection were easily treatable, they hesitated and hesitated. More arm-twisting, lots of arguing, and they finally agreed – at no cost to them - to let the poor dog get some relief from the misery that had accompanied him through his entire life.
Those were the good months, probably the best of the old dog’s life. He was off the chain, his eyes didn’t hurt, and he didn’t have a chronic infection. Maybe then we could wash our hands of Pervy Pete and his creepy, heartless clan.
But, no. About a month ago a friend checked up on the dog and found him emaciated. He’d lost 40 pounds. From 120 pounds to 80 in a few months. And, no, the family didn’t do anything.
Again, arm-twisting, cajoling, and eventually a vet checkup – again at no cost to them. That’s when we learned the stately old yellow lab was nearing the end of his life. The vet recommended hospice care at a rescue group that could keep him indoors and provide medical monitoring. The family agreed. And then refused. And then agreed. And ultimately refused. He would stay in his small dog run with the brambles, and he’d stay there until he died.
So when we found out the dog had been down on the ground for a week, we all had jagged rocks in our guts. Bad, bad, bad situation. For any dog, but most especially for this dog, in this yard, with these people.
In comes my civil disobedience idea. If I wasn’t going to get any response from the cops, I decided to bring a friend along and get onto the property. The idea was to take pictures, check out the dog’s condition, and if it was bad enough, to leave just long enough to email the photos to the police and the media, and then return to the property, plant myself in a lawn chair, and refuse to leave until the cops arrived.
So, of course, the wife tried to stop us when we arrived, even though she knew nothing of my big hell-raising plans. She said she didn’t want visitors. I pretended to be making a semi-annual care-package delivery, and said I had a duty to prove to our donors and volunteers that I’d checked up on every last dog they’d invested their time and money in. She agreed to take me to the dog, but, she said, “I don’t want any trouble about his condition.” I braced myself for the worst and I readied my camera.
He was skinny, sure. The bony landmarks of his skull are protruding, even. But he was lying in soft grass, in the shade, next to a bowl of clean water. He was alert and thumping his tail. He devoured dog biscuits and some bacon-flavored treats. Honestly, he’d probably never had it this well. We thanked the family for their time, left with everyone in a pleasant mood, and drove away.
We never would have thought it possible with this clan, but they actually had risen to the occasion. They were making the most of their 13-year-old dog’s final days. My friend and I decided there was no point in continuing to pester the cops. No more calls needed: there was no law being broken, at least not blatantly.
But about an hour later, our series of earlier calls finally reached the front lines. A deputy knocked on the family’s door. The family flipped out. For obvious reasons, they keep their distance from men in uniform. The deputy looked at the dog. He said things were fine. Then he called me. He warned me about trespassing. He told me, in essence, that I’m a zealot and a pain in the ass. And he stuck up for the family – the child molester and the doggie neglecters and all.
And there wasn’t much point in my saying, “I know, I know, I know. I was there. The dog is okay. But I have to tell you about the history with this family.” No go. He doesn’t deal in history. There’s no crime right now. End of story. “I know, I know, I know,” I said. “I’m sorry you had to go out there. You must think I’m a complete kook. There was a whole chain of events, yada yada yada.”
Keep talking, crazy animal lady. Deputy isn’t listening. The deputy told the family they will be in trouble if the dog’s condition deteriorates much more and they fail to let the vet euthanize him, but for now they’re doing fine and they don’t have to let that dog lady back on their property again.
And so I’m eggy in the face. And yet, I realize, I can’t exactly call it a loss. The dog spent his final years off the chain. He spent his final year and a half with clear and pain-free eyes. And now in his final days, for reasons we can only guess, his indifferent family is sitting at his side and lavishing him with caring.