Warning: this is a sad story about a sad animal and spoilers, it didn’t live. If that sort of thing shatters your heart into a million pieces like it does mine, you’re not going to want to read this post. Come back in a few days. You’re welcome!
Also, this is a long one — WordPress no longer tells me my word count at the bottom of the screen (this new update, ugh, y’all) but even *I* think it’s long and I’m only halfway done writing it as I come back to put in this warning — and I have to do this in one post otherwise I’ll never finish telling you about it).
Let me tell you a little something about living in the country. I may have at one point in my life wanted to be a Bright Lights Big City girl, but at heart, I was raised by hippies and I’m a borderline hermit and I’m not entirely convinced that I won’t one day find need of a commune/compound when the revolution comes…. so I like to live in the country. Also the stars out here on clear nights are legit breathtaking, yo.
Now, I used to live in the country when I was younger, so when That Poor Man and I were looking for a place, I had some rules. You know I am all about rules (mostly so I can break them — know your enemy, amirite?!). \
A dirt or limerock road was OK, but it must be a county-owned road. I have spent enough time listening to my dad argue with neighbors about who lives closer to the paved road so doesn’t have to pay as much as people who live at the end, for grading, or people who have teenagers who drive fast so the dirt blows away faster, so they should have to pay more, and so on. In short, I have no patience to discuss/argue with neighbors about getting together to chip in to get a road graded. Thou Shalt Liveth on a County-Owned Road.
There must be mail delivery — USPS at the very least, preferably also UPS and FedEx. I don’t hate Post Office boxes, I just know what it’s like to not get to one in a week when you get a lot of mail. And I do run an online business, and both ship and get things shipped constantly. Let’s make this as easy on me as possible. Thou Shalt Have Mail Delivery.
There must be Internet. I run an online business. That’s not negotiable. Thou Shalt Haveth the Intertubes.
Those were the big three… but I also had one more, one that is both easy because I know what will happen if I don’t adhere to it, but also hard, because I love animals. Thou Shalt Not Feedeth the Strays. People love to dump animals in the country. Country Folk also don’t truck much with things like fences and leash laws. So sometimes it’s a stray, dumped, and sometimes it’s Bob’s Dog From Over The Way, but whichever — just don’t feed the strays.
I know what you are all thinking — “don’t you have, like, a hundred stray Studio Cats???” and yes, yes I do. Because someone else out here started feeding them, but was feeding them outside, which meant that the outside cat food was also drawing a metric ton of raccoons and other wildlife interested in a free buffet. So I took over the feeding duties, inside. Where we have control over who’s roaming the property looking for food.
Occasionally I see stray dogs out here. On average, about once a week. There’s a big black dog who either lives in the area or follows the trash pickup schedule because he only shows up on trash day. There’s another smaller black dog who has a yellow friend. I’ve seen a reddish/brown one around a few times. Tim will run them off, if he’s home, but I just usually ignore them. I have to. If I get involved….? Well. Is that some foreshadowing or what?!
There are a couple of times when it’s a dog I’ve never seen before, that I’ll take a picture and post on the Word of Mouth group “hey, are you missing this dog?” and kind of leave it at that. One time there was a super, SUPER friendly pitty who jumped over the fence to feel safe, but Tim took her to the pound and got her scanned, and we found her owner through a microchip. But for the most part? IGNORE. Post something if I can’t ignore.
Which is what I did a couple of weeks ago — there was what looked like a sick, maybe arthritic or maybe diseased because it was also drooling as well as sort of… listing to one side… dog in the front yard. It’s one I’d never seen before, so I took it’s picture and posted online. “Hey, are you missing this dog? It seems ill and drooling and I didn’t want to get close because hey I’ve read Cujo, but if it’s yours….?” and then I got back to work and started getting packages ready for the day and went to the post office and stuff.
I was constantly getting pinged online, my phone going off like fireworks, with people saying “find that dog!” and “that poor thing!” and “did it have a collar” and all. But, y’all. I can’t. I can’t get involved. I am all or nothing. If I get involved a little bit? I’m all in. I don’t just …. dip a toe into the “I’ll save you” pond, I dive in headfirst and forget my scuba gear. So… I kind of looked for it, halfheartedly, as I drove to and from the post office. Didn’t see it. Posted online that I looked again but didn’t see it. Went back to work.
But I couldn’t work. I couldn’t stop thinking about what someone had said, that sometimes dogs drool when they’re dehydrated, maybe I could at least tempt it with some water and get it to the pound? And someone thought it looked like someone’s dog that they’d posted about like a month ago that it was missing. So….. Maybe? So… against my better judgement…. I walked off in the woods in the direction I’d seen it going. I walked around for ten, fifteen minutes… maybe twenty, tops. Didn’t see it. OK, I’m off the hook. Right? I mean, I tried? But it wasn’t around?
Except when I got back up to the house… dammed if it wasn’t sitting right there, in the shade, between my front porch and the far corner of the house. Looking at me. Not wagging. Not really interested in anything. It looked listless. It looked… broken. Ready to die. Well, shit.
So I went inside and found a couple extra big bowls and filled one with water and one with dog food and walked about and mumbled sweet “who’s a good boys” and whatnot and see if he’d let me approach and put food and water down for him. He did. He hardly looked at me. He hardly looked at the food. He looked at the water and touched it with his nose, which was caked with either snot or grass (or both). Then he laid his head on top of the food like a pillow, and closed his eyes. Didn’t eat or drink. Just… sat.
So suddenly I’m doing everything at once. I’m trying to get him to stand up so I can get a leash on him and lead him into the back yard. I’m texting the woman who someone put me in touch with who thinks it might be her dog. I’m texting Tim pictures (pictures that I won’t show here, pictures that show even more than this one how fucking emaciated this dog was) and asking his opinion on chasing it off vs trying to take it somewhere to get it scanned for a microchip (his answer? “holy shit, give that dog some food”… and he’s more hardhearted towards strays than I am). I’m calling my vet to ask if I can bring it in to see if it’s micro-chipped (hilariously, the girl at the front desk had been following the Facebook Word of Mouth group thread and knew exactly why I was calling). I’m also asking them if they do euthanasias because, y’all, this dog did not look well. I wasn’t sure it would live through the night, and wasn’t sure that putting it down wasn’t the kindest thing to do for it.
So, the lady who thought it maybe, hopefully, might be her dog, she couldn’t tell from the pictures but he’d been missing a month… showed up. Now, here’s where I walk a really fine line between being a trusting person who loves people who love animals, and being a super-suspicious trust-no-one paranoid person who will take something to the darkest, worst place as fast as possible… I figured there were five possible outcomes…. (1) It wouldn’t be her dog (2) it would be her dog and she would take it home (3) it would be her dog but she would be so horrified at its state that she would lie and say it wasn’t her dog (4) it would’t be her dog but she’d feel so bad for it she’d take it home and nurse it back to health or (5) she was some sort of bait-finder for a dog fighting ring and it wouldn’t be her dog, if she was even really missing a dog, but she would take it to be bait in a dog fight (I KNOW I KNOW WHO GOES THERE FIRST, RIGHT? MY BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!).
By this time I had gotten the poor thing into the back yard and it had crawled under our back porch to be in the shade. So I warned her that what she was about to see was heartbreaking at the least if you loved dogs, and would be deeply, deeply upsetting to her if it was her dog. Well, it wasn’t her dog, and I could tell she wasn’t lying, and while she seemed concerned for it she didn’t, like, burst out into tears or anything so I was 100% sure she wasn’t lying. Not her dog. But she did stick around for a little while and talk to it while I went back and forth on my phone between the vet and Tim and Facebook.
Someone on Facebook was like, hey, you should give Roland Senior Dog Rescue a shout – they are in Melrose, not too far away from you, and they might be able to help. I didn’t want to just… push this dog off and make it someone else’s problem — Tim and I had decided at this point that we’d keep it overnight, let it sleep in the yard and try more things to try to get him to eat, and would take him to the vet in the morning and get him scanned and see if there was anything more wrong with him than just starvation (like that caked nose bothered me, and his general listless attitude — but maybe he’d been eating grass, and was just tired and hungry?).
So I contacted them through Facebook, had a little while of some back-and-forth, and he came out with his son to look at the dog. Honestly I wasn’t sure how old this dog was. If you’d asked the first time I saw it at a distance I would have pegged him at somewhere around Methuselah. But now knowing that he was starving to death, not arthritic…. He could be anywhere from five to fifteen.
He got there, and we talked in the front yard for a little bit before I took him into the back yard to see the dog. He also wasn’t sure if they’d be able to help the dog… they do only take care of seniors, after all, so if he wasn’t old….? And they exist pretty much on donations, so, it’s not like they have a lot to spread around. Which I totally get. I’ve done rescue work, I’ve fostered dogs for a rescue organization before. It really does take a village. You can’t just… rescue animals because you love them. You need the financial backing of a billionaire. Especially if any of those animals need medical attention. Which I was pretty sure this dog did.
His son crawled under the deck and tried to engage the dog with sweet talk, or tempt him with some chew treats. The dog seemed a little interested in him, if not the food, so I took that as a good sign. He was able to coax the dog out into the light and… the man who runs the rescue took one look at how emaciated this dog was and said he didn’t care how young or old the dog was, he couldn’t let a dog live like that. So we got the dog back around to the front yard and into the back of the station wagon… where the son crawled into the back as well to comfort the dog as they drove. I tell ya, I don’t need to know anything else about those two men — everything I need to know about them and their hearts was right there. At one point he asked his son, “normally I’d put a new dog in quarantine, but” and before he could finish the kid, about 15 or so, said, “this dog needs to sleep in my room. If he dies tonight, he needs to know he’s not alone.” OH MY HEART.
They posted on their Facebook page about him (naming him Nick Charles from the book “The Thin Man”), and I kept in touch with them over messages, for the next… I guess it was three days? The first day they hooked him up to an IV for fluids, and antibiotics because he seemed to have a respiratory infection – as evidenced by the green crusty snot caking his nose. The last three nights before I found him had all been below 30 degrees. I’m not surprised he was sick. So he looked a little more alert, but he still wasn’t interested in food.
The next day they took him to a vet to get him scanned – no microchip. He was malnourished, dehydrated (although better after spending the night hooked up to an IV), had that upper respiratory infection, and … had a mass around his spleen and stomach that they couldn’t really tell what it was. They’d run some tests. He still didn’t eat that day.
He didn’t eat the next day, either. Test results weren’t back yet about the mass.
He died the next morning.
While I appreciate everyone on Facebook, people I know and people I don’t know, telling me that I did everything I could, telling me that I got the dog to the right people who could give him medical attention that I couldn’t, telling me that I did more than a lot of people would… I still feel like I failed that dog. People failed that dog. Someone either dumped him or lost him and didn’t look for him or didn’t have the money for whatever medical problem he had or… whatever. I don’t know. I don’t care about the who’s and the why’s. I am just haunted by a him out there, in sub-freezing temperatures, sick and hungry and alone.
I could write about a hundred more paragraphs about feeling sadness for the death of this dog vs. feeling hatred for someone who would dump an old sick dog vs. feeling sorry for someone if they loved the dog but knew it was sick and didn’t have money for medical attention vs. all the fifty thousand things you could feel about this situation.
Not to get all gothy/emo, but… I choose sadness. I choose to feel terrible that an animal suffered like that, because that cracks my heart open and that’s how the light gets in. Seeing injustice makes me want to fight harder for those who are marginalized — animal or human. It makes me want to snorgle my pets just a little bit more. It makes me want to go out and love some more. After I get my head and heart back together from this, because, y’all… it wrecked me. I was a mess for a few days, AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT DOG FOR MORE THAN A COUPLE OF HOURS. This is why I can’t feed the strays. I am all or nothing. Many times more all than nothing.