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4445 Trans Canada Highway
Cobble Hill BC Canada
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THE MONSTERS AMONG US

I left the Veterinary Hospital while she was still on the table. Two technicians were stroking and comforting her while the Doctor calculated the appropriate amount of drug to use. Her big round eyes followed me, eyes that seemed out of place on a dog – a sea creature’s eyes.

I had picked her up after an emergency call came into our shelter late Saturday.

A girl had found a dog running loose on the street. She had called the dog and discovered wounds on the dog’s left side. She comforted the dog, called the SPCA’s answering machine and left a message. According to the girl, a few minutes later, a man walking on the far side of the street caught the dog’s attention. The dog’s behaviour indicated to the girl that the dog knew this man. She asked the man if this was his dog.

Ya.” He said.

“Do you know that your dog is hurt?” she asked, noticing the man’s eyes appeared blurry, and he was unsteady on his feet. The smell of alcohol was sharp. His upper lip crusted with blood, dried and dark – like the blood on the dog’s shoulder. He staggered backward jostling the pack on his back, causing its contents to shift and make noise.

Both the girl and the dog noticed.

“What’s in the pack?” She asked.

The man smiled and took the pack off his back. He unzipped the top. The heads of three tiny puppies emerged, from below, two more heads with shining black little eyes wiggled into view. The five pups were barely old enough to have their eyes open. Their little ears were still flat to their skulls. Their black and tan fur stood up soft and fuzzy. Their mother, the bleeding dog, pushed her way to the backpack and shoved her head into the middle of her litter and gave them all a cursory lick.

The girl asked the man “What happened to the dog? Why is she bleeding?”

“My wife stabbed her. Then she punched me, then she took off.”

His explanation astounded her. She was not a mother herself, but instincts of nurturing took over and she unconsciously laid claim to the bag of puppies. Over the course of the next few minutes, she talked the man into leaving the puppies with the mother dog. The man wanted to keep one of the pups as his own, even though the puppies were only about14 days old. The girl convinced him that this was not the best idea, “Because the babies need their mother,” she argued.

The man pointed to a distant apartment building and told the girl that he would be back after he went to see his mother in apartment # 103.

This gave the girl the break she needed. After the man was out of sight, she once again called our machine, took the number for emergency dispatch and called for our assistance.

I found her there, the dog lying with her head in the girls lap, a small knot of people around them blocking the entrance to the rundown apartment building. The dog’s eyes were huge, not quite bulging, but bigger than normal, maybe an illusion resulting from the skeletal shape of her emaciated body. The amount of blood visible on the girl’s hands and clothes was alarming. The dog was in shock, her gums were pale and her breathing was shallow and rapid. She was alert though…and hungry. When I offered her some kibble, a collective “Ahhh” went up from the crowd of people - she sprang to her feet looking for more food, urgently sniffing the ground.

She had been lying on her injured side and the matted hair and blood became visible. She limped toward my van; for the moment forgetting about her pups, pursuing the much-needed food that I was using to leading her. I did not want to use a rope because I could not tell where all the wounds were. I carefully lifted her into the van and slid the door closed. I collected the pups and hurried to the animal hospital.

Initially, we could not tell how serious her injuries were. I waited while the Vet shaved the area around a stab wound that was visible on her right side. It turned out to be a flesh wound. The knife appeared to have glanced off her ribs and exited, doing damage to her skin only and not penetrating into her abdomen.

The dog laid very still, needing only minimal restraint. It seemed as if she knew she needed help, and she was grateful to receive it.

In total, she had five stab wounds. Two to her ribcage, one to her cheek and the deepest, most injurious was to her right shoulder. The knife had penetrated the muscle, cutting deeply, luckily missing any major arteries or veins. The Veterinarian decided it would be best if the dogs remained in his care for the night.

As we transferred the puppies into a kennel, we discovered that each pup had had a rubber band tied to its tail. This method of tail docking is heart wrenching, often times resulting in pain and suffering from: infection, gangrene or spinal abscesses resulting in paralysis and ultimately death. Fortunately the pups were infection free.

I left the building that night wondering about the human experience.

What type of person could do such a thing?

What kind of demons wage war behind their eyes – battles that no one else can see? Do they want help? Can they be helped?

That was yesterday.

Today I sit here writing this. I have more questions than ever. I wonder about the monsters among us, and the angels that teach us.

The Vet turned “Momma” loose today. She touched all the workers in the clinic with her big eyes and heart so full of trust

I loaded her in my van, and took her to the shelter. I could not bring myself to unload her there, she does not deserve to be thrown into a situation like that: the terrifying smells, the concrete, sounds and threats of the other dogs, the risk of infection and disease. I left her in the van, loaded a big crate and brought her home to recuperate by the fire. I believed that she would acclimate to the hustle and bustle of my four kids and four dogs easier than the foreign environment of the Shelter.

As my investigation progressed, I learned that the police had been to the house for an assault complaint. The officer reported that no one had been “assaulted”, but noted that the woman had killed the dog, in front of the children, and put it in a garbage can. The report makes no mention of the police seeing the body – unfortunately, it is not “illegal” to kill your dog. “How” you kill, your dog can be “Illegal” and charges are pending in this case.

The curious part of this affair is the dog herself.

Her behavior, trust and personality all tell a far different story than her wounds do.

A dog that has suffered repeated abuse tends to demonstrate symptoms similar to abused human children, including: fear of being struck, fear of fast movements, short attention spans, distrust – visible in dogs by tense muscles, rapid assessments of its surroundings -plotting exit routes, tucked tail indicating fear, sensitivity to loud noises. The list could go on for pages.

“Momma” behaves much like any other, normal “un-abused” dog.

Actually, in some ways she acts like a dog that has lived a pampered and spoiled life. She will steal food from the garbage, jump up on you when she is happy to see you, she will force your attention by pushing you with her nose or her paw. Of course, her malnourished body indicates this is not true.

Before bringing her home, I left her with a bowl of food in the van. When I returned to check on her, I was reminded of the final scenes of Ol’ Yeller…I slid the door open and faced a snarling set of teeth, accompanied by a growl that could have loosened the bowels of Siefried and Roy. ”Momma” was not going to let me or anyone else, near her food.

Initially, I thought she was growling at a pup that had crawled near her front leg. It was incredible. She held a long growl and snarl, staring hard at the pup. I watched and was amazed to see the body language play out between the two. The puppy, not big enough to walk properly, lay parallel with its mother. It lie motionless listening to the growl; then, quite purposely and dramatically, it turned its head away from his mother. At that instant Momma stopped growling…until she spotted me watching her…she growled and snarled threateningly…YIKES! I averted my gaze without moving, much as the little pup had. Momma stopped growling. I sensed that I was not in danger, if I played by her rules. There was no adrenalin rush, no hairs raising on the back of my neck…This Momma dog was talking an ancient language, shared between social species, irrespective of predator or prey status. She was saying “This is my food” and at the same time “I need you.”…but making it clear that her food was more important to her than I was.

A new worker to the shelter came past the van just as the puppy turned its head back toward his mother. Momma instantly took up her Ol’ Yeller, act again. The worker became somewhat frantic at the whole situation.

“Gary, you’re crazy. Close the door and let me get out of here.” She said.

I tried to explain to her the value of this situation -as a learning opportunity for her. To see how this starving little mother, underfed for so long, was now - in her mind - happy, relatively safe, was determined to keep what she perceived as hers (very convincing she was too!). How under normal circumstances she would be deemed “food aggressive”, how she could be seen as “dangerous”. How, at the same time her “aggression” - determinedly focused on survival, was controlled and purposeful. Her behaviour in the vet clinic while injured, demonstrated her trust and love of us human creatures, her submissiveness was apparent by the lack of force needed to hold her down to inspect her painful wounds.

Yet, her use of “language”, her ability to communicate is so strong, clear and concise as to be painfully moving for those who care to listen. Where others see danger and threat, I see eloquence and hope.

Momma is at home with me now. Her affinity to my children was instant.

I could almost see her remembering her human children -the ones that had seen their mother stab the family’s dog.

I had a flash of her, huddled in a dark room, tiny hands and arms clutching her neck for security, or trying to comfort her. While outside the room, a war of anger and abuse raged on between the drunken “grown-ups” of the house: Angry shouts, thrown articles, screams, slamming doors, the back of her neck growing damp with the tears of the children.

Even with her “outburst” I couldn’t leave her at the shelter. She was not a monster, in spite of what my coworker thought. She was not “dangerous”, she had been in danger. She needed to feel whole again. Not, institutionalized with a litter of babies in a concrete cell. She was predictable, I knew I could deal with it…easier than I could deal with myself if I would have left her at the shelter.

The greatest disservice to animals, perpetrated time and again, is the ability of us humans to ease our conscience in keeping animals out of our hearts by calling them “unpredictable”.

When you take the time to learn the language, every species of animal is predictable, with the exception of only one …

MAN.
 

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