Saturday, November 9, 2013

Moral obligations to animals, shame, and our reflections on finding an abandoned dog

Written on Sunday, November 3rd

Yulia and I were traveling through Mount Shasta, California early this spring. While we were there we took a ride up the majestic mountain and found ourselves in a fairy tale wonderland.

Mount Shasta

The view from Mount Shasta

Yulia, in her unceasing ability to convert beauty to action, said that the whole world once looked this way and that we can make it be that way again. She's right.

We drove up the road that winds up the 14,000 foot mountain. We made it up to Bunny Flat before the road became impassible due to snow. Here is a view from Bunny Flat. There's still a long way to go to the summit!

Bunny Flat

We stopped here to use the public restrooms and discovered an injured bird flying around the entrance to the building. We found it in a miserable state. It could not fly.

Yulia immediately said that we needed to take the bird with us. I was not so sure. I reasoned that it's a wild animal. It may have a family in the area. Blah, blah, blah. The usual excuses.

We were debating what to do when a man walked out of the restroom. The bird was sitting helpless on the ground in front of the doorway. We watched in horror as the man stepped not two inches from crushing this little animal. Both the man and the bird had no idea what almost happened!

That decided it for us. We took the bird and put it in a box. We took it to the base of the mountain where there was an animal shelter. The people at the shelter informed us that they were closed and to come back later. We told them that we had an injured bird with us and that it needed help. Without hesitation they invited us inside. A receptionist did some quick paperwork with us and a couple vets came from the back room into the lobby. Everyone seemed genuinely concerned about this little bird!

They thanked us for bringing it and said that they would return it to Bunny Flat after treating it. The receptionist gave us a big smile, clasped her hands together, and gave us a namaste bow of the head.

Everything worked in this situation. Ordinary people (Yulia and I) had the means (a car) to take this animal to safety. This small mountain town had an institution (an animal shelter) already in place to help the bird.

It was easy to do the right thing.

I am sorry to now write that we were not so helpful to a dog recently. It's not easy for me to write about this. I feel sadness. I feel shame. But it's important. I won't let my pride stop me from writing.

On November 1st Yulia woke me up to tell me that there was a dog in our back yard. I got out of bed and met her outside. Sure enough there was a dog. It had its tail between its legs. It was shivering. It was scared of us.

We reasoned that she came in through the only opening in our fence. The gate in back has been broken since we moved in.

We did not immediately coax her into going through the gate and back to where she presumably came from. She seemed in too sorry a state to simply chase her away. I brought her some cat food and placed it about 15 feet away from her. She did not go for it. I moved it a few feet closer. Still no. So I moved it to almost right under her nose. Nothing.

We left. Ten minutes later we came back to an empty bowl. She was running around beyond our fence. Problem solved, I thought. The food gave her the boost of energy she needed to go home.

Around midday we noticed that she had not left. Rather, she was milling around by our front door. I opened our front gate to let her out onto the street. I called to her. She did not budge. I tried to herd her through the gate. She went sideways instead of straight out the opening.

My neighbor across the street asked me who I was talking to. I showed him the dog and asked if he knew whose it was. He said he had never seen it before. It probably wasn't from around here. He said that it is cute and that he would take it, but he just took in an abandoned dog a few weeks ago.

He encouraged the dog to leave: "Come on out, doggy. Michael and Yulia can't keep you. They go to the city often. You wouldn't want them to leave you alone like that, would you?" Our neighbor was right. We're getting ready to go to Lviv for the next few days, in fact. We have two cats and set them up with plenty of food and a huge bowl of water when we leave. They catch mice and go potty outside. But leaving cats for a few days is one thing. Leaving a dog that we don't know all alone in our house is completely different. It would be irresponsible I think.

So I took some old oatmeal cookies and put them by the road. I figured she would take the bait and then find her way home when on the familiar street. I left the gate open for her and went about my business.

Yulia and I were sitting inside when it started to get dark out. The dog had not left. She ate the cookies and had settled onto our front stoop. I noticed that she was absolutely covered with fleas.

I do not like fleas. Two years ago, when our cats were kittens, they had a bad flea problem. We could not get a handle on it. No matter how many times we bathed them with flea shampoo we could not kick the infestation. Then fleas started appearing everywhere. In the bathroom. In the kitchen. On our bed. Yulia started getting bitten by them too. It was miserable for everybody. There was no one thing that kicked the problem finally. Ointments, shampoo, essential oils, washing the bedding, and several months eventually solved the problem.

So when I saw that this dog had a bad flea problem (she was actually whimpering because of all the little bugs), I gave her some flea ointment for cats.

I didn't have the heart to force her onto the street. It was dark out and getting cold. The dog was shivering and crying. My compassion got the best of me. I gave her some newspapers, a towel, and a box to sleep in and some warm food.

The dog slept all through the night. The next morning she woke up wagging her tail. There was a massive die off of fleas. Her bedding was covered with hundreds of them! They were on our front stoop too and on our shoes and sandals that we keep by the door. She was still scratching and biting at her legs though. They had not all died.

We led her out onto the road and closed the gate behind us. She did not leave, but sat crying in front of our house. We tried ignoring her for several hours. She did not leave. We saw our neighbor, Maria, leading her cows out to graze. I heard the dog bark at them and saw one rear up in fright. There is one stray dog in our village. When she came around, this dog and the stray started viciously barking at each other.

I told Yulia that I didn't think that this would work out. The dog was not going anywhere. If the dog hurt herself or someone else we'd have an even bigger problem. We decided to search the internet for an animal shelter in the area. The only one we could find was in Lviv. Their website says that they basically fix stray animals and then let them go. This wouldn't fix the problem of finding a home for this dog though. And who would drive an hour out from the city to pick up a dog? There are many strays in the villages around Lviv. Why would they come out for this particular one?

I decided to take a walk to the spring. If the dog followed me, I thought, maybe she would recognize her home and go there. Or maybe someone would recognize the dog, and we would find its owner. The dog followed me to the spring and back. She did not leave me. No one recognized her. This just served to break my heart more. The dog followed me like a true companion. I've never seen anyone (or anything) offer so much loyalty for so little!

But we continued to leave her on the street. Yulia and I exchanged uncertain looks with intermittent tears in our eyes the rest of the afternoon and evening.

The story doesn't end well. When it started to get dark out I went to the well to get some water for washing. I heard our neighbor yelling. He was whipping something--I'm not sure if it was an actual whip or a tree branch--at the dog. The dog frantically barked at him and ran in defense. That's the last time I saw the dog.


I am left with only uncertainty after this experience.

I don't know if our neighbor actually whipped the dog or if he whipped near the dog. They were on the other side of the fence, and I couldn't see much in the half light. I ran out to talk with him when I heard the commotion, but the neighbor ran after the dog by the time I got to the street. I might still ask him about it, though he might not want to talk about it. He called the dog cute yesterday. He has his own abandoned dog that he took in. He obviously likes the animals, so I imagine that it was hard for him to chase this one away. I'm not sure what prompted him to whip at the dog. Maybe she attacked his dog. Maybe she attacked his granddaughter who was playing out on the street. But talking about it with me might be too emotionally difficult for him. We'll see.

He was wrong to be violent though, and I'm not sure if I want to talk with him after seeing what he did. Sure, it's a means to an end. He got the dog to go when I couldn't. But that does not make it OK.

Written on Friday, November 8th

I was writing the above post last Sunday morning while Yulia was still sleeping. I was planning on writing a homily about animal cruelty. I wanted to know what you, our readers, thought about the situation.Although I consider myself a defender of animal rights, I genuinely did not know the right thing to do. Keeping the dog and ignoring it both seemed to be bad solutions.

But when Yulia woke up she asked me how the dog got back onto our property. I asked her what she was talking about, and she showed me.

The front gate was ajar and the dog was back!

I'll keep the remaining story short. We vacillated back on forth on what to do on Sunday. In the evening a neighbor came and said that he would take the dog on Monday and give it to his sister. His was a bit drunk (he even told us that he had been drinking), so we didn't know if we could trust his word.

We waited around most of Monday and left on the 3:30 bus, with regret, for our planned trip to the city. The dog was still faithfully waiting by our front gate as we drove away on the bus. The neighbor never came by.

The guilt and uncertainty was too much for me. It started raining and pouring on Monday night and I broke down in tears. I told Yulia that I couldn't take it anymore. We decided to take the dog in.

On Tuesday, armed with a collar, leash, flea shampoo, and super healthy dog food, I went back by myself to our house. The dog was no longer at the gate. I didn't feel optimistic about either scenario: either she ran away or the drunk man had taken her. I went into our back yard, teary eyed yet again, when the dog showed herself, wagging tail and all.

Friday--that is, today--she is free of fleas, has a hand made dog house and a belly full of food (and lots of high calorie butter). I constantly reassure her that she will never be cold or hungry again. We decided to name her Tulip. She faithfully sleeps by the front door every night.

Tulip--she might be part German shepherd. What do you think?

Her dog house. We expect her to get big, so we built it with plenty of growing room.

This is one heck of a smart dog! I have been able to teach her how to sit already. She likes to jump on us a lot though. Any advice on how to get a puppy to not jump on people? Can you teach us any tricks to teach her?

Tulip licking her lips. I wonder if she knows that she has a life full of lots of yummy food to look forward to?

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