One night last June I was driving into town to pick up the Kid. It was dark, with the heavy black storm clouds that characterize Summer here in the South blocking starlight and keeping the full moon from doing anything more than glow dully in the eastern sky. As I drove across the concrete bridge that crosses a not inconsequential river, something caught my headlight nestled against the wall midway across the span. It could have been a raccoon but it wasn’t. I stopped the car on the bridge and got out.
I called out soothingly as I walked towards the shadow huddled against the concrete. It came to my feet. I wasn’t exactly sure what breed it was because I couldn’t see much, but it was a dog and judging by the wagging shadow of a tail I knew that it was happy to see me. I reached underneath it to pick it up, and felt bulges of flesh that shouldn’t have been there. A twinge of panic raced down my spine. Had it been hit already? As I walked back to the car I felt the coat and didn’t feel the sickening stickiness of blood. As I felt her belly and the large orange-sized irregularly shaped lumps on it I knew what it was.
I had grown up around dogs – mostly poodles with the occasional large breed like a collie or setter. For some reason my parents never got the dogs spayed or neutered even though they never bred them. Most lived long, but when they died breast cancer often took the unspayed females. I had been a little boy when I had last felt the outward manifestation of breast cancer in a dog, but the knowledge was there. By the time I got her in the car and held her up to the overhead light I had diagnosed her.
How had she ended up in the middle of that bridge? The bridge is a favorite spot for dumping animals, and her owner didn’t have the guts to take her to a vet or even to put her down “Ol Yeller” style. I suppose they thought they were doing her a favor, but one didn’t need to be psychic to foresee her likely being hit by a car, starving to death or set upon by coyotes.
We have named her Brigette, of course. She is an old beagle with broken teeth and a belly full of cancer. She has suffered such cruelty at the hands of one human being that I don’t quite understand why she wants the company of another, but she does. On walks she is at my feet and does her best to keep up with my pack of rescued misfits. She doesn’t whine. When I come home she stands on the deck to greet me. I swear the dog smiles.
I had the tumors removed soon after I found her, but another is back. She’s starting to slide downhill; there is urine in her blood and she’s had some small seizures, but her last year has been a warm one. I give her food and medical care, she gives me love. It’s not a bad trade off in the scheme of things.
Since moving here less than two years ago we have rescued 8 dogs and 4 cats. I’ve found homes for two of the dogs; one even went to the realtor who helped us buy the property. The rest have joined my pack where they are sterilized, vaccinated, cleaned up and treated with care. The area is a notorious animal dumping ground. I’ve heard it said that people abandon their pets near my property because there used to be a dog food factory nearby, or that a kind-hearted vet lived across the river. I’ve heard it said that people are dumping their pets because they can’t afford them due to the bad economy, yet somehow the rural poor manage to have satellite dishes on their mobile homes, big screen TVs in their living rooms and cell phones in their pockets. I’ve seen truly poor people in Africa; the problem here isn’t poverty it’s priorities.
The governor recently signed another animal abuse bill into law. This state does not need any more laws; it needs people believing in them and following them. We are not going to legislate a solution to animal abuse or animal overpopulation. In the remote areas where I live people come here to escape the heavy hands of the law. No one who loves animals and lives out here believes the bill will do any good.
Animal cruelty and animal overpopulation are not legal problems, they are moral ones. The river that I crossed that night is a favorite for baptisms because it is wide and shallow, and there are more baptist churches in my county than fast food joints or liquor stores. I’d like to see a preacher give a rousing sermon on the evils of animal cruelty but being a non-believer in these parts, and a Yankee one at that, doesn’t give my hopes much weight. The last thing the locals want is to be lectured by another outsider and so I’m stuck waiting for Jesus to lead the Baptists to a place where animals are treated humanely and responsibly.
Last weekend I spotted a female Rottweiler standing in the middle of the road that runs through my property. According to the locals at the general store somebody pulled up, laid out a blanket, and left the female along with another dog. I tried to coax her even though the last thing I need is another dog, but she ran off. Unlike Brigette she’s not ready to trust another human.
I can’t say I blame her. I have a hard time trusting them myself.