A Monday morning after a shortened weekend thanks to a makeup day on Saturday for a Snow Day earlier in the week (an inch of snow is enough to cause the school superintendent to wet his pants but not enough to build a few snow days in the schedule, go figure.) The mornings are regimented down to the minute as The Kid and The Wife duke it out over the bathroom with the former needing more time than the latter to get ready, proof that the metrosexuals behind the cosmetics and fashion industry have infected straight youth with the siren song of body washes, sprays and other accoutrements that once were the domain of young women. Meanwhile I’ve thrown on something that doesn’t smell (I think – my sense of smell is shot in the morning thanks to decades of smoking), made coffee, and gotten the dogs outside to pee before a sofa or freestanding lamp morphs into a fire hydrant in their eyes. Time is of the essence as we milk every free second between waking up and the first bell of the morning at school. During that time each second is accounted for, and spent on something necessary to prevent nasty letters from the school system telling me how much of a bad parent I am as well as something warm to stuff into the Kid’s belly courtesy of McDonalds or Bojangles. Seconds lost must be made up on two-lane roads clogged with farmers, rural school buses and old people who believe they are majorettes leading parades of cars on unpassable roads through the winding hills of the Blue Ridge foothills.
Then everything comes to a screeching halt as my 12 year old Honda clatters down the gravel drive at the sight of a dog laying next to the railroad tracks. A border collie cowers fearfully at the side of my drive where railroad tracks cross it. She’s young and very healthy. I roll down the window and my traveling dogs (the “bye bye boys”) go into a barking frenzy, but she doesn’t run. I make baby noises at her, and she wags her tail, so I open the door, scoop her up and rewind the morning tape. Seconds later she’s in the house and the pack is outside baying, but I have to leave her and make up time. Pushing the 4 cylinder engine to its limits with squeals of tires around the curves and a bit of luck with the elderly waiting outside of the rebuilt Dollar General for it to open instead of tormenting people in a hurry on the roads, we pass through the McDonalds drive thru and make it to school with a few precious seconds to spare.
Time slows down as I return home and contemplate the latest arrival at my doorstep.
Bi-color, female, border collie with a dark nylon collar. Thin but not undernourished, of average weight for the breed. I take out a tennis ball and bounce it on the hardwood floor across the room. The sound startles her but her instinct kicks in and she fetches it and returns it to me. Over the next few hours I introduce members of the pack and she shows proper respect to the pack hierarchy except for one of my little male dogs who lunges at her. Testing her it’s clear she understands basic commands and even hand gestures, making her smarter than most of my crew, but then again her breed is known for its intelligence. She is very fixated on me, and sleeps at my feet as I work. It’s possible she comes from a single or double-dog household and isn’t used to large packs, but then again few dogs are. Her fur is clean enough and her nails are clipped. Her belly is flat, so she’s either too young to have bred or has been spayed. She is definitely not a farm dog, and the likelihood of her escaping from a pampered home life in this area is miniscule for the simple reason that there aren’t many homes, pampered or not, in the area. In all likelihood she had been dumped at the nearby bridge like so many other animals that I have rescued in the recent past.
Although my home is restless with animals, I am not what veterinarians euphemistically call a “collector” and what most people call a crazy animal person. My pack, my cat collection, my poultry – all are spayed/neutered (poultry excepted) and receive veterinary care. I make it a point to never search out these animals, and will only intervene if one is in immediate danger or is on my property. Those two criteria are enough to build my pack into the barking, braying crowd that “welcomes” visitors to my property.
Keeping these animals isn’t easy. The chickens and ducks need daily feeding and watering and egg collection. The cat’s litterbox is a 100 gallon plastic tub filled with 120 lbs of clumping cat litter which must be shoveled weekly and replaced monthly using the front loader of my tractor. One of the dogs is an epileptic needing twice daily seizure medication, and one of the little dogs, the “dog of the seven bladders” cannot stop hiking his leg up on everything, requiring constant vigilance and floor cleaning. Another dog is sick with worms and slinks into the basement where she has explosive diarrhea on the concrete floor. I washed the floor on Saturday only to find this morning that she had done it again. Every dog needs personal attention which can be a challenge when five dogs decide it’s now their time with me. Over the years I have had cats throw up on me and scratch me in my sleep. I have had dogs pee on me in bed and throw up half-digested deer meat on my sofa. If it comes out of an animal I have stepped in it in my bare feet or cleaned it up as I dry-heaved.
But I can’t complain. As my late mother-in-law often reminded me, I chose this path. My mother saved one of my first scribblings as a child where I promised that I was going to have a home where all the stray animals could come to live together in peace. Without even realizing it I have achieved that dream – though I doubt peace is possible between the Blue Heeler and the Chow mix, two girls who simply will not get along.
I have strong opinions on animal welfare. Living in the South I am exposed to the religious belief that animals do not have a soul. I in turn believe that many religious people lack souls, jihadi clerics and the Westboro Baptist Church come quickest to mind. I no longer believe that it is morally responsible to breed dogs and cats for profit while shelters are full of unwanted ones. I can no longer watch dog shows that celebrate in-bred pure breeds, and would rather watch a dog show that celebrated the intelligence of mutts. I especially hate PETA, a group that intellectualizes animal rights yet does nothing to rescue animals. Worse it actually kills them, saving as an organization in a year little more than what I as an individual have saved in the same time frame. And no one got naked on my behalf.
Supporting PETA is easy. It’s trendy and it makes you feel good. It’s theatrical and knows how to make news. Pulling an elderly beagle with a belly full of ulcerated tumors off a bridge at night isn’t as glamorous, and the expense of the $700 vet bill that follows to remove them doesn’t feel good. As for making news, abandoning animals doesn’t make any, nor does rescuing and caring for them. Movie stars don’t stop by no-kill shelters to publicize them, and from what I’ve seen they prefer to spend thousands on pure breeds instead of tens on strays from the ASPCA.
If you really care about animals, adopt one from a shelter. If you can’t adopt from a shelter, donate to one. No matter where you live there are animal shelters struggling to educate the public to spay and neuter, and to place animals in forever homes. You may not be famous, but the animals you help will think you are a star.