Still flushed with news of the early morning departure of little Braxton on his rescue flight from St. Augustine to Philadelphia, I arrived at OCAS to set up for our weekly Sunday morning shoot. Today would be busy, with 27 dogs on our list. These are dogs that are deemed by the shelter staff to be in need of adoption assistance, i.e. not cute puppies, and yet represent only a few days of available dogs. I am fortunate to have photographic help today, or I would be working until late into the night instead of early evening.
The volunteers arrive one-by-one. Some will wrangle dogs, some will shoot and wrangle, helping to walk and dress them and keep them attentive during the shoot. Because the shelter is closed to the public on Sundays, each arriving volunteer needs to be let in by someone who has already arrived.
Karen texted me that she was at the front door. When I opened the door, she was several feet away looking at a spot between the main entrance door and the door to the adjacent clinic, about twenty feet away. The space between the doors is filled with hard white stone and a single, spindly bush that always appears to be on the knife's edge of survival. A closer look revealed a small dog, its leash attached to the bush, along with a bed, some toys, a note and a bowl. Someone had abandoned the dog outside the door of this closed facility. The arriving volunteer and another woman were crouched, examining the dog.
Such irresponsible conduct is by no means rare. The shelter closed its after-hours pavilion some time ago, due to the overwhelming number of animals that were being abandoned there. But tales of people who still drive up and toss unwanted animals over the gates are legion. Do we really need an IQ test for pet owners? The answer is yes. License people, not pets. That a mandatory spay and neutering program is necessary is a closed question. What remains open for debate, however, is which population of mammals it should be applied to, the two legged or the four legged variety.
I left to summon the shelter staff who have authority to accept the abandoned animal. A man came and swept up dog and its belongings and re-entered the building. As he departed, Karen and I turned to the other woman who was standing there, waiting - she said - to pick up her own dog at the SPCA across the street. We quickly asked her about her interest in this dog, and when we discovered that she had some, albeit reluctant interest, I called to stop the shelter attendant, who returned with the stray. My humanitarian entreaties didn't seem to work, but on a purely economic argument she accepted the logic of taking the dog. If she was interested and it didn't work out she could always surrender the dog, nothing lost. But once the dog was admitted, it would cost her $50 to adopt the dog. She had nothing to lose. This bit of high speed hucksterism worked and she left with the dog, who was spared the sicknesses and bad odds of survival that are endemic inside the walls of the public shelter.
Karen and I put aside our slick evangelism/salesmanship and went about trying convince the public to adopt more shelter animals. As happy as I was to have helped this poor little dog, I also felt ashamed of the people who had abandoned this dog with hardly a second thought. I do not understand how or when the idea of personal responsibility left our society. To me the very definition of failure would be to abandon a dog I had adopted. It is something I could not bring myself to do. Perhaps I am naive and underestimate the degree of suffering and deprivation that people must endure in 21st century America. Maybe. But I know that when called upon to take a stand on any issue, it is this: I will never abandon my family, and my dogs are members of my family. If I ask a dog to give up part of its canine nature and adapt to living as a quasi-human, in return I promise to be responsible for caring for the dog for as long as it lives. Bargain made, bargain kept.