It's Just an Animal

On the way home from the mountains Sunday night, I was decelerating around one of those lovely Pennsylvanian descending hairpin curves just as a big white dog trotted casually up the slope in the middle of the road. I swerved to avoid it, fully into the opposing lane, barely missed.

I swung the car around about a hundred feet down, pulling over to the side of the road. The dog had turned around, and was trotting towards my car, wagging its tail. Heather grabbed Oscar's leash and got out before I could say anything but "Careful," holding her hand out for him to sniff. It barely acknowledged her, but seemed friendly enough.

The dog was pure white; looked part Great Pyrenees. He was old, at least 12 years, and one of his eyes was in bad shape, but otherwise looked well, if a bit shaggy. He even had a collar. No tag of course.

This is the part where, as a lover of animals, especially dogs, you ask yourself what to do next. It was 9 p.m., the shelter was closed, the neighbors were asleep or down long, not-to-accommodating driveways and my apartment is not big enough to house another animal, not even for one night.

I called the cops, looking for some sort of animal control agent or emergency facility in the area. There was none. I could almost hear the officer shrugging over the line.

"I'd just let him go again if I were you," he said. I'm sure he would.

Left with no other choice, we took him back up to our family's cabin and tied him up outside with food, water and a nice stack of blankets. It was a pleasant evening; he would be comfortable sleeping. We would drop him off at the Humane Society the following day. By that time, it was after midnight, and we were exhausted. I fell asleep immediately.

But when we woke in the morning, he was gone. He had chewed through the rope and took off.

It makes me uneasy to think about where he went and if he's okay - eating, staying off the road, finding dry places to sleep. My only consolation is that he was only displaced about 10 miles, and there were plenty of neighborhoods between our relatively isolated place in the mountains, and the small highway where we found him.

This is the third stray that we've picked up in this area in the past three years. The first was a ragged kitten crying in the rain across from the car wash at the beginning of my first year at FSU. I took her home and Lily ended up becoming a permanent resident, the perfect pal for our other kitty. The second was a recently pregnant border collie mix running down a busy road on the outskirts of town who we kept for a few days until we could find a no kill shelter. These are all not to mention our puppy Oscar, who was rescued from the side of the road in Western PA as well.

Things happen, some pets are more adventurous than others, and they can surprise you with their occasional attempts at exploration, but I have had many animals in my life, and if you care for them the way you would any other family member, they never want to leave you, never have the impulse.

I'm reluctant to point my finger at the local population and cry "deserters" but there is a general disregard for animals especially among males in this area, and I have gotten in many an argument after calling someone out for talking about abusing a cat or a dog. It's just an animal, right? When it gets old or has had its litter, you can just drop it on the side of the road. It'll find something to do. It breaks my heart to hear such heartless posturing.

I wish I could have kept the old dog, given him a home for the rest of his life, but there's only so much room and resources I have. I was furious the night I found him, not only that someone didn't care enough to keep and eye on their dog or potentially left him to run wild, but that they had shirked responsibility, leaving a conscientious citizen to clean up after their goddamn mess. Not only was the dog's life in danger, him running along the wrong side of the road could have caused a terrible accident were there a car passing in the opposite lane.

I'm sick of the negligence. I'm tired of hearing about disturbed individuals like Michael Vick, his apologists and the organizations that support him. I don't think we're regulating these issues efficiently and I don't think the penalties are harsh enough for abandonment and animal abuse. If you cannot care for something that will love you unconditionally, hangs on your every word and act, then how can you be expected to handle the complexities of human relationships and basic societal standards?


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I'm sorry the dog got away in the night, although I can empathize with you. Last year I was driving back from a late church service with the woman who is now my wife, and I swore I saw a dog trotting down the sidewalk. I stopped, and sure enough, there was a husky-like breed coming our way, and when we called the dog came right over. He looked to be mostly blind and was very old, so we took him to my girlfriend's house and kept him in the garage for about a day. Luckily he had tags so my girlfriend could look up where he got some medical treatment, those people then being able to get in touch with the owner. It turns out that some people working on the house left the gate open, the they were certainly grateful to get their dog back.

I definitely agree that I feel uneasy, too, when someone admits to doing something that's abusive to their pets. The "It's just an animal" excuse wears all-too-thin, and what's funny to us might be quite traumatic for them. This all reminds me of some of the current posts on ScienceBlogs about animal testing, those who profess that they're on the side of animal rights generally being dubbed "anti-science." I don't like animal testing, but I realize that it is something of a Devil's Bargain to help cure disease and understand our own health problems better. That being said, there are plenty of cases where animals have been mistreated and abused in the name of "science" and "progress," and I find it odd that people can test drugs on chimpanzees or other primates because they're so close to us, yet they are not extended similar rights or are not considered to suffer. In fact the current debates remind me of the concerns about vivisection and what is or is not ethical in the pursuit of understanding.

Anyway, I didn't mean to go on a tangent, but I'm simply tired of being assumed to be a rabid PETA member whenever I bring up the idea that many animals can suffer and feel pain.

That's exactly how I ended up with 5 dogs and 14 cats on our farm, every one of them is a stray I picked up somehow. The latest addition is a puppy my husband found out in the middle of nowhere back in January, probably dumped by some hunter who got tired of her. She's now extremely spoiled and asleep under my desk as I'm surfing the internet! That kind of thing is also why I give lots of support to local no-kill animal shelters (spay and neuter your pets!). It's great you tried to help the dog, hopefully he'll be ok. The important thing is that you tried.