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June 24, 2022

The Heart in Conflict with Reality: When You Can’t Have All the Dogs You Want

The bear showed up last night.

My husband, Frank, blew off the twelve gauge to haze her or him. I’m not sure which, and what would be a proper pronoun for a bear – It? They? She? He? – We’ll go with her, author’s choice. I’ll never get the benefit of a conversation, as in the melee, her fleeing bottom, was all I could see.

It was dusk, and he’d gone out to bring in our bird feeders, an evening bear-aware ritual necessitated by an awareness that A fed bear is a dead bear. We try our level best to feed the birds while depriving the bears, but can’t always get things perfect. We were both simply grateful that she left with a shout and a bang without any culinary reward, as these situations can encourage her return.

This morning, the valley is quiescent, the air cool. After ninety degrees on the plains on Thursday, I feel grateful for the relief. All the birds are awake and feeding, the robin is poking for worms around the yard, then washing the dirt off in the fountain to the east. Three barn swallows are situated on the driveway, grounded and lined up in an offset suggestive of fighter pilots in repose on a runway, ready for takeoff with just the right command.

I’ve got Whiskey on my mind, but not the alcoholic kind. Whiskey is a two-year-old Bloodhound/Labrador mutt pulled off of death row in rural Kansas. The family, humans and non, met her this past Wednesday, with an idea that she could be the fourth pack member and a friend to our disabled Hound mutt. At a year and a half, this eighty-pound sweetheart was found as a stray out in the fields where no people talk or lay their heads down to sleep at night. A kind person took him into the shelter nearby, and after a legally-required time for holding strays lapsed, scheduled him to leave the planet in bodily form.

Far too many shelters, still, have scant resources to care for all who are born to people who will never love them. When the canine victims fall into the system, they’re given little time or chance for anyone to show up and give them that forever home, an American ideal as false as the American dream for immigrants. Shelters in San Antonio have owner-surrender lines out the door, a reality which means death for thousands of Texas dogs. The story is much the same throughout Texas, where spay and neuter is as elusive an ideal as taking away an AR-15 or leaving the inherently sovereign right to decide over what happens to a woman’s body, up to her.

It makes me think of the band, Southern Culture on the Skids. They used to throw pieces of fried chicken out to the audience, out of the Eight Piece Box. There feels little to do to change it. I’m considered one of the snowflake Democratic liberals injecting my morals and values where they’re as unwelcome as Trump in my living room. The only way to help is to consider taking in yet one more rescue dog.

And yet, millions of people feel the wrongness of taking away the life of a healthy young dog. It is, in the viewpoint of philosopher Thomas Regan, a deprivation of life and a moral wrong. Dogs have consciousness, in that they can enjoy pleasure, pain and anticipation thereof. They experience emotions as humans do, and in severe cases, lingering trauma. When dumped on a rural road or abandoned to a shelter, they cry and suffer depression and loneliness, an experience which only the best-equipped shelters and rescues have sufficient resources to address.

While many may not put the same words to it, the visceral bond between dogs and people is so strong, that people as Melissa McAllister with Redfern Animal Rescue in Denver, are spending all of their resources trying to save homeless Southern dogs. She saw Whiskey, stashed him into the safe haven of boarding that is common for foster-based rescues without enough homes just yet, and went on to save others.

Whiskey has been waiting for that American dream to materialize for six months. All the while, he’s growing into his puppy paws and becoming a fully-grown dog that no one yet wants to take in. We’ve been interviewing him as a candidate, doggie-style (no pun intended!) to see if he’ll be a good fit.

We learned later in the day, that Whiskey won’t be a good fit for our pack, owing to pack dynamics. Sometimes, dog chemistry can be a real impediment to pack harmony, a reality that many guardians of several rescue dogs have to contend with.

It was a hard decision, and one we didn’t make quickly. I wanted desperately to take him in.

I wrote.

I talked with a woman with six (!) rescue dogs of her own.

I cried.

I talked with my husband, ad infinitum.

I wrote some more.

Then, the bear showed up last night, and our dogs went ballistic. As Frank shot off the twelve-gauge with blanks to haze her away, we both sighed with relief, as our dogs cowered together in the bedroom for all things that go Boom!

And this morning, it was clear. I tendered the news to Melissa, that we won’t be taking Whiskey into our pack after all, as the dynamics just won’t work. I sent a sizeable donation to the rescue, forgave myself for not being able to take in every dog touching my heart, and offered to help find him just the right home.

And this afternoon, I’m holding out hope and sending good energy, that that sweet, eighty-pound lovable goofball is going to see his canine American dream manifest, one day real soon.

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