The Day I Visited Animal Jail

The Day I Visited Animal Jail

By J. L. Thurston

The first dog I remember having was a large, black mutt named Leather. He never came inside and the entire back porch was his dog house. He had a huge fenced in area in the back yard and even though I remember petting his nose through the fence, I have a feeling my mother didn’t really want me around him. Naturally, I loved him anyway.

After Leather, we had a dog named Zeek. He was a free, fully grown dog, from a family that couldn’t train him. I know my mom changed his name, but I can’t remember what she called him. I think Bullet, but that’s mostly because he got loose all the time and would shoot out of the house like a bullet from a gun. He was some kind of Australian Shepherd mix. Silver with dark gray spots, a blue eye. Gorgeous. He was a runner, so we had to give him up. Keeping him cooped up was torture for him, as he expressed daily by running away. We gave him to a farmer.

Soon after, my parents brought home an adorable puppy. His name was Mo, short for Mozart. He was a shaggy Sheltie with the brain of a scientist. The dog had a knack for solving problems and used his wits to outsmart us daily, much to our amusement. Poor Mo died young of mysterious causes, but he was happy and made us happy, so there’s that.

I went with my parents on a long drive to pick out a puppy. We were still sad about Mo, but we were a dog family and couldn’t stand living without one. We went to a Keeshond breeder. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a Keeshond, but I’ll spare you the Google search. These dogs are considered medium sized but if you were to shave off their fur — which would take days, mind you — they were actually scrawny little guys. Long shaggy fur on top of thick wool topped by a curly tail. I found the liveliest puppy there was and we took him home.

After a long debate, we named him Oliver. He was smart and easily trained. He did tricks for the joy of doing them, but would kill his best friend for a slice of cheese. We had to stop using the word cheese around him, due to his serious addiction. We started saying ‘that yellow stuff’ but he learned that meant cheese, too, so we used ASL to sign “cheese” by rubbing our palms together. The damn dog learned that, too. Cheese was his crack.

Oliver lived a long and happy life. He was stubborn, sassy, and funny. He made happy little grunting sounds when he ate and had a bark that made visitors piss their pants. His curly tail, buried in all that fur, would shake constantly, looking like an odd propeller on a fur-boat.

Oliver was my last puppy because I grew up and moved into an apartment that didn’t allow pets. Then I moved into a house and life happened. But I still pine endlessly for a dog to bring home. One day, I always say. One day.

My puppy-fever has rubbed off on my sister-in-law. Her family has just purchased their first home and it’s dreamy. Lots of space, big yard. They got a kitten around Christmas time and then, just before Valentine’s Day, she called me to say she’s ready to adopt a dog. She asked if I could go with her to pick one out. Hell yeah.

I had never been inside the Humane Society before. Whenever I talk dogs with people they tell me to avoid that place because it’s a kill shelter and no one should support a kill shelter. But I always thought that if we don’t adopt the animals from those places, we’re sentencing them to death. Plus, if you aren’t picky about a breed or age of your dog you may as well go to a shelter and take one home. Right?

According to the ASPCA website, 5–9 million companion animals are euthanized every year in the U.S. I can actually hear Sarah McLachlan when I look at this photo.

According to the ASPCA website, 5–9 million companion animals are euthanized every year in the U.S. I can actually hear Sarah McLachlan when I look at this photo.

As soon as we opened the door to that place we were hit with the smell. Not surprising, given a ton of animals live there. But right away I wondered if those animals were looked after. I felt like I was visiting some sort of animal penitentiary.

A teenager greeted us at the desk. She kind of just stared until I started speaking. She told us to sign in and we can look at the dogs in the back. As we passed by several cat-filled rooms, I looked in and saw the puddles of vomit and hair balls, the cats pawing at the glass doors for attention. I wasn’t expecting a happy home when I arrived there, but this was startling.

We were led through many doorways, each one revealing a new room of cats. We passed by a mama pup with a new litter, seemingly in isolation. Then a gate opened and a swarm of dogs flooded us. Both my sister-in-law and I bent over to pet as many dogs as possible.

“You technically aren’t allowed to touch them,” the teenager said. “Insurance reasons.”

Ever been rebuked for petting a dog? That was my first time.

So, ignoring the pups, we went to the outside kennels and were immediately deafened by the barking. It was early February and cold but these dogs weren’t iced over in the least. Most jumped, some danced, all of them vying for attention. Nearly all of them were tiny little dogs. Toy breeds, small-brained and beady-eyed. Not my type of dog, but I let my sister-in-law shop. We examined them all. I found one that was actually bigger than a potato. A greyhound-border collie mix, supposedly. Black and white, long fur, reminded me of Mo. His eyes were focused and intelligent, but he looked timid.

We were told he came from an abusive household which was possibly a sales pitch, but my sister-in-law and I couldn’t help but think this dog may be the one to bring home. We spent a few hours with him, letting him warm up to us. Every noise seemed to startle him, every motion sent his tail between his legs. He was a big baby.

By a stroke of luck, my sister-in-law was able to bring him home that night. Even after much scrubbing, she couldn’t get the shelter stink off him. But I was amazed by the level of comfort he achieved in just a few hours of being in his new home. The timid pup we met in the shelter was calm, happy, and lazy. He was unaffected by the chaos of my nieces and nephew, but was a bit heartbroken that the cat didn’t seem to like him.

The whole experience made me think about how one can obtain a dog. How everything besides rescue is looked down upon. On the surface, rescuing a dog from a shelter worked out great for my sister-in-law — for everyone except the cat — but she paid the shelter $200 and signed a contract that the dog will see a vet every month for two years. The shelter puts animals down, and I believe the dog’s anxiety came from the chaos of that place and not any assumed abuse from before. I know the shelter’s probably doing the best it can, but really, that’s not good enough.

I’m glad this doggo found a good home, but I can’t stop wondering about the many other pups I saw there. The ones I wasn’t allowed to pet.

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