We’d just moved from Colorado to Texas. I had a 2-year-old, no job, didn’t know anyone, and spent long hours at home with our daughter while my husband worked even longer hours. I had been longing for a dog for years – dogs had always been an important part of my family – but always worked too much to have time for a pet, and lived in small apartments my entire adult life. I just didn’t think it would be fair to the dog. But now was the perfect time.
The treatment of animals in general – and dogs in particular – in Texas was appalling. I know there is animal abuse everywhere; but no place I’ve seen devalues and mistreats dogs the way they do in Texas. It’s almost ingrained in the culture; it was explained that dogs were used as “early warning sytems” intended to guard the owners’ property. They were not pets. All of our neighbors had dogs that were penned in a corner of their backyards, with bare, ramshackle shelters the only respite from the brutal summer heat and winter chill. No one came to pet or play with them; they were antisocial and lonely creatures. The owners would fill up a dry food container and leave it outside, which would quickly become infested with bugs; or they would toss scraps and food to them. We met and visited people all around Texas, from all walks of life; the attitude was almost always the same. Only two people we knew (who happened to be friends of ours) even allowed their dogs indoors. We were horrified.
Our next-door neighbor (a middle-manager at a software corporation and small-business owner with a lovely home) had a cocker spaniel penned up in their back yard. Her fur was a mass of matted knots and insects; I could smell the dog six feet away. One of her eyes was missing as a result of untreated disease. She would show her teeth if I came near the fence, and I could tell she was terrified; I would toss dog biscuits and scraps to her, which she would gobble down greedily. The first “ice storm” in ten years (a slight glaze, which was a “storm” to Texas, laughable to a New Yorker like me) occurred that winter, and we could hear that poor dog howling in pain. We ran outside to find her feet frozen to the ground. We ran to call the police; but someone came and took the dog away in the meantime. We later learned the dog had died. Two weeks later, this woman installed a new dog in the backyard. We found out later it also died, this time during the heat wave the following summer. It was futile to call the police or animal control; unless we viewed physical abuse taking place, this treatment was considered legal. The only way they would respond if there was a lack of shelter from the sun (an umbrella would suffice) or water for the animal. They considered the complaint a nuisance. It was inexplicable.
She was petrified of flashlights and fly swatters, and other very specific objects – and the way she cowered led us to believe that she had been hit with them. She was terrified of men, and snarled whenever Eduardo would come near. She hid under the bed for a week – but would come out when I coaxed her, and never once “went” inside the house… except to urinate on Eduardo’s side of the bed! He was not happy, to say the least. It took her months before she would allow him to pet her.
She has come a long way since then. Now, he’s her human “daddy” – and it’s clear she thinks of me as her mommy, the Alpha. She is my constant companion, never more than a few feet from me. She is one of the most intelligent dogs I’ve ever known. Now she does not cower and growl when strangers come; she barks, but now grudgingly allows others to pet her – which is an amazing thing, for her. She just loves my parents, especially my dad. She still fears other dogs; but adores her sibling-dog Chino, and tolerates my parents’ Shih Tzu Fiona. She sees herself as my daughter’s “sister” – and the two of them have a true sibling rivalry over my attention! And she loves cheese more than anything in the world – even more than meat. She’s a real part of our family, and I can’t imagine life without her.
More than that, I can’t understand the people who might have hurt, neglected, abandoned or even killed her – had we not found her. It is hard to imagine how many thousands of dogs meet the same fate on a daily basis. If you don’t want the responsibility and expense of an animal that needs your time, love, and attention, and to be a part of your “pack” – don’t have one. It’s pretty simple, in my opinion. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a dog-lover; if you’re a compassionate human being, you don’t want to see any creature suffer needlessly.