I have to write about yesterday. Not because I'll forget - I'll never forget - but so I'll remember the details.
Stray Rescue, through a grant from Humane Society of the United States and PetsMart Charities, held a free vaccinations and spay/neuter event at a park in North St. Louis City. This is the neighborhood where Randy and his team find most of the 500+ stray dogs (and cats) currently available for adoption, some of whom live at the shelter and some in foster homes.
Many people in this neighborhood do NOT spay and neuter their pets, nor do they take great care of them. But they cared enough that 650 dogs and cats got vaccinated, and for that I must celebrate.
I was one of five or six data collectors who went through the line and helped people fill out the forms necessary for their pets' to get distemper and rabies vaccinations. We also were told to encourage those whose pets weren't already spayed and neutered to accept the offer to sign up for these free services to be done at a later date.
Hundreds of people were in line. One form had to be filled out for each dog. Most people had more than one dog, many had four and five dogs. One lady had six small dogs, including a tiny Yorkie and a one-eyed dachshund in a stroller.
Forty or fifty volunteers participated in the event. I'm sure everyone has stories to tell of what they saw and experienced. These are mine:
A man and his wife had three or four dogs, including an 8- or 9-week old puppy that squirmed in his arms and fell to the concrete while I filled out their form. The puppy seemed okay, but I heard his head hit the concrete! With so many people still to collect info from, I had to move on. That was the beginning of the day. My friend Sandy and I huddled together at one point and said we didn't think we could do this again.
One old man had four big dogs. I filled out his forms for him, since I could tell he was illiterate (we were told to watch for this). Someone was with him to help handle the dogs, but the old man held the leash of one big dog that tried to lunge at someone walking by and the dog pulled him to the ground. He held on to the dog, and he wasn't hurt, but he obviously has his hands full with four big dogs.
I saw a pit bull puppy with bright blood-red eyes, with the bottom lids bulging out. He had something called cherry eye.
One couple had two male pit bulls with them. The woman was holding a two-week-old pit bull puppy whose eyes were barely open. She said that Animal Control had taken away the mom (I didn't ask why), the rest of the puppies were at home and this was the runt. She didn't want to leave him at home. She said she had to bottle feed the puppies every few hours.
I only saw one or two really skinny dogs with their ribs showing.
My friend Nancy told me this story: One man said his dog had had diarrhea and vomiting and hadn't eaten in a while. She was completely lethargic and could barely lift her head. Randy Grim was at the event, and when Nancy brought this dog to his attention, he had someone drive back to the shelter for a parvo test. The dog tested positive, and Randy told the guy that without emergency treatment the dog would die. Randy offered to treat her for free, and she was whisked off by one of the Stray Rescue staff to the specialty hospital they use. Randy even gave the guy his personal cell phone number. (I LOVE RANDY!)
Many people had huge, heavy chains on their dogs instead of leashes. One boy had a chain and padlock on his two- or three-month-old pit bull puppy. Another young guy's dog's collar was so tight that he could barely breathe. We told him it was a "little" too tight. He said, "Oh, sorry." He didn't know any better. It's so sad :( One of our volunteers cut the collar off with a pocket knife and we replaced it with a new one. Some people used belts as a collar- and leash-in-one. Some used electrical cords. Some had no collars or leashes and carried their dogs through the line. A few dogs escaped their owners and were corralled by volunteers. One man's two pit bulls fought each other as he tried to hold them apart. I saw lots of people carrying sticks to hit their dogs with if they misbehaved in line. And they used them. And we weren't allowed to say anything except maybe suggest a different way of getting the dog to behave. It felt kind of hopeless. Like they're just going to go home and treat the dog any way they want regardless of what we say, so what's the point? I know that's not the right way to think, but it really was overwhelming. After the fourth of fifth hour you kind of just want to give up.
One young girl I saw was higher than a kite, probably on heroin. She was definitely in another world. She moaned and groaned and her eyes were not focused. She picked her small dog up off the ground by the leash when he didn't listen to her. I saw this out of the corner of my eye down the line, but I had to keep going.
We were told to be understanding and nonjudgmental. It hurts to see dogs treated like that for seven hours. It's shocking. I was in disbelief. My heart hurt. It was traumatizing, really. I needed to go home and recover. Another day or two of that and I think I could be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I couldn't get the sad state of the dogs out of my head. I know the people love their dogs, but they show it in the only ways they've been taught, which in itself is sad to think about.
Okay, for all the bad (I feel better getting that all out), let me tell you about the good.
Thankfully the weather was beautiful…sunny but not too hot.
A lot of people had little foo foo dogs - shitzus, yorkies, cockapoos, pomeranians - that were perfectly and recently groomed, with little hair bows and outfits. The volunteers laughed about the extremes - there were either little foo foo dogs…or pit bulls. Nothing in between.
One well dressed man told me his dog, a beautiful, healthy, happy, 8-year-old black and white pit bull, was his "son." We talked for 10 minutes about how he hates the bad rap that pit bulls get and that he likes to use his dog as an example of how friendly and well behaved they can be. As they walked to their car after going through the line, I ran up and said goodbye. I met several people I chatted with in line that I said goodbye to as they left, and I thanked them for coming.
A young man with a pit bull puppy wouldn't let him drink out of the water bowls we provided along the line. He asked if he could have a bottled water for himself. We had water for volunteers, but I told him I would get him one if he gave his puppy some of it. After I got it, I said, "You don't want your puppy to drink out of the bowl?" He said, "No, it's dirty." I thought it was cute that he was so concerned, and probably rightly so, about his puppy drinking out of the same bowl so many dogs had used. He asked if he could throw the water in the bowl out. I said yes, and he rinsed it out with the clean water from the bottle a couple of times before finally filling it for his dog. Very sweet.
Good and bad: Some people (mostly men but a few women) who did not want their dogs spayed or neutered were adamant about it. They wouldn't look at me and just said "NOPE," or "I want her to have puppies," or "I breed them." I wanted to drive them to the shelter 10 minutes away to see the hundreds of little, pleading pit bull faces staring up through the cages and ask them why. But I didn't spend a lot of time on those people. I gave my little spiel, but I could tell the ones who weren't going to be swayed and I don't have the persistent personality it takes to continue with them any further. There were volunteers specifically assigned this task, so I left it to them. BUT… I had quite a few I DID talk into spay and neuter! It felt so good. Some were on the fence about it, but with a free offer worth $100 to "fix" their pet, which included a free microchip and nail trim, how could they pass it up! I got one guy to get all four of his dogs spayed and neutered.
Although it was tough to see how some of the pets were treated, all of the people were polite, friendly, grateful, and patient, despite the long lines and hundreds of restless, barking dogs. Which is probably the only reason I would consider volunteering for this event, held every six months, again. Well, that and the chance to pet dogs all day.
And feeling like I made a little difference in a little corner of the world.