Friday, June 25, 2010

Looking back on Day 3

I woke up this morning, day 4, much more tired than I've been on other days. Yes, partly that has to do with the fact that I was up until 1am (uploading pictures and blogging), and I'm up at 6:30, but I blame being tired and being awake so late on how emotional yesterday was. I was simply unable to unwind last night, which is unusual for me.

Being at the shelter is pure love. The dogs are happy, for the most part healthy*, and in a pack they need. Many of them crave attention, which is apparent as soon a we try to walk through the entrance. We get to do manual labor, which just feels good, and from which we see immediate differences. And we leave without creating any pain in any dog.

The clinic is an entirely different experience. It's true that I had to get used to being at the shelter, but it took only a matter of an hour or 2 before I was entrenched in the lifestyle there and eager to go back. The shelter will take much more time, and I'm certain I will not manage to feel at home there on this short visit.

The dogs there are not in the pack that they have grown up needing, be it their "pack" on the street (of dogs who roam the same area and humans who live there) or their pack at the shelter. They have been brought to the shelter by their human or by Erica (who collects strays and brings them to us) and have been left there, all alone. They are confined to a pen and then handled by us, strangers to them. And then we hurt them - for the greater good, but it's still pain. And then we leave at night, leaving them at the clinic to start their recovery alone and with very little amenities or creature comforts. Do they need creature comforts and are they used to them? No, but I am, so the visuals are powerful to my brain and my heart.

I cannot help by wonder whether (1) we are any better off with our dog population in the US and (2) how we manage our dog population is more humane. Allow me to explain.

(1) We have a LOT of dogs in the US in shelters. Some of those shelters - I have seen some - are no better than the shelter down here. Yes, the dogs are in individual pens, but they are therefore isolated from their pack, they get less attention than if they were able to be in a pack, and they don't get to take a run to the beach every day! And, given that they are locked up in pens away from the public view, we (a) do not think we have a dog problem, and (b) tourists coming to visit do not see the "dog problem" and try to solve it. The only reason Courtney & Matt founded the Perros Project is that they met Lola and then saw all the other dogs and realized there was a need down here. Had they all been neatly locked away - as we do in the US - they might not have even thought to come back, a group of volunteers in tow.

A side note to (1): yes, there is concern here that dogs are not as healthy as we'd like, and that they are at risk of being hit by a car or (I guess, but have not heard of it) poisoned. But they live rather free lives. And they are not at risk of being euthanized. The euthanasia rate in the US is something nobody should be proud of or ok with. The ability to walk down the street and buy a puppy is something we should outlaw, given the high euthanasia rate for living, breathing, sentient creatures we call "man's best friend."

(2) We manage our dog population the best we know how: erase the problem from the public view and then spend money on adoption campaigns so the public sees only the nice parts of it and hopefully comes to find their furry companion. But we lock the dogs up in concrete pens, sometimes with little to no stimulation (depending on where in the country you are). We take them on brief walks, hopefully once a day. We don't allow them to interact with each other, even in a supervised manner - in fact, it's one of the main rules most shelters have. And then, when they have been there too long or cause too much problem, we decide when it's time to cart them off to a small room to end their life (sometimes in a humane way, and sometimes in a way that makes a little news but is quickly forgotten about).

The point of this blog is to explain what I am feeling. Before I came down here, I thought "poor dogs" and "I need to help them." I still feel that way. There is nothing perfect about this situation, and I was pissed off at humanity yesterday. We cause so many problems to other species and then do not properly fix it. We put a little money towards problems, but only enough to clean the problem up from public view, not enough to really and truly fix the problem (BP is coming to mind, and what "cleaning up" will actually mean, but that's an entirely different assault on the world). But, I am no longer feeling so sorry for these dogs versus dogs at home. I know street dogs here, especially the more rural dogs, suffer and rarely know when their next meal will be or from where it will come. I'd love to scoop them all up and bring them home. I know they'll find homes, especially when I "advertise" them with their stories attached.** I saw how quickly Katrina dogs got adopted, over "normal" dogs at the same shelters. We want to do the right thing and when given the option and a good story, we generally do. But I cannot bring them all home. I can only do my part here for the next few days.

The moral of the story? If you care about the plight of homeless dogs, I see it as: don't buy puppies, adopt, and volunteer at the local shelter so those living there have more of what they need.

* My standards of "healthy" have already changed. Some of the dogs at the shelter have mange, some have injuries, and most are skinnier than American dogs are. But I call them healthy because that is what they are.

** Some stories I'd "advertise" include (1) Trash can dog (we spayed her first yesterday). She was literally found in a trash can, left for dead, with 3 of her 4 paws broken. She's a beautiful 6 month old soul. I love her. (2) The dog at the shelter whose abdomen was cut open, as if she'd been experimented on at the local university's vet school (I've heard of this happening - but don't fault them for rounding up stray dogs - vet schools in the US do the same, except "rounding up" means buying dogs and cats from shelters or buying other creatures from vendors). She was left for dead on the street. (3) Each and every dog at the shelter born with some congenital defect that makes him or her 3 legged or humpbacked. They'd all find home where they could rest easily and have plenty of food.

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