Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Lengths We Go To...

The Magazine Family over at the Masthead is not having a pleasant holiday. Their dog, Blaze, was apparently stolen off his run in their backyard. Given that the neighbors' disappeared dog ended up being found in the city's garage dump, a victim of dogfighting, there's a whole lot of people currently fearing the worst for Blaze.

Some bonehead with 20/20 hindsight demanded to know why Blaze was left unattended for a split second (which actually makes me wonder if someone was gunning for him, 'cause he's not unattended often). Being much more gracious than I happen to be, MM turned it into a request: when you say that your animals are family, to what extent do you mean it? Give examples.

It got me to thinking, which was undoubtedly the point. I've said for years that I prefer animals to most people. I've cried harder for them than at any other occasion in my life (but I am very fortunate that I haven't lost those closest to me). So, how far would I go? I'm not sure I'll know until I'm actually there, but I can look back at what I've done in the past.

I ripped all the duct work out of the basement to free my hamster, who promptly bit me. At the time, however, I was all of 10 or so and didn't understand the havoc I was wreaking on our heating and cooling system. I still have the scars, from the bite and from the nasty slice I got from the really sharp metal edges of the ducts. Of course, since then I've ripped into those ducts often enough, to free assorted rodents, that Dad actually put in a little door specifically to rescue the wildlife that finds its way in from the dryer vent. So I'd have to say that the second time I tore it all apart, to save a chipmunk, took more nerve, since I vividly remembered Dad's reaction to the first time. I took a deep breathe, thought to myself, "well, I'm going to pay for this," and dug in.

As a teenager, I braved "the thunderstorm of the century" in a nightgown to retrieve my panic-stricken cat. I nearly got squashed by two different trees before I caught the cat and made it back to the safety of our basement. In this case, as with most, I can't take credit for bravery or even nerve (or sense for that matter), since it never occurred to me until it was too late to turn back that maybe this wasn't the wisest course of action.

And really, maybe that is one of the defining characteristics of "family" - to be willing to rush headlong into something dangerous, maybe even lethal, knowing full well that you are going to potentially (maybe even probably) cause yourself pain and doing it anyway because it needs done, because you've promised someone - even if it was just yourself - that you were the caregiver. It was your responsibility to see to the safety, care and comfort of that soul.

I've darted into the street in front of a moving vehicle to snatch a very dear friend's toddler from nearly under the bumper. We were in the house and an hour had passed before I realized that I very nearly didn't make it. If I'd been wearing a bulky sweater that day, that car would have had me. Once again, sheer blind reflex.

I routinely risk my fingers moving snapping turtles out of the path of traffic, and I probably risked more than that freeing a fox from a leg trap one winter day many years ago. That is not extraordinary behavior as far as I'm concerned. I have zero tolerance for seeing animals in pain. My feeling is that if you have the ability to reason and to realize that someone/something is in distress, then you have the responsibility to do something about it.

I've spent more money than I care to think about (and certainly more than I had readily available at the time) on vet bills. Fred, our cockatiel, managed to get into rat poison once - I caught him crunching those greenish bluish pellets like candy and my heart stopped. We spent several hundred dollars on the vet, and then had the added joy of another couple of weeks of giving him shots in his scrawny little chest, and squirting medication down his throat to bring him back to full strength. The best was when the little shit figured out that he could stick his tongue into the end of the syringe to keep the medication from flowing down his little birdie gullet.

I have volunteered with abused and neglected horses for years, and some of the things I've seen that people do to them just sickens me. I've been in situations where I stood there in horror and literally had no idea where to start - like when some fucknut decided to hogtie a misbehaving filly to a fence - with barbed wire. Or the little goat that was stuck, chest high, in a stall so full of waste that he literally couldn't move. At what point, exactly, did this seem like the proper way to care for an animal?

And that brings me to what is the hardest thing of all: when there is nothing you can do but say goodbye, and help them go gently into the night... When I was 12, and our dog had arthritis so badly that we had to carry him outside to go to the bathroom, and he looked at my mom, his best friend in the whole wide world, and she knew he was ready to call it quits... When our cat was hit by a car, and dragged herself home and touching her caused her so much pain... When Fred, our wonderful little cockatiel, wouldn't eat and couldn't sleep and stayed puffed up and miserable in the corner of his cage... And now, with Lady, our courageous, ferocious darling with her damned pure-blooded hindquarters, who drags herself over to get pats and attention and snaps at her own rear when it won't do what she wants it to, and who is so mortified at her growing incontinence. It's killing me inside, and I'm crying now, because I know her time is short. She looked at me the other day the way Hanz looked at Mom all those years ago - this isn't fun anymore and she's ready to go home. Now I need to find the strength that my mom had then - to let go, to say goodbye and help her leave the body that's become a prison.

I don't know if there's a Heaven or a Hell, or if it's all just Karma and we're working our way up from dung beetles but Hell is saying goodbye. And if Heaven doesn't include my four-footed friends, I'm not going.

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