Grew up on a small ‘farm-ette’ with horses, chickens, rabbits and of course dogs. Somewhere between the age of 5 and 6, our family dog, Duke the Dalmatian died and when the school let out, our Mom picked us up in the wood paneled station wagon, taking us to the grocery store and then to the pound (wasn’t called a shelter in those days) to get a new dog. Our family dogs were ever present, keeping all types of wildlife from the chickens & rabbits and sleeping on the floor of our shared bedroom – I don’t remember a time growing up without at least one or two or more dogs.
My Mom pulled out her ever present grocery list as we stopped at the tall front desk, asking which dogs were going to be put to sleep that day. The officer behind the counter flipped through the clipboard, reciting as she wrote down the kennel numbers on the blank back of the list.
As we walked back through the double swinging doors into the cement & chain linked kennels that lined either side of the walkway – she held the list out to my sister and I, saying that the dogs in these numbered kennels were the dogs we could choose from. Of course, there were a number of puppies and both my sister & I were drawn to them again and again as we walked both sides of the isle. Mom finally said “listen girls, we’re here to pick out a dog from this list, these are the ones that need our help because they are going to be put to sleep. The puppies will quickly be adopted by other people.” My Mom must have realized that we didn’t understand “put to sleep’, so taking us by the hand, she led us off to the far corner where she explained what it really meant, which set both of us off into tears. She gave us a few minutes then she said “quick, we’ve got to pick out our dog from this list and get home so I can get dinner started”. Life as well as death was always very matter of fact from her.
That day is forever cemented in my mind as we came home with not one but two dogs, Pirate and Tripod, we were not original or creative at that age – every dog we knew was named Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin. You can probably guess that Pirate had one eye and Tripod had three legs – we KNEW no one would want them, which made us want them all the more, knowing their fate if we did not choose them. The lessons of caring for animals I think was burned into of our DNA after that experience.
While we moved a number of times and any number of dogs have been a part of my life, I’ve never forgotten those two dogs, the smell of bleach that had cleaned those cement kennel floors right before we arrived and learning that ‘put to sleep’ did not mean what we thought. Over the years, I often think about the number of dogs on that list that we were not able to choose, but whose number was up that day, despite our tears.
I have always had rescue/shelter dogs in my life – have never purchased from a breeder or store – the guilt of who would have to die in a shelter, in their place would be more than I could bear.