Under the law, animals are considered property. The reality is that an animal who is surrendered or abandoned by their owners is like an abandoned couch or chair on the street. They belong to no one and therefore, are completely vulnerable, at the mercy of whomever may end up in charge of their care. The dog or cat may have some characteristics that irritate the individual who now has life or death power over them, and qualities that were once endearing to the original owners are misunderstood and may become justification for giving up on that animal or disregarding the cat or dog as the cherished individual he or she is.
I have encountered this problem even with veterinarians,trained animal care professionals who should know better. Shelter animals or impounded animals are not owned by anyone and not protected the same way a beloved pet would be. Years ago, a shelter where I volunteered filed a complaint with the state against a veterinarian who, without permission, used a blind cat from the shelter to “teach” his new vet technicians how to put a catheter in. This cat was older, plain looking and though gentle, lacked a “big” or charming personality or the feistiness to fight back. She had gone in for a legitimate reason, a simple check up and blood draw for a chemistry profile. But when Tess the cat came back to the shelter with her forepaw swollen three- four times its normal size,we asked why. The vet admitted what he had done, figuring what did it matter-Tess was “just’ a shelter cat. No one’s cat. I imagined what that blind, old cat had gone through, being practiced on, having that catheter inserted-incorrectly – again and again and was sick and heartbroken. Obviously that was the end of the work the shelter gave that vet clinic.I don’t think this vet was incompetent or heartless, so much as just going about his business as usual. When I was on a fundraising board of a vet school and hospital, one of the veterinarians who also served on the board told me that as a student, she and her classmates were each assigned an animal, from a shelter or impound, generally a homeless dog, on whom they would practice. The dog she was assigned was named Laura. During the course of a semester, she spayed Laura, then repaired a broken limb ( after it was deliberately broken) and performed several other surgical procedures. At the end of term, the animals, worn out and in pain after the several surgeries, were put down-the last procedure the students performed. No one’s dog. The vet who was on the board with me told me she never forgot Laura. Is it any wonder the vet thought he had not done something so wrong, using Tess the shelter cat for his vet techs to practice on? He was no doubt trained the same way.
Those of us at the shelter could not make it up enough to Tess for what had happened to her. She quietly accepted our extra attention. Tess is dead now. I often think of her when I do my best to vigilantly protect the welfare of the cats and dogs at Home for Life Sanctuary and seek out the best staff and professional care for our animals. They are no one’s animals yet they are everyone’s animals because they are cherished and beloved by us and our supporters and sponsors. Knowing these animals as individuals and treasuring all that makes them so special and unique is what defines Home for Life sanctuary.
Another example: our Charlie who was taught to “smile” by his original owners when his name was called or his photo was taken. In these smiling photos, does he look aggressive, like he is about to turn into a werewolf? Yet this sweet gesture was considered a display of aggression for which Charlie was severely and unjustly punished.
The poem below was written by Charlie’s elderly owner. His wife had died, and he was terminally ill and had to move to assisted living for his final months. There was no way he could keep Charlie. The couple had acquired Charlie ( age 9 at the time the poem was written) as a puppy. After his wife died, Charlie’s owner tried on his own, for months, to find a home for his dog.. When his health deteriorated. Charlie’s owner had no choice but to surrender him, with his poem, to the local animal control facility, a high volume open admission facility. Although this organization does euthanize,their caring staff is proactive about networking to find rescues for as many of their animals as possible. The animal control officer was touched by the poem his owner had written,full of hope for Charlie’s future, and resolved to do everything she could to find a safe haven for him. Charlie passed his “ temperament test” so the animal control officer contacted the Young at Heart Rescue a wonderful foster organization based in Chicago which specialized in finding homes for senior dogs.
Young at Heart placed Charlie in an adoptive home that they thought would be a good fit. But this situation did not work out for Charlie.He had always been an “only child” from the time he was a puppy. He had never had to share his toys or treats. So,shortly after Charlie was in his new home ,when the adoptive owner grabbed the dog treat from Charlie as he was eating it, he snapped at her. (hey he had never learned to share his treats! Never had to!). Charlie loved food and was possessive of his treats and toys. But now he had a “bite istory” and was returned to Young at Heart. The rescue had no open foster homes at the time so Charlie was placed in a boarding kennel.
This kennel had a “dog trainer”. Charlie’s owners’ had taught him to “smile ”when his name was called or his photo was taken .
But this trait, which charmed his original owners, was misinterpreted by this sorry excuse for a dog trainer as “snarling “ and aggression. One day, when Charlie smiled at the trainer, he beat Charlie up, to a bruised and cowering pulp, while he was supposed to be under the care of the kennel. A kennel worker, who heard Charlie’s cries of pain and desperation, and witnessed the brutal beating, called Young at Heart’s executive director, told her what had happened, and warned her to get Charlie out of the kennel immediately.
Young at Heart’s director was devastated at this turn of events. She reported the kennel to the State of Illinois and somehow found a foster home for Charlie where he would be safe and well cared for. In January of this year, she called Home for Life with the news of what had occurred, and begged us to help Charlie, sharing the poem Charlie’s owner had written forhim.
We were full. (We’re ALWAYS full), but the poem written by Charlie’s owner, shared with us by Young at Heart, spurred us to find a place for the dog. We could only imagine the heartbreak the owner would have had, had he known of the brutal treatment his beloved Charlie had suffered because of the dog trainer at the terrible kennel. Through a blizzard, in the middle of a frigid January winter, the volunteer from Young at Heart drove Charlie from Chicago to Home for Life.
Charlie has easily adapted to life at our sanctuary, and seems relieved to be safe and not in transiiton with his life and future a question mark. At his new home he is appreciated just as he is . He loves the company of his new dog brothers and sisters. Even though he had lived as a singleton for his entire life with his old owners, he seem to enjoy the camaraderie of living with other dogs. His one condition is that he be allowed to enjoy his meals and treats without interruption. Home for Life is set up to ensure that Charlie can dine in peace.With great quality food and plenty of it, plus treat time each evening, Charlie does not feel deprived . Charlie is now nearly 11 years old, and we think he is probably a pointer/lab mix or redheeler/lab mix rather than a dalmation/jack russell as referenced in the poem. He is still very athletic and loves to run and explore in the exercise areas and meadows. He always has a cheerful“smile” for our staff.
After reading the loving and heartfelt poem Charlie’s “dad”wrote, the animal control officer, the volunteers of Young at Heart and all of us at Home for Life were moved to help Charlie. We were determined to ensure that Charlie would never have to be at risk for such brutal abuse again,after his wretched experience at the boarding kennel and that, for the rest of his life, he would be safe and loved. It was as if the poem for Charlie had conferred a special blessing on him, that protected him and motivated those whose lives he touched, to help the dog who was now no one’s dog yet somehow everyone’s dog. We could all imagine how we would have felt if OUR cherished pet had been mistreated as Charlie had been.
"Farewell to Charlie Who I Love So Very Much"
On October 17, 2003 you were born on that Happy Day
On January 4, 2004 we brought you here with us to stay
We found out quickly you were a very active little boy
You filled our home with so much excitement and joy.
When we were out together we were very proud
The happiness you brought to us knew no bounds
Anywhere we went you were always with us too
All complimenting your beauty and wanting to hold you.
Playing with your toys you were as happy as you can get
Stopping that you getting into more mischief was a sure bet
When you wanted us, you let us know that you were there
We had such a joy treating you with great loving care.
When Mary and I would go for a nice long ride
What a joy and pleasure was having you at our side
We were told that Charlie was you name
When we called Charlie you very happily came.
Mary is gone and the day has come that I did fear
I must give up someone I love and treasure so very dear
A mix of Dalmation and Jack Russell Terrier is your make
A big lump in my throat and my heart is about to break
Praying each day these wonderful people with help from Heaven above
Will find you a wonderful home full of Joy and Love."
Not every dog and cat who is given up by their owner will have a poem to bless them and protect them by inspiring people to help . There are many animals who end up in rescues and shelters, once a treasured family member, who will end up anonymous and forgotten. Once given up,with no one who will protect them or care about what happens to them,they can so easily be misunderstood or overlooked and fall through the cracks, only to end up with a heartbreaking end to their story as Charlie nearly did.