It is no secret that the dogs who end up in shelters are the unlucky ones. These are not the dogs that get to nose open Christmas stockings, or who trot down the street with designer collars. They are not the dogs who sleep under the crisp bed covers at night or ride gleefully with their heads hanging out the windows of cars. More times that not, these are the dogs who are viewed as being expendable by their owners. They are the ones who get loose or get dumped and no one comes to look for them. Many shelter dogs have rarely seen the vet...or been given a simple $20 vaccination that protects them against Parvo. Their bad luck however, is the only way in which these dogs are inferior. They are just as smart, just as loving and just as beautiful as any other dog. Sometimes, more so.
Last week, a quiet, faceless enemy swept through the shelter where I volunteer. This time the antagonist wasn't time, but a faint trace of bright red blood in the dogs' stools which became proof positive of Parvovirus. So far, the outbreak has left a body count of 21, all Pit Bulls.
Every single dog that I nurtured, named, photographed, wrote Petfinder bios for, played with and taught skills to, is now dead. The staff who fed, watered and cared for these dogs all day, every day now goes to work in a quarantined facility that is oddly quiet yet full of ghosts.
There are so many things that make this devastating, not the least of which is the fact that at least 3 of these dogs had been at the shelter for almost 4 months, while myself and the staff tried desperately every week to place them. The trio survived several culls for space, almost constant confinement, a severe lack of mental stimulation and a level of stress that most human beings can not even fathom. They triumphed over all of this- just to be taken out by a virus that spread silently from one infected carrier...a virus that is almost 100% preventable.
When I first heard that the shelter was closed due to Parvo, my heart fell into my stomach, but I had no idea how widespread the infection would be. The next day, I received a list with ten or more infected dogs on it, the following day, another 6. One by one, all of these lives which we fought so hard to save, were extinguished. All of this from a virus that hung in the air, clinging to our shoes and our hands, spreading evasively since late June.
I am so saddened and angry at this needless loss of life. Angry because these dogs didn't deserve to be there in the first place and even angrier because if any one of them had been current on their shots, they would still be alive.
Over the past 15,000 years, we have succeeded in domesticating and thouroughly dominating a species that now is completely dependent upon us to survive. The gray wolf, which the dog was once domesticated from, hunts for it's food, breeds autonomously, possesses natural immunities to disease and lives a life completely free of and in fact, antithetical to, human existence. Dogs on the other hand, have been bred for millenia to serve humans: as companions, workers and protectors. They are utterly subservient to our treatment and rely entirely on us for food, shelter, affection, amusement and good health.
All they really require is the most minimal of care and compassion and we continue to fail them.
We allow them to breed rampantly and then kill 4 million every year in shelters because there isn't enough space; we make them into designer breeds like Labradoodles and Cockapoos because it's a charming mix while 30% of the homeless dogs in shelters are pure breds; we abuse them, neglect them and even fight them until the death.
Don't we owe these ancient companions more respect? We show more reverence and good will to the very least and most despicable of our own species while constantly using and abusing the faithful creatures that have been at our side for centuries.
I write this in memory of Sasha (pictured), Huckleberry, Bandy, Tiger, Summer, Damon and all of the dogs who were needlessly lost last week due to public enemy #1, ignorance.