Category Archives: memories

Shelter Stories

When I got married, my mother congratulated me: “Now you’ll have a spouse to get you out of any situation.  ‘Sorry, I can’t view your vacation photos, Vicar — the wife needs me at home.’  ‘Can’t make it to your dog’s birthday party, Helen — the husband needs me to run some errands.'”

It turns out that having a spouse is a wonderful excuse everywhere.

I: “My wife just went to jail.  This is her dog — I just don’t have time for it.”  The Lhasa Apso and her four three-week-old puppies arrive in the footwell of a large and expensive pickup truck, driven by a man who cannot spell “Lhasa Apso”.  A gap-toothed three-year-old grins innocently as a worker fishes the puzzled, tense dog and her brood out of the truck.  Driver and son don’t even follow the dog indoors, filling out the paperwork from the cab of the truck and driving swiftly off.

II: “I don’t know — she told me to bring it in, so I did.”  The miniature Schnauzer is six months old, freshly groomed, terrified, and self defensive.  “Dad” carries him under one arm like a football, shrugging one shoulder, gesturing with the dog.  A shelter worker cautiously drops a slip lead over the growling dog’s head, makes careful friends, and carries him away.  In the cage, wearing his expensive collar and tags, he will continue to growl, with huge, wide eyes.  Dad doesn’t see this.  He fills out the paperwork and walks away.  He tosses “Poor puppy,” into the air, a parting gift as he strolls out the door, getting on with his day.

Shelter Stories III

“He’s a Boxer, chocolate, with white spots, about this big, and wearing a red harness,” the man says, gesturing with his hands.  “Haven’t seen him since Wednesday.”

The shelter worker sympathizes, but there are no dogs fitting that description here.  “Where did he get lost?” she asks, starting to fill out a “lost dog” report.

“Well, every day I keep him out on a chain, and when I get home in the evening I let him off, and he just has the run of the neighborhood, you know?  He always comes back.  Everybody knows him.  So anyway, on Wednesday I get home, and I let him off, and off he goes as usual, right?  Except this time he didn’t come back.  And he didn’t come back Thursday, and he didn’t come back Friday.  I just don’t know what could have happened.”

“How old is he?” asks the worker.

“About a year.”

Shelter Stories II

“It’s time to give her up for adoption,” says Mom.  The dog is a smiling, amazingly obese Basset, drooping, bemused, her tail gently wagging.

“She just doesn’t like my grandchild.  She’s snapped at him a few times.  And he just wants to hug her and love on her — we just can’t take the chance that something will happen.”  Mom finds tears in her eyes, fishes for a tissue.  “We have two other dogs — they’re fine.  It’s just her.  She’s just not good with small kids — he’s two.  And he’s staying with us now, there’s nothing we can do.

“She’s my baby — but he’s my baby.  I don’t want to give her up…”

Wag, wag, wag.  The dog’s nails are long and untrimmed, and she is wider than she is tall, but she is smiling, smiling.  Dad hands the leash to a shelter volunteer.  Out the door they go, one last glance back, and as the departing car goes past the front door the dog pushes her face against the glass, puzzled.

A mother with two small children and another imminent comes in, reluctantly giving up a kitten for which she simply has no time.  The kids, aged around four and five, spot the recently surrendered dog and come wiggling over.  They sit in front of her, pelt her face with their hands, giggle and squeal, marvel at her shortness and wideness.  The volunteer holding the dog’s leash keeps a wary eye on her face, watching for the slightest sign of tension, the merest inclination to snap.

Wag, wag, wag.

The dog stands patiently, gives and accepts kisses, and her smiling expression never changes, although her eyes stray to the door.

Why I Ate A Thanksgiving Turkey

I am not technically vegetarian; I consider myself a compassionate carnivore.  Alas, in this day and age, this results in essential vegetarianism unless I have personally bought the meat/eggs/milk involved.  It’s kind of nice, actually.  I don’t miss meat a lot, and it’s really helping on my diet.  However, this Thanksgiving I did help to dismember and consume a whole turkey as part of some quasi-traditional ritual much of the country seems to go through around this time.

First — since my mother-in-law is lucky enough to live in an area where she can essentially walk out of her house and meet the pasture-raised, humanely-treated turkey in question, she got a bird which had the kindest life anyone could have given it, and whose death was about as humane as it gets.  This qualifies, in my book, as humanely-raised meat.  The bird was appropriately “paid” for its efforts to the household — with food, water, shelter, medical care, and, in the case of this particular bird, even access to the outdoors and conspecifics.  We (via the farmer) gave the turkey a good life in return for several excellent dinners.

Second — we used the whole turkey.  Every little bit of meat, including giblets, bones, neck, bits, and pieces, got thrown into the stock pot and will be used to flavor soups, make noodles, etc., for the next several weeks.  Three families were fed by that bird.  Nothing was wasted, which is only appropriate when you are consuming something so important as another animal.  That turkey was not wasted.

Third — Thanksgiving, or, rather, a family get-together and overall bonding occasion, is not the point to stand up and grind it into people’s faces that their lifestyle choices disagree with yours.  I once had to put down a “vegetarianism for beginners” book which recommended that, when “thoughtlessly” offered meat at a restaurant, I essentially stand up, throw down my napkin, and rip the innocent waitperson a new orifice for daring to offer me animal flesh.  We are all imperfect, and shouting at people is a great way to guarantee they won’t be listening.  There are better times for these delicate, paradigm-rocking conversations.

During the holiday, I also consumed two pieces of not-at-all-humanely-raised sausage, because some poor pig (or, likely, between two and twenty pigs) died for that sausage, and it was going to be thrown away if someone did not eat it.  While I would prefer that humans in general not purchase or eat factory-farmed meat, if someone has purchased it, I would prefer that it not go to waste.  I consider it a crowning injustice to torment, damage, and otherwise torture a living animal only to toss the meat away at the end.  There’s probably another way to look at all this, but that’s how I’m looking at it right now.

Some meat I did not eat this holiday: The path to and from the mother-in-law’s passed a favorite restaurant of mine, at which I have not eaten in years, since long before my switch away from factory-farmed meat.  Despite a distinct fondness for their burgers, the great time which had passed since my last such experience, and the general inaccessibility of the restaurant to me these days, I could not justify the purchase or consumption of meat from that restaurant.  It would not be wasted if I did not eat it, and purchasing it would directly contribute to factory farming; so fries it was.  It wasn’t quite the same without a burger on the side, but I’d rather miss out on a meat patty than contribute to what usually happens to make a commercial, fast-food burger.

Step One

I have a message to communicate.

Over a two-and-a-half-year period from 2007 to 2010, I learned something.  It is a huge thing, an unimaginably complex thing, and it is horrible.  In this era of gratuitous exaggeration I hesitate to use a phrase like “it ripped chunks out of my soul”, but at times it felt like that was happening.  It snuck up on me slowly, aggregating imperceptibly out of little fragments of information, and then abruptly it was visible.  It was not a pleasant thing to learn.  Having it in my head now is difficult.  Knowing what I know, I have an urge to communicate it.  This is the kind of thing that I feel everyone should know.  It is awful, but it is fixable, and the first step to fixing it is to tell someone else about it.

I want to tell someone else.  I don’t know where to start.

The idea is so complex, I can’t fit it into a sound bite.  I can’t casually mention it over dinner.  And it’s unpleasant, so it’s not something you can take in all at once.  The mind just stops processing.  It took me two years to see it, and I was seeing little bits of it every day.  When the picture came into focus, it was breathtaking — but that focus rested on two years of accumulated pieces of data.  I can’t fit that into a blog post.  I can’t fit that into a piece of writing someone will want to read.  It’s too big to fit through a pencil, a keyboard.  The scream, waiting to get out of my head, is huge.

So I’m having to take the thing apart, piece by piece, and try to reconstruct the original fragments of data which led me to my original epiphany.  I’m probably going to do it wrong.  Some things I’m not remembering correctly, and some things are too painful to think about, even now.  But I want to tell someone.  I must tell someone.

When I figure out where to begin, I’ll get on with it.