Update: Thank you everyone for all your support and good thoughts. I almost didn't publish this because I was afraid it would be too long and too upsetting. And thank you for the recommends and republishes. I am overwhelmed!
I work for a veterinarian. I prefer not to deal directly with clients because, as someone in rescue, I experience so much angst when clients "do the wrong thing" like buy a dog from a puppy mill (backyard or not), purchase a breed dog unsuitable to their family, ignore the dog (read neglect) by dumping them in the backyard and never letting them in the house or bothering to socialize or train them with either people or other animals, and do not give them proper veterinary treatment throughout their lives.
All of these things are choices. All of them.
Yesterday, while in the clinic doing the morning medication rounds, I found myself dealing with one of the most tragic circumstances in recent memory. It was heartbreaking in a lot of ways and one of the few times that the animal's owner was completely being responsible and got whacked by fate. Whacked in a big way.
I stepped through the doorway between the kennels and treatment room and there stood a woman sobbing over her bleeding and very dead dog. She was literally in the throes of near hysteria. The second I saw her, I started to cry. I understood that deep grief so well. I had been there so many times myself.
I walked to her and put my arm around her (the only other person in the room was a man and he probably did not feel comfortable doing this), saying nothing, just holding on to her tightly, silently nodding off everyone else to let them know I would stay with her, as she let a storm of grief explode from her deeply injured heart. I looked at the very young gentleman with her, but he seemed completely overwhelmed and remained at a distance. I did not realize who he was until I spoke to him later.
When she was finally able to speak, the shock of what happened to this woman washed over me and I was so angry that I cried all the harder.
This woman and her 13 year-old son had just moved to an urban California area from a rural southern state and so recently, they didn't even have furniture. She is teaching nursing at a local college.
When she returned home that day, she found that someone had broken into their apartment, stolen one of the only things she had--a laptop computer--and let her dog out. The dog had never been out alone before here and she was panicked. Between sobs, she said, "I would never, ever let her out."
Her dog, an 11 year-old hound mix, had just undergone an expensive hip surgery just two years earlier, the result of getting stuck in a tree while chasing a squirrel. The dog was microchipped, wore current tags, and was spayed and fully vaccinated.
When she discovered the break-in and lost dog, the woman and her son, having returned from school, immediately went and made signs and began to put them up on poles etc. all over their very new neighborhood. They searched and searched for their dog, to no avail, deep into the night and early morning, both on foot and in a car. Calling and calling. Searching, panicked, and half the time lost.
Early yesterday morning, the sobbing woman got a call: Someone was traveling up a local six-lane urban boulevard to discover traffic all backed up and moving around something. That someone was the man standing cautiously aside and that something? Her dog, laying critically injured in the roadway trying to lift its head.
Not ONE OTHER person stopped to help but this young stranger. Not one. Another choice made by dozens and dozens of selfish and self-absorbed drivers negotiating rush hour.
The young man positioned his car between the dog and traffic and checked for tags. He quickly called the number on the tag and eventually reached the owner now sobbing in our veterinary clinic. This young man was the person now standing in our clinic looking as torn up and scared as anyone I have ever seen.
When she arrived at the scene, they loaded the dog into HIS car (which his own dog was in) and sped to our veterinary office. They were the first clients of the day at about 8:15am.
He told me that a pedestrian had seen the dog get hit by a green van... a green van that did not even so much as slow down let alone stop. The van slammed into the dog so hard it bent the dog's metal ID tag and kept going.
In hearing this, I cannot begin to express the seething outrage I felt. There are no words for it.
As I stood in the hallway talking to this young man, he told me his wife used to work as a veterinary technician but couldn't take the circumstances of bad pet ownership that kept coming up. As indicated above, it is the reason I do not like working with humans, much preferring the kindness and sometimes crazy love of the most untrained and unruly dog.
The young man said he didn't know what to do. He looked a bit in shock himself.
I thanked him repeatedly for what he had done saying that his kindness and attention to the needs of the unknown woman and her dog were the best and highest form of giving and kindness. I asked if he needed to take his own dog home, and he indicated he would like to do that.
I stayed with the grieving woman while he was gone until the young man returned to take the woman home. Every time she started to cry, I cried.
She asked me how she was going to tell her 13 year-old son the horrible news. His birthday is today. Up to now, I had said nothing. Relying on what little I know about nursing, I told her that her nursing skills included knowledge of grief counseling and that she really DID know what to do. She needed to use those skills in talking to her son and since she knew him well, obviously, she would do an excellent job. She cried all the harder. So did I.
As she continued to pet and hold her beloved dead dog, between sobs, she asked where a crematorium was. Obviously she had no intention of sending the dog into a vat of other dead animals to be rendered for fertilizer. Thank God for that. She was explained the procedure and cost and chose a private cremation.
The woman remained, as did I, at the dog's side while the paperwork was drawn up and said a final sobbing goodbye as the dog disappeared into the large black plastic bag destined for the dead animal freezer. Being a Christian, I said a silent prayer and made a very subtle sign of the cross on the dog's forehead as I have done for decades for dogs and cats I have lost.
Finally, she was ready to go. I handed her, and the young gentleman who by now had returned to take her home, a handful of tissue stuffing an additional portion into my own pocket. I am crying just typing this.
I gave her a large hug and wished her well, and she vanished through the doorway. My boss complimented me on helping her. Through tears, and speechless, I nodded and turned away crossing back into the safe world of the kennels.
As I passed every dog, I stopped and through the kennel gates, gave them a pet and told each one I loved them. And as I walked back into the exercise yard, tears streaming down my face, I cursed the the sad excuse of a human being that robbed this woman and let her dog out and the driver of the green van who hit the dog and didn't stop.
When I arrived home last night, I looked at my own precious dogs and cats--and the other almost two dozen rescue cats and dogs--differently. I thanked God for letting me do the work I do both at the veterinary office and in rescue which I have been doing for 35 years or so.
Even though the rescue work is often emotionally difficult, always physically demanding and extremely expensive, it is a privilege to be able to do this work. I am grateful, even on the worst of days--perhaps especially on the worst of days--that I was somehow given the ability to do it.
And while what I do often helps people (I take in a lot of senior animals, animals from owners who are terminal medical patients and ill/injured animals for other rescues the animals returned to that rescue when they are well), my job is really to take the voiceless and give them voice, and lead them to health and safety, through love.
I feel so lucky to be able to do this work. I just could not ask for more. Even, and perhaps especially, on a day like this.