The little dog dashes from his handler as she bends to whisper reassuring words. But he is stopped by the leash which gives him a shocking tug. At the end of the line, he rears and faces his opponent. Gives her a hard stare.
Though the volunteer makes herself small, the dachshund will not come near.
She sits and waits.
I was scheduled to work the spay/neuter mobile clinic the day the hosting non-profit made arrangements with a local woman to come directly to her house. She had failed to show up on numerous occasions with several preregistered dogs when the clinic was held at its customary place.
It was unseasonably cold. We ushered the mobile unit into a parking spot right in the center of town. The smell of ammonia stabbed the inside my nose from the sidewalk. The dogs were in a home that must have been a swanky residence for a doctor, or maybe a sheriff once upon a time. No longer. The paint had long since peeled away; the porch slanted. The entire house seemed to sag. The smell permeated the house and surrounding area like an immobile fog.
Crates were piled in the yard with slide-out bottoms, seemingly chucked frisbee style, among the litter. They were concreted with months of filthy build up. The front yard had a wrought-iron fence reinforced with livestock wire, sheet metal, crate bottoms, and any handy object that covered the size of an escape hole.
After forty minutes of knocking, a cacophony of barks and howls, a bit of swearing, and a lot of worry (the non-profit would have had to reimburse the mobile unit $1800.00) an elderly woman answered.
A few moments later, she brings out the first trembling dog. It’s tucked inside her pajama shirt, a shirt pilled with years of wear, and so impossibly stained it would have been deemed a Goodwill reject. She is barefoot.
Forty dogs later, and well into the evening, the unit packs up to make the long drive home.
Add a few months. Senior volunteers were scrubbing and scraping kennels, feeding, watering, and holding squiggly dogs for vaccinations. The bust had been successful in as much as the dogs were no longer at the residence, but there had been a cost.
Instead of forty, the wardens had seized one hundred.
It took four people five hours to clean all the kennels (not including the dogs that were already on the adoption floor). As one volunteer described the process, “Take out the dog. Careful, a lot are fearful and could bite. Someone could hold and someone else clean. Remove all stuff in crate, sop up fluids, spray with cleaner and wipe out. Place paper, water and food bowl in crate. Return dog to crate and watch dog promptly dump water and food…. Cry.”
During this time, I asked myself a lot of questions, simple and profound. Like, why do some crate manufacturers emboss the pull-out bottoms? Have they never picked away at grouted poop inside the letters P or O? Or B for god sakes?
Why must hoarded dogs be kept at the shelter in the county in which they were seized until the case is closed? Despite all our best efforts, the dogs were not well served. There were just too many to make sure all were clean, watered and fed all the time. This law obviates a change, especially for those shelters that are barely equipped to deal with 25 dogs.
And why one hundred? Why not 98 or 102? Exactly one hundred sounds suspicious, but it seems like hoarding numbers often come with zeros at the end. 50. 70. 100. Is this part of the mental illness?
And speaking of that illness, why - why hold onto dogs when they are missing body parts from multiple attacks, are killed, or hide their food because it’s the only way to survive? Is it the need for control over other living beings because the hoarder’s own life feels out of control? Is there a misplaced urge to help? But no. These dogs were being bred. The vet at the mobile unit assured us of it, and she was right.
So.. when the puppies were born, what would happen if there should be an odd number, or a number without a zero at the end?
Was she selling them? Was her hoarding greed?
What, exactly, is a hoarder anyway? When does the transformation between dog-nurturer to hoarder occur? Is it a number? I don’t think so. I have two friends that have upwards of 15 dogs. Each dog is lovingly cared for, gets plenty of attention and exercise, is vaccinated, and on heart worm prevention. I used to look askance at people who told me they had three dogs. Now that I’m in rescue, I have four. I know better than to judge.
So is hoarding a mindset? Can one hoard four dogs? I once learned a hard lesson about fostering. Letting go was so hard. Another foster taught me how to let go. She said, “give them to someone who is better than you.” It was then that I realized the pretentiousness of my worry — that so many other families were perfectly capable of loving and caring for their dogs as much as I cared for mine.
Maybe my erroneous thinking was a hoarding attitude.
Eventually, the little doxy approaches, with a tentative nose, all paws on alert. His handler coos again, but he’s not ready for it. He trots as far as the leash will allow with one accusing eye over his shoulder.
“I’ll take him,” says a veteran foster.
To date, all one hundred have been adopted, or sent to other shelters. They even have their own Facebook page. The very last one is still with the foster learning how to become a normal dog, learning how to play, and trust.
Learning that he is not just another number.