Friday, October 9, 2009
Today I had my first experience with losing a shelter dog to death and for a number of different reasons this has affected me greatly today. A friend and fellow volunteer suggested that I write down my feelings and share that experience with you.
So I'm going to tell you about a dog named Buster. I did not know him very long, but just the few short visits that we shared together were very special to me. I do not know much about Buster's life before his arrival at the shelter, but by his condition I can only assume that his life was not good. Perhaps his few short weeks there were his only experience with actual care and love from a human being.
Buster arrived at the shelter sick and emaciated. His nails were so overgrown from not being walked that they curled under his feet, dragging along the kennel floor as he walked. His eyes were glassy with cataracts. His ribs protruded from his abdomen and his fur was caked with feces and urine. But despite all of this, when I first walked up to his kennel door he eagerly walked over to say hello, giving me a warm smile while he wagged his tail.
I wanted Buster to feel more comfortable - so I took him for a bath. After ward, a kennel attendant helped me cut his nails. When we were finished, I took him to the 'cement area' behind the kennel A building. We got to know each other while we sat on a soft blanket in the sun. He licked my face as I gently rubbed his back. I nonchalantly threw a tennis ball, seeing if he would have any interest and Buster immediately chased after it, prancing like a puppy. He would eagerly return with it in his mouth, dropping it into my lap. When he tired, he came over to me and I held him in my arms.
The last day that I saw Buster, I saw him out on a walk - perhaps his first real walk in years. I watched as he walked down the street towards Aquatic Park...his tail wagging the entire time. I thought that Buster was improving...that perhaps in a few months he would gain weight and become healthy enough to be adopted. I was wrong.
Upon his first trip to the veterninarian, it was discovered that Buster was very, very sick. So sick, in fact, that the only humane thing to do was let him go.
I do not have a photo of Buster - but even if I did have one, it wouldn't have captured the Buster that I saw. For I will not remember how thin he was, how clouded his eyes were, or how sick and sad he appeared to be. I will remember how his eyes seemed to light up when he saw that I was coming to visit him. I will remember his 'laugh lines' on his gentle white whiskered face. I will remember his youthful spirit. But most importantly, I will remember that despite the what his life was like with the person that was supposed to love and protect him, he was still happy. He still had a spring in his step. He still had nothing but kisses to offer.
I gain some comfort knowing that his last few weeks were good...that he had the chance to enjoy a walk, to play fetch, to have a warm bath, and a lap to lay his head on. It gives me some comfort. But not much.
I cannot save every dog or cat that comes into the Berkeley Shelter for there are far too many...but what I can do is make sure that their time here is full of love, attention, and care...that I can make it as comfortable as I can for them, whether they are here for a few weeks....or a year. And that is what I intend to do.
For those of you that have a dog, could you do me a favor? Could you go take them for a walk? Right now? Or maybe tonight, break the rules and let them sleep on the bed, just this once? Maybe buy them a new toy. Or even just give them a gentle pat on the head or a hug and tell them that you love them. If not for me, than do it for Buster.