Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Everything that rises must converge

Yesterday was a very fine fall afternoon, a good afternoon to take Kiki for a longer walk than usual. I fetched him out of his kennel and out we went.

Kiki stayed a few paces ahead of me on his leash. Every so often he'd pause and look back at me. Sometimes he'd walk back and nudge my hand as if to suggest that maybe we could walk faster.

I'd heard that Kiki had bitten one of the other dog walking volunteers and so I stayed attentive to any indication that he might try something like that with me and, indeed, at one point he did get impatient with me and got a bit too mouthy. I put a stop to it, though, controlling him with the leash and saying a gruff "NO!" and that put an end to that.

I wondered if the mouthiness/biting could have had anything to do with the seizure he had the other morning. Was the behaviour just bad manners or was it indicative of some frazzled brain function? Kiki's personality seemed changed since his seizure. He was certainly less energetic. And his eyes seemed like they were clouding over but was that a recent change, post seizure, or something that just hadn't been noticed before?

We walked along the grassy patches around the south side of the CNE for about half an hour and then I sat down at a bench on a hill overlooking the Gardiner Expressway. Kiki looked at me and realized we were going to stay put for a bit so he layed down a couple of feet away on the grass. I sat back enjoying the sunshine and watched the traffic. Kiki did exactly the same, turning around a couple of times to make sure I was still there, and then settling back to contemplate the highway. I watched Kiki and thought that he was, at that moment, content. At least I was able to give him that much.

Just before I got up to bring Kiki back, he nudged my hand, gently this time, and yowled and said something to me but I had no idea what he was trying to say.

That would be Kiki's last walk. His biting had become a major liability issue (I found out he had bitten others as well, not just that one dog walker) and with the seizures on top of that there was no way he could be put up for adoption. A rescue that had expressed interest in taking him changed their minds when they found out about his illness. The rescue just didn't have room for another dog that wouldn't likely be adopted out anytime soon.

I had brought in a bone for Kiki this afternoon but by the time I got there, he'd already been tranquilized in preparation for his euthanasia. I stuck my head into the room where he was kenneled and saw his front paws sticking out from under the kennel door. I didn't walk in any further. I didn't want him to see me and possibly get excited. Maybe I didn't want to see him either, sedated, less than the dog he was. And maybe I also didn't want to see him because despite everything, I could have taken him out of there and brought him home and looked after his health and dealt with his biting and given him at least a more tolerable few final days. I could have saved him but I chose not to. I stood, once again, face to face with the limits of my own compassion and generosity. Not enough.

There's that saying we hear a lot in the dog rescue world - you can't save every dog in the world but for the dog you save, it is the world - or something like that. Well, that's nice but what are you supposed to say when you don't save a dog? What does that mean? Where's the platitude for failure?

This is what I see: We are on a grassy plain and Kiki is on leash walking a few paces ahead of me. Every few steps he slows and looks over his shoulder back at me to see why I am walking so slow. He wants to walk faster but knows he's not supposed to pull so he tries to contain his exuberance. We walk until we reach the edge of a hill and just as we're about to take the first step up, something further up top sets him off - a scent, a sound, I don't know what really - and he starts to strain at the leash. He pulls and I try to pull him back but he keeps pulling and then the leash breaks. For a moment we both stand there, surprised, and I'm about to say something to him, to call him back but we both know he doesn't have to listen to me anymore. He takes a step away, starts his ascent up the hill. He walks up the hill. Then he trots. Then he runs. And even as he's climbing, he keeps looking back at me. One, two, three times and then he is gone.


Anonymous said...

Oh God Fred,noooooooooooo!!!!!!!! this is my worst fear come true. I am beyond devastated. KIKI was my favorite. I desperatly want to continue with the volunteering but my emotions right now are mixed. I'm just not strong enough for when this kind of thing happens. This sadness takes over. This is my first euthanasia that Ive come across since I started. I don't know if I can deal with it again.Someone gave this dog up and this is how it ended?????. If they knew would they be able to forgive themselves? because I certainly couldn't. I will take the next few days to mourn the loss of KIKI and figure out if I can continue volunteering knowing that my heart will most likely be broken again. Right now I just keep telling myself that KIKI is in a better place but does that notion really help when mourning a loss? I just don't know. I really hope I can continue volunteering as I do love it and for the most part its incredibly rewarding for both the dogs and myself.

Oh KIKI I am so sorry, you were nothing but beautiful in my eyes, a true friend. Rest in peace sweet dog


Elizabeth Abbott said...

The only thing that separates us - you, me and our kind - from "hoarders" is the ability to respond to a sort of moral triage that allows us to live at a certain standard while saving as many animals as we can. Each time this requires us to let one go, we are suffused with guilt and sadness. But we regain our equilibrium and that's what makes us stronger in the long run to keep on rescuing and lobbying and raising money. You're a good man, Fred. I'm proud to be your friend.

Anonymous said...

we need more people like you Fred. You went above and beyond yesterday and this alone gives me a little peace of mind

take care


Cathrine said...

I understand.

Recently, I stumbled across a Dhaka 'pet market'. It may have been the most terrible thing I have seen outside a theatre of war. I will not detail the horror.

But it is a market. I have only so much money. And, being white, and therefore rich, I face the 'Expatriate Tax' - prices three to ten times higher than what a Bengali will be asked.

And my poor husband will freak.

What can I do? Strangle the ones still living, as an act of mercy? A firebomb is out, because the animals live in those terrible little cages day and night.

Yes, it was triage. I looked for someone who stood some chance of survival - which cut the choices dramatically. I considered the chance of adoption, or acceptance by my own animals if not adopted.

I faced up to the fact that the city I will return to allows me to own a grand total of five dogs and cats.

Then I asked the price of a particular kitten. Once I had been told, I screamed at the stallholder about how disgusting his stall was, how appalling his market was, how barbarian his approach and how I was paying him not X but significantly less, and if he didn't accept it I was coming back with my powerful friends and tearing the place apart.

Of course, he has powerful friends, too, or he would not be in business. But I was in front of him, with my driver looking very angry behind me, and his friends were not.

I cried all the way home in the car, much to the driver's chagrin. But that little kitten purrrrrrrrred as if he knew what he had escaped, and where he was going.

One kitten. With pneumonia, a nasty wound on the shoulder, a broken tail and an eye infection. His name is Alla-din, because right now he lives in a dog crate cave until he is well enough to look for a home and mingle with my own cats.

He is an Abyssinian.

If he lives, and I find him a home, I will send my cook next time, to do the triage and select a likely survivor. She will not be asked for the same outrageous price.

And, face it, I made myself memorable, and therefore useless in future.

I remember being taught, when I was young and callow, that a tragic choice was a choice between evils. At the time, it meant little to me.

Now, I understand.

Ian said...

Thank you for your kindness towards all these animals and for being able to carry on despite the sorrow I know you feel when it ends like this.

I once worked with someone who told me it was getting easier to do this.
I told them it was time to leave when this starts to gets easy.

Thanks for what you do.
I hope your heart heals...again.
These animals need people like you.

Lynda said...

What a beautiful story about Kiki. Thanks for sharing your emotions with us, Fred. I'm sorry that it didn't turn out the way it should have for Kiki, I really am. This is all so very upsetting.

Rika said...

I know it's been ages since you wrote this post... But it happened to me last week with Eddie, exactly like this, and I'm a new volunteer at the local shelter and it's been incredibly tough.

So I just wanted to say thank you for your words, so true and so helpful. Thank you.