Friday, December 5, 2008

The previous life of Jere Alexander - part 1

(all photos by Jere Alexander)

For several months now, I've been reading the blog of Pit Bull activist/researcher Jere Alexander. I'm not going to say the name of her site as presently it's a private site - and I hope you'll understand why once you continue reading - though she is considering opening it up again.

I can't remember how I happened onto Jere's blog in the first place, probably through a link on another site, but the first things I was taken by were the ethereal photos of her environment and the animals she shares her life with.

Photography is as much about the selection of the images one wishes to display as it is about the actual taking of the images and the images she chooses to display speak about quiet moments, the significance of the seemingly insignificant, and reveals a deep sensitivity to the animals in her care in times of both happiness and suffering. The real strength, then, behind these chosen photographs is not what they reveal about the world around her but the world within.

Under a posting entitled "Horsey Heaven" there is a photo of one of two dead horses found by the roadside, killed by a hit and run. It looks peaceful and angelic and though it had died through tragic and violent circumstances, the photo seems to say that its hurt is gone; it has found solace.

In her blog, she writes with sincere emotional attachment about her animal companions and often with great sadness and anger about the condition of the animals she came across. For a short time, she was the director of a county pound, the Fulton County Animal Shelter in Atlanta, Georgia and she saw and documented the terrible shape some of the animals arrived in.

Under an entry about a dog brought in with severe bite wounds who later had to be euthanized:

The wounds over the rest of the dog's body were no better, maybe worse. Under this photo she writes:

He's been shaking uncontrollably since he came in, terrified. Any fucker who was involved in this - whether they did it, let it happen, whatever - needs to fry.

But I'm jumping ahead too much here. This is later, after the new job of shelter director has started giving her nightmares, seeped into her pores. Before all that, her writing reveals another side of her personality.

Jere describes herself on her blog as:

i'm a grad student. i study pit bulls and their people. still writing my dissertation, i still live on a small farm with my sweet hub and other companion species: spotted dogs, cantankerous donkeys, a long-suffering cat and a lonely hen (maybe we'll find her a friend)

Let's look at the language here, typical of the language throughout her writing. She uses the words "companion species". She doesn't call them "pets" or "farm animals". She doesn't imply ownership but instead companionship and stewardship. This is important because it shows a level of consideration for the animals in her care which is above what most people would consider good enough. This is important to remember because of the accusations that will later be leveled at her.

Jan. 2008, Jere writes:

i've been holding out on dissembling the christmas tree until the entire twelve days of christmas are over. today is the epiphany, and i'm not sure yet if i'll try to work undecorating into a celebration (some people do a big bonfire, although i can't bear to see this tree burn) or just wait a few more days until i feel ready. this year, i'm even more reluctant to take down the tree than usual, although i always hate it. we had such a lovely christmas. for a few days or weeks, we felt charmed. everyone seemed healthy, gifts were abundant, the world through my (holga) lens was so beautiful.

A Holga camera is a cheap plastic camera, a toy camera some would call it, originally created for the working class Chinese market, usually so full of light leaks and faults that any picture taken with it will be full of weird and wonderful abberations. From wikipedia: some photographers took to using the Holga for its surrealistic, impressionistic scenes for landscape, still life, portrait, and especially, street photography.

Owning a Holga, doesn't have much to do with dogs or Pit Bulls, but it does give us insight into how Jere sees the world, what she finds visually pleasing and how her mind creates beauty. Here are soft edges, ghosts, faded colours. Again, keep this in mind when the accusations fly.

Here is one more January post seemingly a propos of nothing but nevertheless part of the whole picture. She is describing working on her farm:

it's been a couple of long days of work keeping everyone warm and dry. at least the mud doesn't survive these freezing temperatures. yesterday clem escaped, again, so today my brother gave up his day off to help me get the electric fence working. somehow it is always so frustrating, figuring out which wire goes where. electric fencing is hard to maintain in the woods, and this fencing is around 8 years old now and has been gerry-rigged in every possible manner. so any attempt to fix it results in going back over many other repair attempts, and i end up scratching my head, wondering once again which is the ground wire, and where does it go? the longer i live here, the more tangled and strange it becomes as it grows over and under trees, with a proliferation of pink and grey electrical wire, bits of tape, blue and yellow poles, green and white poles, orange and yellow gate handles, copper rods, yellow plastic insulators, white ceramic insulators, even pieces of green garden hose used as insulators. wire sticking out of the ground in odd places.

I love the way she describes the electrical detritus like some alien plant sprouting in her native soil. Clem is one of Jere's donkeys who is also an escape artist.

Jere's blog actually starts in early 2007. Entries throughout that year talk about her graduate studies, her involvement with Pit Bull advocacy and her work in a law firm. Here's an excerpt to give you an idea of the way she thinks when it comes to practical matters so that you don't get the idea she's some woman-child who just runs around all the time with flowers in her hair:

A year ago, I became a court-appointed guardian for 14 pit bulls who were seized in an animal neglect case. It's a long story, but this was a solution that meant the dogs wouldn't be euthanized. The owners were neglectful of a dog who had just had puppies and she became too thin. Often a nursing bitch will lose weight, and lose hair, they can look really bad. So these people figured that as long as she had access to food, it was ok. I wanted to believe them, but we examined all the dogs after they were seized, and she didn't look ok, not at all. They should have taken her to the vet, but they hadn't done that at the point that animal control was called because of their barking dogs out in the yard. When AC saw this little dog in the window, they called in the vet, and all of them were seized. One dog out of fourteen was unhealthy, the others were fine, but they took em all anyway.

Still, they aren't bad, cruel people. The woman was charged with neglect while her husband was working out-of-state. She also works and cares for four boys, one of whom has special needs. They got themselves in a fucked-up situation with too many dogs. I'm not excusing it, but I empathize. Plus, they could easily have gone along with the prosecutor's offer to reduce the charges if the dogs were put down, but they wouldn't. The woman eventually took a plea that involved paying a buttload of money to the county, and dealing with me, a suitably white and middle-class-looking intermediary. She and her husband did this to save the dogs, and I respect that.

The dogs don't live with us, they were allowed to go home. The county took a lot of convincing to give them this deal, and a great defense lawyer I know made it happen. Fourteen pit bulls equals dogfighting these days, regardless of whether there's any evidence of dogfighting, which there wasn't. The prosecutor asked me, over and over, why on earth they had 14 pit bulls. I explained that it isn't uncommon in the pit bull world to have that many. These folks were at one time showing the dogs, before they became overburdened with work and child care. The dogs had registration papers and show ribbons. But even if they didn't, multiple pit bulls don't equal dogfighting, no matter what the HSUS says. And it ain't right to assume that because they're working-class, black pit bull owners that they must be fighting their dogs! Personally, I'm of the old-fashioned variety that still expects there to be evidence of a crime. Their lawyer's response (I love this guy! Imagine thick Southern drawl) was, "They have 14 dogs for the same reason my grandparents had seven children instead of 1.5!"

No black and white judgments on Pit Bulls or their owners here. It was clear-headed, nuanced thinking which saved the dogs, both from further neglect by the owners and also from the euthanasia-happy pound.

Continued here.


Tangi Adopt A Rescue said...

Thank you for posting this interesting post on this animal loving woman. I look forward to reading more about her.

Anonymous said...

Jere Alexander WAS the Fulton County Animal Services Director, who was ASKED TO LEAVE the organization under a cloud of suspicion about pit bull dealings.

Rocky Alexander said...

To Anonymous: Jere was not asked to leave the organization for any reason. In fact, the organization begged her to stay. Your post is just another example of what people who know nothing at all THINK they know.