The Ark

Whatever floats your boat...

“There will be some days when you leave this place in tears,” said John, the trainer at my dog-walking orientation when I decided at the beginning of this year to volunteer at my local animal shelter. “You will show up one day and a dog that you’ve taken a liking to will be gone. It can’t be helped. But there will be many more days when you show up and the dogs you walk will treat you as though you are the best thing that ever happened to them.” I decided that was a very worthwhile trade-off.

I also thought, as a secondary motivation for giving away my time, that this might be the best way to meet my next canine soul mate. And hopefully when I meet that special canine person, he or she will be a collie.

That is a preference instilled in me by my mother. She sure did love her collies. She didn’t actually get to live with a collie until she was a grown woman with three children, but the first dog love of her life was a collie that freely roamed the streets of Dardanelle, Arkansas. All dogs roamed freely when my mother was a child.

My mother didn’t actually live in Dardanelle. Her parents were dirt-poor cotton sharecroppers who lived about 20 miles outside of Dardanelle proper. But any reason to go into town was reason for her jubilation, because it meant she would get a chance to see the collie she adored.

When she was four years old, the collie inexplicably turned on her and attacked her. It was soon apparent to the town folk that the collie had gone mad; it had all the symptoms of rabies. Some men got together, hunted it down, and killed it. Then they sent its body to Little Rock to be tested.

My mother almost didn’t make it. Even today, post-exposure prophylaxis has to be administered within ten days to prevent the beyond-hope onset of the disease. After testing confirmed rabies in the dog, the serum had to be shipped from Little Rock, and it did not arrive in Dardanelle until the last day of my mother’s window of opportunity. She underwent the horrific intramuscular and deep abdominal injections that ward off the disease. It was worth it. She survived.

My mother usually welled up when she told me this story. But her tears were never about the painful treatments that had to have been terrifying for a four-year-old. They were for her beloved collie. Her perspective at the time of the incident was that she was responsible for the dog’s death. The men who’d hunted it had hunted it on her behalf. I think she grieved for that collie for the rest of her life, and her allegiance to the breed was triple that of Lassie’s allegiance to Timmy.


“The worst thing that can happen while you’re walking a dog,” John told us, “would be if it got away from you and it bit another person or dog. If that happens because you lost control of it, it will have to be put down.”

I am always mindful of this. When I take a dog out, I let him or her roam the parking lot for several minutes first, smell what they want to smell for as long as they like, let them get used to the open air and burn off their exuberance at being out of the kennel before we make our way to the street.

That is what I tried to do today with Tiger, a beautiful brindle pit bull who had not been out of his kennel for a week due to the heavy rains in Northern California. Tiger was so gentle that he was one of the dogs John used in our orientation to show us how to handle a shelter dog on a walk. All of the dogs today were leaping out of their skins when they saw the volunteers with leashes. Not Tiger. He looked at me with soulful, calm, begging eyes.

So I opened his kennel and slipped the lead over his neck. As soon as I did so, it was like every stereotypical western where the bronco reacts to the first-ever saddle put on his back. Tiger became a dervish. He leaped, he strained, he wrapped himself around my legs to tie me up in the leash. Then he grabbed the leash in his teeth and ran for the gate with me trailing him in a stumble. When I got unwrapped and thought I had control, I opened the gate that led to the parking lot.

In the parking lot, Tiger became even wilder. He again took the leash in his mouth and dragged me. The leash was only nylon and I realized that it would be no time at all before Tiger severed it. I reached for the leash to take it out of Tiger’s mouth and he reflexively jumped and clamped the leash harder to keep his control on it. The trouble was that my hands and arms were in the way of his efforts to keep clamped to the leash. From that moment on, it was nothing but motion and frenzy.

I did not want this to escalate. Fortunately, there were people in the parking lot and I asked one of them to let an animal control officer know that I needed assistance. The officer came out immediately and he and I wrangled Tiger back to his kennel. My brain was racing through a deliberation: Did I really need to report that Tiger had bitten me? He didn’t really mean to. In actuality he was trying to bite his leash and I had put my hands in harm’s way.

But the officer had already seen the manic frenzy in the parking lot. As he was putting the bolt back on the lock of Tiger’s kennel, he told me, “His behavior has changed this week. He’s already gotten away from one walker and we had to get out the truck to go retrieve him. But this is first time I’ve seen him behave like this.” Then he saw the blood on my hands. We exchanged a sad look and he went back to the office.

I washed and disinfected my wounds. Five scratches, three puncture wounds, and a ripped finger. Then I headed home. It wasn’t until my car had made its way down the hill and I was well away from the shelter that I began to cry. Crying because the bites hurt? A little. Crying because I knew Tiger was doomed now? A lot. But mostly I was crying for the new insight I had into my mother, aged four, mourning a collie in Dardanelle, Arkansas.

Views: 24

Comment by BlancheNoE on January 24, 2010 at 12:43pm
Oh ,R.
This is so, so beautiful. Something tells me you could easily fill a book with your reflections.
I'd like to pre-order please.
Comment by peacenik on January 24, 2010 at 3:25pm
Wow! You had me sitting on the edge of my seat. I'm gonna call you.
Comment by investigate2 on January 24, 2010 at 8:30pm
This blog shows the wondrous and loving hearts of both you and your mother. Giving of your time and love at the animal shelter for all of the little ones will make a difference in their lives. I understand the pain and fear of what will happen with Tiger, I can feel it in my heart.
Please remember that whatever happens you are a most precious gift to them.
Comment by NatureJunkie on January 24, 2010 at 9:34pm
@ Blanche: I think we all could fill a book with our reflections, no? The funny thing is, now that I'm well into middle-age, I've come to realize how many of my reflections actually belonged to my mother.

@ Peacenik: I aim to please, my sistah. I'll call you soon, but don't worry, the bites are already starting to heal.

@NBC: Thank you. What you say is so true: The best laid plans...

@investigate2: It's always so good to see you here! There's no doubt that my mother instilled respect for animals in all of her children, and for that I'm grateful. I know my time at the animal shelter brings joy, both to them and to me, and I learn from them every time I go.
Comment by BlancheNoE on January 25, 2010 at 8:02am
Oh jeeze Nature, I got so lost in the writing,...what I meant is that this is an incredibly well written story and I'd love to have a very thick (would settle for thin and be lucky) book of these stories to read over and over again. I'm so sorry you had to experience this and I *can* relate. I was attacked and nearly killed by a neighbors Dalmation when I was 6 years old. It took eight hours of plastic surgery to reconstruct my face and my stomach and the back of my neck were torn open as well. A couple of years later when my parents were out on a date, our chinese pug Ching was digging in the trash and I grabbed him to pull him away and he bit my hand. My brother and sister immediately began crying and begging me not to tell the parents because they'd kill Ching. Of course I didn't tell,...never did,...but I'll never forget how it made me feel like a murderer. *big hug here*.
Comment by photo2010 on January 26, 2010 at 6:01pm
I also had a horrible experience losing a beloved pet cat, many years ago. I started writing a blog about it, but it is still too painful.I blame myself for what happened. Sorry this happened to you NJ. ;(
Comment by NatureJunkie on January 26, 2010 at 8:18pm
@ Blanche: I've been bitten (seriously and hard) a few times by cats I've lived with. It pissed me off, of course, but I never considered lashing out at them or having them euthanized or anything like that. I don't think most people would and I wonder why humans have a different standard for dogs. Perhaps because dogs can sometimes be life-threatening whereas cats are small and less threatening? I don't know.

@ photo2010: Thanks, Kevin. The unwarranted guilt I associate with this experience is something different from the pain I've felt at losing a pet friend, and fortunately, it's way less excruciating. I'm sorry the grief is still hurting. It takes longer with some.
Comment by Ash on January 27, 2010 at 9:52am
Oh Aunt Robin, how I love to read your stories! I learned a lot about grandma in this one. I only knew that she was from Arkansas, not where in Arkansas, and I never knew about her attack when she was a small child. I'm really sorry to hear about Tiger. A lot of people assume bad things with Pit Bulls because of news reports of attacks. I personally know a couple of Pit's that are gentle, loving, pets... They wouldn't even hurt a fly!
Comment by SydTheSkeptic on January 28, 2010 at 7:22pm
Comment by Jim on January 30, 2010 at 5:18am
My story's a slight variation on yours, NJ. I shared a house in the 80's with a friend and his two children. There was also a black furry dog in the house. The son, who was about eight, would play kind of rough with the dog sometimes. One day, the dog bit the boy (in reaction to the rough play). This made the the father angry, and he took it out on the dog by doing something very wrong -- he abandoned the dog in a wealthy neighborhood with no collar or leash. It was very sad.


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