Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Sheltered Life

The night passed with very little sleep. I didn't know if the girl was going to survive or not. Finally, at 6 am, I gave up, called Claudia, and together we counted down the time until about 6:56 Pacific Time. At that point, I couldn't stand the tension anymore. I hung up with her and made my first call to the shelter. The phone rang and rang and rang and rang and rang... no answer. Finally, their system must have disconnected me.

I waited 10 minutes, and then the exact same thing happened. Ten more minutes, and the phone rang. It was Eric, making sure I was awake because it was 7:30 and I needed to call. We quickly got off of the phone, and I tried again. This time, a man answered the phone, and curtly told me that the girl was still alive, but he had no idea what her status would be in a little while. "Call back at 8am," he said. "That's when the Vet Techs come on duty. They're in charge of that kind of thing."

At 8am I called back again. This time, a woman answered the phone, and she transferred me to the Techs. They assured me that my girl would not be destroyed, but wanted to be sure I understood that she was sick. I did. I promised to be there before noon. We ended the conversation.

Eric arrived at 9 am for the trip to South Los Angeles. It used to be called South Central Los Angeles, but some well meaning and misguided residents petitioned to have the name changed to South Los Angeles because they thought that the reputation of South Central was too horrible, and maybe they would get more respect if they were known by a different title. It made no difference. The area is economically depressed, I believe primarily black, and very VERY dangerous. Not so much during the daytime as I understand it, but most of the really serious gang-related crime seems to happen after dark. Any way you look at it, Eric was nervous for me to go down there by myself, and I was happy to have some moral support.

We decided to take my car. In all honesty, my car is old and decrepit, and I figured it would stand out less in that neighborhood. But I explained to Eric - and this part is the truth too - that I had never rescued a dog from a kennel situation where it didn't poop in my car out of fear on the way home. I didn't want this to happen to his car. I don't know if he bought it or not, but he didn't give me any argument.

We had one stop to make... it took about 1/2 hour, then we were on our way. Down the 405 San Diego Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass and West Los Angeles, a very affluent part of town. Transfer to the 10 / Santa Monica Freeway heading towards downtown L.A., and 15 or 20 minutes later, we took the Crenshaw Exit and headed closer to our destiny. Google Maps was excellent, not only providing excellent directions but also picture snapshots of the corners where we were expected to turn. We had absolutely no problem finding our location. The South Los Angeles Animal Shelter.

It didn't look that bad from the outside... considering the entire neighborhood since we got off of the freeway had been nothing except concrete and older buildings, it actually was maintained. A small strip of grass outside. Industrial, but acceptable. But as Eric & I entered the front door, a sense of doom immediately fell over me. Eric commented that it wasn't that bad in there, but I could feel the despair and death down to my core.

A cage of kittens were by the reception windows. We looked at them... adorable. A stack of cats in crates and cat traps were piled in a corner, all looking like typical cats. I don't know if they didn't know the desperate situation they were in, or they were just good - as cats are - at masking their feelings. I ventured the opinion out loud to Eric that I wondered how many, if any, of those kittens would see the light of day. I don't remember what he answered.

As we waited for somebody to take care of us, I looked around. None of the facade of paint outside. The building and entire reception area was concrete cinderblock - gray - and concrete flooring. Staff members walked through, completely oblivious to anything that was going on. The ceiling was interminably high... at least 20 feet, maybe more. There was a staircase leading to a 2nd floor behind us; but our eyes were trained on the window waiting for somebody to be available to help us. It didn't take that long, but it seemed like forever.

When we were "helped," we simply were directed to the "Receiving" desk. That was a low desk in a semi-"U" shape, with a couple of places to sit behind and a man simultaneously on the phone and typing on the computer. Probably the phone that I ended up speaking to the night before. We introduced ourselves, told them the doggie case number, and were perfunctorily told to wait for a woman from the back. We did as we were told.

While we waited, we noticed more crates of cats being stacked in the entry way. Two men were talking to each other by large holding crates for dogs. They were discussing the death of a Cocker Spaniel. Eric and I gave each other a horrified look... we had also been considering an 8 month old Cocker puppy from this same facility. Was it our candidate? If I remember correctly, it ended up not to be, but I have no idea what happened to the pup we were looking at.

Then the woman came for us. She announced that we needed to go in back and talk to the Med Techs about our girl. She headed off directly towards the kennel. We would have to walk through all those lovely dogs. Risa has promised that we wouldn't have to see the cages of desperate and doomed eyes, but that turned out to be wrong. The woman marched directly through, coldly ignoring the dogs. Some of them got up and gave us beeching looks, most of them didn't bother. They know that they're nothing.

I will give them credit... the kennels were clean. The numbers of dogs in each kennel varied, but they were all wearing chain collars, all the cages were locked with a key-lock, and the beds for the dogs were blue plastic pillows. Hardly something that could be comfortable, although I know that it would be better than sleeping directly on the concrete, and the plastic had to be in deference to keeping the place cleaner.

I tried not to look, but couldn't help it. I started crying... a serious tear-streaked bawl. Fortunately, the walk was short, and the woman left us in a hallway while she went though a door marked "Vet Tech." Eric hugged me, I cried lots of make-up onto his sweat shirt... it was so incredibly cold, and we waited.

We waited a fairly long time. Enough time that I was able to regain some composure and take in my surroundings. We were in a cavernous tunnel, long, curving, dark, dank, and dark gray. A man was off to our left working on sanitation. His mode was to throw a lot of water on the ground and then sweep it in a direction away from us. We couldn't see the ends of the tunnel on either end. It must have been at least 15 feet wide and 20 feet tall, made out of cinder-block. It occurred to me that it was the right size for a truck to drive down. Perfect for removing countless animal bodies of poor dogs and cats who's only mistake was to have unwittingly become affiliated with the wrong people. I started to cry again.

The Tech and the woman came out again; I took a quick peek through the door although they closed it quickly behind them. I'm not sure... I thought I saw dog bodies piled in a corner, but that could easily have been my imagination. The tech again warned us that my girl had a "very bad" runny nose and warned us that we would be responsible for veterinary bills. We didn't care. We wanted her. And so the woman and us set off to try and find her.

It didn't take that long, but it did require that we search a couple of different kennel halls. This time, the dogs could tell that we were looking for someone. Many of them became animated, although the majority of them remained despondent. We found our girl, who was jumping up and down with joy... she was isolated in her own run. I don't know if that was because she was sick, she was big, or they put all the dogs executed that morning in that particular run and she was the only one who had escaped. Any way you cut it, she was very happy to meet us.

We were told to proceed directly back to receiving again where our application would be processed. When we got out there, there was a large lovely dog that I guessed was a Bernese Mountain Dog in one of the holding crate. Clearly he had been dropped off while we were in back. He had the happiest smile... no idea where he was or what was in store for him. I started to cry again.

Eric tried to divert me with some of the literature about adopting a pet from the shelter; it worked to a certain extent for the moment. But then a couple - black, clearly nice people, he was wearing a skull cap or whatever you call the piece when it's a middle eastern religion, and they were delivering two dogs. "Our friend died and left these two dogs behind." they explained to the receiving desk. Receiving was only interested to know whether they had tried to place the dogs on their own; they had them for three weeks and had given up. They couldn't keep them and had to turn them in. It costs $25 per dog to condemn them to the pound. They were taken and perfunctorily placed in separate cages, not even in eye sight of each other. Friends who had lived together separated. The larger of the dogs immediately became very frightened and aggressive in his cage. I couldn't avoid seeing that. The little one? He went into a bank of cages against the back wall, awaiting his turn to have is picture taken and be listed on their web site.

Fortunately, just about this time, we were instructed to go back to the initial receiving window to get our paperwork processed. We had to wait a few minutes... numbers of people ahead of us paying $25 each for disposing of dogs or cats.

The gray cavernous and cold area weighed down on me even more. I had no idea what was happening with my girl. "Mistakes are made." We were finally called to the window and subjected to tons and tons of paperwork. It was clear with the inefficiency that it was processed that they didn't do it often. I qualified for almost a free dog based upon my low income Medicare/Disability status, and had brought both the application and the supporting documentation along with me, but in the end, they only credited me for the spaying. I know that I qualified for more, but I was afraid of costing my girl her life, and was too despondent to argue. I paid $62 dollars for my dog.

I asked where she was... why wasn't she already in front? As it turns out, she was having her microchip implanted and was getting her shots. She would be delivered shortly.

While we were waiting, a woman who was clearly in charge of the facility was talking to the black couple who brought their dead friends dogs in. They were offering to do some kind of film about the place promoting it... I was thinking that this was utter bullshit. I know entertainment people when I see them, and these people didn't' fit the bill. But the woman was talking up the situation like there was no tomorrow. She talked about the demographics of the area, how the people were so poor and especially in these economic times, couldn't hold on to their animals. How they were so inundated with animals that the rule was that if they were turned in by their owners, they were put down the same day unless they seemed exceptionally adoptable. But this was - confirmed for me - the highest kill-rate shelter in town. The overcrowding and lack of community interest made the situation impossible. She talked about dogs with a little bit of age - maybe 5 to 7 and within my adoption age range before this particular pick - and how they were doomed, no matter how good they were with kids. They were lovely dogs, but nobody wanted to take on the responsibility of an older dog. I got the feeling that she was probably the least calloused of the people that we encountered that day, but that she was only talking on an intellectual level and really couldn't allow herself to feel anything either. That was the overall impression that I got there. Nobody gave a damn about all those lovely animals. Maybe they really didn't give a damn... maybe they did but if they allowed the dam to burst, they wouldn't be able to cope. I don't know. I just don't know. The woman talking to the couple seemed desperate to get the word out about her shelter.

Finally, all paperwork completed, we were directed once again back to receiving. More lovely dogs and cats there being admitted and awaiting their fate. Lots of drop offs, nobody but us adopting.

It crossed my mind that there was a real racket going with the $25 admittance fee. If somebody couldn't afford it, then what did they do with their animal? Probably just set it loose on the street to take it's own chances. I wonder if that's how my girl came to be there? She was listed as a captured stray. I guess I'll never know.

Finally, after what seemed an interminable wait, the double doors burst open and out came a tech with my dog. She was being led by a rope affair,no collar. Fortunately, I brought along a harness and leash because i had envisioned the shelter providing collars and leashes and being financially strapped, and me giving them back their equipment in lieu of my own. I was so wrong. Maybe they couldn't afford to even provide cheap restraining equipment, maybe they didn't give a damn. I'll probably never know.

I pulled out my harness and leash, sat down on the floor, and explained to my girl what I was doing and how this was only a temporary harness, but it was her "forever' leash. I start all my dogs with new collars, but don't have a problem passing leashes from animal to animal. The leashes I am using are possibly 30 plus years old... they're perfectly serviceable.

My last question before taking my girl home was to ask what they were feeding there. I wanted to start her off on the same food not to upset her tummy. They seemed shocked at the question, had to consider it a bit, and then decided that they were feeding Canadie. I hope it is true. That's a pretty decent dog food.

We headed towards the front door. The girl was happy to go with us until the doors opened. At that point, she became terribly afraid and wouldn't leave the building. We cajoled and begged and bribed her, trying to get her to walk outside on her own, but she was having nothing of it. Probably a factor of being a stray. She didn't want to go outside ever again.

We finally pushed her out the door, it closed behind us, and she knew she was trapped outside. She was terrified of all of the cars and street traffic. i asked Eric to go get my car started, and I'd let her piddle on the grass before bringing her across the street to load. She was too nervous to do anything, and i gave up after only a couple of minutes, took her - resisting - across the street, and tried to load her into the car. She was absolutely panicked and didn't want to go in. We pushed the issue and locked her inside. She promptly vomited her breakfast in fear. Fortunately, I had anticipated this maneuver and had lined my seat with a very thick throw blanket specifically designed to protect furniture from dogs. Not a problem.

We left South Los Angeles, and she alternated between nervously looking out the windows, and putting her head between the front seats for reassurance from us. I could see how confused she was. She had likely spent the majority of her life in the concrete jungle and as we went on the freeway and the topography got greener, she was intrigued. Frightened to death,but intrigued. Finally, she collapsed in a nervous sleep as I promised her that our next stop would be someplace she liked. She was going to get her "forever" collar.

That happened about 45 minutes later when we went into The Red Barn Also in Mission Hills. She was terrified to leave the car, and was absolutely panicked at the traffic and even parked cars in the lot. But when we got on the sidewalk she almost sighed in relief, and when we went into the store, it was clear that she had no idea that places like this existed.

We fitted her for her "forever collar," bought her a bed, some toys, and some dog food equivalent to what she was eating. Eric & I stopped briefly for a fast bite to eat at Baja Fresh (we ordered in the location but ate in the car with the girl), and then off to our vet appointment.

It turns out that most vets will give an exam of shelter dogs for free if they are brought in within 3 days of adoption. That exam does not include any treatments though, and it ended up costing me over another 60 dollars in antibiotics. But we had good news. Dr. Kishimoto didn't even think she was more than a year, and couldn't even conceive that she was about to be destroyed for the very minor case of kennel cough that she had. But i had been at the shelter. I knew without a doubt that it would have happened. A young vibrant dog without even being given the dignity of a name killed over a minor case of the sniffles.

I brought her home. She was very happy to arrive. More on that tomorrow. Good Night!

5 comments:

Claudia said...

Laura,

I am so happy for you and Lucy but so distressed by your story. We, as people, don't seem to have any idea how horribly we treat the animals on a daily basis. I wish there was more I could do to help the homeless sweet souls left to die in the shelters but I already have two sweet souls that are part of my family.I wish I could take them all home. I wish your new family many years of happiness and joy with your new girl. Feel good about yourself, Kiddo. you definitely saved a life....again.

I love you,
Claudia

Carol said...

What a horrible, horrible experience to go through! It's heartbreaking to have to be in that atmosphere, and you were in the seventh hell of animal shelters. You're one brave woman!! Now you can put that awful day behind you and get to know your new girl. You did a wonderful thing, and you should be very proud of yourself for having the courage to go through with it.
Carol

janet said...

You are a braver man than I, Gunga Din. I could never have summoned the courage to go down to that shelter, and probably would've run screaming the minute I saw the place.

Your girl will calm down as soon as she realizes that her forever home is going to be so much better than her wildest expectations. And I look forward to hearing what Sunny thinks of her when she is more settled.

You did a very good thing!

janet

All Beavercreek Residents said...

I'm so proud of you!

Suzanne said...

I am so very happy you have your girl and that she has you. She has the best forever home a girl could hope for. I cannot fathom how horrible that place must have been... I have been to shelters when I was searching for my own dog, and I know they were not the best in much better economic times... they must be hideous now. My own dog came from Dalmatian Rescue and was a shelter dog until the wonderful Dalmatian rescue people found her. I am so glad you were able to save the life of your new forever friend! Love you. Suzanne

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