June 11, 2007

A sad end for Dolores

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals at 12:58 pm by nevavegan

I live in an area where animal control won’t respond to reports of free-roaming dogs. Instead they ask that if you find a free-roaming dog, you should catch the dog yourself and once the dog is secured, they’ll send someone around to pick up the dog. Clearly this presents a problem if you know where the dog lives and you merely want animal control to remind the humans belonging to that dog that they shouldn’t just turn him out of doors on his own. It also presents a problem if the dog you find out roaming is aggressive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frightened by aggressive dogs running free when I’m out with my own dogs.

We like to think that companion animals live pampered lives, but the truth is far from it. I’ve called animal control on dogs chained 24 hours a day in horrible weather, only to see the dogs returned to the chain once the AC officer leaves.

A neighbor of ours, a pastor in fact, keeps his dog in a pen in the backyard, continuously. I have never seen the dog walked or any human petting him or interacting with him. There is no other dog for company, just a sad metal pen, a doghouse, and hours of loneliness. During the worst cold of the winter the pastor went out and put a space heater in the doghouse, which was better than nothing, but still just not enough.

About a year ago I met a black lab mix named Dolores, who was out running at large. She was a gentle, but very active dog. I asked around and finally figured out where she lived and set out to return her. I found a house with a fence in the back, but the gate off the hinges, and when a woman finally answered the door she yelled and scruffed Dolores for getting out. And that was the first time of many I returned Dolores to that house.

Dolores adored me and my dogs and so when we’d go on walks she’d come dashing out through her broken gate to join us. I felt terrible for Dolores, but I also didn’t have a leash for her and didn’t think I could handle taking her with us, especially without a leash. So I’d return her to her house again and every single time cringe as she was yelled at and dragged for leaving the yard, even though there was nothing to keep her there.

Sometimes however, I’d see a happier Dolores. She had two little girls who loved her, but didn’t seem to be home all that often. When the little girls were there, they’d play catch and chase. That was the real Dolores, a happy lab mix with a happy family. But that wasn’t how I saw her most of the time.

The last time she met up with us on our walk and followed us all the way home. I put my dogs in the house and opened up my car door for Dolores. She leapt in happily and sat in the front seat as we drove several blocks to her house, leaning over and giving me kisses. But when we got to her house she didn’t want to leave my car, and definitely did not want to go up to her house.

Nobody was home and after some exhaustive searching I found a chain in the back yard and hooked it to Dolores’ collar. She cried as I left, but I didn’t know what else to do. I had 50 billion things to do that evening, I had a house full to bursting with rescues. The people had been warned repeatedly, but still wouldn’t keep her in. If I called animal control, I’d have to be the one to hand Dolores over to them and it might be a death sentence. Also, what about those little girls?

I talked it over with some friends and everyone said that I should just leave the situation alone–I couldn’t do any more, but it was better to leave Dolores where she was than to hand her over to animal control. I was also informed that yelling at and dragging a dog don’t constitute cruelty under the current regulations. They wouldn’t be allowed to beat her, but good luck catching them in the act. Still, dragging and yelling are accepted behaviors.

Then I just didn’t see Dolores, and finally a neighbor told me what happened. On the weekend we went to visit my father in law, Dolores was hit by a car and killed, right in front of her house. I keep thinking about her grinning face running over to me and my dogs. I keep thinking how happy she looked riding in my car until she realized where we were going. The neighbor who told me of Dolores’ death said he wished he’d called lab rescue, but I reminded him there was nothing a rescue group could do unless the “owners” relinquished Dolores to them. Another neighbor pushed himself into the conversation to say he was glad Dolores was gone–she’d torn up his trash and chased his cat. That’s how people saw Dolores, as a major pest, though it was never her fault.

Of course, people shouldn’t drive like maniacs. I’m always finding animals hit by cars in my neighborhood, and always seeing cars practically racing through, taking the speed bumps as some kind of challenge. I also one day found a two year old boy wandering in the street who wasn’t able to tell me where he lived or how he got there–though in that case suddenly a lot of people got involved to try to find his home. But the fact remains, he could easily have been killed by a speeding car.

But cars aside, what kind of life did Dolores have? What kind of life does that dog, penned 24 hours a day in the pastor’s back yard have? What kind of life do all those dogs on chains have? Through breeders and lack of spaying and neutering we’ve created this class of animals that are completely dependent on us. Our happy storybook version is that this is a good thing for everyone involved. The actual story is rampant neglect and mistreatment, and millions put to death in the shelters for the crime of not having a home.

Goodbye Dolores. I wish I could have done more. I can’t help but wonder now if I should have taken you to the shelter and just hoped you might have found a better home.

With the companion animals I rescue and care for, I really think of them as individuals, lives entrusted in my hands. I think about what I owe them, what they need. I see them as refugees of a terrible, unfair system, and I hope to give them some peace, happiness, and love in the time they have left. But we live in a world that regards animals as property, and to most people a companion animal is another thing they own. This animal, this thing, might be a toy for their kids, or a status symbol, or a home alarm system to them. But as owned things, their needs and their lives don’t matter. We are in some kind of strange denial at the moment. We have animal control to go out and tell people that the most blatant cruelty and neglect are not socially acceptable. However, nobody goes out and tells people they need to make their companion animals part of their families. If they want to keep their dog chained, so long as he has food and water, that’s fine. If they neglect something very basic, like the safety of their dog (by letting her run in the street) they might get a warning, but again that dog is their property to be careless with if they so choose. If they want to turn their dog over to the shelter because he’s too much trouble to care for, or they want a smaller dog, or a different breed, that’s their choice. You’re allowed to discard the property you don’t want after all.

It’s a sad, sad world sometimes.



  1. Deb said,

    Wow, that was such a sad story. Poor Dolores. At least she did have some good times. It is always hard to know what the right thing to do is in situation where your options are limited, and none of them great. And where, ultimately, we’re trying to fix situations that others created through abuse or neglect, or both.

  2. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks. I guess we all know from the Tammy Grimes case that we can go to jail for helping dogs, so we try to be very careful in what we do. Sadly that’s usually not enough.

  3. Tammy Grimes said,


    I’m so sorry about Dolores! Your heart must be breaking every time you think of it…the bottom line is we must keep fighting for better laws for our companions, and then better enforcement of existing laws, such as we saw in my case…

    Your writing was beautiful, thanks for helping to bring awareness to a very sorry states of affairs in America.

    For anyone reading this, we can mail letters and brochures to caretakers working to educate them as to what a dog REALLY needs, visit our site at http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org for more info. Tammy S. Grimes, Dogs Deserve Better

  4. Neva Vegan said,

    Thank you so much for commenting! It’s amazing to have one of my heroes comment on my blog!

    I tabled for UPC at TAFA and picked up some of the door hangers from Dogs Deserve Better.

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