Yesterday evening, while I was waiting in the lobby of the city’s animal shelter, a quiet family wandered inside. After a few minutes in line, the mother couldn’t conceal her tears and silently broke down while her daughter held her hand. It was hard to watch as the young girl turned her head every so often, wiping her own tears as if she was trying to be strong for her mom.
Moments later, two shelter employees reappeared after retrieving the family’s pet from the vehicle. They placed the elderly, gigantic, silver pit bull girl in a lower traffic area and stepped back to analyze her for a minute. I peeked over the counter just in time to notice her incredible amber eyes as they caught mine. Such pain behind them. I couldn’t stand whatever was happening there.
A bunch of head-shaking followed. Someone told the family, “I’m sorry.” Then another worker escorted the mother to a side hallway where I could hear lots of sniffling and a discussion about “prevention” and “next time” and “I’m so sorry” and “you are doing the right thing” and then . . . “heartworms.”
I walked over to the dog, close to where the young girl was now holding her brother. He stared at his old dog pal while tears crawled down his face. I knew when she was gone, it’d be the first time he’d probably ever remember being without her, and that broke my heart all kinds of sideways.
The family’s pet was bloated. Very bloated. I thought initially she’d been hit by a car or that she was already dead. She slowly moved her eyes, but I think those were all she could move. Her stomach looked like she was nine years overdue with ten litters. Sometimes she wheezed, trying to breathe. The old, silver lady was suffering horribly. I’ve seen some sad stuff in that building, but this was really awful to me — probably because it didn’t have to happen at all.
Heartworms. The family hadn’t given its dog any treatments, and she’d become infected with the nasty spaghetti-like parasites. They’d been in her heart for years by that point, making it difficult for her to live a comfortable life. Chances are, the family, who obviously was upset over losing her now, didn’t even know what heartworms are. At the very least, the mom and her kids might not have understood how easily dogs contract those parasites, how deadly and painful they are, and how simple prevention is. One thing was certain: the two kiddos and their mom — despite the adult’s failure to properly care for the dog for whatever reasons — loved that girl.
I was in no place to judge since years ago I could have found myself in the same situation. When I was twenty, I thought a good dog owner just made sure the food and water bowls were full, that there were things around for chewing, and that we took regular walks. Once a year, we’d get around to shots. I guarded against fleas. Most importantly, I treated my dog like a family member. I loved him more than almost any of the people in my life. Still, I was ignorant about heartworms until he was an older gentleman, when a vet took the time to explain my extreme oversight. Luckily for my boy, he didn’t end up like the silver pittie girl at the shelter.
Someone told me recently in regard to helping people who were clueless about proper animal care, like the family at the shelter and I once were, “There are those who think some people are too dumb to educate. I guess I’m just dumb enough to keep trying, thinking it’ll work.” Perhaps, the woman at the shelter, who was crying without hope, will make the same mistake with her future dogs, trying to save money, unable to grasp the importance of heartworm prevention. That’d be shameful, of course. In that case, I hope the kids at least took note and picked up on a lesson for the future. On the other hand, I am a convert. Because someone else was “dumb enough to keep trying” to educate others, I was able to learn and, in turn, spread the word. These days, even my two indoor cats get wrangled for their monthly dousing along with the dog. Year round.
As my husband and I secured the two dogs we’d been waiting to transport, I watched the woman get into her truck. She hunched over once inside, and I could see the daughter holding her. I wanted to go home and hug my dog, ASAP.
This morning, around 5, I woke up thinking about the silver-haired old lady with the heartworms and her family. I wished they could have said goodbye on better terms. I wished the dog was free from her pain. I wished the rest of the world with all of its people would eventually be kind enough to learn how to educate first, saving judgment for those who aren’t part of the solution. I wished I could help somebody else the way somebody helped me.
And, so, I tell this story here . . . for you. :)