I have forgotten far more events than I have remembered in my life, but once in a while I’ll get a movie flash of some event or person or situation which will come back in picture perfect clarity.
One such recent flash was of the cremation room in the Humane Society I volunteered at in my teen years. It contained a freezer where formerly able-bodied and noise-making dogs and cats were stacked, quietly frozen, their fur stiff, waiting for Wednesday when the crematorium was used. Sometimes the metal table in the room would have bodies lain out in groups of two or three, if euthanasia had occurred recently. Obviously a very sad room, although I remember thinking that at least the spirits contained in those bodies were free: liberated from long, lonely days and nights spent untouched and unwalked in cages, free from feeling abandoned by the people who once owned them, free from sickness and want.
The vision of this room came to me while I was walking to work, I don’t remember what set it off, but it hit me with such a lightning flash that I got weepy on the street. I’m sure being raw-nerved from weeks of tattoo allergies didn’t help, and maybe even brought on this sadder memory. Sometimes feeling physically shitty can bring you to a more open place emotionally, although I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term goal.
At this Humane Society people would often drop off litters of puppies or kittens too young to fend for themselves. We would try to feed them with bottles or droppers, but usually they would die. Sometimes people dumped pregnant dogs or cats that they didn’t want to deal with, or pets that they didn’t want to take with them on a move, or sick pets that they couldn’t handle. Sometimes we’d see their kids crying in the back seat of their cars. The small crew that worked full-time in the shelter were tired of repeating themselves, tired of the unending stupidity, but they would still give their speeches about responsible pet ownership, resignedly trying to educate a bunch of Michigan crackers on what it means to care for a domestic pet.
It was painful, to say the least, though I loved the animals and came regularly to do whatever was asked of me. Mostly it was cleaning cages and walking dogs. One of the larger blows for me was a friendship with a beautiful purebred female collie. She was giant and so smart. I walked her as much as I could while she was there, which probably wasn’t much because I only visited on the weekends during the school year and most animals stayed for two to three weeks tops. I did get to spend some hours with her, walking the hills behind the shelter. She never pulled on the leash and being with her made me feel centered and calm. She was just a golden, perfect dog, and on our last walk she jumped up and put her feet on my shoulders and looked at me with what I believe was love and gratitude.
It was one of the purest connection moments I’ve experienced, human, animal or otherwise, and afterwards I felt sick to my stomach to put her back in her cage. I wondered, who could have discarded this amazing creature? I should have insisted that my parents let me take her, but we had a house full of animals already and she was so big. I hoped for the best for her, and when I returned to the shelter and she wasn’t there, I didn’t have the courage to research whether she’d been adopted. I also didn’t go back into the cremation room to look. I never learned what happened to her and I have always wished I had been more aggressive about taking her out of the shelter. Thirty years later it remains a regret for me.
So there is much screaming about the fact that Michael Vick is being allowed to play football again, much hatred being shouted and some people are selling their season tickets to whatever team he’s on now. I am so uninterested in sports I can never remember.
The anger is understandable. When you watch the documentary on the rehabilitation his surviving dogs have gone through just to be able to live semi-normal lives, you want to kill the people that would cause such pain. (I highly recommend watching it, I think you can still find it on http://www.nationalgeographic.com, just do a search for Michael Vick.) It’s unbelievable: rape stands, tooth removal, bait dogs. It is truly an Auschwitz-esque existence for God’s creatures, and those who participate should be punished.
I have condemned Michael Vick and his ilk many times online. But in lucid moments I know that fighting dark with dark only brings more darkness, and does nothing to alleviate the suffering at hand. Light is the only thing that will illuminate darkness. I don’t give a shit anymore who is right and who is wrong, I just want the abuse to end. And I am grateful for Michael Vick in one way, which is that he is single-handedly bringing more awareness to the crime of dog-fighting than hundreds of PETA videos ever could.
Wayne Pacelle, President of the U.S. Humane Society, has enlisted Vick to speak publicly around the country in an effort educate young boys and men in inner cities to the fact that dog-fighting is cruel. Many of them have been raised with it (as he was) and see it as a sport, something cool and exciting. It is easy to disconnect to cruelty when you’ve been inured to it from childhood. And no amount of internet squawking by tattooed vegan chicks and ASPCA supporters is going to reach that demographic. They don’t give a shit what you or I think, we are not even on their map. However, they do care about what Michael Vick thinks. His opinion carries a lot more weight in this world than mine ever will, so I’d rather see him free and making his football money and speaking to his fans about loving animals than sitting in jail doing fuck-all and looking like a martyr.
There is a 60 Minutes interview with Vick and Pacelle here: MICHAEL VICK ON 60 MINUTES, in which Vick discusses his remorse and change of heart. He is handsome, well-spoken, and appears earnest. Am I completely convinced of his sincerity? No, probably not, I can’t peer into the brain of Michael Vick and he could very well be mouthing what his manager told him to say. But regardless of whether his motives are pure, at least for the moment he is bringing awareness and affording prime television airtime to the Humane Society and the issue of dogfighting.
And that, to me, is a candle in the dark.
One thought on “Candle”
jeez, this made me sob, the part about the cremation room and collie. you write so beautifully. your heart is so big. thanks.