All in a Day’s Work

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How often do you have a day where the first call you get in the morning is that of an injured goose.

You google How to catch a goose?

Why of-course; Grab it by the neck.

You take a Goose back and bandage it’s wing. Then you wait for a rescue group to pick it up.

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Just when you’re feeling good about yourself, you get a call of a Puppy that’s been beaten by young boys.

You get there and the puppy is bleeding from his anus. You wrap him in a towel and pick him up. Concerned citizens are judging the kids for being cruel- but you know in your deepest worries that this puppy has Parvo…and he just blew up today.

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You are carrying him in your arms in the shelter and he lets out a stream of vomit from his mouth and a stream of blood from his rectum. Before you know it you are covered in blood and drool.

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You are now CONTAMINATED. You can’t be in the shelter because Parvo is lethal and spreads quickly. So you are ready to dash out the door. But wait… A vet tech grabs you by the arm. “You have to euthanize the puppy first.”

You freeze. “What? Me? but… but… Its a…I’ve never–”

They thrust a bottle of Euthasol in your hand and a few syringes and tranquilizer in your shirt pocket. All without touching the blood or vomit.

If you’ve never smelled PARVOVIRUS… you are a lucky human. Nothing smelly more deathly than that.

So with blood and grime and drool and vomit and some tears on your body… You pet the puppy’s head to give it love and then plunge the needle to kill it.

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Your heart is detached from your body. Your senses are drowning your adrenaline.

Then you drive off– scared to tackle the next day… but hopeful of saving one more goose– or a raccoon or a puppy or a turtle or a horse.

Game-Set-Match.

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The Messenger of Death

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Death;

That’s the final frontier.

Nothing is more definite.

Nothing is more final.

Nothing is more irreversible.

Then why do we take a life?

Why do I?

If Dr. Kevorkian can be punished for human Euthanasia, what is my punishment for killing sixteen cats and nine dogs with reasons ranging from upper respiratory infection to perceived aggressive to simply – “un-adoptable because they’ve been at the shelter too long” scribbled clear across their charts.

A red tag around their collar as I walk him to his final walk. The chocolate brown big-pittie wags his tail wildly as I pet his pretty face. He jumps up and down the weigh-scale ready to play his game with me.

  1. The amber read-out of the scale flickers. That would mean 8cc of the Blue-juice. My gut tightens.

The vet-techs check his vitals and I tranquilize him. Then we put him in the cage and the vet techs cover it with a blanket.

“Why do we do that?”

“So he can’t see what’s going on outside.” He says to me and re-starts his banter with the other vet-techs.

Having been here for a week has taught me how to read between lines. Having worked in rescue for years has taught me how we veil our fears and feeling. It’s not because we don’t want them to see outside. It’s because we don’t want to see inside.

So I peek behind the blanket. My pittie is swaying his head from side to side like Stevie Wonder does when he sings. Drool is dribbling out of his mouth.

I can barely hold his chart up with my trembling hands. There must be something wrong. He is so healthy and happy. I go over every line again. It still says Upper respiratory tract infection. I could’ve sworn I never heard a cough or anything.

They pull him out and lay his limp body on the table. His muscles are quivering involuntarily. He must’ve figured out what’s coming.

“Why don’t you do this one.” My supervisor points to me.

“Me?” I look behind me. Nothing. Gosh.

My mouth runs dry. I gulp a few times and pick up the syringe. I draw 8cc’s of the blue liquid and grab the pittie by the elbow and twist my wrist slightly.

His big vein pops up willingly, eager to please me very much like him. Always obliging. Always ready to give happiness, joy, love and now even his own life; The true spirit of a dog.

And the true spirit of man.

I point the beveled end of the needle up and dig into his skin, feeling the vein. I draw out a little blood to ensure I’ve hit the vein and then I plunge the syringe as deep as I can.

A sudden urge to vomit overpowers me. I’ve just pushed death into the body of an animal that I had sworn just to give life to. I had chosen death.

“Good job, officer.” My supervisor spins on his heel and leaves the lab.

My knees hit the floor. I run my hand over the pitties head repeating the words SORRY SORRY , Please forgive me. I am so sorry, big guy.

His eyes glaze over they are staring into nothingness. I put my face right in front of his eyes. I want me to be the last thing he saw. I pet his head and kiss his nose till the heart jab injection tells me he has passed.

I force myself not to cry in front of the vet techs. I force myself to appear professional but my heart broke into a million pieces today. But it has broken several times before and it will as long as I work in this field.

Today I am the messenger of death. We in rescue call this by different names- we try to ease the pain and cutify death. Lab Limbo (stalling going to the lab by doing menial things to delay killing), The Rainbow Bridge, Going to meet Jesus, Going night-night… It’s still death; Final and all encompassing.

I trudge over to the wash-basin.

Boraxo, Industrial strength hand-wash. An orange bottle over the basin reads. Removes paint, grease, tar, ink and oils.

I pump some on my hands and scrub the grainy gel as vigorously as I can. Yes but can it remove DEATH too?

Da’ Coopster ……. Continued….

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           I’d been sitting in the parking lot with Cooper’s head in my lap when my phone rang.
           I wore the blue-tooth around my ear. “How much time does the Vet give him?” This couldn’t be happening to my Cooper, my favorite playmate at the shelter, my reason for joining this Rescue. I bit my quivering lip.
           “A few weeks. The cancer has spread. We’ve decided to put him to sleep. It’s the only…”
          Her words faded into mumbo jumbo. Put him to sleep? He’s so full of energy. He’s my running buddy. I squinted the harsh Arizona sun out of my eyes. “When?”
“Today. We’re taking him to the dog park and then feeding him some burgers. Then we will take him to the vet and–”
          “–Don’t say it.” If I don’t hear it, then it didn’t happen. Right?
           “I know you love Cooper.” Her voice softened. “It’s time to say goodbye.”
           I clasp myself tighter. “I…err…you see…umm…I can’t…don’t have the ability of saying goodbye.”
         “That’s okay. We’ve called Tina from HomeFurGood Rescue. She’ll be with him till the very end. Till his eyes–”
          “–you called someone else? Someone that doesn’t even know our Coopster?” I splayed my arms.
          “She’s the one we call when any of our dogs are euthanized. She has a way of comforting the animals in their final moments.”
          “What a horribly depressing job. She must be a dark, gloomy soul.” I clasped two fistfuls of my hair.
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            Two days later. I’m walking into the HomeFurGood shelter for picking up Coopers ashes. The receptionist directs me to Tina’s desk. “She’s helping a dog that’s being put to sleep right now. Take a seat, she’ll be in soon.” She motions to a wooden chair.
          I take a seat, cross my legs and rap my fingers on her desk. A short haired woman stares into my eyes from a picture frame. She’s holding a handicapped dog in the picture close to her chest. Her nametag reads Tina. N. She has a warm smile that makes even the crow’s feet around her eyes appealing.”
        OK so she’s young and pretty…and happy. But she must be a depressed ‘in the closet’ lesbian. I pick up a plastic clip from her desk with a small tube attached to it.
“Mr. Sandhu. I see that you found my special Euthanasia tube.” She flashes her pearly whites and extends her long fingers towards me.
       I drop the tube and rub my hands clean. The tube falls to the floor with the yellow smiley face tag facing up. I shake her warm and soft hand. Then I rub my palm on my shirt.
     “I see that death bothers you.”
     “I love dogs way too much and don’t have the heart of watching them die.”
      “So you close your eyes. Did you ever consider Cooper’s passing from his point of view? You refused to be with him–”
     “–You don’t know Cooper. He was my favorite dog.” I touch my heart. “You see hundreds of dogs die every day. They’re all the same to you. You don’t know the first thing about Cooper–”
      “–I don’t know the first thing about him. But I know the last.” She crosses her arms. “I snuggled next to him on the soft Sherpa blanket. He ate a Frosty Paws ice-cream I brought him. Then he nuzzled my hand so I gave him a second one. I kissed him between his eyes and whispered stories about how when he gets to heaven he should look out for Speedy, the Dobie who is the keeper of the gates. To seek out Mi Corazon and Sarge; the one’s I couldn’t save. I held Cooper, speaking softly until he drifted off.”
       My shoulders droop. The chair is just aIMAG0980bout ready to swallow me.
She walks up to me and sits on her desk. “Cooper would’ve been a little happier in death if you had been with him when he passed on.”
I rest my elbows on my knee. “I was- was- scared.” I manage a whisper.
She touches my shoulder. “I know fear, Mr. Sandhu . Every Friday, I find a list of dogs at Animal control those are going to be put down. I drive to the pound paralyzed with fear. Knowing those dogs are missing their chance at life are the darkest moments of my week.”
“How do you do it, Tina?”
She sighs. “I’ve encompassed the world of rescue. I’ve brought the love of animals into my heart. My love for the animals does not fill some void in my life left by a bad relationship, a dog that passed or some sociological issue I had in my childhood.” She taps the picture of a black and tan Doberman wearing a red collar that reads ‘Speed’.IMAG0978
              I raise my eyebrows. “Why do you–”
“–Because nobody else will. They’ve gone through life without love or understanding.They are at the Animal Shelter because a human chose to abandon them. Because they think the dog’s life wasn’t worthwhile anymore. Now at the end of their life and in the final moments I share my heart and my love with them. These last comforting moments are all I can give them.”
       I tug my earlobe. That explains her picture with five handicapped dogs. “Do you think you make a difference in their lives?”
      “Absolutely. The human touch and love is all an animal needs. That love is all that Cooper needed to make the most difficult journey he ever made.” She places an urn of his ashes on the table.
      The urn rattles. I place my trembling hand on it. I haven’t encompassed rescue like her. After having done this for seven years I feel today that I’m on the outside looking in. I haven’t encompassed compassion. I still judge people based on appearance or sexuality or my preconceived notions. “Thank you, Tina.” I stumble out the door.
     She calls out behind me. “Peace be with you.”
     I stop in my tracks. If I were a marginally better person, I’d be friends with her- because if a person like her is not in my life. The loss will be entirely and completely mine.DSC00660