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warning: Clicking on either of the links in this article will likely result in intermittent sobbing. The first is a story. The second contains images that some of you may find disturbing. Not gross disturbing, just emotionally very very hard.
Back before I had my two sons back to back, you know, that time (before now) when I could spend more than five minutes a day to myself, I spent much more time doing a lot of legwork for CSRA. One of the things I did each week was go and evaluate potential CSRA dogs at the local shelter here. It wasn't unusual for me to walk the halls of Town Lake Animal Center three or more times a week. I would go and take the cocker spaniels they had in the shelter and take them to the play pen, spend some time with them, try to get a handle on their personalities or health conditions/level of stink (and oh, there was some stink), see if this was a dog we could help. Of course, to do this, I had to pass by the other 200+ dogs they would have in the shelter at any given time. In the open-air architecture of the old shelter, the sounds would be deafening, just a caucophony of barks and whines and "LOOK AT ME" Yips. I had friends who, when I told them this, would exclaim, "I don't know how you do that without taking every single one of them home!" They couldn't do it, they said. How can you walk those halls knowing that half those little faces you'd see weren't going to "make it?" Not be reclaimed, not be adopted, not ever leave that cell, not to go to someone's backyard to play, anyway, they'd be going somewhere else.. I gotta admit, on many occasions, I'm not sure how I did it either.
I suppose on some level, you just steel yourself against the sadness of their reality. You learn to get in and get out--do what you came to do and leave. Don't dawdle. Don't stop. You just don't look at their faces. Don't walk too close to where they can lick your hand or catch your eye. And if they do catch your eye, look away quickly. Try to remind yourself that you can't save them ALL. You can maybe save this one or that one, but you can't take them all home (well, not without becoming the subject of an unflattering reality show on animal hoarding crazies). You can't. You can't. You can't. I would try to remind myself that I was at least doing SOMETHING. I was working rescue. We were helping get some of them out of there. It's the Starfish Principle. Still, there were some days when I would get back into my car and just lose it. They'll wear you down sometimes. The faces.
But I will tell you, I don't regret seeing them, ever. Because when you see the faces of the dogs at the shelter. When you look into their eyes--some soft puppy eyes, some hardened, some just plain confused, they become more to you than just a number in a database. They become more than just "someone else's problem." They become starfish that you just gotta try and hurl back into the ocean.
This is why I love this project "Memento Mori" by Yun-Fei Tou. This photographer takes pictures of dogs in public shelters in Taiwan on the day they are scheduled to be put down. I don't think I can explain it better than the website does, so I'm copying their description here for you.
The purpose of this project is to arouse people’s awareness of animals rights and make people think through, carefully and consistently, the question of how we ought to treat nonhuman animals. The animals themselves are incapable of demanding their own liberation, or of protesting against their condition with votes, demonstrations, or boycotts. We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.
In viewing these specific images, one looks directly into the eyes of the dog and the dog looks back. These images reflect the last opportunity to look. This is a final and decisive moment. Death is eminent and all that is asked of the viewer is to engage, to recognize the common bonds and to honor the resemblances between our lives.
The collection has just a few photographs at present, but you can read more about the photographer and see others here.
There's also an incredibly beautiful book by Traer Scott called Shelter Dogs. In it, some of the dogs DO get rescued. Some don't. A friend got me that book for Christmas a couple of years ago. I have yet to actually make it through it without having to gather up all 125 pounds of my three dogs onto my lap and hugging them til they make me stop.
In my mind, there's nothing more powerfully motivating than to see these images. It's what rescue looks like when you look it in the face. .