The Bronx ain’t a good place to be, especially if you don’t know how to survive on the streets. Everything about the streets scared me: the noises, the smells, and the people. Yet, there I was – homeless, hungry, and in a constant state of terror.
An Animal Control officer cornered me. His body language screamed, “Don’t trust me.” I trusted no one!
I sent him all the calming signals I knew: I kept my head below my shoulders and I tucked my tail between my legs. I didn’t make direct eye contact, I yawned, and licked my lips.
He didn’t understand me. I just wanted him to go away and leave me alone.
The officer approached me with cautious steps. In his hands he held a very long pole with a loop at the end.
What the heck is that thing?
I could hear him whisper with fear, “What’s your story? I know you’re scared. Staaay. Staaaaaaay.”
The man kept his distance but the pole and loop were getting closer. I lifted my lips, showed my teeth, and began a low steady growl. I lunged and snapped at the loop. I missed.
“Oh crap. You one of them fear-biting dogs? Or you just mean?”
I wasn’t mean. Wasn’t born that way, never learned how, and never had a reason to be nasty. Maybe that skill comes with age or being on the street too long. I wasn’t even a year old, but I had learned it was smarter to submit to an older or more dominant dog than it was to fight it. Out here, I’ve seen some brave dogs get messed up. They chose to fight when they should have given way. I figured the same logic works with humans too.
“I ain’t here to hurt you. Let’s make this real easy. Okay? Staaay.”
The pole was shaking as it came directly over my head. I scared the human, but not enough to make him go away. I was in a bad spot. I shut down and withered into a ball of fear. I gave up. The loop slipped around my neck and with a quick jerk of the pole, I felt an intense tightness around my throat. I leaped to my feet and jumped off the ground trying to flee. For a moment, the tension was gone until the pole jerked me to the ground. I landed awkwardly on my side so I rolled. I was in a full panic with a stranglehold on my throat. The more I struggled the harder it was to breathe.
I stood still. The tension eased. I coughed and gasped for a few breaths. I made another attempt to flee. The noose clenched tighter than it had before. The pain was excrutiating. I stopped immediately.
“Damn! You’re a feisty one. Ain’t very smart either.”
The officer tried to lead me towards a van. I did not resist, but I couldn’t cooperate either. Fear, anxiety, and confusion had crippled me. I was mentally and physically frozen. The man approached me. I had no idea what he was going to do. I knew if I fought I was going to get hurt, perhaps even die. I submitted and rolled on my back. I did nothing. He started to pick me up. I began to pee. I mean a lot. All over myself and all over him. I had lost all control of my body.
“Oh c’mon! You’re one of those freakin’ nervous peers too? Second one today. “
The officer placed me in an empty crate in the back of a van. There were a few other dogs in the van as well. I was weak and wanted to lie down, but I couldn’t. I stood and wedged myself against the crate to keep my balance on a long, bumpy, and stop-and-go ride. Across the van was a Shih Tzu looking sort of thing. I felt bad for him. He looked well fed, his fur was neat and tidy. He didn’t look like he suffered a day in his life. He got tossed around his crate like a lone sock in a dryer.
By the time we arrived at a Brooklyn animal shelter we had all gotten pretty banged up. We didn’t mind getting out the van,but things quickly went from bad to worse.
An officer opened a door and a horrible smell immediately overwhelmed me. There is no mistaking the smell of a sick dog! The man led me into the stench. I kept my head low. I saw dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds in cells. Some were aggressive. Their noses and lips raw and bloody from challenging the cell doors. Some were in the corners; expressionless with broken spirits. Others looked to be sleeping. They must have been the sick ones because there is no way anyone could rest in a place like that. Barks seemed to bounce and echo off the concrete walls. Someone was always barking. And most of the cells were littered with pee and poop. There was no escaping the fowl smell of disease.
I couldn’t see my neighbor who was further down the hall. He was an in-tact male. Boxer. Not healthy. I asked, “Why you here?”
“I ain’t no different than nobody else. I ain’t done nothing wrong. I’m a damn victim. Victim of an ignorant human. I was bought from a pet store. Grew up in a puppy mill. Hardly knew my mother. She was a breeding bitch, a profit machine you know. She wasn’t healthy. She wasn’t fit to raise me. I got medical issues like you can’t believe. I’m s’posed to get all sorts a pills. Owners didn’t want the hassle. Didn’t want to spend the money, so they dumped me here. Ain’t nobody gonna want me. I’ll be dead in a couple days. Then ain’t nobody gotta worry about me.”
“What? What do you mean dead?”
“Do you know where you are? This is a damn kill shelter. You got three days. You see all them pretty dogs, like that Shih Tzu across the way?
“Yeah. I came in with him.”
“Them prissy ones like that, they already got a home. Either his owners will come an’ get him, or someone new will get him out of here. Either way, he’ll be outta here by tomorrow. Rest of us misfits, we ain’t long for this world. We on death row girl!”
I said nothing more and crept to the back corner of my cell. I was a misfit. I was going to die. In three days. That smell. That horrible smell was disease and death. I was rescued from the street and sentenced to hell, before I would die.
I saw guards lead misfit dogs past my cell, on the way out. The dogs never returned. The guards always did, carrying thick black garbage bags. I had seen them have to cradle a big bag in their arms. I also saw them carry two small bags in each hand.
What was in the bag? Oh God! OH GOD! What’s in the damn bag?
Rumor was, it took two shots to kill you by lethal injection. One shot to make you sleep and another to stop your heart. No last meal. No mercy. Mindless execution.
I heard a guard coming. His foot steps slowed. I cowered in the corner. He stopped at the cell next to me and unlocked the door. I didn’t hear a struggle as I had with some other dogs.
The Boxer stopped and looked in my cell. He looked like death already.
“Guess my time’s up.”
NO! NO! NO!
I threw my head back and let out a lingering howl.
He did no wrong. He doesn’t deserve to die.
I returned to the corner and curled up in a ball. Hours passed. A day and a half had passed. I saw a lot of black bags. A few new dogs came in. This place had a revolving door of death. I didn’t know when my time was up. I didn’t know when I would take the death walk.
I got used to guards walking past my cell on a regular basis. I’d cringe when I saw them and felt relief when they walked by. It was late into my second day when an officer stopped at my cell. He opened the door. This place had taken my soul, my will to fight. I was already dead.
I lied motionless on the floor as the human slipped a leash over my head. He cinched it tight around my throat. Too tight. Although I went willingly out of the cell, I struggled to breathe. I tried to stop and lay down to submit. I wanted the tension to go away. My feet could hold no traction on the slippery concrete floor. The officer dragged me until I made it to my feet. I kept walking. My heart pounded fast as adrenaline gave me one last effort to fight or flee, but I had no chance to overpower the guard. I was too scared and too weak to put up much of a fight.
The officer raised his hand above my head. I closed my eyes and waited for a punishing blow to settle my resistance. I knew I would not return. Like the Boxer and many others I had seen, I would end up in a black bag.
At the moment I surrendered and went limp, the officer said, “You’re a lucky one. Not many escape outta here alive.”
He patted me on the head.
What? Lucky? Escape? What does that mean?
The man led me through a door into the entrance where I had come into this place. He handed the leash to a woman.
“She’s yours now. Hopefully we won’t see her again.”
The woman led me out of the building. I had escaped death. I was going to live.
God had mercy on me.