Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

Dogs Deserve Better

I’m writing this on Christmas morning after a sleepless night. I had four of our seven cats cuddled in bed, and they steal the covers. Another of the cats decided that five a.m. was the time to wake up, so here I am, at my desk, unable to sleep, coughing from some kind of weird larynx irritation, and counting the minutes down until I can get to church and sing. If I can sing. The larynx thing makes me sound like a lounge singer who spent the evening in a smoky room belting out show tunes.

The cats spent the night inside, much to their delight, because of these two:



John and I returned from our walk and met up with these sweet beagles just by our driveway. They were heading north, we were walking south, and we sort of met at the mailbox. John paused to grab the mail, I scratched one of the fellows behind the ears, and much to my amusement, they followed us down the driveway.

Both dogs wore neon hunting collars with brass engraved identification plates, so someone not only owned them but cared enough about them to ensure their safe return.  We suspected they were hunting dogs, although what you hunt with beagles on Christmas Eve remains a mystery to me. I thought beagles were rabbit hunting dogs.

The dogs’ collars told me they came all the way from Appomattox, two towns over. No wonder they were exhausted! One of the fellows shivered and limped. Both dogs declined to chase our cats, which was a good thing, but our cats hissed, spat, and generally behaved like cats. Hence, we bundled them into the house for the duration.

We expected that like most hunting dogs they would sniff around the yard, make a few pees, then leave. But they didn’t. They tumbled, exhausted, onto our welcome mats and regarded us with big brown eyes and thumping tails. What could we do? I called the number on their collars and spoke with a lovely woman who assured me that the person named on the collars wasn’t home, but she would take my number and have him call me back.

He never called back.

The dogs stayed. We fixed them supper. We still have cans of Shadow’s dog food in the basement so the two were treated to Pedigree and fresh water. They ate as if they had never enjoyed canned dog food before.

The exhausted dogs sank onto a pile of blankets we fixed for them on our porch. They wouldn’t leave. The younger one ran off for a bit but came back, nosing the one with the hurt paw, concern clear in his eyes. He wouldn’t leave his companion. They whimpered and whined a bit then settled down, curled around each other like yin-yang symbols.

The owners still hadn’t called.

I got about two hours of sleep last night. This stupid cough kept me awake, as did my cats, who steal the covers. Mostly, however, I didn’t sleep because I was fuming.

I am angry. Angry at this rural mentality that assumes dogs are hunting machines without feelings. Who lets such sweet, loving creatures as these two beagles out all night on a winter night when the temperatures drop below freezing?

I am angry that the owners didn’t call me back. If someone takes the time to call you about your dog, you at least call them back.

I am angry at all the people who think animals are disposable. Today, on Christmas morning, thousands of puppies and kittens are under the Christmas tree. Some will be cherished. Many will find their way to animal shelters starting in April or so when Pup doesn’t understand potty training and Kitty scratches someone. I am angry at the parents of Pup and Kitty who scold their children about taking care of the pets without teaching the children what needs to be done as if the children automatically know how to train a dog or ensure a cat’s care is adequate. Then again, these are probably the same families that don’t train their children up, either. Feral dogs and feral children share one thing in common: they do as nature tells them to do, with disastrous results for them both.

But mostly, I am angry at the callous attitude of the hunting community who assumes that dogs have no feelings, that dogs are disposable, that it’s perfectly okay to let your dogs roam and chase deer all night and sleep on other people’s porches, disrupting their lives, while you go about your merry way because “dogs will be dogs.”

Dogs deserve better. All animals deserve better.

I have seven cats, not by choice, but because people like these dump their cats and kittens in the woods around our rural home and think the cats will “fend for themselves.”  Only one of our cats was purposely obtained, as a kitten, as a pet. The others? Three were from a litter dumped in the woods, terrified, lost, that we found while walking our dog. Another was from a litter of three we found a few months before that; the other two in the litter were adopted out, and we kept one. Rocky showed up here a growling feral mess, and Micawber showed up here starved for affection and food. Other rescued cats have long since walked to the Rainbow Bridge.

If you are going to keep hunting dogs, keep them inside at night. Kennels, barns, sheds, your house, your garage, I don’t care but don’t let them roam all night. It’s not fair to the dogs, to the wildlife, or to your neighbors.

If your dog roams, and someone calls you about it, PICK UP YOUR DOG. Don’t assume Fido will come marching home. He might, but he also might get hit by a car along the way, attacked by a coyote, or lost. It happens.

And for both dog and cat owners, for the love of all animals: SPAY AND NEUTER THEM. Give them a warm place to sleep, a bowl of fresh water, and adequate food. Please. That’s all. That’s not much.

On this night, many, many years ago, the Savior of the world was born in a stable. The warm breath of the animals kept Jesus, Mary and Joseph warm. God loves all his creation. Let us remember the animals on this day of all days and treat them with kindness, not cruelty. Dogs deserve better.