Chapel Talk Good morning. I don’t think I can even begin to relate just how terrifying this is, so here’s what I’m gonna do instead; I’ll mumble, speak much too quickly, avoid all eye contact, and use overly-dramatic hand gestures. And since it’s too early in the morning and school year to picture any of you naked, this’ll have to do. In my lifetime, my family has owned and sheltered over one hundred and fifty dogs, cats, horses, goats, sheep, and various other species. My residence has acted as both a foster home and a rehab center for any animal we could make room for.
Most stay with us permanently, but we haven’t been lucky enough to help every animal we’ve come across. But the bliss of the successful adoptions greatly overshadows the disappointment of those unsuccessful. It really all began with my mother. Having grown up in a city, she didn’t have the luxury of pets until she had a house of her own. She soon made up for all the animals she didn’t have as child – three times over. She taught my siblings, myself, and even my father to respect and adore our fellow mammals. But even she has her favorites, and so we’ve owned more dogs than anything else.
Her absolute favorite, (and everybody else’s), was Breda. Breda, (who was, incidentally, named after a mispronunciation of a German town), was a German Shepard/ keeshond mix, and the first dog my parents adopted when they moved into their first house back in 1978. It was three years before Breda gave justice to her breed, fiercely guarding, or sheparding, if you will, my newborn sister as if it were her own. Her most incredible feat involved my little brother, Myles. Since both my parents work full-time, my sister, brother, and I were juggled among multiple babysitters.
The one who was watching us when Myles was just under two years old made the horrendous mistake of staying on the phone long enough for him to toddle quite a few miles away from the house, down long, winding roads, fast cars, sharp turns, and everything else you could possiblly imagine. While my mother was at work, she received a phone call from a not-so-nearby neighbor, informing her of my brother’s little odyssey. It turned out that Breda had followed Myles closer than his own shadow, all the while trying to steer him back towards the house. She wasn’t successful in these attempts, but it appeared that the only was our neighbor were able to recognize my brother, who was a fairly new addition, and know whom to deliver him to, was Breda. The woman knew who the dog was, just not the baby it was following.
Breda lived another fourteen wonderful years before succumbing to a spinal condition hereditary to many German Shepards. Chloe was a genuine freak of nature. Chloe was also one of the few animals that my family hadn’t needed to rescue. She was adopted as a kitten by my parents around the same time as Breda. She died six months ago at the ripe old age of twenty-two. But that isn’t the only thing that made her ‘unique’.
Chloe somehow managed to outlive feline leukemia, an overactive thyroid, deafness, cancer, kidney problems, and a quarter-of-a-decade’s worth of being chased around by canines twenty times her size. I remember that when I used to call home, I could tell what room the person who answered the phone was in judging by Chloe’s incessant meowing. Rusty, a German Shepard /Collie mix, was abandoned in a boggy salt marsh in southern Canada, in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record, when he was only two weeks old. For anyone who isn’t familiar with a marsh, it’s basically large tracks of rather barren, open land with sporadically placed craters that’re filled with mud and cold sea water. I was never told exactly how anyone found him in such a desolate, isolated wasteland, but it goes without saying he was quite alone in the world.
It took months of treats and numerous bites of which I still bare the scars before he would even allow me to approach him. Genuine Ticket and Lotta Fun’s Best, who are commonly known as Ticket and Best, are two of the seven horses my family owns, and some of the thirty-something horses we board. They were both racehorses, a breed known as thoroughbreds, which were scheduled to be sold at horsemeat auctions once their racing careers were over. Best was a horse of average ranking in the race circuit, but he clearly wasn’t made for it. His temper was erratic and he often refused to race once he reached the starting gates. Such disobedience wasn’t tolerated, so his career and life were about to be terminated.
Ticket was a well-mannered mare of significant capabilities. Though she showed promise, she was so mild that the other horses often manhandled her. This led to an ankle injury which is not only fatal for a racing profession, but for any horse. Even after my mother adopted Ticket, we feared that she might have to be euthanized. Luckily, she pulled through, and with a strict regiment of exercises and medicine, she can now be used for riding lessons. I don’t think Joey ever had a more formal show name, but you wouldn’t have known by looking at him.
When I was twelve, my mother decided to get a horse of her own, and found Joey. At the time he was twenty-five, but still magnificent. In his prime, Joey was an internationally ranked jumping champion. In past years, he was worth a small fortune, but due to a compassionate owner, was never sold until he retired with us. He was bony but sweet, talented, and the best horse I’ve ever met.
He used to even let some of our barn cats sleep on his back while he ate. When he was twenty-seven, he slipped on a patch of ice and tore a ligament in his left rear leg. It was severe, and even with surgery, he would still have been lame. Being old and having lived a good life, we decided that it was in Joey’s best interests to be let go. This all happened right before I moved to Groton, and he is still buried under the barn at our old house.
Guy was a purebred German Shepard that we adopted when he was three years old. He had been abused for so long, he maintained bad habits that were almost impossible to break at his age. For example, Guy often became excited, usually by running, laughing, screaming and what not. He would become extremely violent, though he wasn’t a hostile or aggressive dog by nature. He just didn’t know any better.
Guy’s previous owner was an old, invalid woman who was incapable of taking proper care of him. Consequently, Guy was tightly chained to a tree for the entire three years she had owned him. At times he would go so long without food that he would chew on nearby rocks, and had worn down his teeth almost to the gums. One day a few years after we adopted Guy, a neighbor was walking up our driveway towards the house. Guy didn’t recognize her and became excited at the sight of a stranger.
The situation got out of hand, and Guy somehow bit a large chunk of flesh out of the girl’s thigh. She was understandably hysterical when she was rushed to the emergency room, and her parents demanded that Guy be destroyed immediately. I wasn’t at home at the time, and so I never got a chance to say goodbye. Kane, (as in Citizen Kane), was a two-year-old St. Bernard that was found abandoned in an apartment in Brooklyn.
My mother loves big dogs especially, and Kane soon was a welcome addition to our rather large family. Kane also had the same behavioral disorder that Guy had, except he had hip displacure. Since Kane’s condition rendered him almost completely immobile, we thought him to be an idle threat. I wasn’t home again when Kane went on a literal killing-spree, destroying several goats and sheep. When I did return home, Kane had already been put to sleep, and the vet was in process of putting down a sheep that had been torn to pieces but wasn’t quite dead.
As I’ve described at length, the rehabilitation of a rescued animal is a long, time-consuming, and strenuous process. The older the animal is, the harder, longer, and more unlikely rehabilitation is. Sadly enough, shelters that receive any financial aid from any federal branch are forced to euthanize and overcrowd their animals as contingencies. Those who rebuke such practices, commonly known as ‘no-kill’ shelters, are often forced to rely on donations, adoption fees, and even their own money to provide the most basic of care. Under funded and overcrowded, they are indirectly punished for their humanity.
Over the years, I’ve had to clean up after more animals than I’d care to remember. Not once do I ever remember being thanked. We even had to resort to child-safety barriers and heavy-duty locks, which were the only ones the dogs couldn’t break, in order to deter them from mutilating the rest of house that didn’t have a tiled floor. The doors we use most often have deep, jagged claw marks that vary in height as the dog that made them grew. And these are only a hint of all the unpleasant experiences I’ve gone through because of my animals.
Oddly enough, I grieved more at the deaths of the animal’s I’d loved all my life than I had for the grandparents I’d never known. To know an undying love that’s undeserved, yet still given faifthfully, is to know an unparallel happiness that I can only hope all of you can one day share.