Puppy Dog Tails
A dog conveys so much through its tail: joy, fear, caution, and so on. Two of our four dogs are docked lest they break their tails in a fit of overenthusiastic wagging, but the nubs do the job. Ivy's nub is usually alert, especially when she is waiting for me to throw a ball for her to pursue. Vince's tail is more like a rudder, a flap to muffle occasional flatulence that surprises him and everyone else in the room.
Today as I drove my typical route to work I saw a different tail. The puppy was white with brown patches. He lay in the middle of the road in a small red pool. He was completely still except for his tail. I can only hope that his tail, lazily rising from the bloody asphalt to hang quivering in the air for a moment, was a nerve response and not an indication that he was alive and suffering. The tail pointed to the sky twice in the time I was able to see him.
Perhaps it wasn't a death spasm. It was such a deliberate motion, measured though weak. Maybe as enough blood leaked out of his wounds to render him unconscious he saw something beautiful in his mind. Maybe he'd once been loved. There might be a boy in school waiting to see his dog after the last bell, but probably not. Maybe he'd dreamed of a kind person who tossed their restaurant leftovers out the window as they passed by him one day. I try to be that person when I can.
Down the road a few miles I saw another tail. The dog was large, mostly white. She lay on her side, her swollen teats prominent against a short, smooth coat. There was a collar around her neck that looked fairly new. The tail was still, pointing crookedly at the road.
I've seen a lot of dog tails on my daily trek to and from work. A couple of months ago there was a small, white dog, probably somewhere between puppyhood and an adult. It howled in pain, propped up in the middle of the road on its front legs, staring with confusion at the broken, unresponsive lower half of its body. A boy walked into traffic and grabbed the dog. He had no expression on his face and I can only hope he intended to put the dog out of its misery.
A couple of years ago, before we had a fence put up around our house, a pit bull wandered through our yard. She was robust, muscular, and trailing eight or so feet of chain behind her. A month later, the same pit bull, now bony and the chain full of brambles and debris, meandered through our yard again. My wife and I took her in, or tried to. She allowed us to bathe and feed her. Despite her condition she had the disposition of a puppy and her tail showed it.
We would have kept her, but the instinct to survive was too strong within her and she saw our female boxer as a threat. We left her at the shelter and it broke our hearts to see her labeled as a dangerous dog. The shelter has an 80% kill rate. A dangerous dog must have a much higher rate.
There are two other tails I'd like to talk about. Around Halloween 2011, my wife was on her way home from school. She took classes at night and drove the same road I use to get to and from work. It was raining and very dark. She saw two shapes in the very center of the road and stopped. There were two dogs huddled together in the rain. A couple of men were outside a nearby house smoking. My wife inquired about the dogs and the men said they didn't belong to anybody.
My wife loaded both dogs into the car, knowing the very next car to drive by would probably not see them quickly enough to stop. Having lived here a couple of years we know it is possible the driver might go out of his way to strike the dogs.
One dog resembled a dachshund and the other had the length of one but looked more like a fox with long hair. The dachshund was very obviously pregnant.
Mama and Nemo, as they would come to be known, have been a part of our family for over two years now. Mama is a daddy's girl. She does everything within her power to make certain my face is clean, or at least her version of it. Nemo is a little hairy shadow. She follows my wife anywhere she goes throughout the house, even if it's just to turn off a light in another room. Mama's puppies have all found homes.
Mama and Nemo have happy tails. Nemo's waves grandly, with hair much longer than the rest of her fur. Mama's wagging is so vigorous at times her whip-like tail actually stings when it strikes you. I can't help but wonder about the white dog with brown patches and his reflexive wagging. He could have found a master to lick or to follow throughout the house. He could have had a name.
I can't change his fate. I can't repair this island's relationship to these animals. I can't liberate the hundreds or thousands of dogs tied to posts or fences, serving as nothing more than a cheap alarm system. I wish I had been there a minute earlier, but I wasn't.
My heart ached for you today.