“Are you a no-kill shelter?” the woman asked as she readied a $20.00 bill for the donation box? The honest answer was ‘no,’ and my explanation didn’t help matters much, …at all really. With one corner already inside the box that twenty dollar bill did a U-Turn and headed straight back to the woman’s purse. Our consolation prize was a $5.00 bill.
And I thanked her.
I’m writing that now, because I sure as Hell wasn’t going to say it the, and yes I do feel better. That wasn’t the only irritating moment that I recall from the year and a half I worked at a local Humane Association, but I suppose this is to be expected. There is indeed something terrible about a conventional will-kill shelter. Looking at it from the perspective of the lady above, I had effectively told her that the organization I worked for killed perfectly healthy kittens and puppies, …and that I wanted money so that we could continue doing so. Under the circumstances, I suppose I should have been damned thankful to get a five.
Seriously, what a bastard!
It’s tough to find a sound patch of middle ground on some issues and this is one of them.
I had that job for about a year and a half, and this was hardly the first time I’d taken grief from someone in favor of no-kill shelters. There was the volunteer who wouldn’t step foot in our shelter. There were the interviews that ALWAYS raised questions about euthanasia, even when that was clearly not the issue at hand. And then there were the phone calls, the ones that went something like this; “I don’t want to bring him to you, but no-one else will take him, what do I do?” And of course there were countless times I heard people describe themselves as rescuing an animal from us, often one we had been at great pains to keep alive.
But this was all pretty minor stuff really. All in a day’s work.
I have to admit that it got a little under my skin the day that a volunteer from the local low-kill shelter told me with a smile that she heard her own shelter had just saved 12 cats from us. See, the problem was that we had plenty of room at the time, and none of these animals were in danger. In fact, giving them 12 cats had left our own cat kennels near to empty. We had given the cats to the other shelter because they were suddenly short felines, and I knew damn well the reason they were suddenly short. It wasn’t a pretty story. I wanted desperately to tell the volunteer that her shelter hadn’t saved any animals by taking them off our hands on that day. Not at all.
This young lady doesn’t get called a name. She didn’t know. And anyhow I don’t feel as cranky as I did 3 or 4 paragraphs back. Still that was a bitter pill to swallow. Suffice to say I thought for a time there that a companion animal stood a better chance at our own will-kill shelter than they did with our low-kill counterpart. If I am hearing right lately, it sounds like the latter has cleaned up its act and both shelters are working together more lately. That’s a very good thing.
What bothers me about no-kill shelters is not the way they actually work, when they actually work at any rate; it is that their rhetoric tends to work just as well regardless of the details on the ground so to speak. If that woman with her twenty dollar bill really understood how our shelter worked and decided we weren’t a worthy recipient for her money, I would have been fine with that decision. But she didn’t. What she knew was one thing; we were the bad guys and that was about all there was to it.
I also remember a day that we ran out of room in our dog kennels and the local low-kill had been among the organizations that took a few off our hands. They took two, a pit bull and one other dog. I had been so relieved, because all of us loved that pit bull, even though she had been with us 6 months. At last she was safe, …except she wasn’t. Both of those animals ended up getting put down. And I never called the low-kill shelter again, not to help us keep one of our animals alive at any rate.
All of this had already happened on that day when a twenty climbed back into that woman’s purse and sent a five to take its place. I couldn’t help but wonder if the lady knew where people took their pets when the low-kill ran out of space? I also wondered if she knew just how many animals did get put down over there? Or if she could wrap her mind around just how many more animals we took care of on a fraction of their budget, all without the privilege of selective admissions. I’m guessing she didn’t. To her, I was a black hat. The other fifteen bucks were presumably looking to make their home with a white hat.
Circumstances vary from one community to the next, but in that community at that particular time there were exactly two-shelters in the area; one low-kill and one will-kill. The low-kill had begun with aspirations of no-kill policies and still maintained enough ties with the no-kill movement benefit from its reputation. We were open to any animal someone wanted to bring in; they could and did turn problem animals down. When they filled up, we got the overflow. When we filled up, first we turned to the phones, then we turned to the needles.
What so few of the local no-kill advocates in town seemed to realize was that when we were putting animals down it really was a community affair. If we were putting healthy animals down, odds were high that both shelters were full and all the fosters in town were overflowing. Hell, by then more than a few kind-hearted people had already taken more home than they could afford to feed. It really wasn’t a decision made in a vacuum, and when an adoptable animal went down it was literally because we couldn’t find anyone with the will and the resources to care for it.
By the time I left the shelter I had long since come to think of the total impact of the two shelters in terms of the total animal population for the region. Were were in competition for resources and public support, but both shelters contributed to the overall care of animals throughout the region. Our shelter was more efficient, but they could offer a reasonably higher guarantee of survival for any animal successfully placed with them.
…at least they could when they had their act in gear.
In some ways the competition between our shelters may have improved the odds of survival for the unwanted animals of the town. The no-kill movement was a positive force at our own shelter and I knew it. It was one of the reasons we partnered with Petsmart and Petco, went to countless adoption events, advertised adoptions widely, and even began working with Foster agencies. No-kill advocates had developed a lot of the techniques we used to help adopt out our animals, and pressure from such advocates had helped to ensure we used them. In that respect at least, no kill had a very positive impact on our own shelter. Still, some of its advocates could prove damned clueless about the details of animal welfare.
If anyone really wanted to help the animals in our region, a dollar in our donation box was at least as good as it was in that of the local low-kill shelter.
Arguably better at the time.
But you can’t tell some people that. I mean you really can’t.
So, I opened the door to head off to work earlier today and this fellow was sitting outside. He stayed long enough for me to get my camera and snap a few pics. Being totally free of superstition and all, I immediately decided this fellow was trying to tell me I have been a jack-ass for letting my blog go like this. One of my students ended up giving me a ride. She figured it was the same owl that’d been scaring her dog and said he was probably in town looking for food.
She’s right of course, but I’m going to commence rebloggination anyway.
…starting with this guy.
“What is that?”
“That right there out on the ice, is that a Nanook?”
“Is that a bear!?!”
“Is that a bear?”
Is that a bear?”
“Oh hey, I see it.”
“Is it sitting down?”
“Did it just move?”
“Oh, yeah, it looks bigger now. It definitely moved?”
“I think it’s a bear.”
“I can’t zoom in enough without losing it.”
“That’s definitely a bear?”
“Do you see it? Is it a bear?”
“I think it’s moving?”
“Let me just snap the picture and see if I can see it more clearly afterwards…”
Sometimes moving to a new location can change your place in history as much as it does your place on the map. I first noticed this a day or two after arriving in Barrow as I watched a small child drive an ATV down the street. No-one seemed to notice, not that time or the next. I’m pretty sure that it’s as illegal here as it is most places I’ve lived, but law on the books and law in daily life aren’t always the same thing. So, I saw this for the first time, and the word ‘frontier’ came to mind.
…and I smiled.
Of course, the notion of a ‘frontier’ (with all its ideological baggage) would seem to place Barrow on the cutting edge of history. That notion comes up from time to time, especially in the context of oil exploration and drilling, but also with scientific research, and other topics that people like to project onto a scheme of ‘progress’.
At other times, the logic of history places us behind the curve, so to speak. By “behind the curve” I mean that we fall behind someone else’s idea of the direction history is supposed to be going. It might seem more reasonable to think of the issue in terms of straight-forward disagreement, people do things that others don’t approve of, but the point is that people sometimes filter such disagreements through ideas about the general arc of history. It may be a history they urge on the public, or it may be a history they take for granted, but people often plot their values on some sense of an historical timeline. It’s not real history that I’m talking about; it’s an ideological projection of the way history ought to proceed.
I was reminded of this quite clearly the other day when a student of mine recently shared the video below. It starts with some beautiful outdoor shots of Barrow, AK, but (readers be warned) it continues to show the butchering of a Bowhead whale. The video might seem a jarring journey to some, but for most of us (I believe) here on the North Slope, the transition seems quite natural. A whale harvest is a joyous event as it means food for a lot of people. Much as the serene images at the start of the video, a whale harvest is prone to make us want to smile.
I asked what kind of comments, the video had gotten. A moment of scrolling later, I received my answer. The images of whaling had drawn criticism both on the video and on my student’s Facebook account. On the video itself one individual had written; “It’s really strucked up about how cruel people are to animals. It would be great for all animals and humans to go vegan and to respect each other.” I smiled and laughed as I recalled the first time I posted images of a whale harvest to my own Facebook account. I’ve since learned to post warnings and what-not.
This is one of the many ways that life in Barrow (and much of Alaska) differs markedly from that of the lower 48; hunting is a way of life for many people up here. It simply isn’t for the majority of people down there, and at least some of those people imagine all of history moving towards their way of life. The many artifacts of subsistence hunting are bound to rub such folks the wrong way. A friend once commented about the necessity to remove one’s furs before hitting the Seattle airport, and we both laughed. Surrounded by folks in all-manner of furs, I could only imagine the reception some of the day-to-day outfits of the North Slope would get in other places.
I remember once trying to find a gift for a friend who likes Native American art. A vegetarian with significant interest in animal welfare, she would not have appreciated the ivory earrings or baleen etchings locals produced, nor the many varieties of fur. Most of the native artwork here involves dead animals of one form or another, and that really should come as no surprise in a community where hunting is for many people a fundamental part of their way of life.
The issue isn’t simply a question of whether or not to support or oppose hunting, fur, whaling, and so on.; it’s also a question of how you frame the issues. There is a big difference between the commercial fur industry and the hand-made clothes of locals who’ve eaten the meat previously kept warm by that same fur. Likewise, there is a big difference between a whale taken for commercial purposes and those whose blubber will be shared out to the community. Whether or not that settles the issue is another question, but quite often I think people simply fail to notice the difference.
Which brings us back to whaling!
There is a world of difference between the significance of whaling up here and the meaning given to it in other places. This problem was all over a New York Times article on Spring Whaling published a few years back. Its author framed the whole issue in terms of ‘tradition’, then proceeded to worry over the use of technological innovation in pursuit of that tradition. I also recall a discussion of the Makah whale hunt on a random website (I can’t find it now). Participants simply dismissed the idea that native whaling could be anything but a token gesture, a practice akin to preserving a museum exhibit. A similar view can be found in one of the comments to this post, Whaling Camp: Frozen Seas and Ice-scapes at the blog, Cutterlight. In response to this post, a woman named Kirsten Massebeau wrote:
There is no humane way to kill a whale. Today we know whales and dolphins are higher beings. Sometimes these whales suffer for up to 5 hours after being harpooned. Isn’t it time we stop letting the word “tradition” be an excuse for doing something so wrong. Please stop murdering the people of the sea! You are obviously wearing store bought clothes and shoes. Surely you can see your way clear of murdering our ocean friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this woman (as with others) raises some legitimate concerns in her comment, but I also think there are legitimate answers to those concerns, and I think the whole thing thrown askew by a certain refusal to take the Native Alaskan population seriously.
What all of these examples have in common is a refusal to allow or even to imagine the practice of whaling in the modern world. They cannot even fathom the possibility that such a thing could occur in the present world. To many of these folks, whaling (or at least the indigenous version of it) is by definition a thing of the past, a mere tradition, and one gathers an empty one at that. This seems to be a common perception of whaling on the North Slope, and that perception injects a great deal of prejudice into any subsequent discussion. It is a prejudice shaped and defined by people’s ideological views about history as much as anything else.
Whaling here on the North Slope is first and foremost a native matter, but it affects us all. The effort to bring in a bowhead is not limited to the crew of a single boat. Extended families and friends all work together to outfit and support a given crew, and the entire community of the North slope accommodates the needs of those involved. Time off from work is granted without question when it’s time to cut a trail through the ice. Homework deadlines are extended when it’s time to butcher and cook the blubber. Blubber and meat are shared throughout the community following a successful whale harvest. Whaling is no quaint tradition on the North Slope; it is one of the most important economic activities taking place up here.
Seeing the importance of whaling to an entire community, the condescension of some of these random comments can be quite maddening. Of course these are merely random comments on social media, but they provide a telling glimpse into the way that the larger public closes itself to local realities. Folks just can’t seem to find room in their view of the present for activities such as whaling and subsistence hunting. Presented with evidence to the contrary, it seems a common response to construe such things in terms of a museum exhibit.
…even when that exhibit is real people going about their daily lives, very much in the present day.
Epilogue: The disconnect between people’s perceptions of whaling works both ways. I recently received a charming example of this when a student of mine who teaches in one of the local villages passed information about the New England whaling fleet of the 19th century onto her own native students. They wanted to know how the meat and blubber would be shared.
The worst thing Johnny Cash’s dad ever did to him was to name him ‘Sue'; the worst thing my Dad ever did to me was to teach the family parrot my name.
Okay, so one of those is a fictional event; the other taught me just how far the voice of a young parrot can reach. All the way down the block, it would seem, and ‘Ginger’ could keep it up for hours.
It was in some small way, poetic justice to learn that Ginger would attack Dad whenever he came near me as I was sleeping. I used to put her on the couch when I took a nap so she would be quiet. She allowed no-one near me, especially not Dad. It’s hardly the first time an animal had appointed itself my protector, but there was something especially impressive about that little green bird charging full tilt at someone umpteen times her size. Lessons in loyalty, huh?
In the end Ginger turned out to be a guy-parrot, and he became unmanageable when he finally reached maturity. We found him a home better prepared to take care of him. I can only hope he is still doing well today. …and yes, I still think of him as a her; it’s kinda weird, I know.
(Click to embiggen)
What has me thinking about this is a notion I recently had about my days in Navajo country. I often heard from older folks that sheep used to raise the children out there. This theme was usually mixed in with one of those declensionist narratives about the loss of culture and those gosh-darned kids! Older folks always have such stories, but some of them are more interesting than others.
I always thought the livestock-as-nanny theme was an interesting twist on this kind of story, not the least of reasons being that the difference between the adults I spoke with and the younger generation did seem to include this one very real difference. Many of the older folks (and here I would include people in their 30s and 40s as well as ‘elders’) out there really had grown-up herding sheep and goats, and evidently they found this to be a valuable learning experience. Few if any of the younger kids out there in the mid 90s had had this experience. Hell, they likely had the same baby-sitter I did as a kid, …the TV. That was one very real difference between different generations of Diné, and it always struck me as a big one.
Listening to folks tell me this story, I could well imagine a lone child (or perhaps a few cousin-brothers) out alone with a flock, responsible for its welfare. I could imagine hours of time spent with sheep and goats for company, and I couldn’t help but wonder how that might shape a developing young mind. I still wonder how very different childhood must have been for a generation growing up without it.
A sheep may be an odd baby-sitter, but so is a television.
The notion that animals could help to raise a person always struck me as a profound lesson, but it always seemed to me a lesson about the lives of others. It was only recently that I came to think of this as more generally applicable, perhaps even something that might shed a little light on my own life. A few weeks back I was studying the many scars on my hands, most of which I got from playing with a pair of Siamese-mixed Kittens (‘Boots’ and ‘Rover’) we got when I was a kid. I hadn’t even earned the majority of these scars due to anger, just from many hours of play. Like most boys my age, my elbows were bloody from about the age of 6 to maybe 12 or so. But my hands also had little claw scars for most of that time as well. Most of them were small and shallow, just enough to tell me ‘gotcha’ with a sort of wink, but some were big and deep, because sometimes a cat is done playing. Anyway, I always seemed to have such scars on my hands when I was younger.
The point is that I spent a lot of time with the family pets, especially between the ages of 4 and 8, when for some reason my family moved to a ranch in Southern Colorado. I had no human playmates within walking distance, well except for a trio of girls that lived down the way for a couple years, but they were, well, …girls! I preferred to ride my horse or play with the cats. Recently, I’ve come to wonder just what kind of marks they have left on me?
…besides the literal ones, I mean.
Is there any sense in which the family pets raised me? If I had to guess, I would say that my sense of humor is to some degree the legacy of those cats, right down to the moments when it fails me. My verbal play is in some ways a reflection of my days playing with those cats. In particular, I am thinking about the way a cat will assess your intent, the way it trusts a playmate up to a point. …and the way things can get ugly fast when you’ve reached that point. Wrestling with a cat is a real test of goodwill, and you are always one menacing gesture away from one of those deep scars, so to speak. I spent a good chunk of my childhood playing on those terms, and I suppose I have internalized them. So, maybe Boots and Rover did raise me.
…or would it be more accurate to say that we grew up together? Either way; they left their mark.
We also had a small pack of dogs on that ranch, and kept the pack for many years after, but I honestly don’t think these guys had quite the same impact on me. I understood the big dogs and how to keep on their good side, and the little ones were always good company. I loved each of the family pets, and I always felt a little more comfortable in their presence, but my interactions with the family dogs were nowhere near as intense as those with my cats.
Of course we also had an older Siamese, named Thai Ling. This cat was beautiful, but he had quite a temper. My older brother and sister still tell stories about a terrible event involving a dresser drawer and plenty of blood spilled upon opening it. No-one disputes that the cat had been stuffed in the drawer. Who put him there is still up for debate.As I understand it, poor Thai Ling may have helped one of my siblings with a few experiments testing the nature of gravity and cat-reflexes.
I never held it against Thai Ling that he was so cranky. Mostly, I left him alone, or stuck to petting him, which was dangerous enough. It is entirely possible that Thai Ling is responsible for at least a few of the scars on my hand. I certainly didn’t play much with that old guy.
Just what I did to earn my parents wrath, I will never know, but I am fairly convinced that the Shetland Pony was an attempt to do me in. I couldn’t have been older than 5 or 6 when this creature came into my life, and the worst thing about him was the child-like reins that I was given to ride him with. These reins had a closed loop at the end, presumably so that it would stay on his neck whenever I let go of them. The problem was that I never did let go of them, even when ‘Scooper’ would suddenly drop his head down to eat some grass. The reigns weren’t that long, and so I would inevitably go tumbling over Scooper’s head and onto the grass in front of him, coming up with my cowboy hat down around my then bawling eyes, asking someone to help me up.
…and this tragedy would repeat itself until the adults in my life grew tired of watching it.
Later, my parents bought got a Welsh Morgan for me. I wanted to call her her ‘Blacky’, but somehow she ended up with the name ‘Little Bit’. I had completely forgotten that name as I wrote this, btw, had to come back and edit the post). Little Bit was a good horse. …except when she decided to head to the barn. If she and I had a dispute over which direction to go, Little Bit always won. My brother once gave me a stick to use as incentive, but I wouldn’t have it. So, I continued to lose the argument with Little Bit until we moved to California and gave her away.
One lesson Little did teach me was how to make the best of a bad situation. If I could coax her all the way to the far corner of the ranch, taking advantage of all the twists and turns in our fence line, then I could point her towards the barn, give her a quick giddy-up kick, and enjoy the ride of my life.
Now THAT was fun!
In time, I got a couple dogs of my own. There was ‘Legs’. Someone brought Legs to my family announcing that he was a Doberman Pincher that had been hit by a car. He was wrapped in a blanket, so we didn’t see much at first. The ears on legs seemed rather large, but none of us knew how big an uncut Dobbie’s ears were supposed to be anyway. He never did outgrow the limp that earned him that name. Legs became my dog as time went on, and mostly I remember playing chase with him for hours. He limped, but he could manage speed when he needed to. …or wanted to. Damned if that dog did not wasn’t an expert at tripping me; then he’d run away cause then I was ‘it’ so to speak. We learned one very important detail about him that first night though. He dragged himself to the door and began howling at the top of his lungs. Suddenly, the big floppy ears made a bit more sense.
…and Dad said; “that’s no doberman.”
Another of the pack that came to be mine was a Peekapoo (Pekinese-Poodle combination) named “Midget.” …okay, some of these names suck, but that wasn’t her fault. Anyway this dog was the closest to a pure-breed that I ever owned. Mom and Dad bought her at a pet store, something I would never do in a million years today (give me a pound-mutt any day, dog or cat, …no offense to Midget). She was a sweetie, and I taught her to play fetch. …she taught me never to do that again. Seriously, that dog would try and play fetch with me for hours on end. Course I may have let that lesson slip with Auto-Kitty. She’s rather fond of fetch.
In fact, I swear to the Invisible Pink Unicorn that Auto-Kitty used to play catch with me. She could toss a toy right to me, and for awhile she did. Now she makes me come get it. And I guess it’s okay that she fetches, because she doesn’t wear me out with the game. If only she didn’t choose 3am as her favorite time to play it.
I would be remiss if I left out one other significant non-human from my childhood, the truck. We never gave it a name, and I never did learn it’s gender, but I recall learning to drive on this thing. Dad would put me in the driver’s seat as he and my siblings tossed bails of hay into the back. They’d shout; “stand on the pedal” and “stand on the brake” as we moved down the row of hay, then someone would get in and turn it around to go back the other way, and I would go back into the driver’s seat.
Later, Dad would have me drive the truck on the dirt roads to the dump. I used to love going to the dump, partly because I would get to drive and partly because we always went shooting for awhile afterward. Dump-day was the highlight of the week.
We still had the truck when I started college. I still remember driving around with a couple classmates, chattering away as we descended down some hill. One friend kept trying to interrupt me, his tone getting progressively more urgent; ‘Dan! …Dan!” I was too busy making some point about who knows what. Finally, my friend shouted out, “Dan, seriously, is this thing going to stop?” …I hadn’t even thought about it. I was pumping the brakes, which is what I had to to before any stop. My poor friend saw me doing this as we approached an intersection and became convinced he was about to die. Had to flutter the gas pedal to get it to start, too, and that freaked him out a little more. For me it was just another drive; for that friend it was like a horror-show.
Anyway, that truck had personality; it was a family member for a couple decades.
Still can’t believe Dad sold it!
So, what have we learned today? Well, I suppose we’ve learned that family pictures can lead to a serious bout of nostalgia. We also learned that a dog will wear you out playing fetch, but a cat will just wait till you fall asleep to initiate the game…and well, I suppose I was trying for something more profound.
I’m afraid most of my anecdotes don’t quite live up to the promise of the initial question. I do think that most of us underestimate the impact that animals have on us. We may care for them, but we don’t quite give them credit for shaping our personalities. Typically, most people talk about raising and training dogs and cats, or about putting up with their behavior. We may jokingly refer to a pet training us in some way, but folks seldom take the prospect all that seriously. But pets leave their marks on us in all sorts of ways. Sometimes it’s a scar on your hands; sometimes it’s a sense of responsibility for caring for them, and sometimes their legacy is a little more intangible.
The pets you grow up with would seem to be especially important; jut as you are learning how to relate to other people, you are also learning how to relate to them. This gives the four-legged critters and even the flying ones a little say in our development, I think. We don’t just teach them how to behave; sometimes they are the ones doing the teaching.
I don’t know why I didn’t post this way back in August. Maybe it’s because the video quality is so bad, or maybe I just didn’t notice that it was a video. Anyway, I have a small clip of some Polar Bears from Barter Island, and for all its poor quality, it is kinda neat. I present it here for your enjoyment.
(Please pardon the crappy sound.)
Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.
I’ll bet you’ve heard it too.
But did you hear it from somebody with a face not 6 inches distant from the bared teeth of a large growling dog?
No, the dog wasn’t aggressive. You’d probably bare your teeth too if a perfect stranger picked you out of a crowd, strode up quickly, and proceeded to throw his arms around your neck without the slightest warning. Okay, maybe you would just shove the man away, but that is the privilege of hands. The dog didn’t have that option, and sitting on a short leash, it really couldn’t get away from the man either. No, the dog’s temperament seemed fine to me; it just didn’t know what else to do about the situation.
In fact this was a very patient dog; it had done its very best to tell the man to go away.
The man just wasn’t listening.
A minimally observant person would have noticed from the dog’s posture that it was already nervous, sitting there in a crowded pet store with dozens of people moving about. This was the first hour of an adoption event; we were still trying to get all the animals squared away and establish a routine for the day. Despite walking the animals before and after transporting them, we had already had our first accident in a cage. This fellow was sitting on a leash while someone tended to the mess and others (myself included) shuffled animals left and right into the portable kennels we had set up for the occasion. We tried to keep things calm, of course, but it was simply in the nature of such events. The room had a lot of stress to go around at that particular moment and this dog was definitely feeling it.
The man didn’t have a clue.
A minimally observant person would have noticed the dog’s tail, angled as it was a bit downward, almost tucked under him. He would have noticed the whites of the dog’s eyes, something you don’t see so often from a contented canine. A minimally thoughtful person would have realized these signs added up to a moment one ought to respect the poor animal’s boundaries. Of course, a person with minimal sense would have refrained from hugging an animal less than one minute after seeing it for the first time, let alone a dog that was clearly stressed. But of course there was no need to pay attention to such signs, or to observe normal protocols like a chance to sniff the hand, or at least to observe the man long enough to gauge his intent; our man just had a way with animals.
What could possibly have gone wrong?
At the onset of the hug, a few additional clues ought to have brought this man to his senses. Minimally effective ears would have detected the sound of the dog growling. Hell, I could hear the dog growling from across a row of cages and well past a number of talking people, but the man in question either didn’t notice this sound or chose to ignore it and all the other signs that his affection had proven anything but welcome. Either he didn’t see the dog baring its teeth or he lived in a world where that was a good sign. The man seemed perfectly oblivious to the final warnings he was getting even as he cooed nonsense at the dog, desperate as it was to get away from the assault of an idiot’s love.
That poor dog had been doing it’s best to tell this guy to leave him alone, but none of that message was getting through. There really wasn’t anything left for the poor animal to do but bite him.
Who the Hell could blame the poor creature?
Probably everyone, actually, at least in practice. See, that was the part that really disgusted me as I envisioned the horrible face wound that was surely about to open up in the middle of a Petsmart. It would be ugly. There would surely be stitches, and I wasn’t at all sure the man would come away with both eyes intact. But I also knew that the dog would not survive the long-term fall-out from this event. I could see myself in a room with a kennel tech, helping him to put down this poor creature guilty of nothing less than defending itself. Whatever injuries this guy’s own foolishness would earn him, they would likely mean the death of the dog.
I was in charge of this adoption event; all of this carnage would of course be my responsibility.
So, there I stood, with a dog-attached leash in one hand and cleaning materials in another, several cages directly between me and the unfolding disaster, and a small group of folks engrossed in conversation blocking the aisle. I had no quick way of getting to the dog or the human, and I thought surely the bite was coming at any moment. So, I chose what I hoped would prove the right volume and tone to get the oblivious man’s attention and asked him to please step back from the dog.
Completely oblivious to the dog’s teeth, the fellow turned and told me not to worry, he had a way with animals.
And the dog bared it’s teeth just a little more.
As I listened to the fool talk and struggled to find words that would actually work, one of my volunteers turned around to see what had me so alarmed. Upon catching a glimpse of my expression, she quickly followed my own line of sight to find the dog still baring its teeth mere inches from the smiling man. A moment later she pulled the animal back away in one smooth but firm motion. Her eyes met mine and we both gave a sigh of relief as she showed the dog into its newly cleaned cage. The animal-loving man moved on to pester another dog, one that didn’t seem to mind.
I still cringe when I think about that smiling face inches from the dog’s teeth. To this day, the man doesn’t know how lucky he was. How lucky I was.
How lucky the dog was.
The image comes from the Naperville Animal Hospital.
So, I just spent the last 3 days in the village of Kaktovik on Barter Island. From listening to friends, students, and coworkers, the village brings to mind three things; ANWR, The Bone Yard, and the Marsh Creek Inn.
Kaktovik lies off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; its residents hunt in the area, and they will be directly affected by any changes to its status. How the particulars are likely to shake out is the subject of a different post.
The bone yard at Kaktovic is a well known bear hang out. It’s located just off the end of the runway, and it is a regular attraction for polar bears, …and people with cameras. I didn’t get out to the bone yard itself, but I did get to watch a mother and her cubs amble their way toward town. …Later that night I awoke to the sound of shots fired in an effort to scare them off. The next day, I spoke with a lady whose supply of seal oil stores had been raided the night before and another who had been up all night on bear patrol …you could say that this time of year, the population of Kaktovic increases a bit.
…and the difference is bears.
Finally, the food at the Marsh Creek Inn has been nothing short of legendary among my friends and coworkers. Mike, the proprietor of the inn, serves not only as the clerk and the head cook, he often drives the shuttle out to the airport. His cooking surpassed my expectations. It was fantastic.
It took me a couple extra days to get out of Barter Island. Fog proved to be the culprit on day one, but day two was a mystery. The plane didn’t leave Fairbanks until it was too late to make my connections. Tonight I’m in Dead Horse, one step closer to home at any rate.
Here are my pics from Kaktovik (you may click a picture to embiggen it):