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The Casual Acquisition

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He had been a puppy once, welcomed into a home, played with, made a fuss over. But there came a day, probably not long into his young life, when he became too messy, too much trouble, too big—he was a Rottweiler mix, after all—too bothersome, and that's when he was put outside in the pen. That day was some 11 years ago.

In the beginning, he must have howled and jumped at the pen gate, sure it was a mistake, that someone would come get him and let him out. But, except to be given fresh water, told to "get down!" and tossed a daily meal, he saw no one. Well, unless the man was mowing the grass or taking out the trash, but still the man didn't come near or let him out.The pen was at the very back of the yard, away from everything.

There must have come a time when burning frustration was replaced by the realization that he was not going to be let out, that the pen was his whole world. Four sides of solid picket fence that kept the sunlight and the birds out and a gate through which he could watch if he wished—although stuck at the far end of the yard, there was little to see.

At what point did he just stop hoping? Did he ever?

When I found him, he was lying curled up in his plastic box with the chewed sides and the bare floor, just as he must surely have spent most of every day and every night for all those years. There was not a scrap of bedding, even though it was 37 degrees out, with temperatures forecast to drop to below zero that night. The pen stank of feces, and I could see his waste among the leaves.

He had his back to me, so I called out to him and made loud kissing sounds, but it wasn't until I whistled that he heard me, turned around, and slowly came out of the box, making his way to the gate. Perhaps it was the loud sounds of the train on the tracks, just a few yards from his fence, that had made him a little deaf, or perhaps it was an ear infection or his age.

I watched him move slowly toward me, sniffing his way, treading carefully. He walked stiffly. Probably arthritis, I surmised. His coat was dull and dirty. His ears bore faint scars from the previous summer, when he could not escape the flies, who, drawn to his urine, incessantly nibbled at him. I put a big chew bone near him, and he stopped, sniffed, and bent his head to the ground, taking a while to find it. That's when I realized that he had been navigating by smell and familiarity. He was blind.

We talked to his owner as we filled the bare box with straw and tried to make it a bit more comfortable for the night ahead. The dog got in and turned around, staring ahead with unseeing eyes, green from untreated infection.

It was two days before his owner decided that we should take Sam. When we put the leash on him and coaxed him to walk through the gate, he shook because he couldn't see exactly where he was going. For the first time in more than a decade, he was let out of his pen.

There are not enough homes for young, healthy, attractive, clean, housebroken dogs, so there was no point in putting Sam through eye surgery and trying to teach him to live a different life. His long, miserable life ended with a delicious meal, a nap on a comfy couch, many loving caresses and ear scratches, and even a roll in real grass. If there is a heaven, Sam is now in it, and if there is not, perhaps it's enough that he is no longer in hell—lonely, neglected, and cold.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 1536 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036; She is the author of The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights and several other books.


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