Laura and I went for our run Saturday, hopping in the car to drive out to our favorite running path…and almost made it. Driving down the street adjacent to a fairly neglected neighborhood we both caught sight of a dog walking down the sidewalk, his tail between his legs and a large chain padlocked around his neck. Padlocked. Seemingly involuntarily I hit the brakes on the car and pulled over. The dog stopped.
I tentatively got out on my side of the car and talked to the dog in a calm voice. He didn’t run, but didn’t come towards me either, frozen in either fear or curiosity. I waited for him to start barking or growling, but he did neither. I saw wounds on his legs and assumed the worst. I didn’t walk any closer and he trotted a safer distance away from my strange presence. I walked to the back of the car and knelt down, trying to appear less intimidating, talking to him in a high-pitched voice. It must have worked as he instantly trotted over to me, checking out the situation and certainly in need. As he got right up to me I saw the wounds all over his face, head, ears and legs. The padlock hung around the chain on his neck and he shook his head back and forth with force. Without thinking through a plan I knew this dog needed help and decided to get him in the car. I tapped on the back of the bumper of our hatchback and he instinctually hopped right in, apparently quite comfortable with us.
Seeing all the wounds on his body, suggesting his role as a “bait dog”, sent me into a mild panic and I tried to calm myself into action.
“Shit. Shit…who do I call? Who should we call?” I asked to Laura.
A few of our friends work as vet techs and we immediately tracked down their numbers, sent them texts and left voicemails, waiting for responses as we paused our plans to run and brought him home to our garage where he would be safe until we could figure out a better plan later. He was calm in the back of the car, but let out saddened moans before settling down as the car headed home.
We pulled into the garage, opened the back and he hopped out to check out the immediate surroundings. Laura went inside to get blankets, cat food (all we had) and water. I kept him company as he pressed up against me, his tail between his legs. I wanted to comfort him, but was wary of making sudden movements and his fur was absolutely covered in a crusty filth, which I later realized was dried blood that had poured from all his wounds. While waiting for Laura I saw his ear was dripping blood onto the garage floor and assumed some of the wounds he showed were relatively fresh.
Laura came back out with towels to put over a blanket and without hesitation he laid down on the garage floor as we discussed our plans for the morning. We decided to get our run in while waiting to hear back from others, knowing he was now safe for the time being and there was little we could do but wait. Admittedly, the run was psychologically difficult, as I couldn’t help but want to finish in order to get back and make sure he was going to be taken care of as soon as possible. I imagine Laura’s was the same.
Fast forward to today and this is a summary of what has taken place since we came across this dog…who we named Django.
– Our vet tech friend from FACE, Adria, brought over a bag of dog food, antibiotics for his wounds, and a bolt cutter. We chopped off the chain immediately.
– Laura and I bathed him, which turned into an emotionally charged experience as the dried blood washed off into the tub and Django shook his still bleeding ear and face all over the bathroom walls.
– Django laid calmly in the basement nursing his wounds as we scheduled a vet visit for Monday morning.
– Django was neutered, vaccinated, checked for heart worm (negative) and sent home with antibiotics, anti-inflammitories, and a collar which he absolutely hates.
– A friend offered us a soft collar, which has been so much better for him, and he has fully accepted us as caretakers, crying when we are just upstairs and pressed up against us at every opportunity. He’s calmly laying next to me as I type this.
– A call went out online as we are desperately trying to find him a permanent loving home. We have an older cat, two kittens and an on-the-go schedule that doesn’t work with giving the attention Django needs.
Those are the logistical specifics…but there was also the emotional change and relation we experienced between each other. Django trusted us when we stopped to help him on the street, though he probably should have been frightened and defensive. Although tentative, he got in our car, then slept in our garage, followed us in the house, and made a spot for himself in our basement. But he was, rightfully, scared. His wounds hurt. He had been abused by other animals, and most likely, through the dictates of other animals that looked just like us. Except, we talked to him differently. And we touched him differently. We made a bed of cushions for him and continued to check up on him. And all that broke his fear…mostly.
He would wag his tail when we came to see him, but wouldn’t come until we called. And when he pressed up against us and we would reach out to touch him, his tail would go between his legs and he’d freeze. Any sudden movement around his face and he flinched. Sometimes just stroking his back caused him to twitch. He wouldn’t eat unless the food was on the actual ground. When we went out back, he found dirt to lay in, maybe out of a familiar environment? But slowly, he changed. He wags his tail more and more. He still presses into us, but instead of dropping his head, he has begun looking into our faces. He trots after us when we run across the backyard. And he grunts in happiness, laying next to us in bed. Despite the continued abusive treatment shown through both bleeding wounds and the hardened scars on his head and legs, this animals emotional life and trust towards others somehow remains intact. His transformation in just a few days with us is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.
And that’s where it stands. People have kindly referred to us as “heroes” and “saviors” for taking in Django, but this is somewhat hyperbolic. We did what any other decent, empathetic (read, all of us) human would do, who happen to also be in the circumstance to take care of a frightened creature. We stopped the car to help. We would have done the same for a child or an adult in obvious need of assistance.
And this dog needed assistance, badly.
But so does almost every animal in our society. And although this experience with Django doesn’t surprise me in one bit, it’s hard to turn off my consideration of the deeper issue here. Django is an animal, as humans are animals, with a level of consciousness and emotional depth that is comparable by no relevant divide. Every single person with a pet knows of this emotional depth. They experience the bond between human animal and non-human animal, and it affects them…but somehow, that divide in our relations to animals remains, primarily through disassociation and disconnectedness. We maintain that divide in the way we treat animals, caring for and securing the safety of some, while imprisoning, using and abusing others.
Bringing a rescued animal into your life exposes this divide with an incredible intensity, and it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because I know the emotional life of Django is deep, and should I take care of a rescued chicken, the depth would be the same. If I took care of a liberated cow, the depth would be the same. If I took care of any creature, no matter it’s ability to express it’s emotional state, it would be deep enough to warrant care, protection and relation.
You can imagine, this only further drives home the reality and frustration of a culture that disconnects us from all the other animals that deserve care, consideration, or at the very basic level, a life lived on it’s own terms, away from confinement, away from physical harm, away from abusive hands and the butcher’s blade.
But this is not the case.
And despite the relative hypocrisies of my genuinely well-intentioned friends helping secure a loving home for Django, with honest care for his well-being, but who still live by these divides and disconnects…Django was, by all signs, tortured by this same disconnect. My friends would never torture an animal. They would never tie him up and let other dogs attack him, training them for dog fights. They would never disconnect from his emotional needs and allow him to be beaten, left out in the cold, or mistreated in any way.
But the reality remains, other animals we have undeniable connections to, physically if not emotionally, are in imaginably worse conditions due to our disconnect. They are the chickens, pigs, cows, mink, goats, mice, dogs, cats, etc., kept in factory farms, fur farms, laboratories, and all the institutions of our dominant culture that have found ways to use them for human gain, primarily profit. Some of these institutions we have found easier to not support, whether they be the fashion industry or experimental laboratories, but others we willing engage in without consideration. We buy leather, wool and silk. We eat their bodies without a second thought. We use beauty products or drink their milk without even acknowledging what we are ingesting or the process of how it got into our hands.
The disconnect is pervasive. It is a huge wall…literally.
And yet, it is an illusion. The reality of these animals lives, physical and emotional, is at our fingertips. It is on the internet in videos of factory farms, fur farms, and laboratories. It is even a stones throw, literally, from the highways on which we drive, inside the windowless factory farm sheds. You can stop the car, walk over to them, and look inside at the horror. You can see dead animals lying on the ground. Some will be sick. Some will be bleeding. All will be miserable. You can view the videos and see the abuse delivered at the hands of overworked, underpaid, emotionally disconnected farmhands. And you can see the inherent process of violent killing every animal must experience in order to be packaged, sold and prepared to end up on your plate. All for a simple meal, a celebration, an unconscious eating of their bodies without knowledge or regard for their emotional lives.
And, without hyperbole, every one of those animals is Django. Every one of those animals has the capacity to create a connection towards human animals, to evoke an emotional response the same as Django has with friends and strangers alike.
Ultimately, this is our ability to relate to non-human animals, to see ourselves in them. The problem is, we never get the chance. We do so with our pets because we have a continuous connection to them, and therefore vilify those that will imprison and torture them. Sometimes we vilify their INTENT to harm, but sometimes these people are just acting by the dictates of dominant culture, that teaches us to view animals as commodities, as means to ends, as creatures unworthy of a deeper care or consideration. This is the same fundamental dictate that tells men to do the same towards women. The rich towards the poor. It is domination, plain and simple.
When Laura and I stopped to see if Django needed help, and if we could help him, it wasn’t because we were being “heroes” or “saviors”, but because we have rejected the divide our culture places between human animals and non-human animals. We have recognized that in the context of civilization, we have a self-imposed obligation to consider those less fortunate than us, to acknowledge their drive to live as free as we hope to, and act towards that. It is why we stopped to help Django. It is why we choose to live a vegan lifestyle. It is why we support organizations that work to erase the divide between humans and non-human animals, who liberate them into the wild, who strive to reconnect humans to the natural world while also keeping our actions in the context of a civilized existence, who give both human animals and non-human animals the chance to experience fully liberated lives.
I commend and fully support every individual who acts towards non-human animals with the care and consideration we have morally established towards own own species, but we can do more. We can first widen our circle of consideration, to which we then widen our circle of compassion, to include not just the animals we have made immediate emotional connections with, but also to those who always have the POTENTIAL for emotional connection…not out of selfish desires for companionship or reciprocated love, but simply because it is moral, it is just. Of course, the easiest way to do this, daily, continuously, is to go vegan. Eat beans, grains, fruits, vegetables, greens, cookies, cakes, coffee, nuts, seeds….everything that isn’t animals. Leave them off your plate, out of our crumbling civilization, and let’s find a new way to relate to animals until we’re all liberated together.
Unchain Django. Unchain non-human animals. Unchain humans. Unchain everything.