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Abandoned animals are a tender topic to me. In 1956, I was 6 years old. My parents bought a tiny farm in western Colorado, near the town of Fruita.
It was high desert, barely a tree in sight. But it was cheap, and we didn’t have much money. It was also within a mile of the little town dump.
I learned at an early age, people abandon all kinds of pets. That town dump was a popular place to do it. Maybe people thought cats and dogs would scavenge a living there. Maybe they just wanted to dump them where they’d never find their way home.
Whatever the reason — every so often — we kids would be exploring the dump and find a dead animal, a cat or a rabbit, crawling with maggots.
Meanwhile, live strays kept showing up at our house. We took in a couple of cats and one dog. Sometimes we’d find ourselves feeding several stray dogs.
We just couldn’t do that. The neighbors didn’t want any more pets. Fruita had no animal shelter.
My father grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. On the farm, a creature that didn’t earn its keep had to be disposed of.
Being a little boy, I didn’t pay attention to how strays disappeared after a while. But one particular time, I do remember, my father got out his .22 rifle. He and Mom put leashes on two stray dogs that were hanging around at the time. With a small boy’s curiosity, I pleaded to go along. So did my brother.
They were big dogs. They seemed to like the attention as we walked them down to a dry wash a half-mile behind the house. Mom held the leash of one — a black Labrador mix — while Dad took the other off into the greasebrush. We heard the rifle crack once, then again. The Labrador jumped each time. Then Dad came walking back to us.
That was 55 years ago, I don’t remember the exact sequence of events by which the Labrador died. I do remember the crack of the rifle and looking at that dog, stretched out on the dirt, its eyes glazing over, the blood pooling around its head. Then Mom took us boys back up to the house, while Dad buried the two dogs.
My father was one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. He never talked to us boys about those dogs. But Mom told me years later how much it really hurt him to have to kill strays. Nobody wanted them, though, and we just couldn’t keep them all.
I’m no more sentimental about animals than Dad was. But images of those dead strays have stayed with me for 55 years now. And I’ll tell you, it’s not right when people dump unwanted pets.
We train our pets to trust and rely on human beings. It’s the worst kind of betrayal to then abandon them to the elements. I can tell you from experience, they don’t “get by just fine,” no matter what anyone tells you.
I do understand, sometimes it is impossible to keep a pet for any number of reasons. But it’s not civilized to just abandon it to die miserably or become someone else’s responsibility.
We need to “man up” (or “woman up”) and care for our pets. Or at least take them to an animal shelter to be adopted or disposed of. We don’t just dump the responsibility on someone else.
The Rev. Dennis McCarty is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Columbus. His opinions are his own, and members of his church may or may not agree with them. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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