by Julia Buckley
Happy Labor Day, Everyone. In honor of the day, we are laboring. My husband actually has to go to work (so much for everyone having this day off) and the rest of us have homework. So we will acknowledge workers by being workers, which I suppose is appropriate.
On this Labor Day weekend my attention was drawn again and again to animals--our silent friends who do the work of enriching our lives. I had three animal encounters, and they were all rather sad.
First, while driving my husband home from work on Friday night, I spied one of my least favorite things: a man who held his dog by a leash and compelled the animal to run alongside him while he rode his bicycle.
While people may believe this gives their pets a good workout, it is actually a cruel thing to do. The dog is expected to keep up a pace that the rider does not have to maintain. We would never tie a human to our bikes and make them run along, so I am shocked when people do it to their animals. Veterinarians also frown upon this form of exercising a dog.
Why not run yourself and ask the dog merely to keep up with your pace? The poor canine can't speak for itself to tell you that you're running him ragged.
In any case my husband and I glared out the window at the bicyclist. "That's bad for your dog," I said. I don't know if he heard me.
On Saturday we took our cat Rose to the vet for a yearly checkup. She weighed five pounds on the vet's scale--she's just a tiny thing, but actually quite well fed and healthy. While we waited to pay our bill, a woman approached me.
"Could I ask you to take a picture of us?" she asked, gesturing to her family and their two dogs.
"Sure," I said. Lots of people like being photographed with their pets, and I figured they all wanted to be in the picture.
Once outside on the sidewalk, where they posed, I found out why. "Our baby is getting put down today," the woman said, pointing at a snuffly old bulldog at our feet. He was all white and rather fat, but he seemed to have trouble breathing, and when the woman tried to pick him up for the photo, he cried out in pain.
So the two dogs sat in front of the bench, and the family--a mother, father, and son--sat on the seat behind them. I took four pictures of their complete family. The woman thanked me with a very sad expression. When they left there would be only four of them, but at least they had a picture of five.
Animals continued to haunt me on Sunday. We went to my parents' house, about an hour away, to visit my uncle who is visiting from Germany. When we got there my mother told me about a cat that had been appearing in her back yard for several days. "It's so weak and thin," she said. "It can barely move. I tried to give it milk and it couldn't drink it."
I didn't think this sounded good. That morning the cat had reappeared and they had given it some tuna; it had eaten some.
I asked if the cat might be wild, but my father said no, it was declawed in its front paws, and it was more likely that someone had driven out to the country and "freed" the cat, who then had no claws to catch its own food, and not much training in hunting if it was a domesticated creature.
Now it was starving. When I finally saw it come into their yard, my heart broke. It was beyond gaunt, and its gait was odd, as though its spine were somehow out of alignment. The children gathered around it, trying to get it to eat more tuna.
My sons were disturbed by the sight. "That cat is dying," my eldest said. "Someone should help it."
My sister tried to call the vet, but of course it was Labor Day weekend and they weren't open. Someone suggested that she try animal control at the police number, but no one answered that phone.
When last I saw the cat, it was draped over a rock on my father's pond, watching the fish in the water. It seemed that a part of it still longed to play.
We left without getting any resolution about what would happen to the poor thing. I will call my parents to make sure they keep putting out food and that someone helps the cat as soon as possible. It bothers me to think that some owner out there was irresponsible and cared so little about the suffering of a living creature.
My sons were more depressed by the cat than I knew. When we got home, they raced into our house. My oldest said, "I need to see some animals that aren't dying." So they reunited with their three cats, their jumping Beagle, their fish that has defied fish lifespans.
I realized that part of our work, our obligation, is to care for those without voices, and to try to give them the happiness they freely offer to us.