Thursday, April 1, 2010

"...don't leave without me."


Every year I paint a portrait of an Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society "resident" and donate it for their annual fundraiser, "Paws for Art". I also write an accompanying story (which rises to the level of being compelled to do so). I usually leave home with one particular idea in mind but, after time at the shelter, always end up with something different. Here is my story about "Izzy":

I had heard that Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society was housing about 30 Chinese Cresteds they had recently rescued. I had not yet taken this year’s photo for OLHS’s “Paws for Art” fundraiser and decided that these hairless dogs might be good candidates for my annual donation portrait.

When I arrived I learned that the Cresteds were shy due to their past living conditions and I would need to wait while they retrieved a few of the more social ones. I had made up my mind prior to arriving that I would go through this as if I had on blinders in an effort to lessen the hurtfulness produced by the scene of any animal shelter. So, I planted myself on what I thought was fairly neutral ground. As I waited, I couldn’t help but notice an 8 x 8 portable pen full of puppies. They were the non-descript dogs —medium height, medium weight, medium black hair, with a long tail— the ones that are so often seen on the side of the road eating anything and looking worse than half-starved.

A kennel worker passed and saw me. “They have been here a while,” he said and I knew that meant their time was short. I stood watching and noticed that some looked to be about 3 months old while others were just babies. Lost in my troubling thoughts, I saw that the smallest one had pushed her tiny head through one of the squares of the chain-link fence. With her head lowered and chin resting on the wet concrete she rolled her eyes up and was looking directly at me. Trying to pass the time and shift my thoughts to thinking that this was cute, unsuccessfully veneering over the true sadness, I snapped a few photos. She sat very still by herself, close to me, body in the pen and head out with her pen-mates piled up in the far corner. She watched as I moved trying to break her gaze in a thickened time that seemed like hours. “Today will be their last day here,” said the kennel attendant nodding toward the pups bringing me quickly forth to the harsh reality of the situation. I lowered my camera, “Look at that little one with her head sticking out …what a shame.” *

I was shown to an area where I could photograph the Cresteds. For a moment, I was completely absorbed in the darting movements of these nervous creatures of only skin and a few puffs of hair. I knew that, unlike the pups, their uniqueness would find them in adoptive homes.

The afternoon was hot. I began to feel uneasy and wanted to leave. I finished the last photo of the Cresteds and walked toward the office. I again passed the pen of puppies. Only now it was different. It was empty except for the little one who had moved to the far corner where her buddies had been. “After you noticed her, we decided she might get adopted and, really, were hoping that you might take her,” the attendant said half smiling.

My mental image of blinders and hope for numbness suddenly dissolved. I thought of my too many animals at home and then of this tiny one with a remarkable ability to vividly express herself. I knew that in spite of her infancy, her plea was clear,

“…don’t leave without me.”

I didn’t.

Vicki Wood, JD ©

* I have worked with OLHS for years. I know they do all they can and it is inevitable that, as a single organization, they become overwhelmed at times by the shear numbers with which they are forced to deal. OLHS has taken approximately 30 animals from me over the years and most were the non-descript ones mentioned above that were abandoned on the roadside. Many have been so badly treated that they can’t be caught and wander the roadside and ditches for months and, unfortunately, produce litters forcing them into eventual captivity. OLHS knows all too well the prolonged starvation, freezing temperatures, and disease that these animals endure.

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