I am writing a series called 'Shelter Diaries' about my time working at a "no kill" shelter in Southern Ontario. I worked as an animal care attendant at the shelter for a year. I am hoping that these stories will inspire people to go out and adopt, encourage people to spay and neuter and think twice before ditching their animals at a shelter. Some of these stories will be very sad and some happy but all are true.
Part 1 - The Vicious Pit Bull
I remember arriving at work one day, early as usual. I pulled up on my bike and heard crickets and birds chirping ; it was a beautiful morning. I didn't realize until I had locked up my bike and began to unlock the shelter door that there was a big dog, tied to the stairs at the side of the building. It was kind of a shock because she was sitting there so quietly. This had happened quite a few times before but usually the dogs were super excited, jumping and barking but this one was different. I stared at her and she stared back at me with her big brown eyes. I felt happy to see her and then my heart sank down deep in my chest. She was a pit bull.
I had been at the shelter for about 4 months now. I had seen and done things that I would never have imagined but I dreaded the day that a pit bull would arrive. Within the first couple of days of work, I was asking one of the other attendants who I had befriended, what happened when pit bulls came in. She gave me a look and said , "It's not good. Luckily it doesn't happen very often but when they do, we have to put them down." My mouth dropped open even though I already knew that. Hearing it made it so real. "Hopefully you won't have to put down a litter of puppies" , she said "That's never fun."
Pit bulls are banned in Ontario. My friend at the shelter owned a very sweet older pit bull who she was able to adopt just before the ban was placed. She was registered, licensed ( which was very expensive ), had to wear a muzzle at all times, spayed( obviously ), and when she died there would be no getting another one. They were not allowed to be adopted out under any circumstances. If we had an awesome manager ( which we didn't ) she may have found a way to get it to a rescue in another province, but our manager would never go out of her way to do that. The only way that a pit bull would get out our shelter alive was if the owner came in and had full and proper registration. I grew up with two pit bull crosses, so I had a huge love for the breed and was dreading the day one would end up in the shelter. This girl was left , with no information. She would be dying in 10 days.
My co-worker pulled up in her huge pick up truck and came out and stood beside me without saying anything. We tried to get a read on her to see if she was ok with us approaching. She started wagging her tail. "Well, let's go get her" , she said. We brought her down into the quarantine room and set her up with a cozy blanket, some food, water and toys. We didn't give her a lot of attention because really, we had no background info on her and we had to be careful of all the dogs that got left there. She had a thick black leather collar with large metal hoops attached to it. It was a dog fighting collar. She was very large for a pit bull, black, but with a greying face. She was slow and probably at least 10 years old. I also noticed that she had some large growths on the side of her belly. My friend left to get to work and I stayed with her for a couple of minuets to talk to her and give her some treats. "Okay I'll be back soon" I said, and started tending to the other animals, but I couldn't get her out of my mind.
Throughout the next couple of days, I fell in love with that dog. I loved all the animals at the shelter but there were some that you just really connected with. I would be so excited to go down and take her out for a walk and went out of my way, coming in early, leaving late, just to spend more time with her. We would run out into the field behind the shelter and she would have a huge smile on her face. Then we would sit together out there in the grass and she would lean up against me. I would pat her and she would close her eyes and sigh. Most of the other shelter employees were afraid of her. It was just me and my one friend who would actually take her for walks. The animal control officers were horrible. The older lady that had been working there for years was filling the report about her and tried to get me to say that she was mean or unfriendly. "She is the sweetest dog" I would say. "But she had a fighting collar on" she would say back. "She doesn't look like she's been in any fights" I said and the lady would scoff and storm off, annoyed that I didn't sell her as a bad dog. The other animal control officer was brand new and he was HORRIBLE at his job. I think he got it just by schmoozing the manager because he had no clue what he was doing and was terrible with all of the animals. He was totally terrified of her an didn't even want to go down to the room where her kennel was. I over heard him and another one of my co-workers talking about putting her down. I felt so disgusted with the thought of these people putting her down. They not only didn't care about her, but were afraid of her. I stopped them by calling out,"I"ll do it".
I had never put down a dog. I had at that point, put down more cats that I can even count. During my interview for the job, the manager had told me that everyone had to take turns putting down the animals so that the burden didn't lie with a couple of people. If I didn't think that I could do it, I could not have the job. She reassured me that it would only be for sick or injured animals ( which was a lie ). I said I didn't want to do it but I would do it in order to work there and I would probably cry my eyes out. She reluctantly gave me the job. The first time I had to put down about 3 or 4 sick kittens in a row. There were always two of us so I was basically just there to help hold them because I was new. I cried so hard, without making a sound, that I couldn't even see what was going on. I would just hold these adorable, sweet, wiggly kittens and the next thing I knew, they felt lifeless in my hands. After awhile, I thought I got used to it, but I never really did. I would come home almost every day and cry my eyes out as soon as I got in the door. I would wake up at night crying, racked with guilt that I couldn't take them all home. They made you wait awhile before helping to put down a dog because it was quite a bit more complicated. More medication involved, more chance that it may not work properly and harder to do emotionally. Just for the fact that it didn't happen as often as the cats. I avoided it but when it came to my girl, I knew that I needed to be the one with her when she died.
The week flew by, and then a couple of days left. I had some time off during the week and I fought so hard to not go in. I had already been deemed a "trouble maker" from the Animal Control officer because of my reluctance to just put down any animal without question. I was not on good terms with my manager either for the same reason. I was finding ways to help the animals that she didn't want me to help. Working with the volunteers and giving them more information than she wanted me to give. I was trying to push and she knew it, so I needed to keep my head down sometimes just to not get fired. But I had to go in. I made up some lame excuse for why I was there and took my girl for walks on my days off. She was SO happy to see me every time. She could barely contain her excitement. I was so happy too and off we would run to get the hell out of that place. Of course I thought of taking her home, but when my reasoning set in, I knew it would never work. I would get fired, and my manager would be very happy to try to cause me some legal pain as well.
And just like that, day 10 had arrived. She had finished her quarantine and today she would die. I could barely drag myself to work that day. Every time I passed her kennel she would jump up and whimper with excitement and I could barely look at her. I tried to not cry my eyes out all morning. I asked when we would do it. "Just before lunch, so you have some time after, to feel better" my co-worker said. I timed a walk just before hand. I went down to her kennel and she was so happy to see me. I walked her up the stairs and opened the door and the suns rays hit us hard and everything lit up. We ran so fast out to our field and then sat in our spot. Everything was so bright. It was a beautiful day. She sat smiling away as usual and we had a long talk out there in the field that day. I stayed as long as possible before I knew they would send someone out to find me. I walked her slowly back to the shelter and into the room where we euthanized the animals and where my co worker was already waiting for us.
"Okay can you do this?" she asked me. "Yes" I said as I glanced down at all the medication. My sweet girl at my side looking up at me smiling. "Okay, so we need to muzzle her" she said. "No, let's not do that" I said. An argument ensued as to why we should muzzle her and why I felt like it was unnecessary. Some animals had bad reactions to the first shot, it hurt and made them fall asleep, but once and awhile it didn't work and some animals just become very disorientated or could become aggressive. After threatening to not "let me" do it, I finally agreed to put it on her. I attached it to her face and she looked at me and I could feel her saying "Why are you putting that on my face?". She hated it, I could see it in her eyes. That's when I began to loose it and my eyes got very watery. I was trying to stay calm and brave for her. She looked at me with such worry and I couldn't hide my feelings any more. It was way too hard. I just lost it. "Are you ready?" said my co- worker. "Ya just do it," I said through my tears. She gave her a needle in her leg. It is a painful needle and of course my sweet girl was afraid and jumped up and I hugged her and patted her and told her that everything would be okay. She started to get woozy and collapsed onto me and I petted her and tried to comfort her the best that I could. After a very short amount of time, she was asleep. After a few minutes the final needle went in. She stopped breathing, her tummy stopped moving and then a moment later, a lift up. She was gone. I sat there with my head down as my co-worker checked her heart with the stethoscope. "She's gone" she said. We sat there a little longer than usual. I tried my best to stop crying and I took off her muzzle. After a little while, when I started to feel better we had to put her body into a garbage bag and heave her into the freezer. I am not sure if there is anything worse than putting someone you love into a garbage bag, tying it up and lifting their heavy, warm body. Then placing them into a freezer, shutting the lid and walking away. Truly there is nothing worse.
The photo used for this blog post closely resembles the sweet dog in this story but it is not her.