January 4, 2012

Side Effect

In college, I worked in an animal kennel in Illinois that housed both strays and dogs boarding for a time. I didn’t like holding for euthanasia, but I was proud I was strong enough to do it. I was young and stupid. Another worker had more seniority than me and had the opportunity to be supervisor, but she didn’t want to help with euthanasia. After I eventually quit, she did help with euthanasia. Then she quit.

Some states allow use of the gas chamber. In some rural areas, they shoot strays. It all depends on what the state law allows. California has one of the most humane laws on the treatment and impoundment of stray dogs and cats, including the method of euthanasia. Animals are to be injected in the vein of their front leg.

In Illinois, it’s legal to inject the euthobarb serum straight into the animal’s heart, or thereabouts.
           
Getting a heavy-duty needle through a rib cage isn’t painless, by the way.

I, too, eventually had to let the pain in. But not right away. I found myself despising the animals at times, especially the boarders. They were so lucky not to be a stray. I’d stare at them as I moved down the main aisle and they’d know I was pissed. I’d swear if a dog shit in his cage after I cleaned it. They understood they had done something wrong.

One week, I went overboard twice. I placed my Doberman in a cage with another stray and egged them on to fight. When they commenced to fight, I stopped the proceedings instantly apologized to my dog only.

The other time I went overboard with a friendly, cute little Beagle. He was a boarder. I told him what a bad dog he was, cleaned his cage of pee and squeegeed it dry after knocking the squeegee against his legs a couple of times as I reached it to the back of the cage.

I wasn’t done. I emptied his paper water bowl, struck him on the head with it and tossed the empty bowl on top of his head as he cowered in the corner. I told him he was bad, shut the cage door, made sure no one had been watching, and left him there for the night.

I didn’t sleep much thinking about what I had done, what I had become. I loved animals. That’s why I took the job. So why was I acting like a monster?

I arrived early the next morning, went straight to his cage and found him in the exact position I had left him, curled up with a paper water bowl upside down on his head. He peered out from under the rim. I opened the door, snatched away the bowl, filled it with water, pet him, apologized and told him what a good dog he was. I was whimpering. The Beagle allowed me to pet him, though warily.

When I brought the dog to his owner in the lobby that afternoon, the dog was happy to go home. The owner didn’t even look at me or the dog as she paid the bill. Had she, she probably would have seen pure guilt in my eyes.

I wondered if the dog would return. If he did, would he bark, back away from me? The universe provided an answer. A couple weeks later the Beagle and his owner returned. I answered the call that a dog was in the lobby and needed to be brought back to the kennel. The Beagle saw me and followed on his leash without hesitation, even wagging his tail. I couldn’t believe it. I thanked him, and for his stay I treated him like he deserved, like royalty.

I never became angry at a dog or an animal after my experience with the Beagle. I didn’t love them all and cuddle with them all either, but my time intimidating the animals was over. The Beagle was my savior in that way.

Before quitting, I held for less than thirty euthanasias while working at that small animal kennel during college. 

Twenty years later I found myself living in California and volunteering at the Carson Animal Shelter, where more than 7,000 animals are euthanized a year. There are no “cardiac sticks,” or needles piercing hearts, as that method of euthanasia is illegal in California, and that's a good thing.

As a Carson volunteer, I didn’t assist with euthanasia. But I knew from experience that type of work can be difficult spiritually.

I remember a young animal care attendant working in her first week at Carson. She talked about positive energy. She waved her hands over me while I cleaned kennels to share some. I saw her a week later and asked about positive energy. She said there was euthanasia happening in back, and there was no positive energy.

She never talked about positive energy again, and quit soon after.


Pit Bulls are the most common breed of dog at the Carson shelter and the most euthanized. The above photo is the only photo I took at Carson while I was a volunteer. The Big Man was one of several dogs I befriended before they were euthanized.


41 comments:

Kathy G said...

Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

Ed Pilolla said...

this was a difficult tale to share for sure:)

Mary said...

Ed, your story pains me greatly. I love dogs so much, I cannot imagine euthenizing them. I have two now, all my condo allows, but I keep fantasizing about how to sneak in more. And when I get old, I might be a 'crazy old lady with dogs.' Truly, I am so saddened by hearing of dogs being treated badly. I cry for them all.

Janie Junebug said...

This post was difficult to read, and I know it was difficult to write. You really put yourself out there. I think what you went through might be similar to some of the problems people have when they work in nursing homes and they suddenly find that human beings are at their mercy. They become impatient, can't believe how stupid old people are, might misuse their power for a while, and then realize they've done wrong and change their behavior. Some people, on the other hand, turn into chronic abusers. Sooner or later, they get caught, but they can cause a great deal of damage first -- sometimes even killing people. I never board my dogs at kennels. Just as I will never go to a nursing home. I've had two dogs euthanized: one in Illinois and one in Florida. In both cases the vet used the vein in the front leg.

My blog is now private, requiring an invitation to join. I would like it very much if you would become part of this venture. If you will send me your email address at dumpedfirstwife@gmail.com, I'll send you the coveted invitation.

Love,
Janie, who used to be Lola

Ed Pilolla said...

mary, thanks so much.

janie, you are right, right down the line. it's also no wonder that slaughterhouse workers have a very high propensity for domestic abuse.

Brian Miller said...

i imagine that is was difficult to share ed...not only your failings but the emotion of the job...not a fun one to put someone down...or a dog...you are a good man ed

Celestial Dreamz said...

oh it's so difficult to read! So I am sure exactly how difficult it must have been for you to write this ... I just hope that things get better and humans become more compassionate ...


and wish you a happy new year Ed ... have a joyous and peaceful life.

Ed Pilolla said...

thanks so much. it was tough to write, but i suppose i'm glad i did. writing has got to be pushing us beyond our comfort boundaries from time to time. i do believe writing is a tool for self exploration.

Gloria said...

a difficult post Ed (lol)
I have a dog is a little sick and I suffer with it!

Pat Hatt said...

Must have been tough to write, showing such faults. But then through the faults we awake at wisdom of sorts, if we look hard enough and the beagle sure made you look. Don't think I would ever be able to assist with euthanizing a healthy dog/cat.

Ed Pilolla said...

it's frightening to expose one's dark side, but this is something i have thought about for a couple decades, and it's empowering to understand how our environments can twist us. i take responsibility for my actions. i'm not proud of them. but i've needled myself enough over the years and writing it out is also a way of moving on. not of forgetting. not of losing sight that i am capable of it again and worse becuz i am. but of understanding and moving on to, perchance, the redemptive part of the path.

~*Princesa Fiona*~ said...

Such a moving post. Thank you for sharing this with us, Ed. It is penned wonderfully, especially given the emotional topics. It's amazing how the beagle didn't hold any grudges towards you . . . if only humans could be as forgiving ~
Truly glad that you learned your lesson from your experiences.

This is the first time that I've encountered reading about the subject of animal euthanasia. Your words transported me to a scenario where I felt as if I was experiencing it first hand . . . I don't think I could ever participate in that procedure ~ I adore dogs so much but then again, people need to work and if this is part of the job, what else can one do?

Definitely an unforgettable post, Ed ~

Susie Clevenger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susie Clevenger said...

Thanks for your honesty in this piece. It was hell to read and I am sure hell to write. I had to euthanize three precious pets because of illness and age. It was so traumatic. I could never do that on a regular basis.
Again thank you for writing this and being so honest.

Ruby said...

I guess we never know what monsters lived in us until we have to go through a scenario which brings it out. Sometimes our actions are so bad and nothing at all like the person we used to know. Eventually, it all comes to what you choose to become in spite of the situation you are forced into. This self discovery is very scary and I'm very glad you found your way back.

WomanInLove said...

Very sweet post. Dogs have such soulful eyes that sometimes my nephew reminds me of one lhasa apso I used to have as a kid who stayed with us for 12 years and i cried like a baby when he died.
Though I am not a dog lover, yet sometimes looking at them from distance evokes tender feelings in me

New End Studio said...

You stepped off the narrow line of sanity for a moment and your job took you there. I was angry when I read your post and reread it. Having loved my beagle, well your nastiness ticked me off. Thankfully, even at that young age, you had the depth of feeling to go back and try to right the wrong. Proud of you for that.

We all have regrets, don't we? Don't hold on to the guilt, it won't help. I so wish every shelter was a no-kill shelter.

Continued good wishes for a Happy, Healthy, and Published 2012!

Heather said...

Oh my god, Ed! So much pain, and you write with such a heart wrenching honesty. I'm crying for those that are gone and those that will be soon. Why can't we regulate breeding in a more efficient way? Gosh, I'm just sick to my stomach. I love animals and I know that I would not have the strength to do that job. I think it is wonderful that you were able to be there for them in their final moments. I'm very emotional after reading this story and find myself rambling a bit...but thank you for this.

Jill said...

I commend you for your honesty. This is a very haunting post and will stay for me for a long time. Thank you for sharing your journey and growth.

Birdie said...

that was very hard to read Ed ... i understand how writing about it is part of the healing process & i'm happy that your goodness overcame your badness ... we all have both good and bad and we need to make our choice ... Ruby said it so well in her comment ... & what a big heart and wisdom the beagle had - you didn't humiliated him but yourself and the dog knew it so he forgave you ... i appreciate your honesty and mostly that the good in you wins :-)!

That gentleman's lady said...

What a difficult thing to have to do. I am sorry you had to live some of this, but know that you are who you are now because of some of this. Hugs x

Claudia said...

gosh - that was no easy read - and i think a hundred times more difficult to write.. sometimes we do things and don't know really why - and the darkness is often just separated by a thin veil from the light.. thanks for sharing this ed - i have high respect for you

Little Ms. Fun said...

I'm glad you were able to recognize your faults and grow from them. We all do things that we regret.

I'm an animal lover myself. I won't even eat meat. I think that all creatures have the right to live. Humans do not have the power to end ANY life. How would we like it if the dogs decided that we were taking up too much of their room?? So they all banned together and killed us...

I get that legally there is very little that people can do, but I'm glad that you're bringing attention to it. There's power in numbers.

P.S. I wanted to be a veterinary technician. Due to medical issues, I couldn't. I thank God that I didn't go down that path. Every time an animal died, so would I...

Birdie said...

i couldn't stop thinking about your post today so here i'm back ... it was really so brave of you to write so honestly and i hope that you forgave yourself ... you have a good heart Ed!

Margaret said...

It is hard for me to understand that kind of behavior... I'm sure it was hard for you to admit to it. You have certainly done a 180 and I find these stories very interesting.

hedgewitch said...

We've all done things that in retrospect make us cringe, destroy our peace of mind and keep us up all night. Not all of us have the grace to admit them and change our behaviour(I've felt this way many times after bad-natured gossip--I *hate* that stuff, yet it's hard not to get drawn in.) The state of animals in this country, especially domestic ones is horrible to contemplate. I wish it was impossible to own a pet without getting him or her neutered, and harder than hell to walk away from the responsibility for their lives and discard them like a broken toy that no longer interests. Thanks for this piece, Ed. That was a rough experience, both to read, and probably worse to write.

Ed Pilolla said...

i am so touched by the support. the dark sides of others usually appear quite dark. i met a woman who told me she was burdened by her bad decision to share her drugs with her teenage children, which led to their addiction. i thought, i would never do something like that. and maybe that's true and maybe that's not true. but for me the point is we are all sinners, one way or another, some more egregious than others. but a sin is a sin, ain't it? i suppose i take heart that moses was a murderer. we don't have to be perfect to fit into god's plan, if there is such a plan. we just have to be vulnerable and honest, at least that's how i hear the call.

Ruhi Shah said...

I once threw a rolling pin on a stray dog because i was scared of him...

it's hard to acknowledge our dark side ...nevertheless..we have one...and accepting it is the only way to go beyond it..

wise are the ones who know they made a mistake and learn from it..

It is hard to see a life end...but its inevitable..there is nothing negative about pain..

there is a quote by Rumi that says - a wound is where the light enters

All pain will end.

Su-sieee! Mac said...

We were at our local shelter the other day to report a missing cat. My first time there. I was surprised how unfriendly, and almost surly, the people were who worked there. I figured it was because of all the death that was part of their job.

I've often wondered why animal attendants in kennels were often portrayed as sick-o's in movies and TV shows. After reading your experience, and being in the pound the other day, I can see how a person can lose their humanity working in a shelter. Good for you, Ed, for stepping away from the dark side.

Plain Jane said...

Oh, this post made me cry. It must have been so hard to write. I adopted my dog from a shelter, and she is the sweetest animal I've ever seen. Thinking about the ones who don't get adopted is heartbreaking.

Amish Stories said...

Not an easy post to read for me Ed but again i love your honesty and in the end you learned something about yourself that you didn't like, and you changed it. I only wish some of us can be so very honest about ourselves in that way in such a public way like you have just done, and I'm always trying to be a better person myself. Richard

Ben Ditty said...

As Amish Stories said, I appreciate your honesty and courage to share this story. It was very eye opening an I won't be forgetting it anytime soon.

Magic Love Crow said...

Ed, this was a hard write for you and I have to admit, it was a hard read for me. I was hurt, what you did with that beagle, but I am thankful you went back and made a wrong a right! That's excellent! I live with a father, who has abused animals, one way or another, by yelling at them or hitting them, all my life. So, for the last 10 years, there has been none in my life and it's something I miss greatly! But, I can't have them in the house, with him around. When, I had to put my cat down, because of old age, I was in the room and held on to him. I cried, but it was very peaceful. He was gone in seconds. I knew it was the right thing to do, but to have to have to do it all the time, to healthy animals, I don't think I could!

forgetmenot said...

Ed, Thanks for sharing your post and for the inner feelings you exposed--I know that had to be difficult. Dogs can bring out many emotions in us. It does seem that they love us unconditionally and overlook many of our shortcomings. I can't even imagine how hard it would be to euthanize a dog even if it is done in order to avoid pain. We learn many things from situations and experiences in our lives--I think you learned a lot from yours. Mickie :)

darlin said...

Ed this was a very difficult read, I too am an animal lover and I can't even fathom how hard it was to share this with everyone. You've showed me raw courage through sharing what you have and sincere regret for how you treated some of the animals, for that I give you credit.

Amish Stories said...

Ed i had to drop by this post again with saying "i think sometimes we have to come from something that we hate, in order to do some really good things". I think this story pretty much holds these words true, and now your on the team of compassion and caring. Sorry i had to pop by while these words were still fresh in my mind. Now go out there and have a great year, and have fun too! Richard

Wine and Words said...

We learn through our own experiences but also trough the vulnerable transparency of others. I held my own pup once while she was put down with Parvo. I can't imagine doing such a thing over and over again. I cried so hard. We had found the pup on the levy and brought it home. Only had her about 3 days before the fever. She was a pit but stripped like a tiger so that's what we called her.

What really struck me reading this was that you were my mother and I the beagle. Was she just angry at someone or something else? Was I just a symbol? Maybe I wasn't really a bad girl. Pisses me off I'm still waiting to hear "good dog".

Raajii said...

Oh god, that is so sad :(. I wish there was a way to keep them around.

Stephanie D said...

I cried when I read this. I'm so glad you chose the kinder path for yourself. It's hard to admit when we've not been our best, painful to look at, but you did...and I'm sure you're a better person for it. Okay, this post is gonna stay with me for a while, I think.

She Writes Here Now said...

Oh gosh... I am speechless. I had to read twice. Told myself this must be Ed writing fiction. I want to think it isn't true. I want to think something awful must have been happening to you for you to abuse animals. I want to think as humans we are incapable of unnecessary, un deserved cruelty. And then I am reminded. This was a raw write. I am not sure what to say, but I am glad this is not who you are. Perhaps we all have moments of being who we really never were? Ugh.

oceangirl said...

Even as parents, we have our regrets.