In the thin and fragile winter sunlight, the large silver blue pit bull stands in the worn dirt outside of a makeshift wooden shed. With his back hunched over and his tail tucked between his legs, he appears as though he were curling himself up against the cold even while standing. He is tied with a cable coated in plastic that wraps around his neck and disappears to some attachment inside the shed. From my porch I can see his ribs, his spine and his hip bones as he huddles, bow shaped, in the wan, duplicitous sun. He turns slowly three times before curling up on what appears to be a piece of worn cardboard, his only cushion against the bare and frozen ground.
It is mid-morning in January and it is 5 degrees outside. It is so cold you expect your breath to freeze into a cloud of frozen spun glass in front of your face. But it is too cold even for that. Cold, dry and brittle, I try not to breath without my mouth covered by a scarf. It is too cold to remain standing on my porch, even dressed well against it, even to feel sympathy for this sad creature. On a day like this, sympathy doesn’t warm you, hope doesn’t warm you, even the flush of anger doesn’t warm you, because it is quite simply too cold. All you can do, all you want to do, is go indoors to escape it.
I go inside and prepare to call Animal Control for the third time.
If you have never called Animal Control or Child Protective Services or the police on your neighbor, then it might be difficult to imagine that this is something you need to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for. I think we all like to believe that in the face of injustice we would act swiftly and decisively. We don’t like to acknowledge that we have a very thick set of social filters that enable us to remain detached from this kind of protective action involving the authorities: we don’t want to get involved, we don’t really know what is going on, maybe we will make matters worse. Better to wait, see if something changes, maybe it will go away on its own. And perhaps deeper down, the fear of being judged ourselves and of possibly having that same judging scrutiny turned on us. And below even that, in our deepest and darkest place, the fear that we won’t be heard, won’t be believed, or will be dismissed. That when we open our mouths to speak, all that emerges is silence.
So something inside has to shift significantly to overcome all of this inertia and resistance. Something within us needs to change to recognize that helplessness comes from the choice not to act and that whatever the result, action is the only way out of the feeling that you are powerless. Your uncertainties and vacillations will not comfort you. Time does not heal all wounds and will not be a palliative remedy to the suffering you see in others. You don’t need power to make something happen, you only need the courage to give voice to your experience in order to share it with another. Like a child learning to give a speech at a school assembly, you need to walk out to the center of that stage, plant your feet, and S-P-E-A-K. Use your voice, use your breath, use your hands to gesticulate. Do not be silent and do not be silenced by ephemeral thoughts in your head and lurking fear in your heart.
The first time I called Animal Control it was 27 degrees outside and I thought that surely it could not be acceptable to leave a dog tied outside when it is below freezing. I left an “anonymous” complaint of concern for the dog’s welfare. The second time I called it was 13 degrees. This time I left my name and address and I made sure it was clear to mention the dog had no food or water and that the owners were rarely home to care for him. When I looked up the complaint, it simply read “unable to make contact” and was closed. The third time I called, I asked them to help me understand how the animal welfare process worked and whether they had left notice for the owners, and let them know that things hadn’t changed. The phone representative checked in with Animal Control dispatch while I was on the phone, said they would continue to try to follow up with owners, and told me to call as often as I felt I needed to. While encouraged by this, I expected that I would need to wait until the dog looked hungrier, colder or sicker than it was now for further action to occur.
Animal Control was out at the house within a couple of hours.
They propped open the door of the shed so the dog could sleep off of the ground, filled a bucket with water, and left a notice on the door of the house regarding their visit. The pit bull remained outside of the shed during their visit, excited for the unexpected company, but retreated into the shed once they had left to escape the frozen and unyielding winter ground.
Within a couple of days, the pit bull was gone.
I don’t know what became of him. I hope something better…that he is not tied up, cold and alone, in another yard somewhere. And while I am relieved not to see him suffering before me each day, I miss him. He was a constant, a reminder. He was a stick that poked and scratched me uncomfortably. He was someone I looked for and thought of and cared about. His lonely existence revealed the desire in me for connection, and reflected the idea that we want not just to be visible but to be seen as our true selves, as of value, as of worthy of love and belonging, regardless of our breed, appearance, or status. He had no voice of his own and his presence questioned me whether I too had no voice? Could I not speak for him? Must I remain silent?
I was not silent, and yet now I feel the silence of his absence. It is still winter, and while the sun may warm me some, even in his absence my gratitude towards the cold blue pit bull who inspired me to speak warms me more.