Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Of Chained Dogs, Careless Cruelty, and Thelma and Louise

Of Chained Dogs and Careless Cruelty
Homer Hickam

As I sat in my office perched on the top floor of my house near Coral Bay on the isle of St. John, I lifted my eyes from my computer and took in the view which was spectacular and inspiring. As always, the magnificent blue sea and green forests of this magic island made me think: "What a wonderful place this is!"

But then I heard dogs barking. The way sound carries and is accentuated along the slopes of our neighborhood, it was almost as if they were just outside my window. Once begun, the barking kept going, eruptions of—what? Distress? Anger? Pain? Boredom? Entrapment? Thirst? Starvation? I had no way of knowing, just as everyone else (except perhaps their owners) who could hear them.

It is well known that there are certain sounds that cut deep into the hard-wired parts of the human brain. One of these is the sound of a crying baby. Babies who cry, our brains tell us, must be tended to. But what about barking dogs? Biologists who study these things believe that many humans respond to a barking dog very much the same as they do to crying children. Every time a dog barks, a shrill alarm goes off in our heads. Something must be done! These continual alarms sadly meant, for me, no work at my writing desk and, as the barking continued, little sleep at night. Night after night, day after day, barking and more barking.

Investigation was clearly in order to discover the source of the barking dogs and to determine if something might be done to solve their distressing behavior. My ears led my eyes toward an inholding property alongside the Johnny Horn trail in the National Park. The corrugations of the land near the Johnny Horn make it a perfect soundboard for vocalizations easily heard along our ridge. The barking was a combination of yelps, whines, and full-throated wailing. This dog (or dogs) clearly had problems.

Four-wheel drive and boots took me to the Johnny Horn property whereupon I discovered a ghastly sight, two big dogs with collars so tight they could scarcely breathe strung up on steel cables. Beside each of them was an empty food bowl and, scattered about, water bowls filled with filthy rain water, leaves, mosquito larvae, and mold. The overpowering stench of dog feces struck me full in the face. One of the dogs, a black female, had a nasty, rotten wood box for shelter although its cable made it nearly impossible to enter and the other one, a brindle pit bull, had no shelter at all. The lot was essentially a junkyard, a battered trailer in one corner, a plastic Home Depot-type tool shed nearby, rusted machinery all over, crushed plastic water jugs tossed about, and general filth and litter tossed indiscriminately everywhere. The dogs greeted me by leaping and straining against their ropes and steel tethers, not to attack but with plaintive, gurgling pleas for attention and assistance. This I provided in the form of food, fresh water, much petting and hugging, and a call to the St. John Animal Care Center.

 The St. John ACC does a magnificent job of caring for animals on our island and is particularly concerned about dogs that are chained up and neglected. The ACC representative I talked to was immediately concerned and subsequently spoke to the owner of the two dogs in question. Unfortunately, the report that came back was that the ACC probably couldn't do anything about the two "Johnny Horn" dogs because said owner told them he fed the dogs. The barking and crying and whimpering continued.

I also spoke to their owner and offered to buy and foster the dogs, or to help in any way I could to relieve their distress. The response from the owner was loud anger and a growling assurance that he would care or not care for his property—meaning the dogs—in any manner he pleased. And there the matter presently rests.

Of course, I haven't given up on saving these dogs. It is not in my nature to do so but I know it won't be easy to make the change for them because the man who owns them must change his view of what it means to own and care for an animal. Cruel people are usually miserable and, I suspect, must occasionally wonder why they are so afflicted. It is my belief that their misery comes from the negative karma that continuously washes across them because of their cruelty to those who depend on them the most, their innocent animals and, usually, their spouses and children, too. I'm not certain there is such a place as Hell but I kind of hope there is, just for people such as these. — Homer Hickam, November, 2014

UPDATE: Both dogs were eventually rescued by a kind family after the owner lost interest. They were named Thelma and Louise. Although Louise has since passed away, Thelma, the black dog, is alive and well and travels with her parents back and forth from the states to St. John, usually to winter over. Sometimes, she comes up to visit when I'm there. She is happy. At least that. But, please, one and all, look after your pets and never, never chain them up and treat them as if they were some kind of alarm system or yard ornament. They are sentient beings who suffer under such treatment and the heavens cry out for their pain. - Homer