Sunday, October 14, 2012

Safety versus guilt: The animal rescuer’s dilemma

Bribery often works, but not in this case - he ate and ran. Photo: Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

Like a couple of pianos perched on your shoulders, a ton of responsibilities weighs upon you. You’re supposed to be doing other things—not rescuing dogs. But you take one day off, just one day, and what happens?  Out of nowhere pops a pooch who’s so messed up that at first you’re not even sure he is a dog.

Melissa Beamish and I were at the end of our little day trip around the Greek island of Kefalonia, which I had insisted we take because she had insisted on volunteering something like ten hours a day at the local animal shelter for nearly 30 days straight, after already having put in five previous months of volunteering elsewhere in Europe as part of her worldwide mission for animal welfare.

She had allowed herself just one other day off to see the local sights, and that was only because another shelter volunteer had kindly arranged a complimentary bus tour for her. But only two days of fun in a whole month, when you’re in a place like Kefalonia, one of the world’s loveliest isles, well that just ain’t right.

Before setting out that morning I had begged the gods of animal rescue to please not send us anybody that day.  Please?  Could we have a day off? Pretty please?

The day was granted.  No starving dogs, no coughing cats, no lame donkeys or baby goats tossed in garbage bins marred the daylight hours.  But after enjoying a sunset swim in the jewel-clear waters of Antisamos Beach, then parking on the bluff above it to watch a golden moon who rose and lavished her glory in a shimmering swath across the Ionian Sea, we found that the Fates had a different plan in mind for us.

We drove into the village of Troianata, only 20 minutes away from my house. Our dinner waited in the fridge.  For once in my life I had done some planning ahead, been a little organized.  My life was sort of getting on track after the chaos of the two pooch rescues I did in the winter and spring, rehabbing our old house here, and caring for elderly relatives. I’d been treating myself to a swim every day, was even thinking about sneaking off for an hour at some point to get a haircut, and had begun treasuring the illusion that soon I’d complete the tasks here in Greece and finally get to go home to my husband and pooches in California.

But the instant that dog’s eyes—bright red, oozing, and grotesquely rimmed in blood—appeared in the glare of my rented car’s headlights, I knew.

“Honey,” I informed myself with a sigh, “whatever that creature is, whether it’s a dog or a demon, your party is over.  Things are about to get a little hectic.”

Fear can lead to bites

Melissa, who I’m pretty sure was Florence Nightingale in a previous life, jumped out of the car the second I parked. The fact that the creature was barking at us, clearly telling us to go away, did not deter her from checking him out, but from a wise distance.

She was the first to realize he was after all a dog, and that his legs, like his face, were covered in bleeding wounds.

“Do you think he’s been hit by a car?” she wondered aloud as we stood there staring, trying to figure out what to do.  “Or been in a fight?”

At first I was too nauseated to speak. No matter how many bad things you’ve seen happen to animals, it’s still hard to see them.

Lots of things raced through my head:  He’s barking. He might be aggressive. The body language is fearful—tail between the legs, backing away. Fear can lead to bites. The wounds look sort of patterned, around the eyes, at the leg joints, and down to the paws, like a skin condition rather than injuries. Could it be mange?  Could it be the sarcoptic type? Could it be contagious?

I kicked myself for not knowing more about mange and other skin ailments, after all these years of rescuing and writing about animals.

“Poor thing,” Melissa whispered, sounding as grief-stricken as I felt.

“Food,” I said.  “I have some in the car. It was for Tula in case we’d spotted her.”

(Tula,another street dog, an English pointer, has adopters waiting for her, if only she can be found. While vacationing in the village of Old Skala, an Italian couple cared for and fell in love with her during the summer and now they want desperately to make her a part of their family. But so far she has not been located. Another one of this island’s animal dramas.)

In my palm, I held some kibble out to the bloody dog. “Here pup. Come on, sweetie. Aren’t you hungry?”

But the bloody dog wasn’t buying. He stayed a good twenty feet away. I tossed some of the kibble on the pavement halfway between us. He dashed a few steps forward, snatched it, then quickly retreated to resume barking.

“Great,” I muttered. 

Hard to find help

“Do you suppose he belongs to anybody?” Melissa asked.

We looked around, but there didn’t seem to be any homes nearby, until the dog showed us that indeed there was. He slinked up a short concrete ramp to what we realized was the unfinished second story of a house. To the side of it, a locked gate blocked a stairway that led down below the level of the road to what seemed to be the first floor of the residence, where lights shone and a TV chattered.

“Hello!” I called out in Greek.  “Excuse me!  Hello?  Is there someone I could speak with for a moment?”

An older woman answered, “Yes!  Hello! I’m coming!” She climbed halfway up the stairs.  Soon a young man joined her.

“We’re so sorry to bother you,” I began, “but my friend and I were driving by, and we saw a dog. He’s in terrible shape. Right now he’s on your roof, barking.”

“He’s a stray,” said the woman.

Her son “Petros” (not his real name) explained he had first seen the dog two years ago, on the road about four kilometers away. He had started feeding him, and eventually he turned up at their home. So Petros had continued the feedings. But no matter how much food he provided to the ravenous dog, he had never been able to get him to gain weight.

About ten months ago, the dog started losing fur. Then he began to break out in sores.

As the condition worsened, Petros said he tried to contact one of the local animal rescue groups—one that he said has since gone defunct. At the time, he described the situation to a woman named Mrs. Tipota (not her real name), who said the group would help. But they never did, said Petros.

He wanted very badly to help the dog more, he said, but didn’t have the time or the money. So he decided to at least make sure he was always fed.  Sometimes, on stormy nights when the dog didn’t show up, he would walk for half an hour in the rain to find and feed him.

A fang ‘tattoo’?

Throughout the conversation I translated for Melissa.  Then, to my great admiration, she offered important questions that my brain’s freaked-out state wasn’t producing. I continued the translating:

Q: About how long had the dog had the severe lesions?
A: At least a couple of months.

Q: Would he let Petros approach or handle him? 
A: Yes, unless he was in an agitated state, like tonight. Then Petros wasn’t completely confident in him.

Q: Had he had any veterinary attention? 
A: Petros had gotten a powder for the lesions from the pharmacist.

Q: Did the dog come around every day? And if so about what time?
A: Not every day, but most days, and usually in the evenings or nighttime after Petros got home from work.

Melissa looked at me. There was an unspoken question on both our minds. What should we do?

Thanks a bunch, Fates

The two options:

1. Find a way to get the barking dog into the car, call and possibly wake Marina Machado, head of the new shelter, Animal Rescue Kefalonia, and deliver him straight there.

(Upside: Dog spends the night in safety, and we sleep guilt-free. Downside: I really hate getting munched, and would hate it even more if Melissa left the island with a memento “tattoo” in the form of puncture scars made by fangs.)

2. Leave him where he was for tonight, make a sensible plan, and come back for him tomorrow.

Fates, thanks oh so much for giving us this charming decision, I mumbled internally. All I asked for was one little day of fun in the sun.

Petros, his mother, and the dog all watched us, waiting for an answer.

More articles about this dog:

A bloody dog standing in the road: What do you do? 

Dog rescue styles: Ms. Savvy-and-Sensible versus the Wahoooo Cowgirl

Please visit The Dozen Dogs Diaries again soon for more about our encounter with the bloody dog.

Better yet, sign in with the 'Join this blog' button above to receive an email notice whenever there's a new article.

Read Melissa Beamish's excellent blog about her round-the-world trip volunteering in animal shelters.

To donate or to volunteer on behalf of animals in Kefalonia, contact Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK), or Kefalonia Animal Trust (KATs).

The Dozen Dog Diaries (DDD) would be delighted if you'd spread the links to these articles. Please just keep in mind that reprint or re-post of more than a paragraph or two of the text or of any of the photos is allowable only by explicit permission from DDD, who may be contacted at youradopteddogATyahooDOTcom. Thanks for visiting!

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