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Monthly Archives: June 2010
Bite your lip until it hurts. Swallow that huge lump in your throat. Cough and clear your throat to explain away your wet eyes. Stuff the feelings somewhere, anywhere, until the pounding in your head goes away and the anger and frustration and sadness fade. You cannot bring emotion into this job. It will only get worse. And it doesn’t belong in a crime scene. It interferes with perspective and judgment and decision-making and besides, you are stronger than this. You are tough, so suck it up, or you won’t survive in this field.
At least, that is what I tell myself. That is what I have to do when I see what I see; the cruelty, the lack of caring, the disregard, the violence and neglect. The fact that others don’t see things like I do. That animal life just doesn’t matter to some. That they are dispensable. Disposable. Nuisances. When I see the blank stares of the people being threatened with citations for their actions. When I sense their antipathy. Their impatience at being bothered with something so trivial.
That’s when I get angry. When I fight to stay in control. When I look for reasons where maybe there are none. I’m always able to stay focused in the heat of the moment; on a call, or in an investigation. It’s the downtime afterward when I feel the knot in my stomach; that hole in my chest that started forming with the dog in the bathtub. When I watch my own dog sleep (and snore) or run on the beach and wonder why they all can’t have what they deserve. Why some people just can’t be bothered to follow the rules and regulations that were put into place for the animal’s (and their own) safety and protection.
The other officers struggle too. But they are better at coping. They’ve had years of exposure to steel their nerves. And they all have their own ways of escaping. But it never really goes away.
People are different. They grow up with divergent values. They have unique experiences. Some just weren’t raised to care. I understand all that. But it doesn’t stop my impatience, my anger, or my disgust. The only thing I can do is help where I can, and learn all I can, from my professors, my advisors, the officers training me, and the professionals already in this field. And then apply it. Seek justice for those who cannot speak. Bring attention to crimes where the only victims or witnesses can’t communicate. And hopefully, with each life saved, the knot in my stomach and the hole in my chest will become a little easier to accept.
The streets were quiet. I thought it strange for a summer Saturday night in the city.
“I’m really hoping this is an easy call. Somehow I doubt it though; usually any calls this side of the subway turn out bad,” Jim said to me as he navigated the SUV through skinny streets filled with garbage.
I grimaced. Last call of the day. The sun was setting, making triangles of orange light through the buildings. We pulled up in front of a run-down strip of row-homes. Two women sat on a stoop; Old Milwaukee’s in hand, cigarettes dangling from their lips. They watched our approach. Jim checked his call-log before getting out of the truck.
“Starving dog,” he said to me. “Let’s go see.” We crossed the street to one of the homes and Jim knocked on the door with the end of his nightstick. No one answered. I looked around and saw one of the women from the stoop approach us with wobbly steps.
“You the animal people?” She peered at us through glassy eyes and I could smell the alcohol on her breath. “The dog’s really nice. Sweet girl,” She said. I wondered how she knew our purpose; was she the one who reported the dog?
“Are you the owner?” Jim asked her. She shook her head.
“No. You gonna take the dog?” She dug a key on a tattered string out of her pocket and stumbled towards the door of the house where we had just knocked.
“Wait, ma’am? You’re not the homeowner?” Jim called after her. “I need to speak with the homeowner.”
“Oh no, I dun live here… but she my frien…,” The woman mumbled. “Dog’s really skinny. She’s not here much,” She said, referring to her friend and the dog’s owner. “Dog just had puppies. I don’ know wha’ happen to ‘em.” I noticed she had very pretty eyes – would probably be a lot prettier without the droopy-lidded effect of the alcohol. She’s going to let us just walk into someone else’s house? I thought.
Jim called the number the woman gave us for the homeowner. His conversation with her was brief, but she admitted that she hadn’t been able to care for the dog and didn’t have money for the vet.
“Listen, we can take the dog with us and get her some care and a good home if you sign her over to us, but if you don’t and if I see that the condition of the dog is bad enough, I will have to issue you a citation and you could be fined,” I heard him explain.
There was no resistance. The woman on the phone gave permission for her neighbor to sign for the dog, and she became ours, just like that.
“I’ll go git ‘er,” the woman said, and unlocked the door. Jim went to prepare the truck for the arrival of a dog whose condition we hadn’t even observed yet, but whom we feared was flea-infested at best. I retrieved a leash from the truck, and when the woman opened the door a small crack, I handed it through to her and she slipped it around the dog’s neck. “Now you just wait!” She shouted to the dog.
“Is she friendly?” I asked. Better find out before she explodes through the door in a rage, I thought.
“Oh yeah,” said the woman, and out came Daisy.
Emaciated and panting, and an obvious new mom, the small pit bull Daisy still had amazing strength. She pulled me across the street to the curb and sniffed the ground as if relishing the freedom of being outside. Sweet and curious, she patiently tolerated my attention. People suddenly appeared from out of the woodwork to say goodbye.
“Bye Daisy! You be good now, maybe I’ll even see you on TV!” the woman who signed her over said, responding to Jim’s assurance that Daisy would find a home, and may even be featured on the SPCA’s adoption segment on the news. She patted her head.
I lifted her into the car; she weighed next to nothing and every rib was visible. Her hip bones dug into my stomach. But she seemed happy. She peered out the half-open window as if to say goodbye.
Jim looked at me and smiled as we drove back to the shelter. “You helped save your first dog tonight!” I felt an amazing sense of satisfaction. There had been no resistance from the owner; she seemed to really want a better life for her dog. I wondered about the woman who most likely could barely afford to feed herself let alone a dog. I never found out who reported Daisy to the SPCA.
Back at the shelter we set up a cage and showed Daisy her temporary new home where she would stay until healthy and ready for adoption. I wished so many good things for her. I wished a loving home and nothing but fun and dog treats for her future.
Since that night I’ve been visiting Daisy and I’m happy to say she is putting on weight and settling in. I wish she didn’t have to stay in a cage. I wish none of them had to stay in cages while they wait for their second chances.
“So I think I’ll just take a drive by, and then park and put my vest on,” Jim* said to me.
Okay, I thought. Wait, what VEST? The BULLET-PROOF vest? Where’s MY vest??
This was the start of the day. I was riding along with Jim (not his real name) for the second time. We had gotten a call about someone selling pit bull puppies on the street at a community fair. Pit bulls. Of course. Apparently it’s pretty common to see random people with a cardboard box of puppies on the street, holding one up in the air shouting, “Puppies for sale!” I asked how much the people usually charged. “Two-hundred,” was the response. DOLLARS? On the street? I wondered how many of them would be used for fighting.
Jim’s idea was to scan the area first before getting out of the car. We did, and saw nothing. So out of the car (without vests, as it turns out) we went, walking through a street filled with hippies, Rastafarians, and artists of all kinds selling their wares. But no puppies. I was a little relieved.
“Whoever it was must have been scared off. I know the girl who called it in; she’s a pretty outspoken activist. Probably called us right in front of him,” Jim said. I liked her instantly. “Can’t just sell puppies on the street. You need a permit for that.” Yeah, right. We both knew these people couldn’t care less about a permit.
On to the next call. And the next. There were several interesting stops during the day. A call had come in the night before regarding a dog killing cats in a yard. The owner then threw the dead cats over the neighbor’s fence. We went to investigate.
Jim and I made our way through a tiny alley littered with garbage and overgrown shrubs, counting row homes as we went to make sure we found the right yard.
“Are you the SPCA?” A small voice asked. I looked to my right and saw a girl in a bathing suit standing in the middle of a saggy inflatable pool, which took up most of the concrete yard it was stuffed into. Several other kids were sprawled in the cloudy water, watching us.
“Yes, are you the one who called?” Jim asked the girl. She replied that she was and proceeded to tell us about the boys who often came to the abandoned house across the alley with Monster, as the red-nosed pit bull was called, to fight him and watch as he killed cats the boys trapped in the fenced-in yard with him. We looked at the yard and Jim took pictures. The dilapidated structure seemed to be falling in on itself, but someone had put an old stuffed chair in the yard, and haphazardly hung a torn, blue plastic tarp along one side of the fence to protect it from curious eyes. We couldn’t see any blood or signs of a fight, but a black trashbag in the alley caught Jim’s attention. The cat had obviously been dead for some time, but in the sweltering summer heat it wouldn’t have taken long to reach the state of decay it was in. “That’s the cat they threw in the neighbor’s yard after Monster killed it,” The girl said. I carried it back to the car as evidence.
Before we left Jim thanked the young girl and gave her his business card. “I want you to call me if you see those kids back here, especially if there’s a dog fight going on. Just say a fight is in progress and someone will come right out. Okay? You did the right thing calling this time. If we go to court would you be willing to testify against this kid?”
She smiled shyly and said, “No…. I’m too scared.” I wanted to hug her. I would be too.
Speaking with some of the neighbors we learned that this boy wasn’t even out of middle school. Next to the abandoned house was the home his family supposedly lived in. There were several notices on the porch from the school district. No one was home. “If he’s fighting dogs at his age, this kid is too bad-ass to bother with school,” Jim said. I looked around at the impoverished neighborhood sadly and wondered how many were just like him.
That cat rode with us the rest of the day, its stench a constant reminder of its presence in the back of the SUV. One of the last calls to be investigated for the day involved a starving dog in a cage in someone’s bathtub. The neighborhood was considerably more upscale than the ones we had visited earlier, meaning, well, meaning nothing. Animal cruelty and neglect spans all economic classes. The landlord answered our knock at the door and a beautiful Rottweiler peeked timidly around his legs. She doesn’t look like she’s starving, and that must be one big bathtub, I thought.
“You guys must be here about the people upstairs,” the landlord said. Oh.
He pointed up the steps. “They ain’t been here in awhile, I know that. I know they got a dog up there. Little thing – like a mini-greyhound or something. They never take the thing out. I’ll take you guys up. They’re supposed to be moving out in August.”
Jim and the landlord called the homeowner and left a message. Up the dark steps… I heard no barking and feared the worst. In the bathtub was a small heavy-duty plastic dog carrier. Jim shone his flashlight through the slats. From behind him I could see fur.
“She’s okay. I don’t think she’s starving, but greyhounds are skinny to begin with. Looks like someone’s been by to give food and water. But she can’t stay in here,” he said to the landlord. He walked towards the door. My heart sank. We can’t take her now?? I thought. “I’ll leave a notice on the door,” Jim said, “but if she doesn’t call back I’ll have to get a warrant.”
Get a warrant, get a warrant! I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout at the landlord: How can you look at your beautiful dog and know that this poor girl is up here all alone stuck in this craphole?
I left to the sounds of the little dogs cries. I wanted to cry with it. Back to the SUV and the evidence-cat. “Nothing I get from that house can be used in court now,” Jim told me. “We went in without a warrant, which is okay because we had the landlord’s permission, but now no evidence will hold up in court if this has to go that far.” Great. I felt the beginning of a dark hole in my chest; I hadn’t been that sad in quite some time and knew it most likely wouldn’t get any better.
It is my hope that readers will find my pictures and stories interesting, enlightening, and most of all, inspiring. I am passionate about animal science and forensics, and hope my enthusiasm will entice others to join my fight for justice for those who cannot speak but still have so much to tell us. Or just read along with me. I will share tales of my grad school adventures and pending masters degree in forensics, as well as my experiences interning with the SPCA’s law enforcement team, and how the two interrelate. I will post pictures when I can and will attempt to keep you entertained. I hope you will find this interesting, and if so, keep coming back!
~We Are Their Voice~