“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.