He was barking his little gray head off at me. I was crouched on my hands and knees on the sidewalk, peering through the tiny screened basement window that allowed me a partially-obscured view of the abandoned pit bull inside. The owner of the house had called to say that the former tenant had disappeared a couple of months before, leaving piles of junk and his dog behind. The homeowner wanted to clean out the house in order to rent to someone else and the dog had to go – he thought that the owner would be back for the dog, but he had never even returned phone calls. I wondered how the dog had survived for so long abandoned in a basement. And how anyone could leave their dog without so much as a thought.
The sky was darkening and the shadows were stretching longer across the street. I could see the moon begin to peek from behind the run-down rowhomes. The homeowner let us in with a single warning: “He’s mean.”
He didn’t seem mean when I was peering at him through the window. Scared, yes. Protective of his home, for sure. But mean?
The neighbors came out to see what was going on. One of them knew the dog’s name: Ace.
The officer and I made our way inside, past piles of junk left by the previous tenant. We opened the door to the basement, and there was Ace, standing at the bottom of the stairs in remarkably good condition (for a dog left stranded in a basement), and bigger than I had thought, barking. But not just barking, as I had seen him do when I peeked at him from outside, but snarling. Gums pulled back exposing teeth. Low growls coming from some place inside him – some angry place with hurt and fear. The officer tried to calmly talk to him, to no avail. Ace was having none of it. Finally, the officer went to the truck to get a long pole with what looks like a metal loop on the end. It would keep the dog away from people and fairly immobilized. Looking at Ace from the top of the stairs, I suddenly understood “mean”.
Somehow, someway, we managed to get him out of the house. He growled the whole way. He was by far the most vicious dog I had ever seen. But I knew that his viciousness came from fear.
The officer and I struggled to get him into the cage in the back of the truck. He kicked and twisted and snarled and bit at the air and seemed like he would have torn our faces off if he could have. The more he twisted and fought the tighter the loop became. Blood dripped from his mouth when he bit his tongue. The whites of his eyes glowed in the light of the huge moon that was now high enough to see by; they were wide with fear. Finally in the cage, the officer released the loop and he lay there, panting, not moving, his own blood covering his face.
I felt rage. I looked at the neighbors, standing around watching the “show” and snarled myself. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut, but I heard the words escaping: “What a horrible life this dog has had”. I looked each person in the eye, accusingly. I hated them all for letting this happen. Hated his “owner”. Hated society.
One woman was crying. “Y’all are going to put him to sleep…”. I hated her too. Why hadn’t someone helped sooner? But I knew why. It’s the city. You mind your business. Keep your head down. Don’t interfere.
Driving back to the shelter, the officer and I breathed a sigh of relief. We both agreed that Ace was one frightening dog. He had scared us both. “You’d have to be crazy to do this job”, the officer said, shaking his head. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to himself, to me, or to no one in particular. We saw the moon at the same time. It was enormous, high in the sky, glowing bright and taunting us with its wide smile. A full moon. I turned and looked at Ace in the cage behind me. No longer growling or barking, he huddled in a heap, still panting, eyes sad, exhausted from his struggle. He looked at me and didn’t make a sound. He suddenly seemed very small. I felt like crying. What had made him this way? What atrocities had he seen and been forced to endure? I watched the moon as we drove. There would be no help for Ace. No chance for rehabilitation in an already over-crowded, over-burdened, cash-strapped system. No hope for a happy life, or more bright moons. Perhaps it was just my imagination but the moon seemed to shine extra bright that night. For Ace.