What to do about very bad people

Lately I've been thinking a lot about good and evil. And retribution and rehabilitation. I know - deep, right?

I've been a Laura Marling fan for a couple years now, and I keep thinking of her song "Devil's Spoke."  One line from the song is: "Hold your devil by his spoke and spin him to the ground." And I keep thinking, "Who (or what) is my devil?"

As you know, I've been a rescue volunteer for a dozen years now. I've seen firsthand some of the crappy stuff people do to dogs. Last week, our rescue took in an emaciated Boxer who was picked up as a stray by animal control. He weighed just 33 pounds. Keep in mind that the average Boxer clocks in at at least 55 pounds. The three at my house each weigh 60-something. This stray pooch was so thin you could see every vertebra and his hip bones protruded. You could see the dome of his skull in a way that was clearly not normal. It didn't take long before people spotted him on the facility's website, where all of the strays are posted. The reactions were varied but strong, ranging from anger to sadness to disgust. Most wanted someone to pay. They wanted heads to roll. After all, simply feeding your dog is not that difficult in the scheme of things. And if you can't afford to do so, any shelter or rescue will gladly take the dog and provide the sustenance he needs.

After the mandatory seven-day stray hold was up, the dog was released to us. My friend and fellow rescue volunteer, Kim, took him in. I suggested we call him Valentino, as he had been picked up on Valentine's Day. I kept looking at the photo of the skinny fawn boy with the black mask. "Maybe I could foster him," I told Kim. Now, I need a fourth dog in my home about like I need leprosy or cancer. Our house is not that large. However, I couldn't stop thinking about Valentino. He had arrived at the shelter on my birthday. I am not usually one to take note of imagined signs, but you know, I wondered. Plus, he reminded me of my skinny Giddy, who also weighed less than 40 pounds when he was abandoned.

So, Kim got Valentino stabilized (the poor dog was so unsteady on his feet at first) and took him to the vet. At that time we learned that Valentino has a broken jaw and an upper respiratory infection. His jawbone has started to callous over, so it doesn't look like a repair will be possible. We'll find out more during the course of subsequent consultations with a veterinarian.  Valentino also has scars and scabs all over him. I guess we'll never know why.  What I do know is that the meds have kicked in and he's put on several pounds. I brought him home today and the rest of the pack seem to have accepted him just fine. He even attempted to play a bit with Gretchen. Over the next few weeks, I'll simply focus on getting him to a normal weight and addressing any other medical needs he may have.  And, did I mention, he's super sweet? He truly is.

A lot of supporters have been watching Valentino's case closely on Facebook. The volunteer transport organization (they sprang him from the big house and drove him to Kim's house) posted a video of Valentino the day they pulled him, and it was fairly heartbreaking. He teetered around, dirty and bewildered. I should add that he gained several pounds while sitting on stray hold. What that tells us is that there is no medical issue that prevents him from gaining weight normally. Because of his jaw, his kibble does have to be soaked ahead of time so that it is soft enough for him to ingest. We've received several donations to help with Valentino's care. We've gotten a lot of nice notes of support. People are truly pulling for Mr. Skinny. Some of them want Valentino's former owner to be drawn and quartered. Now, I can't say that I blame them. I've learned, from doing rescue work for so long, that in most cases . . . no one pays for what they've done. Animal welfare laws are too flimsy and evidence is often too hard to find - particularly for a stray.

That brings me back to my recent thoughts about evil. I'm almost done reading "The Lost Dogs," the story of the Vick dogs and where they all ended up. I knew the basics of the investigation and the subsequent legal action, where the dogs went, etc. But, I wasn't fully aware of the details of the investigation and decided I may as well know. P asked me, "Why are you reading that book if it pisses you off so much?" I don't know, I really don't. I guess it's just a personal obligation to understand and acknowledge what goes on in this world and not to cup my hands over my ears and sing "la la la la!" A lot of people want to pretend that Michael Vick was not there, he didn't know. The evidence shows clearly that he was there and that he killed dogs with his own two hands. He tried to deny it initially, but then failed a polygraph and realized that the lie wasn't working. Then, as we all know, he went to prison. Then he got out of prison and was again embraced by the NFL and resumed making millions of dollars.

My religion, Unitarian Universalism, places an emphasis on prison reform with a focus on rehabilitation. Generally speaking, I'm on board with it. The prisons and jails are all operating well over their intended capacity and the recidivism rate is so high that it's hard to make a case for the effectiveness of doing time. For minor crimes, maybe throwing someone behind bars isn't the best way to go. I don't pretend to know the answers to such weighty questions.

When it comes to Michael Vick, though, I feel like no amount of time would ever be enough. If you read the book, you'll never forget what happened to the little red dog. It's hard to think of the man who killed her as anything less than a monster. With rescue work, though, we generally don't have as specific a target for our fury. I will probably never know who owned (and neglected) Valentino. All I can do is focus on this sweet dog, make him better, and find him a new home where he'll never feel a rumble in his tummy again.

Like many UU's, I don't believe in the existence of heaven or hell. I believe that hell exists right here on earth in many forms. I don't want to believe that some people are inherently evil and yet, there do seem to be some awfully bad apples out there. Sometimes I fear that if I think too much about starving dogs and abused children and neglected elderly  . . . I might just lose my mind. I do want to grab my devil and spin him to the ground, but he is an apparition. Instead I am just a crazy lady who tries to help broken dogs, one dog at a time.


Audreee said…
Beautifully written. I love me some Valentino!

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