Sunday, July 1, 2012

An Open Letter: Red Boy

I didn't realize how involved readers were with my last story until I started getting the emails with one question in common, "What happened to the puppies?" It's only fair, then, to tell the tales of the three remaining puppies.

Red Boy

The last memory I have of my mother is not a good one. Between the bars of my cage, I could see her being dragged by her owner. I watched him shoot her. I didn't understand then, but I do now. She was weak. She couldn't do the job assigned to her. She shamed her owner. I would not be like her. I would make my owner proud.

My owner often calls me half-crazy. I guess it's because my eyes always have a wild look to them, and I'll snap at anything that comes near. Truth be told, I can't hear. I know they make noises because I feel the vibrations in the air; I see the reactions of the other dogs. I think I can bark like they can, but I can't hear myself do it.

I've lived outside my whole life. I didn't get put on a chain like my mother. Instead, I was assigned a kennel. There's many of us, all sizes, all ages, all colors, lined up along the block. The floors are cement, the walls are chainlink fence. People often come and go from my owner's house, and they usually come through and look at us. Most of the other dogs have scars, missing ears, or chewed off tails. Not me. People like me because I'm still young and new and handsome. Some of the softer people even reach to pet me. They snatch their hands back when I snap at them.

I can't help it. I don't like people in my space. Other people and dogs are always sneaking up on me, surprising me, startling me out of sleep. I'm afraid of looking vulnerable. I'm afraid I'll be attacked. I decide it's better to keep them scared of me than let on I'm scared of them.

I never get to leave my kennel. Sometimes, they hose them down to clean out the stuck-on waste. I love it when they do this. The water becomes my enemy. I leap this way and that, dodging the high-pressure stream of water. Sometimes, I charge head-on and bite the water. I think the people laugh at me when I do this, but I don't care.

As time passes, I start to feel myself going crazy. Maybe my owner was right. I can't run, I can't get away from my own stench. I can't get away from the other dogs. We are all locked in these cages. I start to charge the door any time someone comes to give me food or water. All I want is out. What I get instead is a shock from the cattle prod as they shoo me back into my cage.

Finally, they decide to take me out. I see they have the cattle prod, so I keep quiet. I don't like that thing. They start walking me towards a patch of dirt not far from the kennels. This is where they take the young pups to see if they have any game, if they'll cross the scratch line. I've watched this happen time and time again. I know if I don't charge the other dog, he'll charge me. I know if I fail, my owner may beat me or worse.

They bring out an old veteran fighter. I wasn't expecting this. His eyes are wild, his nostrils flared. I know he's crazy, but there's something different...there's something...something wrong with his mouth. He can't open it. Unsure of this, I hesitate when they release their grip on me. The veteran is on me before I know it, but he can't bite me. He head butts me again and again, but his mouth won't open.

I think the veteran realizes he can't fight. I think he knows I'm his fate. His expression changes, his tail droops, and his eyes show a sense of calm. I sense his pain. I see myself in his eyes, and I snap. I sink my teeth deep into his neck and end his life. My owner's face looks happy. They come at me with cattle prods in hand, ready to shoo me back into that dreaded kennel. I couldn't help myself. I was no coward, but I ran. I ran and I ran, as far as my legs would go.

I finally understood that my mother wasn't weak. She didn't want to kill. She only wanted something from her owner, something I had to find.

I don't know how long I was laying by the road. I wasn't accustomed to running at all. When I sensed someone near me, I was too weak to react. I felt someone wrap me in a blanket and place me on something soft. We were moving, but I was too tired to look up.

When I woke up, I was in a cage. For a second, I panicked. Then, I noticed this wasn't my old cage. This one was smaller, but it was lined with soft things for me to lay on. A group of people were nearby, and one noticed I was awake. I immediately reacted when they came close, but they didn't seem afraid. They didn't have cattle prods. They waited until I had calmed down, then they carefully opened the door and slipped a leash over my head.

The leash was a new thing. I tried to eat it, fight it, anything but let it stay around me neck. I had seen too many bad things happen when dogs were wearing these. The people seemed patient, though. They let me have my fit, then, with the leash still around my neck, we walked outside. The grass felt weird beneath my paws. I was so used to the hard concrete in my kennel that this stuff felt both alien and wonderful. The people smiled when I rolled in the grass. There were so many new smells - I had to roll in them all!

The people walked me back to the car they brought me here in. They put me inside, talking to me the whole time. I could tell they didn't know I couldn't hear them. They took me to another new place, one that made me nervous. I smelled many other dogs and fear and even blood. Two of the people had to hold my leash to keep me from running again.

Apparently, we were at the dog doctor, and it wasn't all bad. The things I smelled happened there, but it was part of dogs getting better, not worse. The dog doctor looked at my teeth, my paws, my eyes, my ears, everything. I think the people were proud that I stayed calm. I'm pretty sure the vet knew I couldn't hear, because he kept moving out of my sight and then back, as though he was making noises for me to hear. I saw him show the people some hand motions, motions I'd later learn as "sit," "stay," and "come."

Before we left, the doctor gave me some tasty treats. I decided he wasn't so bad after all. The people took me back to the place with the cage with the soft blankets. This time, I wasn't afraid to go in the cage.

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I don't know how long it's been since I came to live with the people that found me on the side of the road. We've been through so much together - learning to communicate beyond sound, re-socializing me to other dogs and the outside world, and teaching me to live inside (not quite as hard as the other two!). My old life seems like a bad dream, some weird prelude to real life. I live with two other dogs and the two people that picked me up. I get all the food and love and attention I can handle. They don't treat me any different because I can't hear them, but they do respect my need to be properly awakened/approached. I walk on a leash politely now, and people are surprised to learn I'm deaf. They make my humans roll their eyes when they try to prove I can hear. Sometimes I play along just for laughs.

I love my humans dearly. They saved me when I didn't know I needed saving, gave me love when I didn't know what love was, and they gave me security when I didn't know where to turn. They often look at me fondly, and gently stroke my graying head. They still talk to me, and, even though I can't hear their words, I can sense their meaning and feel the love behind them.


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It goes without saying that not all dogs that start in the fighting circuit have happy endings. Dog fighters often have money tied up in their dogs, typically in the acquisition and betting, sometimes utilities; therefore, they're not likely to let a dog slip away so easily.

It's also no surprise that Red Boy had some initial human and dog aggression. Deaf dogs can be highly reactive if not properly socialized and desensitized. Since Red Boy's original owner didn't know he was deaf, he couldn't understand Red Boy's reactions. Sadly, deaf dogs often go without being diagnosed and get labeled as dumb or stubborn. Depending on the owner, the deaf dog might be beaten or dumped at a local shelter as "impossible to train." Red Boy was fortunate to be picked up by loving  individuals who cared enough about Red Boy's health to take him to the vet and restructure their training methods to suit his needs. They weren't put off because Red Boy was deaf; instead, they double their efforts to insure a normal, well-rounded life for him.


Check back later for the stories of the remaining two puppies. :)

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