In an alley more trashy than usual, I swung in wide "S" patterns to avoid the garbage bags and carcasses of discarded furniture as if I were on an obstacle training course. My headlights caught the glint of eyes watching me. For a second she was frozen in fear and then she made a sudden dash across the alley in front of me. A tiny pup so thin, so afraid. With a skill revealing she had done this before, she darted through yards and disappeared in the long shadows at the back of a house. Taking a flashlight and a can of food, I got out of the car to see if I could detect her hiding place.
At the base of the house was a hole in the wall, a logical place for her to have used for the getaway, so I emptied out the can of food and tried to fan the aroma so that she would smell it and come out to eat. As I backed off and waited, I thought of the many animals, too many to count, Iíve seen over the years just like this one, lovely creatures fighting hard to get through the night. By the thousands theyíre in these alleys, forced to squeeze through openings in abandoned buildings for some imperfect shelter and protection from the wicked among us. Everywhere in this city youngsters such as this pup run in fear for their lives, denied a youth when time is meant to be passed frolicking and playing without so much as a single guarded glance over the
Iíve also watched them try to capture glimpses of kitten -- or puppyhood, as siblings roll in filth and debris challenging each other in play while an observant mother nearby stands ready to keep them safe against intruders, even sacrifice her life for theirs. I wondered which sight was worse: puppies and kittens who havenít walked this earth for more than two short months running in fear, living in fear every minute, or that of siblings playing in the alleys strewn with garbage and broken glass, playing as if they were carefree. For all, however, deadly danger crouches and waits to snatch them.
Just then I saw something at the opening in the wall. The pup had smelled the food and couldnít resist coming back out, dangerous or not. She was too hungry to ignore the smell of food. She took gulping bites as if she hadnít eaten in days. Scarcely taking a breath I stood as still as I could, but her wary eyes found me; she grabbed one last chunk of food and was gone. I put down more food for her to find later; I couldnít wait any longer -- time was moving on and I had quite a few alleys left to cover.
The next night I returned to tiny pup's
alley with food and a carrier. On the way there I rested the canned food next
to the heater so that when I opened it, the smell would be strong enough to draw
her out of hiding. As I got out of the car with my equipment, a man came out of
a house and asked me what I was doing. I told him about the puppy and he said
she "belonged" to a family living in one of the rowhouses until they moved away
a couple of weeks ago. "I tried to throw her some scraps once," he said, "but
she just ran away." He shrugged his shoulders and went back inside his house.
I put the warmed food in the carrier by the opening in the wall and I backed off to wait for the skinny hungry pup to emerge from the wretched place she was forced to call home. The people who left her behind had to know what kind of sentence they were handing her. Anyone with half a brain knows that an adult animal, much less one barely out of infancy cannot weather the hazards and deprivations of street life. I wondered how people who abandon animals can live with themselves.
A rustling caught my attention. Tiny pup was responding to the scent of warm food striking the hunger pangs in her empty stomach. I hid from her view but stood where I could see her step into the carrier, which she did without hesitating. The soft sounds of her eating cued me that it was time to close the carrier door behind her. Now she was safe.
In the car, tiny pup began
to howl -- she didn't know where she was or what was going to happen to her; she
didn't understand that she was on her way out of a miserable existence that would
have ended, no doubt, before she reached adulthood. Frightened and worried about
being shut inside a carrier, her howls only grew louder when I tried talking to
reassure her. My voice had no effect. Finally I pulled over, took her out of the
carrier, and nestled her under my coat. Her need for food assuaged, now her need
to be protected and taken care of would be satisfied. She snuggled into the enveloping
folds of my jacket and went fast asleep. I smiled to myself, when she awakes she'll
be in a whole new world, having left forever behind her the desperate, deprived
creature alone and afraid in her struggle against long odds to survive.