113 dogs

There’s been a little hole in the apartment since Elliephant died. A little buzzing from the silence. Ears straining to hear the pat pat pat of her walking around. 

We don’t want another cat yet. But we’ve been trying to fill the silence. So we’re babysitting a devil cat who, years ago, peed on my things, peed on my friend’s passport, and rubbed his shit on my white dress while I was wearing it. 

Now he’s older and wiser. He rests his big stomach on my arms in the morning, telling me to stop and watch the sunrise. His wet nose finds its way under my thumbs. His meow crackles when he wants love, and he is worthy of it. He was always worthy of it. 

We’ve signed up to be cat foster parents. It could be months before we get ‘matched.’ In the meantime, I’m on the list-serv. This week I learned there are currently 113 dogs at the animal shelter. According to their statistics, ten percent will be euthanized. The rest will suffer in their own way. 

I can’t take in 113 dogs. I can’t take in one dog. I can take a cat or two. But what about the others? 

Do you remember the Sarah McLaughlin ads about animals? The sad music, the ‘what about the animals’? I remember. I am pro-animal, but I remember laughing. The sappiness. The blatant heartstring tug. And the queasy feeling. How manipulative it felt. Step one: Make someone sad. Step two: Profit!

But really, what about the animals? 

I bought a ring with Ellie’s face on it. I want to be reminded of her for awhile. But it’s not comfortable. The rose gold chin digs into my skin. Which I don’t mind. Every time I put on gloves, the flick of pain reminds me. Eventually I’ll get used to it. Or I’ll take it off. 

For a year and a half I’ve been volunteering with Latin American immigrants to write deportation waivers. I channel their trauma then send off the affidavits and never learn how the cases go and it’s better not knowing, because I don’t want to quit. 

There is a string of suffering that connects the world. From my cat’s death to the shelter animals to migrants… and by the way, climate change. 

I write affidavits to make some lawyer somewhere sad enough for mercy. A single email about 113 dogs was enough to set me off in a spiral. When I read it, I laid on the couch with my hand on my forehead and stared at the ceiling and complained to Seth about all the world’s suffering. 

On the other hand: I was on a couch. I was safe and healthy and happy. I had a Seth to talk me out of it. With the right glasses, the world can seem pretty great. How amazing is it that we get the opportunity to care for others? I think it’s humanity’s greatest invention. The will to care for life beyond your immediate family. On a scale of zero to effective in alleviating suffering, Sarah McLaughin’s TV ad falls pretty low on the scale. So does adopting one or 113 dogs. But if a story can break through my own comfortable existence to make me cry for a dog I don’t know, what else can a story do? 

I have a story I tell of my own life. Step one: ease my own suffering. Step two: help others. Step one takes a lot of work. Adopting 113 dogs and spiraling into couch sadness will not do. I don’t want to quit step two. 

-Denise

PS: I’ve a new set of poems published in a local lit mag called Movable Type. These two poems are disconnected from each other. But the entire theme of this issue is “Connection,” so maybe they actually are connected. Just know that they are about two entirely different settings and characters. One is called “Fight before a Flight,” the other is “The Last to Leave.” Read them here.

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