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In Praise of High-Riding Bitches

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While “re-homing” a dog can work very well if the owner invests the time and energy to be sure the dog and her new home are a good fit, it can be tragic if that level of scrutiny does not take place. Here’s a story on the Magic Dog Press Blog that made me cry. And after I stopped crying, I determined to become a charter member of the  “high-ridin’ bitch” club. To speak up in defense of dogs who need my help and have no advocate. Here’s the link to the blog. http://wp.me/pMf9x-6a.  Please take a minute and add your comments.

In Praise of High-Riding Bitches

August 27, 2010 by bodiep 

I have a dog story for you. This story isn’t fun. It isn’t magical. It’s sad, and infuriating, and heartbreaking. It’s about a dog named Allie. My sister Melody, who runs a kennel, told it to me.

Allie came to live with Melody when she was expecting. She was an AKC Champion German Shepherd, and, like many champions, was being “homed” with the stipulation that while she would live with Melody, her owners, Doug and Trudy, would be able to have her bred, and sell the puppies.

The “homing” didn’t work. Allie’s life as a show dog hadn’t equipped her to get along with other dogs, or to make friends easily with people. Melody took things at Allie’s pace, doing things like taking magazines to her kennel and sitting in the dog run with Allie, singing to her while she worked in the kennels and took the boarder dogs out, one at a time, to play on the lawn.

She and Allie became friends. But when Melody tried the next step, it quickly became apparent that Allie had no idea how to live with other dogs. Since Melody has three German Shepherds and a miniature Dachshund, she was forced to accept the fact that, unless she was willing to have Allie live out her life in the large, open-air kennel, Allie’s owners would need to try to find her another home.

She called Doug and Trudy, and they agreed to “re-home” Allie. Months passed. First one home than another was found, only to have the people back out. Meanwhile, Allie had made herself a part of Melody’s family. When Melody went out to care for the boarder dogs in the kennel Allie–whose run adjoined the kitchen area–got to come out and help her cook. My nephew Max and his girlfriend Mandy fell in love with Allie, and spent hours playing with her.

But at the end of the meal preparation, and at the end of the play sessions, Allie had to return to her kennel. When Doug and Trudy called and said they had at last found a home for Allie, Melody was both saddened, because Allie had a place in her heart, and happy–because at last Allie would have a home and family of her own.

It should have been a happy ending. But something went horribly wrong. Max was driving through a rough part of town one day and saw Allie, huddled sadly under a torn awning on a little bit of porch in a muddy yard. He told Melody, who drove by and saw her as well. Melody didn’t stop; the fence was clearly inadequate for Allie, who had laughed at six-foot-high walls, and Melody didn’t want to tempt her to jump over. The house stood next to a busy four-lane road.

Melody tried to call Doug and Trudy, but wasn’t able to reach them. She hesitated to intrude on Allie’s new family. And so she did the only thing she thought she could–she kept driving by the house, keeping track of Allie, hoping things would get better for her.

And then a kennel appeared in the yard. The dog in it wasn’t Allie. And Allie was no longer lying on the porch. Trudy called Melody today in tears, saying that Allie was gone. When Melody asked what had happened Trudy simply said that she didn’t want to talk about it, and hung up.

And that’s it. That’s the story. A loving, valuable, animal who, through no fault of her own, was ill-equipped to live with her own kind, and who had little notion how to live with humans, has died. And there’s no explanation.

I listened to Melody crying, saying she wished she’d spoken up louder, stopped and questioned the conditions in which Allie was living, asked to bring her back home with her, saying all the things we all say when we are faced with a situation we don’t quite know how to handle and choose to keep quiet about for fear of embarrassing others, or ourselves.

Stephen King has a wonderful line in Dolores Claiborne. “Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive,” says Vera Donovan at one point. Dolores Claiborne is a remarkable book; King does a wonderful job of crafting strong, seemingly unsympathetic female characters who nevertheless earn our admiration, our sympathy, and our understanding.

Allie needed a bitch. She didn’t have one, and that’s a tragedy. The saddest thing is that Melody and I are both strong women who aren’t afraid to fight to defend the things we love. Had Melody known where to take hold, I know she would have fought tooth and nail to save Allie. But where do you start in a situation like that?

Maybe the lesson here is that life rarely gives us permission to be bitches. We don’t often get clear-cut situations arising out of nothing, screaming “bitches needed.” Most of the time we get sucked in, one swallowed insult, one troublesome comment, one appeasement at a time. And then one day we wake up and realize that tragedy has happened, and we might have prevented it.

Allie’s death has been a wake-up call for me. It has reminded me that I make the world a better, safer place for everyone one small decision at a time. It means that if I see or sense something not quite right I speak up, politely, but firmly, and very, very audibly. And if the wrongness persists, I speak up again, and I keep speaking up, and acting to make things right. It means that from time to time I will become a bitch. And some people won’t like me very much. And that’s all right.

The thing is, people forget that bitches–female dogs–got their rep by protecting themselves and their helpless pups. That’s the kind of bitch I want to be–the kind who takes care of herself, and of those around her who cannot fight for themselves.

When Melody and I ended our call, I hung up the phone. The open-endedness of Allie’s loss demanded some kind of action, a resolution. It demanded that it not be the end. And so I decided to follow Vera Donovan’s excellent advice, and become a “high-riding bitch” for all the dogs like Allie.

Dogs who are trapped in dangerous, desperate, situations, dogs who need a high-riding bitch like me to come squealing into the driveway, lead them out of the mud, load them into my second-best car, and take them home for a bath, a meal, and a good night’s sleep while others find them a home.

I’ve become a volunteer for the German Shepherd Rescue organization in my area. I’m not quite sure what form my help will take, but I know this: Allie’s death has demanded that I stop making nice, polite, appropriate noises about being kind to animals, and start actually doing something to make a difference.

How about you? Is there someone in your life who needs a high-riding bitch? Can it be you?

One Response to "In Praise of High-Riding Bitches"
  1. Sherry says:

    Thanks for re-posting this. I hope Allie’s story goes everywhere. Making sure that “re-homed” animals are actually good matches for their new families and surroundings is vital. If Allie teaches that, maybe her death isn’t entirely in vain. It’s not right, but to waste the lesson it teaches would be criminal, I think.

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