Ch 10. (1st revision)
It was one of those hot July days when the sweat and heat engulfs. No softness or sweetness, or romance, just a dead muggy heat that leads to elevated tempers, attitudes, and patience as thin as a mouse eaten piece of twine. It was no place or time a person wants to be in when it is close to 90 degrees outside and 105 indoors at 10 am. The tiny fans sat in the corners of the shelter, blowing warm air across the room. The sweat seemingly blowing off the face of one bewildered employee and onto another. The sense of smell not absent from the kind souls, but merely beaten into submissions by the necessity of the daily chores.
Eliot lived and breathed the odors of himself, his fellow shelter workers, and the animals that surrounded every square inch of the ancient concrete and steel building. The mornings were always the worst, or best, when he later described to Monti the smells before the dogs had been taken out. The long corridors swept the freshness of cat and dog piss and shit, throughout the halls, and concocted an odor that could only be compared to the thought of listening to polka music for eternity. Eliot did not mind the smell. He was used to it by the end of the first day it seemed. This is what made him happy and successful with the daily strenuous activities.
Eliot arrived first and switched on the lights down the long hallway of double stacked caged dogs. As the florescent lighting began to pop in the darkness, the environment erupted first with a whimper, and then a thunderous clawing, barking, tearing, and squealing of stir crazed dogs of all sizes,shapes, ages, and breeds. Eliot immediately began by walking down the line feeding the dogs before their morning walk. By the time he finished feeding the last dog, the first dog was done and ready to go outside. The stream of volunteers and also court ordered community service workers would be in and assist the the walking and cleanup. Eliot had gotten an early start with foolish hopes of beating some of the heat of the day by getting the hardest parts done before midday.
Eliot rotated cleaning responsibilities with Pete. Today, it was Pete’s turn to clean cages while Eliot walked the dogs. Pete was a good nature guy, who loved dogs more than anything it seemed. Pete annoyed Eliot a little by how he said, “You know what I mean” after any statement he made. He was quite simple minded, and Eliot later found the memory of Pete enduring. Cleaning was, like everything else at the shelter, regimented, institutional, and had a standard operating procedure.
On Eliot’s first day, he received a valuable lesson in patience not provided in the S.O.P. from Cheese. Eliot was shadowing him as he grabbed a handful of newspaper and it fell apart in the air, splashing dog diarrhea all down his shirt and pants.
Cleaning involved grabbing a handful of rags and sweeping out old newspapers soaked with piss and shit, and then spraying it down to clean it. Once clean, It was to be sprayed again with bleach and wiped down again. A third time was added if a dog was gone for this reason or that and a new dog was coming in. The biggest tragedy for an animal shelter was the spread of Bordetella. It could sweep through and kill forty dogs in the matter of a few days. Eliot did not mind the cleaning either. The hectic environment was a great way to silence the memories and thoughts of his life that danced in his head.
But ultimately, he loved walking the dogs in the morning. The trained dogs were great and they immediately did their business and were anxious for attention. The untrained ones who had already deposited their business in, around, and all over the cages, were just anxious, like any creature, to be able to stretch their legs after a confinement and soak in some sun. They were pleased to show their gratitude and were just as great to be around in their own unique ways. The saddest were the neglected, abused, and sickly dogs. So scared of abandonment or a beating, they held off their excitement, and some seemed trained to do this. They were the lost souls of the shelter, and preferred the safety of the cage. To Eliot, they were a salvation to him, and again, all of those dogs were just as great in their own ways as all the others.
Eliot rarely had time during the day to think of the darker side to his own life. His cheating ex girlfriend and his bastard so called friend she did it with. His lack of direction, his outstanding debts, and his writers block seemed to melt away as he became a witness to things much darker than his petty problems and insecurities about the world. His shelter dogs became his routine and his reason to forget his personal tragedies. These dogs were lost to the world. To Eliot, there was nothing more heartbreaking than a dog without a friend in the world. Eliot looked deep into those sad eyes every morning and spoke softly and honestly to them. He offered acceptance, peace, and safety to the mistreated and abandoned dogs he walked and cleaned up after. Eliot often on his walking days, would bring a tiny copy of the Tao Te Ching and read aloud exerts to himself, but also to the dogs when no one was watching.
“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
Most of the days were more about hard labor than it was about playing with the dogs. There was a reason community service was dulled out to high school pot dealers. Often times the kids chose the animal shelter over roadside cleanup with the naive thought that they would be petting puppies and kittens all day. In reality, they were there to think about their mistakes and to clean up dog shit all day. Eliot was also serving his time five days a week, paying back his personal debts to society in the form of nine dollars an hour and back breaking work, while listening to Polka music. There was endless scrubbing, spraying, hauling dirty laundry, folding clean laundry, and repeating from Dawn to Dusk.
After all the shoppers and dogs were put away for the night, Eliot looked himself and his coworkers over. All totally whipped, and covered in dirt, shit, soap, bleach, blood, urine, and smelling of it all with a slight hint of tobacco from the last cigarette of the day in the parking lot. Just before dark, with the last hint of sunlight tickling at the mountain tops, a truck came beeping down the gravel road swerving toward the old concrete building. Eliot met it at the gate and looked in the eyes of the frantic shirtless redneck driver, wearing nothing but his overalls.
“Let me in, you uns gotta help my dog Lenny, my fucking neighbor shot em over some stupid fucking chickens”
Eliot looked in the truck bed and saw a tan hound flailing around in the sea of blood that used to be the truck bed. Eliot, ignoring the frantic man rambling on and on, quickly opened the gate and jump in back with Lenny. “Drive to the Back!” yelled Eliot through the open back window. Eliot flopped down and grabbed the dog and rolled him onto his own lap. Boston, Eliot’s coworker came running out the back door quickly as the truck parked and he started taking stock of the situation. He was a trained professional and this situation was way over Eliot’s pay grade. Apparently Lenny had been shot at least twice by the neighbors shotgun over some previously lost chickens, and this was either retaliation or a busted in the act shooting. Regardless, Lenny was on the neighbors property, and in the Appalachian mountains, that is enough to get your ass shot to shit like Lenny now was.
Boston spoke to the redneck, and he understood the situation. Lenny was suffering and his owner had brought him to the shelter to ease that pain. Boston and the redneck discussed the procedure and the redneck owner of Lenny quickly signed a piece of paper and gave approval to put Lenny down. Meanwhile, Eliot sat holding Lenny’s head against his stomach. The blood ran down the grooved bed of the bright blue Nissan from what seemed a hundred tiny holes all over Lenny’s body. Half of his tail was gone as well as most of his left paw. His brown hair was almost unrecognizable except Eliot noticed small clean, undamaged sections. There was nothing to do, or try, or some great medical procedure to perform to save Lenny and everyone present understood this, including Lenny.
Boston climbed into the bed of the truck with Eliot and sat long way against the side of the truck and took an undamaged back paw in his hand. “Is he ready, Eliot” he asked. “No, he needs a minute to collect himself and to relax before we do it.” Eliot stroked Lenny’s head and ears, softly looking into his eyes and began to speak.
“Good Boy, it’s OK. Good Boy. Good boy. Relax boy, it’s OK.
Boston also began to calmly talk to Lenny as he prepared to find the vein. Lenny looked up at Eliot for the last time as so many other dogs and people had in the past, ready to take their last breath and leave this world. Eliot spoke, almost whispering to Lenny as Boston continued to prepare the vein that would deliver the fatal injection.
“Go chase some rabbits and chickens Lenny. Chase those chickens forever boy”
As Boston injected the needle, a tiny drop of blood dripped from his arm and seamlessly blended with the blood flowing downhill through the grooves in the truck. The two men and dog were now all three painted red. Lenny calmly looked at Eliot for an instant before his whole body went limp and life left him. His eyes spoke to Eliot and would haunt him more than anything else he witnessed at the animal shelter. Lenny’s words burned in Eliot’s mind. The dark hound whispered back to Eliot apologetically saying,
“It was my first time”