DAY 38: A visit to doggy ‘death row’ in East London
I’ve just visited the dogs on ‘death row’. In Bow, East London. They are surprisingly lively considering they have days to live. I guess ignorance is bliss…. but my feeling is they know…somehow they know.
Or am I projecting hopelessly?
‘Death row’ might be an unkind description but it’s fairly accurate. This is the last resort for dogs in this part of Hackney that have been abandoned or lost or have been bought online and then discarded. They are collected by the dog wardens –surprisingly caring and calm people, not like in the cartoons where they carry nets and slam van doors – and if the pooches don’t get claimed or rehomed within a certain time frame (most pounds work on a seven days, this one a little longer) then they have to be put to sleep. No one wants this – but there aren’t the resources.
Do dogs in comfortable North London need help?
All Dogs Matter is a small charity in North London specializing in rescuing and re-homing abandoned dogs like this. They are a small boat paddling against a very fast and wide river: they do an incredible job but they can only help a small portion of the thousands of dogs being abandoned every year.
I rang them up asking if I could lend a (paddling) hand
‘I can take photos’ I said, and then realizing how vague that sounded added ‘I am writing a book’ .
What was I thinking? I might as well have said ‘I can tap dance or paint water colours’. Finally I said: ‘I can walk dogs, I can clean the floor, I can do anything’. Ira, the manager, agreed to meet me.
(I had previously contacted another, slightly more extreme charity who only help the most difficult, harrowing cases, but they rejected me on account that my blog was too funny. Or trying to be funny, which is of course a much greater sin. ‘Why do you want to write funny about dogs dying?’ they asked, ‘I don’t,’ I said, ‘I want to be funny about the process of caring. Or lighthearted I suppose. I want the blog to be readable you see. I need to be light precisely because the subject’s so heavy.’ My logic was lost on them. And, frankly, whilst browsing their site of sad looking dogs my logic was fairly misty to me as well. What was funny about abandoned dogs? )
All Dogs Matter has a small charity ‘shop’ situated not far from where I was bought up. From the outside it looks innocuous, like it might be a place to get your nails done or buy a discount bus ticket to Cambridge. Consequently I imagined their charity work was fairly soft – like all the dogs are rescued from Hampstead Heath because their owners lose them whilst writing a novel, or at the very least reading one. But upon entering you meet Ira. She runs the place whilst holding two phones and simultaneously sending emails. She is good looking and kind but she doesn’t do soft – she has a brisk manner that means business and her business is helping dogs. She’s like the nurse who wraps up your wound tight and moves on to the next patient.
‘Look’ she says to me, passing over the greetings quickly ‘why don’t you go with Billie to see the dog pound? Perhaps you could take some photos for our website. You might as well see what it’s about’
Billie is a young enthusiastic staff member who helps out full time. I like her immediately.
At the dog pound…
Before long we are at the small pound in Bow where the dogs stare out of the large metal and glass enclosures. As I get close they jump up and bark and wag as if I might be coming to take them home. Dogs live for interaction – anyone will do. My two dogs would happily lick the face of a burgular if they thought he had time to play in between stealing the furniture.
I look at the dogs and wonder: who suffers more in a solitary confined space – a human being, with all their intellect and emotional subtely – or a dog, with all their vigour and drive? It’s not obvious to me.
Then I have a strange experience. The wardens let one of the dogs out in the pen in the back yard. A brown staffie, a Staffordshire bull terrier. I have never liked this breed – broad and squat and tough – in the same way I have never liked the breed of hoodies that are attracted to owning them. It’s all status and no softness.
But this staffie wags his tail, runs to me and jumps up like I’m the best mate he’s ever had.
He then falls over as if he has slipped.
‘He’s got muscle wastage on his back legs’ says the warden.
‘Really?’ I say. He looks strong to me.
‘Yeh, never been out much. He was probably left inside most of his life. Not had a chance to walk. People do that’
The dog tries to jump up at me and greet me and again he falls over. Then he does it again. I instinctively bend down to make sure he is OK and he rolls over in the dust and bears his belly to me and before I know it I’m stroking the soft underbelly of the type of ‘tough’ dog I have never liked. In one small moment he has changed my perception of this breed 180 degrees. And his ridiculous efforts to get my attention seem to capture the essence of dogs: however badly us humans treat them they will get back up again and again to love us. I can’t bear that sort of trust and affection – it seems too tender, like its too fragile to exist. It ought to have been bred out of them ages ago.
The truth about Staffies
‘All staffies are like that’ says Billie. ‘People think they are tough but the sad thing is they just love people more than almost any other breed. They get a raw deal.’
All of this happened a few weeks back – I’m behind on the blog writing I’m afraid – and I’ve now just heard this lovely dog is not with us. No more jumping up. In the end he wasn’t put down because they didn’t have space – they found an awful tumour and there was no life left in him.
What am I going to do to help dogs like this? It’s far easier not liking staffies…but now I bloody well do. The circle of compassion widens and I stand at the breezy centre of it