Walking the house with the husband this afternoon and we came across a large Great Dane crossbreed tied to a sight post clearly stating “No Dogs Allowed in this Playground.” It was alone and luckily friendly -- but clearly alone. A concerned dog-walker asked us if we knew the owner or the dog as it looked as though it had been abandoned. I’m convinced that dog walkers have secret societies where they learn each other’s dogs' names and gossip about each other when they meet up along the beach, in paddocks, and on pavements.
But there was no knowledge of this splendid blue hound (that’s the colour gray for all you non-dog owners). I didn’t have my telephone with me (shock horror) to call the number on its tag. Very soon we had a blue heeler, a shi-ztu, a mongrel, and this large blue dog congregated by the playground where dogs are banned.
A chihuahua’s owner walked up, with a phone and baby sleeping in a chest carrier. I wondered who could have left a dog, tied it on such a shortish leash at the corner of the playground with no water. (I live in the tropics).
According to the RSPCA, in the UK over 100 pets are abandoned every day. In Australia between 2019 and January 2020, 111,520 pets were abandoned (cats, dogs and other animals) and in the US, the ASPCA estimates that 2,626, 530 pets were abandoned in 2019. Abandonment, to be fair also includes those animals who have been surrendered for new homes through animal organisations.
The last recession saw many people abandoning their animals through loss of income, housing, and family support networks. At a time of survival, the pet is often the first thing to go. We do know that when animals have to be surrendered that the mental health of those emotionally attached to their animals declines considerably often causing separation anxiety, grief, and in some situations, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
COVID-19 has brought with it yet another problem. Many people in lockdown opted to get a pet to keep them company. On returning to work, many animals were surrendered and of those that weren’t, the animals suffered separation anxiety and displayed bad behaviours due to the fact that their ‘pack leader’ was no longer around.
Pets are meant to be our friends, comfort when we are alone, fun when we interact, and a source for many of unconditional love, loyalty, consistency, and company. As a pet lover, I cannot understand how anyone can mistreat or abandon a pet. This is abhorrent to me. When you get them, you get them for the span of their life. Not as and when it’s convenient.
So back to our magnificent hound. She’s called Lulu, her collar tells us and the chihuahua’s owner is calling the faded number on the dog’s tag. “We’ve found your Lulu, tried up on the south side of the esplanade at the children’s playground,” she says cautiously. What if the owner had walked away and left the dog? What kind of response would the Chihuahua’s owner get?
My heeler (Australian Cattle dog) is already bored. She has a soft spot for Chihuahuas but she towers over them and is not welcome here. She sniffs the grass in the other direction.
The mystery is quickly solved. The owner (the wife) is down on the beach having left her dog on the esplanade walkway. Why hadn’t she taken her dog with her? No water, a short leash, and in a no-dog zone. It’s almost as if she was wishing the council would take it away. Before long the husband at home has rung the wife on the beach and as we walk on, we see her rushing from behind the trees. The dog is delighted to see its owner but was so friendly that anyone could have taken it without much protest. My stomach churns. I partially believe that she wanted to leave it there but even if she didn’t, it was cruel to leave it tied as such, in the tropics without water.
It’s purported that in the UK there are more charities for animals than for children. I can believe it. The Brits see their animals as family and because most of the animals live indoors, they are an intrinsic part of the family setup. I can’t imagine leaving my dog 1) unsupervised near children -- it is after all an animal and not a reasoning human being; and 2) in a place where it’s easy to steal; and 3) an invitation to the council to see it as abandoned and put into the shelter, if not claimed, euthanised within a short period of time.
Not abandoned, a close call for Lulu. Later, as I look at my hound sleeping, satisfied after her walk, I feel her dependence on me. I don’t anthropomorphise her. I don’t call myself her ‘mum’ but I am indebted to her for her companionship and the way she brings joy and pleasure into my life. I love her and I cannot forgive the heart of anyone who would willingly leave an animal behind, abandoned.
The most disgusting story I heard was of a woman who recently surrendered her dog willingly because it no longer matched her furniture now that she had bought a new sofa! I am flabbergasted. I can repeat slogans like ‘not just for Christmas,’ but I reach out to you now and ask you one thing. Don’t take it on if you can’t be a constant in a pet’s life. We haven’t designed a society where they can survive, feral, not posing a problem to anyone or anything. We need to care for them and help them to survive safely.
It’s the least we can do.