A crow's eye view of the stray dog problem in Dallas, especially in the city's often poor and violent southeastern sector, is daunting. We look down on thousands and thousands of dogs running loose through neighborhoods, many in semi-feral packs that strike out fearlessly from lairs in alleys and overgrown creek beds.
And every day hundreds of those dogs are dumped on the city's animal shelter, where overwhelmed staffers are expected to do something with them. It's not impossible to understand how mistakes are made, as in the case of four Australian shepherds brought in recently by animal rescuer Marina Tarashevska. Catching them wasn't easy. Animal shelter personnel assured Tarashevska when she brought them in that "the Aussies," as she called them, would not be killed right away.
They were killed, anyway. Tarashevska's supporters and Facebook friends were devastated to learn over the weekend that the Aussies had fallen through cracks at the animal shelter and were dead.
Maybe if you go back up to that crow's eye perspective, it seems inevitable that this sort of thing would happen. Doesn't the city have more urgent problems, anyway? Seven people turned up dead in the city over the weekend -- three shot to death in one house, two in another, a kid in front of a club, all along a line from Deep Ellum straight through stray dog country in the Grove. How much time is there to worry about dogs?
The Aussie story caught my eye for a reason. My own dog is some kind of mixed-up Australian shepherd, blue healer, English setter, maybe a touch of pit, we don't know what all, found running wild in a park by a rescue person in Oak Cliff a few years ago. She was about 18 months old, already carrying pups, maybe scrounging for garbage but definitely hunting. She was a dingo. A rescue guy trapped her with great difficulty -- I have to think she was wilier than the smartest raccoon -- and then tamed her down for a year before I got her.
But even then all I could do was walk her. The rest of the time she skulked in corners. She never bit us, but she bit everybody else who came close to her -- nipped, as my wife called it.
I had to walk her in the alleys. The day she decided she and I were on same team, she broke loose from my grip in an alley, raced 30 yards, flew straight up and nailed a pigeon at three or four feet. She trotted back to me, gave the pigeon a quick little ba-whang! to snap its neck, then threw it down in front of me and sat with this sort of half-crazy look that said, "There! Now don't say I never give you nuthin!'"
I petted her and said, "Well, now, Dorothy, I think for the sake of your further integration into the life of the home, we are going to keep that little trick between the two of us."
We've had her a little over three years. I've had dogs all my life, but never one this psychologically bonded to us. She watches us every second. She lives to please, is crushed when she thinks she may have displeased. All I can think is that communal morality of packs must be really intense.
We still have issues. The other little dog, adopted about the same time, grew up knowing how to play with toys and act like a pet. We have to be careful with Dorothy. The only game she really knows is, "Let's get crazy and bite each other in the neck." We call her our learning differences dog.
So I can't really fly up to that crow's eye perspective and shrug my shoulders about the four Aussies rescued by Marina Tarashevska and killed at the shelter. They're only feral when we let them run wild in our midst. From the instant we offer food, touch them, take them in a cage and assume responsibility, their souls begin to emerge, and then it's all different. Of course the six people shot in one night are more important. But the dogs are still important, too.