Collared -- The Pain of Losing the Dog You Tried to Rescue

Several blogs back I wrote a paean to Trixie, the quiet, forbearing coonhound I found in an alley off Crenshaw Boulevard over the summer and recently adopted into our home. Now I want to write another.

I don't want to write anymore about her. I was sure that blog was going to be the end of her story for a long time. It wasn't. After falling sick five days ago with a liver ailment, Trixie was put down at a veterinary ER last night after my husband decided the hospitalization she required would be too costly for us to cover. The hospitalization included a biopsy to determine exactly what was wrong -- hepatitis, congenital condition -- but we didn't get that far. One thing the vet was fairly sure of was that it wasn't cancer. Whatever, it might have been treatable. But the intervention had to happen right away because Trixie was swiftly declining; yesterday she was getting more yellow under the skin, and she began tottering when she walked. At about 7 p.m., over my very strenuous objections, she was put to sleep. I wasn't in the room when it happened.

I was out in the parking lot of the ER in Lawndale, on Hawthorne Boulevard and 160th. I had no idea I would be so grief-stricken, almost to the point of panic, gulping the night air that was surprisingly soft for December. It's a cliché to say that rescuing animals is really rescuing yourself, giving yourself purpose and good-deed satisfaction when both can be hard to come by in other areas of your life. In my case, dog rescue has also stood as a counter-argument to the lack of social justice in my own neighborhood, and in other neighborhoods across L.A. Too, it knocks down stereotypes about black folks who are too entrenched in survival-of-the-fittest mode to demonstrate much compassion towards each other, let alone towards dogs. While I do get some raised eyebrows from some black people about my particular passion, I also get praise and admiration, even from the raised eyebrows. That's kind of crazy but it's a good thing you're doing, they all say. Keep it up. What they're really saying is, we need open hearts out there. Helping any living creature for any reason accrues to our benefit. Compassion of any sort, as opposed to the poverty of spirit and imagination that pervades gang activity, helps the cause.

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Open hearts get cut, though. They bleed. Social justice fails to happen. Activists know this well. I know it too, but until Trixie's demise last night, I had never felt the failure of dog rescue so keenly. I also felt the echo of another, similar failure that elicited similar pain years ago, when a friend of mine living in South Central died of cancer after struggling to cobble together coherent health insurance that he didn't have because he was self-employed. In other words, he couldn't pay. He was a greatly talented musician and conductor and dreamer who died far too young.

As far as I'm concerned, Trixie did too. For some reason, I couldn't bear the thought of driving back home in the same way I came, with the blanket spread in the back seat that had the depression of Trixie's body where she had so recently laid. Walking felt more appropriate, the only last paean possible to a dog that had doubtless done a lot of walking before ending up in that alley and then in my life. I don't think I've ever walked Hawthorne Boulevard before, certainly not in Lawndale, but I did last night. It was weird. There's a first time for everything.

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.

Top photo courtesy Erin Aubry Kaplan.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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