Tuesday, June 24, 2008


My computer is in what was a back bedroom that looks out over the backyard. A week or so ago a dog went cruising through -- this is NOT usual. Valier is strict about the leash law, or tries to be. The next day I was in the kitchen which also faces the yard and the dog was back, this time plainly in pursuit of Squibbie, my tortoiseshell cat. Part lizard and part leopard, she beat it into the back garage and presumably up the ladder to the loft. I went out and yelled at the dog. Next day she was back, checking around for that cat. Later I saw her in the back alley, stalking a white cat with orange patches. She clearly had pups somewhere.

Others were complaining, but small towns are the same as big cities: when it comes to dogs, they stall and wait for Divine Intervention. In the meantime, I had been complaining about an abandoned house trailer standing open on the back of the block. Unsecured, with no water or electricity, nevertheless people had been staying there. Again, the town huffed and puffed but did nothing. The dog was living under it in a long burrow she entered on the short side. She was eating cats for lack of anything else. Quite a few cats evidently live in the trailer, “upstairs” so to speak.

Between that trailer and my house lives Petunia (not her real name -- she fears blogs), who loves animals, and she and I began to feed the dog to keep it from eating cats. The town sheriff’s deputy and I went over to take a look and spotted the pups, who were up and walking. The mother -- a sweet-faced, bat-eared mix of shepherd, lab, Akita?-- could be approached but not grasped. She growled and barked. Kids on bikes were swooping past like bullbats after bugs. They knew to whom the dog belonged: them. Soon we were talking to the owners. Yesterday the mother, the oldest daughter, Petunia, and myself went over and captured nine of the ten pups in a melee of screaming, barking, desperation and determination. Today they are presumably on their way to the humane society.

Petunia is very sad and indignant. She’s close to 75, has two little dogs of her own, and still does a lot of pretty heavy labor to keep their property nice. The neighbor on the north side is outraged, saying that the dog rushed her son’s girl friend. The mother dog will probably be either shot or poisoned, unless she can be trapped. The deputy sheriff has no proper trap nor training with the pole-snare. Nor does he have contact with the animal control officers in Glacier County. Pondera has no specialized officer.

This is a recognizable “rez dog” out of its context. The “owners” have a house in Heart Butte where the then nearly-starved dog crept into the garage and had two puppies, one dead. The family also has a house in Valier so the kids can go to the better schools here. When they got to the house in Heart Butte and discovered the dog and pup, the kids were enthralled. They love to rescue everything living. So the dog came to Valier with them, but she went into heat again and disappeared until she showed up under the trailer. She is no longer thin and she is no longer approachable. In Heart Butte she would become part of the background of dogs, a constantly shifting collection that occupies an ancient ecology. If the dogs weren’t there the town would be infiltrated by bears, cougars and coyotes. In Valier the dog enrages the orderly rural older people who want everything under control. Even I am attached to my cats and don’t want them eaten.

The discussion has now become one about who should shoot the dog or poison the dog or taser the dog... Get rid of that dog! Peer pressure is being brought to bear on that family, not that they care. Pressure is also on the deputy who is expecting an addition to his family any day, any hour. Pressure from one’s heavily pregnant wife cannot be ignored, but she hardly lobbying to get rid of the dog.

We’re all waiting for Divine Intervention in several ways. Esp. Petunia and I who have partly resolved not to feed the dog anymore, in hopes it will go off somewhere before it has to be killed and to defend our own feelings if it IS killed. She’s named her “Lady,” and I call her what those kids named her, “Princess.” Both of us have had a grip on her collar at one time or another, but the Lady Princess fights too hard for us to hang on. I make suggestions, but hesitate to tell a deputy sheriff what to do, esp. one half my age.

The root of the problem is not the dog at all. It’s the property, which belonged to an old man felled by Alzheimers. He is either dead or in a nursing home, his slightly “off” son is the one who breaks back in to stay there, and the local real estate people will have nothing to do with the problem of unraveling ownership and at least offering an evaluation. The grass is up to my shoulders so the mower maniacs went over to tackle it, but soon destroyed their mower blades on discarded metal junk, even though they had carefully walked the area to get rid of it. Of course, they were trespassing and knew it. We dog rescuers are also trespassing and know it. This has the potential to escalate to someone dying inside the trailer, which will allow the sheriff to enter without technically trespassing. IF he knows the corpse is there, which will be hard to discern because the place already reeks.

The dog part of the problem becomes so unsolvable because of lack of focus: confused motives. Even Petunia and I, between and within ourselves, are conflicted about what to do. We can NOT take this dog into our households, because of our own pets. We know she can’t go on there. We don’t want the dog shot. We try to imagine alternatives, all the best ones cost money and each of us have an income that barely tops a thousand dollars a month. It’s a strain to buy dog food. The town is equally ambiguous and quite ready to blame Petunia and I. (They’re always mad at the sheriff unless they really need him.) None of this is unique and none of it is only a small town problem. It was the same in Portland, Oregon, forty years ago. It's the same in Great Falls. It's the same all over America. We just don't know what we think about animals.


Dona Stebbins said...

This is terribly sad, for everyone concerned, but especially for the dog. That is why I have been actively involved in the free Spay/Neuter program in Great Falls. Since 2005, we have altered over 2100 cats and dogs, preventing countless kittens and puppies from being born and left without loving homes.

State law mandates that cities are responsible for animal control, whether they do it themselves or contract with a provider. The city of Valier, like it or not, is responsible for this dog. The obvious fix here is humane euthanasia, if no home (willing to spay her) can be found. Again, how very, very sad!

prairie mary said...

Today the story continues with as many plot twists as a murder mystery, which it might become. This morning I got the legal address and description from the Valier town clerk and headed to the county seat, Conrad, to do the month's laundry and shopping. At the county courthouse I visited the assessor, the sanitarian, the treasurer, the sheriff, and anyone else I could think of. All agreed something had to be done. No one wanted to do anything. No one could think of a solution. The stinking and decrepit trailer is behind on its taxes and could be sold by the sheriff right now. The land under the trailer is separate and would not be eligible for sheriff's sale until four years had passed. There are liens on the whole thing from the nursing home and the original lender, which is one of those mysterious institutions that bundles and resells loans. So I got home, typed this all up and gave it to the town clerk.

Soon as I got home Petunia called with HER research. She had talked to the old man's sister -- he is NOT dead. And so on. The last puppy seems to be gone but we can't be sure. The feral mother dog is still impossible to grasp. And the nine puppies we caught all went out to Heart Butte to become fertile, feral and ...

So now what? The thing is -- and I've always known this and tried to convey the truth -- there is no such thing as a simple dog problem. They are ALWAYS connected to a human problem, a housing problem, a social problem, problems in public sentimentality -- on and on. Got to tackle the thing as a whole. But it helps to get accurate information.

Prairie Mary