Here’s something that happened today that terrified Roo. I had no idea it was going to happen, otherwise I wouldn't have exposed her to it. It all started with those electric weasels.
I bought them for Roo a few weeks ago. I posted a clip of her meeting one. That first night, she nosed around with it for three minutes in a motel room after being stuck all day in a car, but after that she never touched it again, no matter how much I tried to interest her.
We had two of those electric weasels. Instead of letting them go to waste, I put them in the passenger footwell of the car so that they would be in sight and I would remember to drop them off at a shelter. Maybe they could help time pass for some puppies stuck in a cage.
There’s a shelter in the desert, on top of a hill at the end of a 500-foot dirt road. Never having been there before, I was keeping an eye on the buildings, trying to figure out which was which. When I stopped the car and reached over to take the toys, Roo was sitting upright in the passenger seat. She was trembling at full force.
All it took to strike deep fear in Roo was pulling up to some windswept shelter in the Sonoran Desert.
Roo worries about a lot of things. They're not a big deal. But this killed me.
“Oh, Rooki Bear - you’re not going there,” I told her. I held her. Her neck was rigid.
I dropped the toys on the ground at the gate and we left. Roo stopped trembling by the time we got back on the highway. She put her head back down on my thigh the way she likes to when we drive and went to sleep.
Jail is deeply frightening for all animals. It was a year and a half ago that Roo did her time in north Pasadena. Yet all it took was some hint - who knows what smell, what shriek carried on the wind - to bring tortured memories to the surface and make Roo’s heart pound.
A couple of people have commented that Roo’s List is a dangerous idea. Karin, on facebook, posted, “Be very careful who you trust. You may end up losing your animals because of a bad decision in trusting the wrong person.”
I couldn’t agree more. But, the idea behind Roo’s List isn’t that you post a pet, someone emails you and out the door they go. The basis for the entire concept is to take the time while you have it - before something unforeseen happens - to try to get to know another person, to see whether you would be comfortable with their caring for your pet. A little like taking on any serious relationship. Though it’s not mandatory, the keystone concept is reciprocality. It’s striving towards a partnership concerning all pets involved. It is not a way for predators to get their hands on pets. Roo’s List tries to address that. Even in cases where a person without pets is willing to become the recipient for animals, they won’t be predators. Predators won’t be going through a process of corresponding with someone, then meeting them, showing them their homes, if what they’re looking for is a bait dog.
A way will be developed - a community-based way - to try to deal with emergency dogs. The fear of strangers getting a dog seems to be overly paranoid for this. People looking to get dog to abuse will have much easier ways to go. This way will build in some difficulty. Some need for reputation.
Can it still go wrong? On a planet with divorce, broken-up relationships, traumatized children, car accidents, wars, entire neighborhoods and cities descending into poverty, methamphetamines, violent crime and a culture that doesn’t punish animal abuse? Yes. It could be that the person you select turns out to be a disappointment.
Maybe, maybe not. What is for sure, however, is that almost all shelters are hell on animals. A huge number of them are kill shelters. In Los Angeles alone, hundreds of animals are killed each day and stacked like cordwood. And you will never convince me that animals don’t have the sense to know they’re in death factories. Go to a shelter and watch dogs being led from their cages. Their tails couldn’t be tucked any lower, their backs hunched any more than when they’re led off to die. Any way to try to keep your pets from being sent by Animal Control (the name for the animal police in the US) to a shelter is better than going to the shelter.
None of it may be pleasant to think about. But it’s literally a hell of a lot better to try to do something about it than not.
And so, Roo’s List.
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Another commenter asks why Roo wouldn’t just go back to Indi Labs if something happened to me. Since worrying about Roo is what made me come up with the idea for Roo’s List - and even more especially since Roo is a perfect example of why a pet need Roo’s List - that’s an important question.
First of all, I love Indi Labs, I love Donna Salvini, the founder and my boss there, and if Roo had to go to a rescue, that’s the one I would want her to go to. No doubt of any kind about it. So it has nothing to do with Indi Labs.
Indi Labs is busy springing 400 dogs per year from some of the most harrowing shelters in America. Not only do they have their hands full, they don’t adopt out of the southern California area, for the reason that if an adopter wants to get rid of their Indi Lab dog one day, they are required to return the dog to Indi. An Indi dog is an Indi dog for life.
But, Roo not only hasn’t been within 700 miles of Los Angeles in months, having to live there would be the worst thing that could happen to her. The last time she was there she hid in the car the whole time and got hot spots from being so stressed. Roo thrives on being a country girl. She runs and hunts and digs and swims. And when she does those things she is one of the most blessed creatures in the world. She is who she loves to be. She is in the place she is meant to be, and she loves it.
Arrangements would have to be made for Roo to be transported hundreds of miles. Should that task just be given to a rescue already struggling to transport dogs just within Los Angeles? Then she would have to be fostered. Then, even if adopted by the perfect family - which Indi would see to - she would still end up in a city that makes her nervous. On top of all that, Indi Labs, like all rescues, are busy, cash-starved operations. There is never enough money for all the sick and injured dogs.
So if there’s something wrong with trying to help Roo avoid having to go through rescue again, while at the same time finding the home where Roo could continue to live the half-wild life she does now, while not simply assuming to place the burden back on Indi Labs - or any other rescue - I can’t see what it is.
Is the idea, as Katy Mc Court, asks, perfect? No. I’m working on it. I hope you’ll work with me on it.
Those are tonight’s notes from the front.