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The dog that lives outdoors a few houses from mine started barking. It’s the heat again, I thought. Outside, the thermometer read ninety-four degrees.
Walking to my mother’s room to make the phone call, only one number ran through my head. What would happen if I dialed it?
I pressed TALK. The dial tone sounded for a few seconds, but I hung up, nervous. My heart began racing, and I poked my head out of my room to make sure nobody was eavesdropping.
My family’s neighbors had been our good friends for a very long time, but after a falling out, my mother refused to talk to them again, and warned my siblings and me to do the same. Lucy, their pit bull terrier, has lived outside chained to a doghouse for her entire life. Whenever I visited them, I would first check to make sure she had clean water and an adequate amount of food. Sometimes they would allow me to unchain her so she could exercise.
After I realized I would not be able to have any contact with Lucy, I became more worried about her. Does she have water? I would wonder on hot days. Who’s going to wash her? Why don’t they care? I knew that if I reported our neighbors, they would somehow find out, and that could trigger some serious ill will between us, not to mention that I would take the blame for opening my mouth. My mother was aware of my concern for Lucy but I was not allowed to say anything.
I pressed TALK again. I dialed: 800-582 – no. I hung up. TALK again. *67-800-582-5979.
I waited for an eternity as it rang and an invisible hammer pounded my chest. Crap, I thought. What if they take her away? I won’t be able to see her –
“NJSPCA,” a bored voice answered.
Completely immersed in my thoughts, I hesitated. What do I say, what do I say?
“NJSPCA,” the lady replied. I imagined her yawning.
“Um … can I make an anonymous report?” I asked, wishing I had written down a script.
“What is it?” she asked lazily.
“Hi. Um … there’s a dog that lives across the street from me. Her owners don’t wash her food or water dishes, and she’s chained to a doghouse 24/7 She hasn’t been released for at least five months.”
“What’s the address?” she asked.
I gave her the address. Phew. The story was out. Something was going to be done. I relaxed.
“But she has food and water?” the lady asked.
“Yes,” I answered, “but her bowls are never washed.”
“And you said she has a doghouse?”
“Ummm …” Where was this going? Wasn’t she supposed to just take the report and send people to check it out? “Yes,” I answered hesitantly.
“Alright, ma’am, according to New Jersey state law, it’s not abuse as long as the dog has food, shelter and water.”
Wait … this was a joke, right?
I laughed in disbelief. Oops. “It’s ninety-four degrees outside,” I answered bitterly. I tried to soften the sting in my voice. Don’t wanna make this lady mad.
“Right, but you said she has shelter, right? A doghouse?”
“Ye-es, but ….she has brown fur,” I countered stupidly.
A pause. “So?”
“Well, obviously, since it’s dark, it absorbs the sunlight more and makes her hot and dehydrated more quickly,” I answered angrily. “And her collar is almost imbedded into the skin on her neck! It has rarely ever been removed before.”
“Like I said,” the lady answered impatiently, “it’s not abuse as long as she has food, shelter and water.”
“Her doghouse is a dark color too! So even if she goes inside, she’ll suffocate!”
“If you’re not familiar with the state law regarding animal abuse, you can visit our website at –“
I hung up.
That was the first of many calls I made, many of which did not end well. Often, I would argue, throw in a tiny lie to make Lucy’s situation seem worse, but nobody budged. Once, however, the person who picked up was, judging by her voice, a very kind, young woman. I explained the situation to her.
“Okay,” she said, “but the state law says that ---“
“I know what it says!” I replied, exasperated. “Sorry. But can’t you just do something about it? She hasn’t had exercise in almost six months. How would you like it if you were chained up for six months?”
She seemed to take that into consideration. “Okay, I guess we can send someone.” Yes! “What’s your name?” Crap.
I gave her a fake name, but my real cell phone number.
It didn’t matter because I never received a call back. Sometimes I wonder why there is even an animal abuse hotline if nobody is going to do anything about it. Some people really needed a wake-up call.
Even long after I had hung up, desperate barks rang pleadingly in the distance as I tried to think of an alternate solution.