Chapter 16
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The Humanitarian's Dilemma

A soft touch navigates the food chain

Monday is meat day. Well, to be precise, not every Monday is meat day, just the second Monday of each month. That’s when I drive from White Bluff to Nashville to rendezvous with Farmer Jenny, who hands me some delectable parts of the cows, pigs, goats and chickens she so lovingly raises. I’ve been a faithful customer of Jenny’s for several years now. I haven’t spent a day at her farm in a long time, so I can’t say I’ve had the privilege of being introduced to the animals whose remains I devour, but at least I spend a moment each month chatting with the woman who saw them into and out of this world. Michael Pollan would approve.

One freezing meat Monday in January, I stopped at the big box pet emporium on the way home to buy my dogs their kibble and treats. (Which are, of course, made with factory-farmed meat. Go ahead, Michael, judge me.) As I stepped out of the car I saw a white mutt standing about thirty feet away, surveying the parking lot with that mixture of confidence and wariness that is the hallmark of long-term strays. I called him. As I expected, he acknowledged me but kept his distance. Dogs that are newly lost will either come straight to you or run away in a panic. This guy was clearly hardcore homeless.

I argued with myself, as I always do in these situations. Should I try to take him home? I already have three rescue dogs and feel slightly overwhelmed. It wouldn’t really be fair to the current pack to bring in yet another foundling. Should I ask the people in the store to call animal control to pick him up? He seemed like a nice enough dog, but not exactly highly adoptable. He’d just spend a few days in a cage at the pound, and then be euthanized. He was thin, but looked like he was doing OK on his own. At least he was smart enough to cruise the doggy supermarket, where suckers like me are sure to come along.

I got a few extra packages of jerky treats and carried them outside. I wasn’t surprised that he wouldn’t come to me to take the food. I pitched the strips of meat about ten feet away, and he ambled over to them calmly. Clearly, he knew the drill; I was not the first soft touch he’d met. I ran some more errands at the shopping center and was relieved that there was no sign of him when I returned to the parking lot. I really am a sucker for animals, especially dogs, who mirror human expressions of loneliness and abandonment so effectively. They break my heart. But I’m a typical selfish, busy human. I’m not going to totally disrupt my life to care for every needy creature I encounter. Seeing that this one hadn’t lingered in hope gave me a reprieve from guilt.

Then I saw her: a black and tan mutt, a little smaller than the boy dog, sitting almost exactly where he had been standing when I first saw him. Great. They were tag teaming me. I felt a small pang of resentment, but I couldn’t very well say no to her. She looked so helpless. I tried the same trick, throwing the treats her way, but before she could take any, Mr. S. reappeared from behind a parked car and gobbled them right up. He let her have just one. Dogs are not chivalrous.

It was cold out there, and I needed to get home, but, hey, we bitches have to stick together. No way could I leave without making sure she got some food. Out of treats by then, I went back in the store to restock. By the time I came out, the dogs had wandered over to a little grassy area and were lying side by side, a dysfunctional yet loving couple. I made two piles of food, one far enough away from the other that the male couldn’t guard both, but he had gorged himself sufficiently and showed no interest. The female hesitated, and then rushed over to the goodies when he gave her the nod. I stood and watched until my fingers and toes began to get numb. Then I got back in my car full of meat and drove away.