I learned something crucial about myself, and my feelings around a very serious aspect of parenting last night.
I had joined my friend Neil, along with a couple of his friends from high school, in order to celebrate his 200th variety of beer at the Flying Saucer in Austin. Just as I mentioned her to the group, my wife called me.
"Hey, I just conjured you up!" I said, cheerfully.
Her voice was panicked. "Dan! There's something wrong with Ally. She won't stop crying and shaking, and she's panting really heavily." Ally is our one and a half year old shepherd mix that we rescued from the Town Lake Animal Center this past August.
I had just started eating a really delicious burger, and downing a lovely brew, so I tried to suggest that I would finish before leaving, but the desperation in her voice rose, when she said, "Come home now. Please."
I gulped down a bit more of the beer and put my burger and fries in a to-go box, then said good-bye to Neil and his friends, before making my way back home.
At 9:00 on a Saturday night, the only place you can take a pet in distress is the Emergency Animal Hospital of Northwest Austin. Like almost every other money-making concern in that area, it's a storefront in a strip mall. Its sign shines in bright red hospital block lettering and can be seen from Route 183, which flies by overhead at 65+ mph. My six year old insisted on accompanying me and Ally, the latter of whom had compliantly hopped up into the car and sat next to me in the passenger seat the whole way there.
Luckily there was no one else in the waiting room when we arrived. The receptionist, nurses and vet were all very kind to us and to Ally, and we were in and out of there in less than an hour. As it turned out, Ally had suffered an injury to the soft tissue in her tail -- maybe a torn ligament or something. When I questioned Jackson about it, he claimed that one of his friends had been pulling on Ally's tail earlier in the day.
There are a couple of strong reactions I found myself having, once I confirmed the story with his older brother. First, there's the whole complicity of watching someone hurt another creature, especially one who is thought of as a member of your family. I expect my children to step in and intervene -- to stop cruelty from happening, or to report it, at the very least. That being said, I was a kid once, and I can remember some dark things I did to animals that I'd rather not recount. Never, though, was a family pet the victim of any of this violence.
Also, Ally is such a sweet dog that it breaks my heart. The reason she'd been crying was that she could not resist the urge to wag her tail -- a dog's version of smiling -- despite her injury. Even as a child was pulling at her body, giving her extreme pain, she never struck back, never protected herself. Never bit.
I must reiterate for my boys that no one has the right to hurt them. There are people out there who may try and hurt you. When they do, you must strike back. Protect yourself.