His name was Bubba. Well, that’s what someone in the intake department at the shelter decided to call him. We will never know is “real” name. Bubba was found one Saturday morning tied to the metal fence next to the shelter’s surrender door, left there sometime under the cover of darkness.
I heard about Bubba that Saturday but did not meet him until the following week. A hulking, barrel-chested Boxer, he sat in his pen and watched patiently as the world went by, quietly assessing the situation in which he now found himself. Bubba was old. That much was certain. His large brown eyes were clouded by whitish cataracts and his massive frame was covered in fatty cysts and growths that often accompany old age in dogs. A few were so large that they probably made sitting or lying down uncomfortable for him.
While walking other dogs that day, I saw another volunteer taking Bubba down the tile hallway toward the door where sunshine and walks about the grounds await. He was slow but there was still a little spring in his step, and I recall thinking how regal he was in his bulk. He tottered along the linoleum, his long legs churning to get to the door and his toenails, which we speculate had not been trimmed in eons, clicked anxiously on the floor. His hefty frame seemed out of place on those long, spindly legs but Bubba was still smiling, still moving and still eager to do his best to go for a walk.
A few hours later I ran into this volunteer and it was evident she was upset.
“I just need to talk,” she said. “I’ve been doing this a year and have learned to turn off my emotions. But Bubba really got to me.”
“Bubba got pulled this afternoon, right after our walk.” She looked at me with moist eyes. “I just can’t believe that I gave him his last walk.”
I thought for a long time about Bubba, about his gentle old face and aging body, his cloudy eyes and the manner by which he found his way to the shelter. I’ve seen dozens of dogs come and go in my time there. Happily, many dogs get adopted. Others get picked up by rescue groups and others get sent to alternative shelters where their chances of finding a permanent home are higher. But for some, the inner-city shelter is the last stop, this due primarily to health issues, behavioral problems or the daunting fact that the shelter takes in over 1,000 animals a month and space is limited.
I knew these facts going in and understand that some dogs might not ever leave. Regardless of this understanding, it is still painful and a dog like Bubba saddens me in ways that are hard to express. Yes, he was sick. Yes, he was old. But did he deserve to be abandoned in the darkness of night and left all alone, to live out his few remaining days in a 4×4 cage? I will never understand the rationale of people who can commit such a selfish act. Bubba touched many people’s lives in his short stay at the shelter. He had a presence, a gentle giant with a peaceful air about him.
After my conversation with the volunteer, I walked back to the room where Bubba had stayed for three days. His cage was empty. All that remained was a crumpled blanket and a water bowl. I pictured his face as I had last seen it, smiling, and his aged body wobbling toward his last walk. I felt something growing in the pit of my stomach – sadness, anger, fear – and hot tears began to form in my eyes. I prayed for Bubba’s spirit and I prayed that Bubba was somewhere good, finally pain-free and at peace. And that he knew we were still here, thinking of him and that his existence did make a difference.