Crack House Diary: Ten Cents and the birth of Cain

I’m not sure how I’m going to handle this story about my dogs. If I complete the story it will span two or three Whatsit entries, and it will end with our taking what should have been two members of our family to an animal shelter, where they were left behind and never seen by us again. I feel like I have to say this up front. Whatever bond the reader may feel with these animals and their situation, they are gone, and statistically speaking, they are probably dead and gone.  We are haunted by their memory and by our choices. To string along the good reader, from one happy moment to another, knowing the true outcome… well, I just can’t do that. For three years the dogs were part of our lives, but we couldn’t figure out how to be responsible dog owners without giving over our entire lives to them, which we were ultimately unwilling to do.  It has been a year since they have been gone, and Susan and I continue to wish that we had made a different choice.

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I found her under my pickup truck in the back yard, too frail to run. Her sun-bleached white coat slid tautly over her panting ribcage, a roiling survival poem of fur and bone set to the rhythm of her desperate breaths. She was so thin her species was hard determine, but the tiger striped brindle in the dark patch around her eye said pit bull. I went back into the house to fill a bowl with water, which I slid within an inch of her nose, but she wouldn’t drink. I went back into the house and found an old packet of hotdogs, opened but too gross to eat. I slid the hot dogs, one at at a time, within an inch of her nose, and then the survival instinct took hold. She took one gingerly into her mouth and pitched her head to center the dog near the back of her throat; her hinged jaw opened and closed a couple of times and the dog was gone. In this fashion she finished the remaining hotdogs. Only then did she hoist her weight onto her legs and hobble out from under the truck to drink from the bowl. She finished the water fast, so I filled the bowl again. She drank it down three times.

That was how things were in the back yard, before I hired a fencer to install an iron gate and make that space our own. People and animals who had known our home longer than we had would take advantage of this little bit of privacy and shelter accessible from the street. The detritus of their activity, cigarette butts, beer cans in paper bags, and condom wrappers, would blow around, getting caught in the dry weeds and pavement cracks. The pickup that had shaded the starving pit bull had also served as a makeshift brothel for the prostitutes working Figueroa street. I know this because the sex workers, or their johns, had left their knotted condoms on the floorboards of my truck. Prostitutes were not the only people using the yard. One day Susan pulled her car into the back to find three young men sitting on our steps smoking drugs out of glass pipes. She walked up to them and calmly said, “You can’t do that here any more. People live here now.” The young men were polite, apologizing as they cleaned up after themselves, and then they were gone. At night the violent sounds of feral cat sex would remind us that no piece of paper would ever confer to us total ownership of our own back yard.

When I was a child I had once fed hot dogs to a stray dog, and it followed me around for days. I loved that dog, and felt like we belonged to each other. My mother hated dogs and called the animal shelter on day three. The dog, which had been the picture of canine happiness, attacked the shelter worker on sight. She knew what was going to happen better than I did. The worker had a pole with a steel loop on the end. He captured the dog’s neck in the loop and used the pole to force the dog into a cage on his truck. My mother assured me she would find a good home, but it just wouldn’t be ours. It broke my heart.

Over the course of several weeks, I continued to feed the pit bull living under my truck. I bought a big bag of dog food and dog bowls for food and water, and I would put them out for her each morning. Come evening, if the bowls were empty, I would fill them again. Her skinny frame became veined and muscly. Her mouth became a muscly raw pink gash with teeth. Pit Bulls have muscles everywhere. She was gorgeous, and she loved everyone in our family.

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We still didn’t have a gate to secure the back yard, but now the pit bull kept strangers at bay. One morning I went out to feed the girl and I found a sequin covered handbag and a single clear-healed pump in the mud. A prostitute had probably brought a john to the back yard and then discovered the pit bull. In her haste to leave she had dropped her bag and broken the strap on her pump. If you have a problem with prostitutes turning tricks in your back yard, a pit bull might help. Unfortunately, solving a prostitute problem with a pit bull may inadvertently cause a mail delivery problem. The pit bull was becoming territorial, and to her, the mail carrier was just another whore.

After several days without mail, I realized what must be happening. Then the mail carrier presumably called the animal services to collect the dog because a city worker showed up with one big question that I was not prepared to answer:

Is that your dog?

Uhhhh… I feed her, but she is a street dog. She doesn’t belong to us. I just give her food and water.

If she isn’t your dog, I am going to have to take her.

Do you really have to do that? I mean, maybe I can keep her.

If you want to keep her that is fine, but you need to secure the dog so the mail carrier can deliver your mail, and you are going to have to get a license.

Ok. I can do that.

Here you go (she gave me copies of the paperwork for registering a dog). Don’t wait. Take care of this or you can be fined.

That is how I became a dog owner. Later that day I bought a leather collar and a tether, which would have suffice until we could get a gate. The next day I called a fabricator, and within the week our back yard was secured with a padlock and a pit bull. Not only did this solve our prostitute problems, it also eliminated the noisy feral cat sex.

Asa named our puppy Ten Cents.

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Ten Cents was not the only dog on the block. Most of the houses had dogs, and none of the dogs liked anyone except the people who fed them. All of these dogs created a type of ghetto sonar whereby a person’s position on the street could be determined by the sound of dog barks. I hadn’t understood how this sonar worked until Ten Cents joined the canine choir. Then my ear became attuned, and when the prostitutes would would walk down my street, or anyone else for that matter, my ear would tell me when they passed my house, and which direction they were going. If a pedestrian was a neighbor, my ear could tell which neighbor based on the lull in the barking cacophony.

The upshot of so many dogs in the neighborhood was basically this — when Ten Cents went into heat, there were about a hundred suitors willing to help her out. Shortly after getting the gate, our baby’s belly began to swell. Having never owned a dog, I called a vet to inquire into the possibility of getting a doggie abortion. The vet laughed at me and basically said that if my girl’s belly was already distended, any abortive measures would already be too late. I would have to deal with the puppies after they came. The responsibility of dog ownership was getting complex.

The day came soon enough. As Ten Cents grew bigger, her bark grew fainter. I built a birthing box out of plywood and moved her inside the house. The puppies were born the evening of Martin Luther King Jr. day, 2005. There were nine of them, which is just about as big as a litter can get. I made this video:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv6h321N2tw[/youtube]

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Looking at the puppies’ markings, a suspicion was all but confirmed. They looked like the neighbor’s Rottweiler with whom we shared a fence and driveway. He had been loose before, and apparently made good use of his minutes of freedom. I placed an advertisement on Craig’s List for Rotty Pit Bulls. Within minutes my inbox was filling with replies. One stood out:

Spay and neuter the pups to save them from creating this problem all over again. A pet that is already spay/neutered attracts more people to adopt. In a couple years most of them will end up in shelters being put down but meantime don’t let them breed like you did with your dog.

I replied:

Great idea. Our pit was a stray. She moved into our back yard to find a shady place to die. We started feeding her, and we fell in love. So now she is ours. Unfortunately, in the very brief window of time when we were deciding whether or not to keep her, the neighbor’s dog got to her.

Do you know of an inexpensive place to fix the puppies? We are going to fix the bitch too, once she has finished nursing the pups. I am a new dog owner, so the entire experience is a bit overwhelming, and I am not sure what kinds of resources are available. I don’t have a lot of money, but we are willing to do what we can with the money we have.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

The anonymous respondent turned out to be an animal rescue volunteer who had dedicated a great deal of her life and resources to spaying and neutering stray cats and dogs. She really helped us out, and within a few weeks all of the puppies and Ten Cents had been fixed and received shots. She administered the shots herself, in her home, and taught me how to do this myself. She connected us with a responsible rescue agency, and we turned over seven of the nine puppies to them. The folks at the rescue agency told us that we had made a good choice in using their help. It was their opinion that many of the respondents on Craig’s List would have been looking for fighting dogs, and that we were probably not in a position to screen potential adoptive families. In retrospect, many of the email responses seemed to support this idea, and I found myself retroactively reading between the lines, where respondents would ask questions about the size and breed of the mother and father. The neighbors with the Rottweiler kept one puppy, and we kept the first puppy to be born, which we named Cain.

These were our dogs, Ten Cents and Cain.

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9 responses to “Crack House Diary: Ten Cents and the birth of Cain”

  1. lane says:

    as ren of ren and stimpy would say (while perusing the photos over breakfast [FGS!]})

    “I think I’m going to be sick!”

  2. lane says:

    ok so now i’m sorry about my snippy comment about viewing canine afterbirth at breakfast.

    we have a similar situation. cat, too small an apartment, small child.

    the cat is living on the roof deck through the summer, but come fall? . . .

    it is hard, because these animals do become family members.

  3. Jeremy says:

    All I can say is thanks for the disclaimer–I’m steeling myself for the heartbreak to come… (I’m not sure it’ll do much good though, since I’ve already bonded…)

  4. Tim says:

    Wow. That video is really something. The story is just heartbreaking, though. I’m glad you began with the disclaimer. Otherwise, I just couldn’t have handled the eventual end of the tale (TBC, I gather).

  5. Scotty says:

    I know that it’s just an Internet crush, but I’m completely in love with Ten Cents — she just has such a sweet smile. And that video is beautiful, blood, afterbirth, and all.

    God, I’m totally set up for a major bum-out!

  6. Natasha says:

    You know Rogan, an act of kindness is an act of kindness. Whatever your reason was for taking them to the shelter, I am sure, it was a very good one. Ten Cents had a chance to live for three more years, and, maybe, experienced humanity for the first time in her life. You did what you could for her, and it was a lot.

  7. Marleyfan says:

    Great Post Rogan, riveting!

  8. autumn says:

    Thank you for the disclaimer, I think I might have felt duped. I also think knowing upfront lets us approximate the bitter-sweet reality a little better and have greater empathy for your decision.

    I love this post and eagerly await part II.

    p.s. The second picture of Ten Cents with the puppies is about as cute as it gets. She looks like she’s thinking, “NINE puppies! Will I ever get up off this floor?”

  9. I appreciate the kind thoughts. I sure do miss those dogs. Especially Ten Cents.

    6. Natasha, your thoughts are particularly kind.

    8. The pictures of Ten Cents with her babies crack me up. She had all of these expressions I had seen on Susan before. There are feelings that definitely transcend species. She eventually got tired of those babies constantly yelping for food. We kept them on milk for four weeks before turning them over to the rescue clinic. Ten cents ate through hundreds of dollars of food in that time. She was a real trooper.

    As I was writing the post I watched the birth video a couple of times. Asa had been in the room, and had to leave, because the video was too sad a reminder. If I were an actor I imagine Ten Cents might be one of those touchstones on which I might draw to convey sorrow, pain, regret.

    Again, thanks for the kind thoughts.