Growing up, I knew the family dog was expendable. Should there have been any sort of emergency, the dog would not have been in the car as we drove off to safety. When a bad storm was coming, the dog was called, but whether or not he sought shelter in the house was his own business. No one went out into the elements to look for him and we really didn’t worry about him. He was a beagle that roamed over a wide area and, if a storm caught him too far from home, he took what shelter he could, returning home afterwards, bedraggled but no worse for the wear. He never came to the door during the height of a storm seeking admittance. We never knew where he rode out a storm, his choices in that regard were limitless, and there were occasions, when he was close enough to home, that he came in when the rest of us were called. Went before us, actually, because the dog was smarter than we were and would head for shelter at the first sign of a storm. We, on the other hand, would stay out playing until the last possible moment and we usually got wet, the storm overtaking us as we raced for home. Midwestern storms give plenty of warning, but you have to be clever enough to head in when one is sighted on the horizon.
We were pragmatic about our animals in rural Indiana in the ’50s. The dog was taken to the vet for a rabies shot, and that was about it. If it became ill and the projected vet bill was too large, the dog was put down. Money was not diverted from family resources to save a pet. Cats, which were considered more of a nuisance than pets, were regarded as expendable and never made it to the vet. There were rumors that some people had house cats, but I never knew of any, although I did know of the occasional cat that was allowed inside as a special treat. That cats were expendable was brought home to me very forcibly one summer?s evening when my grandfather carried a litter of newborn kittens out of the barn and unceremoniously dumped them into a bucket. He then poured another bucket of water on them and walked away. I protested but was not allowed to to interfere. ?There are already too many cats around,? I was told. The sound of their frightened mewing as they swam desperately in that bucket full of water haunts me still. It took them a long time to die.
Memories such as these come back as I watch the plight of family pets stranded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Somehow you know that the ones you are seeing, those fortunate enough to be rescued, are only the tip of the lceberg. Thelr story, of course, is secondary to the story of the human tragedy in those areas affected by Katrina. Yet these stories, human and animal, are intertwined; both were ill served in the hours and days after the event. Still, as stranded animals are found, I can’t help but see reflected in the soulful eyes of those rescued dogs and cats the image of those drowning kittens.