On Thursday, a local police officer brought a Heeler mix he called Jack into the Espanola Valley Humane Society. The sight horrified those present, and the stench permeated the entire shelter grounds. Jack’s right front leg had been mutilated, and the injury was clearly not new. According to the officer, the dog had been hit by a car about six weeks ago, and he was now worried maggots would begin eating away at the infected limb.
I met Jack yesterday (Friday), after he’d already undergone the amputation surgery. He lifted his head just a tad to sniff my fingers before resting it again on the blankets, still groggy from the sedation. The shelter behaviorist and I sat with him a few minutes, trying to be of some comfort, but knowing the only real relief would come with time — and the strongest legal painkillers.
The photos taken of Jack at his arrival will likely be used as evidence in the court case against his owners. (The images are difficult to look at, but one is available here— view at your discretion.) From the socket hangs what looks like a partially-eaten chicken drumstick. In places, no skin, no cartilage, no tendons. Just completely exposed bone with a knob at the bottom where his paw turns under and a round, deadened area at the top connecting the leg to what was left of his shoulder.
In New Mexico, animal neglect is a misdemeanor. Outright animal cruelty is considered a felony, but like in many states, rarely prosecuted. No question this dog endured extreme neglect, but he was also a victim of outright cruelty. How does a person live day in and day out, for six weeks, with an animal in obvious excruciating pain? I’m not being flippant when I say that ignoring the sight and stench would have had to have taken more effort than simply asking for help.
So far, the Espanola sheriff’s office sees it that way too. A case is being made to prosecute Jack’s owner (if and when they can establish that the man who surrendered him was indeed his owner – the officer has since changed his story) on felony charges. A clip from the local news is avaliable here.
Espanola is not a wealthy community, and the actual shelter building reflects the area’s depressed economic conditions: cement floor, blocky brick walls, makeshift signs, and ramshackle shelving. What it lacks in beauty and warmth is made up for by an utterly devoted staff. When Jack arrived, there was no question they’d do everything they could for him, despite knowing his medical care would cost thousands of dollars. This dog would not be failed by humans again.
As I write this story on Saturday morning, the official update from the shelter reads: “Jack is awake today but having a hard time. We are working on getting him through this rough spot.”
Please consider helping. Donations can be made online at www.evalleyshelter.org/donate (in honor of Jack), over the phone at (505) 753-8662 or mailed to Espanola Valley Humane Society, 108 Hamm Parkway, Espanola NM 87532 (just put "Jack" in the check memo).