Shotguns and Bowling Balls

Confused and out of breath, I arrive at the Emergency Room.

It was a warm October evening when a set of glass doors parted, allowing me to enter the air-conditioned waiting room. The first thing I noticed was my fifteen year old brother, Jake, because he was covered in blood. He jumped up from an orange, plastic chair when he saw me. I looked past him to see my mother standing at the counter, filling out paper work in a short sleeve shirt and a pair of jeans. A patch of blood started at her right shoulder and had run down to her elbow and there were noticeable blood spots on her Levis. Looking down at the floor I saw blood trails and splatters everywhere.

A few of my brothers friends, and some cousins were there too. My emotions elevated, and adrenalin choked out the possibility of communication as everyone tried to explain what happened simultaneously. All I could do was stand, frozen, in a daze. My eyes squinting, trying to decipher their words, but the room sounded as though it were filled with several static radio stations. I tried desperately to focus on my brother.

“Start over, Jake… slow down, and tell me what happened,” I say, and a few of the radio frequencies died down. He was shaking and could hardly speak in complete sentences. He told me how sorry he was, how he felt responsible because my last words to him were: “Watch over my baby while I’m at work.”

I was looking into his eyes that welled with tears, trying to concentrate on his words. He was describing what I could only imagine as an episode from COPS while he repeated events leading to someone shooting my ten month old Rottweiler puppy.

* * * * * * * *

Only two hours earlier I had been laughing at my dog, Farley, as he rolled a 16-pound bowling ball around in the yard; barking and snorting as he tried to maneuver it in and out of the low spots in the grass.

Now I stood in an emergency room – listening to a technician talk to my mother, staring at my brother as I try to register his broken words. Focusing harder, I try and piece together the muddled sentences: “…shotguns, …chasing him down to kill him, …got to the doctor as soon as we could, …I’m sorry, Sis. I’m so sorry…” I felt my brain lurch forward, like a standard transmission grabbing the wrong gear. Finally, I hear my brother’s story:

“We were kicking some sack in the driveway and I thought he’d like to come out and play,” Jake was telling me. “I turned my back for a minute and he wandered off. Next thing I know I’m hearing gunshots. BLAM, BLAM, BLAM – this fucking idiot unloaded five rounds – right there in the neighborhood!”

This was difficult to register. Our neighborhood had always felt like a Norman Rockwell painting; a place where kids grew up together, rode their bikes, threw footballs in the streets, and waited for the bus together. Livestock occasionally got loose and our dogs frequently roamed the streets. If ever a problem arose, it was simply worked out. So the unthinkable had been committed; a neighbor had acted out in violence and shot a beloved member of our community — a member of my family.

I listened quietly. Jake said he turned to the direction of the gunshots and seconds later, he saw Farley darting up the driveway, dragging his back leg behind him and then, BLAM !, another shot that peppered the next door neighbor’s window. My mother came running to see what was going on, but the boys had already headed across the street to confront the neighbor with the shotgun.

Jake yammered on about how he pounded on this guy’s door, yelling at him while our mother joined him there on the neighbor’s porch. The man opened the door with a shotgun in his hand. Their confrontation was heated and brief because the police were beginning to arrive. Later we would learn, the man with the shotgun had several different versions of his story, so we never did find out exactly what happened.

However, as I stood in a local ER with my puppy in critical condition, I was certain that some of the most difficult decisions of my life were about to unfold before me because a stranger had acted out in violence.

A medical professional appeared in the waiting room to lead me back to see Farley. The doctor walked by my side and prepared me for what I was about to see. Unfortunately, all I heard was tangled jargon as though it were coming through a bad loud speaker – like Charlie Brown’s teacher – wha, whaa, wah wha, waa won.

The corridor was a long, white hallway; buzzing with fluorescent lighting that cascaded over the doorways and tiled floor. I could make out broken discussions coming from the rooms with the doors left ajar as we passed by them. The smell of antiseptic and iodine made air thick and hard to breathe.

My heart broke when the doctor opened the door. The first thing I saw was his face, and he lit up like an excited child on Christmas morning when he saw me. His eyes begged me to take him home, pleading with me, apologizing for any wrong-doing he had committed. I knew he had been waiting for me since he had been shot, waiting here in this room, alone and scared. I looked into his eyes – and I broke down.

Hot tears surged uncontrollably and rolled down my cheeks as I watched him attempt to crawl toward me, dragging his hind legs behind him, struggling to come and be near me for comfort. I moved closer so he didn’t have to exert himself and I dropped down with the weight of an iron anchor to sit at the edge of the cold, steel kennel.

Farley looked up at me from behind his big brown eyes. He had already become my dearest companion, my best friend, and he was my baby boy. Farley had been shot because he wandered into the wrong yard and a man with a shotgun hated Rottweilers.

I noticed blood where his collar should have been. This is where the first round must have caught Farley across the back of the neck. A wet wound lay open and bleeding, revealing white and red meaty flesh. The second and third shots had hit Farley in the right back leg, directly behind the knee. His left leg was not working, and was presumed to be broken from the stressful run home.

Looking at him, everything seemed to flash before me…

…the boys playing in the driveway and deciding to let their puppy and mine out to play…the dogs innocently wandering in the neighborhood…Farley deciding to sniff around the neighbor’s grass…the neighbor going into his house for his 12-guage shot gun… and the man chasing my dog to the edge of our driveway – blasting away. He unloaded five rounds from his gun. Once Farley made it to the end of our long driveway, the shooter retreated but only after one final shot that peppered the neighbor’s living-room window. This frightened them so much, they stated to the police they thought they had been victims of a drive-by shooting.

* * * * * * * *

The doctor told me that Farley’s back right leg had been hit the worst and the X-ray’s revealed the majority of the cartilage to the knee-cap was destroyed along with damage to the tendons.

With his head in my lap I looked over his wounded body. There is matted black hair, and gaping wounds all over his hindquarters and neck. I just cry and tell Farley how sorry I am. I shake my head and comfort my dog while my mother and the doctor talk. I can’t help but picture how crazy the scene must have been at my parents’ house just hours before…

…I see Farley playing, wandering around in the fall leaves and cool grass, enjoying the chill in the evening air with sundown approaching – then, abruptly confused, running for his life, shotgun blasts ringing out, my brother and his friends looking around, shocked, trying to put the chaotic, unfamiliar sounds together as they watch Farley running up the driveway, bleeding and yelping like a wild, wounded animal.

* * * * * * * *

After a few minutes with my dog, I realize I had to contemplate my options. With the balance of Farley’s life in my hands, I haven’t a clue how to respond under these circumstances. I remind myself this isn’t the first time I had been to the emergency room with him.

Ironically, on April Fool’s Day, I had taken him to softball practice with me, where he contracted Parvo (a disease known to dehydrate the animal). Understanding how fatal the disease is, I rushed him to the vet immediately. I knew how devastating this could be to a four-month old, gangly, Rottweiler puppy just starting to put on weight. The vets inserted an IV drip into his vein and got him hydrated. After a couple of days, they had done all they could do.

Farley seemed to get better when I came to visit, then would quit eating and drinking once I left. The veterinarians suggested he would do better in my care. So I took him home and fed him rice, hamburger, and canned dog food to put his weight back on. Although he was weak and had difficulty keeping liquids down, we persevered. We had cheated death for the first time.

A few months later, he was at normal body weight again and doing well so I scheduled him to be neutered. The surgery had been successful, but it was later complicated with an infection that we fought for nearly two months. A week after his infection cleared up, he cut his right front foot on a piece of glass and had to have a couple of stitches. To keep him from licking, Farley wore the lamp-shade looking Elizabethan Collar during all of his afflictions. He wore the collar so often, his nickname became “Bucket-Head”.

At the end of October, Farley turned 10 months old and the collar had been removed for the third time in his life. We needed to celebrate. To commemorate his freedom from the bucket, I loaded him in my pickup to spend the afternoon on our property in Pearl (a small mining town in Idaho). Once we returned home from our adventures in Pearl, he bucked and played in the back yard, ate dinner in his kennel, and I kissed him on the forehead before I left for work. A few hours later, Farley would be shot.

* * * * * * * *

The ER doctor clearly explained that my alternatives were to have surgery on the right leg (either amputate the leg, or try to pin the leg and hope the knee heals) or put him to sleep. My head was told me to put the dog out of his misery, he was in excruciating pain. My heart ached for my companion. I was present to only one thought: there is nothing wrong with my dog. After all, the buckshot had missed all of his internal organs, his head, and both front legs. Farley was just broken.

I looked down at him again. A financial responsibility of this magnitude concerned me, but putting a price on how much I valued this precious animal made me feel guilty. I struggled with the thought of having a crippled pet to care for, and that made me feel guilty. But I couldn’t do it. I kept thinking: there is nothing wrong with my dog… I can’t put him to sleep… I love him. The decision was mine. I decided to pin his leg and nurse him back to health once again.

Two days later, Farley went in for his first surgery. It lasted three hours. I took him home to the guest house, where the two of us lived behind my parents’ home. I slept every night on the floor with him. I wrapped a dish towel under his belly to help him outside to go to the bathroom. I gave him aspirin every four hours and changed his bandages twice a day. Some days the living room, where we slept, would smell of rotting flesh as the wounds oozed and healed. I didn’t care; I loved him so much.

I gently rubbed his paw and looked into his glazed, watery eyes as he fought the medication I gave him for the pain. After two weeks, the veterinarians decided that the leg was deteriorating more than it was healing. We were going to have to amputate the leg after all.

The second surgery took only two hours. I was angry and heartbroken that my perfect, beautiful boy was going to be malformed. However, I was quite surprised with the results of the amputation. Once I got past the disfiguration and the apprehension over his shaved hip, I was impressed with the recovery of an animal after an amputation; he was up and around that very day!

Because Farley was a large breed dog, the vets told me the likelihood of hip problems would be greater. Additionally, because he would have to support so much weight on only one back leg, his life expectancy had been reduced to four years. So I started researching hip dysplasia, a common degenerative joint disease, especially with large breed dogs, and found that glucosamine and chondroitin would benefit his recovery. I began putting powder on his dog food which strengthened his hip immensely to increase his life expectancy. Farley continued to ride in the back of my pickup. “Load up” was replaced with “Paws Up” so I could give him a boost into the back of the truck. He never passed up a chance to run, hike, or swim, but his favorite remained playing soccer with his bowling ball.

It took over a year (from the time of the shooting) to get the neighbor on trial for his illegal behavior. Although I won my restitution case for over $5,000 in medical bills, I have never seen a dime. Because the Idaho State laws place more value on livestock than my pet’s life, the man was not found guilty of anything other than “illegal discharge of a firearm”.

The entire dilemma gave me a greater appreciation for what parents go through with a child in desperate situations. Certainly, an animal is no comparison to that of a child. However, I discovered that the painful and emotional decisions for those we love – are never easy.

farley02If I had to change anything, it would be to choose amputation as a first option. I would not hesitate to advise someone if they were faced with a similar situation. The animal’s ability to recover is no comparison to that of a human because there are no psychological, emotional, or physical processes to struggle with and therefore, the animal adapts immediately.

Additionally, I had to accept the fact there are angry, unreasonable individuals who turn to violence as a solution to their problems. This man received a fine for illegally firing a gun, but more important – he could have killed someone in my family. I simultaneously feel disgust and sympathy for someone who has such little respect for life and lacks the humanity to fully understand the damage he caused to me and to those I love.

* * * * * * * *

I had Farley for eight years after the accident, despite the four years the veterinarians gave him. We had a wonderful, eventful life together. On September 9, 2007, I snuck out for a morning hike at Table Rock, leaving Farley sleeping quietly in the den. I came home from my hike to discover my Farley-dog lying in his own vomit, and he was barely breathing. I believe his insides had given out on him. I was heartbroken. It was time to say goodbye to my beloved friend.

As my boyfriend and a neighbor loaded my 120-pound companion into the back of a Jeep, I crawled in next to him, and we cuddled together in the warmth of the sun for a final, beautiful fall day together. I held his big black paw and spoke to him all the way to the clinic. I held that big black paw until he took his last breath, and I was honored to be there for him as he left this world. He would have been nine years old in December.

farley01Farley was truly the love of my life. Unconditional love is rare to find from other human beings, and animals just give it freely. Even though our adventures together had been bitter-sweet for nearly a decade, I believe that the harder the road is to travel, the more appreciative you become of the journey. His love will be with me forever.

So maybe the neighbor did me a favor – bringing me closer to an animal than I could have ever imagined. Regardless, I had to find a way to reconcile my feelings. This was such an unusual and cruel event in my life, but it was easy to endure with the love of my Farley-dog there by my side.