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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Looking back/Looking forward

It isn't the end of the year yet, but I had a birthday recently.  This puts me in looking back/looking forward mode, sometimes.  The road behind me is much longer than the road in front of me; I have been beached on the rocky shores of late middle age.  My birthday is not a momentous occasion since I am a regular guy of little consequence. To exist is momentous, however, and this gift of just being alive is often overlooked by many people, including me.

My daughters and I have been thinking about homeless dogs lately.  We have visited the Anti-Cruelty Society shelter and the Animal Control facility, both in Chicago.  The Anti-Cruelty Society joint is clean, bright and well-lit. The cages are large, and each dog is wearing a bright bandanna with the Anti-Cruelty Society logo on it. It is on the fancy and wealthy Near North Side, at LaSalle and Grand.  Flocks of volunteers wander the place, eager to help anyone seeking a canine or feline companion. There are "adoption consultants" and  multi-page forms that prospective animal adopters must fill out.  The Animal Control headquarters in Chicago is at 27th and South Western.  This is a gritty section of town, full of auto  repair shops and truck terminals.  The inside of the Animal Control joint is a bit like Cook County Jail for four-legged felons.  There are relatively few volunteers, and they seem stressed out.  The city workers are indifferent and busy processing strays/lost dogs. The large headshot of a smiling Rahm Emanual is one of the few wall decorations that doesn't look tattered.  The volunteers are expected to handle adoptions.  The place reeks of dog feces and urine.  About 75% of the dogs are pit bulls; the fancy rescue shelters sweep up the more "marketable" dogs to clean up and sell at a profit (the high-end shelter in Chicago, PAWS, charges $200 for a dog adoption vs. $65 at Animal Control).  The Animal Control unit is Bedlam for dogs - they are all pretty upset, barking and agitated in their smelly quarters.  It is not a place for the soft-hearted.

All these animals have a story, but many come in as strays or "owner surrenders."  What was in their past?  What is in their future?  Mystery surrounds them, but they are all insistently alive; sometimes furious about their circumstances, but alive.  We might foster a dog, try to help it transition back to life as a companion animal. It is a small thing, but at least its something.

Sometimes the past is confusing, and of course the future is opaque.  It seems like the same issues and events repeat themselves, but we often fail to anticipate things correctly.  We have that nagging feeling - we have seen this movie before, but we have forgotten the ending, or we just don't know when it will end.  Debt piles up and work is hard to find; missiles fly and tanks roll;  a flock of  irrational conflicts compete for our attention.  All these things have happened before, are happening now, will happen again.  But to exist is still momentous.

When faced with irrational conflicts, we can quote Mercutio - " A plague 'a both your houses!" Or the late Rodney King - "Can we all get along?" And we can take a little comfort in the fact that life always strives to continue.  That is one thing we know for sure about the future.