In 1979, Bob Dylan sang a song called Gotta Serve Somebody. Dylan’s lyrics made the case that no matter what your station in life, the universe is bigger than us and we’re obligated to offer it something outside of ourselves. Though Dylan was in his born-again phase, his lyrics weren’t specifically religious. It almost didn’t matter what or whom you were serving, as long as you were of service.
I sort of agree with this, but not to the point of finger-wagging like Dylan did. I just do my bit.
At Baseline Consulting, an analytics strategy firm I co-founded in 1992, our motto was that “profit was a corporate goal, but not a corporate purpose.” So at the end of each year, we gave away a big chunk of our after-tax profits to various employee-selected charities. Over the years, our recipients included the Sierra Club, the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Casting for Recovery (a breast-cancer charity), the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, The Elephant Sanctuary, and the MS Society.
Now I help shelter dogs. I go to the worst shelters in L.A.’s sketchiest neighborhoods. I bring a friend and a camera, and we seek out the dogs that are in the most peril, sick or old or bleeding from a dog attack or a prolapsed uterus or worse. Or just listless in their cages, as if they already know the score and are just awaiting their turn. In the rescue vernacular, these dogs are “euth listed.” I got my own two dogs this way, and at the very last minute.
So we leash up these dogs and get them out into a parking lot or a play yard and let them be themselves, out in the open air, away from wet cement and clanging metal doors and the echoing howls. Out where they can pee and be dogs for a few minutes. Sometimes this is the second-to-last walk they’ll ever have, the last walk being the one where they’re pulled from their kennels, latched to a catch pole, and dragged in back to the euth room. And they know it.
But seeing a tree for the first time in weeks, or getting a little piece of hot dog or beef jerky and hearing some kind words from a stranger—some dogs come out of their shells. The telltale signs of kennel stress, the bowing head and averted eyes, suddenly disappear. They look at you, lean against your leg as if they’re attaching themselves to you, and offer you a paw. Maybe we’ll give them a little wet food or throw a ball, whatever it takes to restore a little recognition, a glimmer in the eye.
And that’s the moment when we get them on camera.
Here’s Chico, a 13-year-old pitbull mix who was euth listed for that day. We decided to get him out into the play yard for a final breath of fresh air. I didn’t even plan on filming him. And then this happened:
Thousands of people saw his video on Facebook, enough to ensure his safe rescue. Chico is now in a home with a yard–and grass, and trees.
My theory is that homeless and abandoned dogs are a lot like the “broken window syndrome” in low-income communities, and that initially small problems result in wide ripple effects. Stop them from getting worse, and an entire neighborhood, a city, a region, maybe even the world can be changed.