After I was discharged
from the Navy, Jim and I moved back to Detroit to use our GI bill benefits
to get some schooling. Jim was going for a degree in Electronics and I,
after much debating, decided to get mine in Computer Science. One of the
classes that was a requirement was Speech. Like many people, I had no
fondness for getting up in front of people for any reason, let alone to be
the center of attention as I stuttered my way through some unfamiliar
subject. But I couldn't get out of the requirement, and so I found myself
in my last semester before graduation with Speech as one of my classes.
On the first day of class our professor explained
to us that he was going to leave the subject manner of our talks up to us,
but he was going to provide the motivation of the speech. We would be
responsible for six speeches, each with a different motivation. For
instance our first speech's purpose was to inform. He advised us to pick
subjects that we were interested in and knowledgeable about. I decided to
center my six speeches around animals, especially dogs.
We started out in the reception area, which was
the general public's initial encounter with the Humane Society. The lobby
was full, mostly with people dropping off various animals that they no
longer wanted. Ron explained to me that this branch of the Humane Society
took in about fifty animals a day and adopted out twenty.
As we went through the different areas, I felt more and more depressed. No amount of statistics, could take the place of seeing the reality of what this throw-away attitude did to the living, breathing animal. It was overwhelming.
Finally Ron stopped in front of a closed door. "That's it," he said, "except for this." I read the sign on the door. "Euthanization Area." "Do you want to see one?" he asked. Before I could decline, he interjected, "You really should. You can't tell the whole story unless you experience the end."
I reluctantly agreed. "Good." He said "I already cleared it and Peggy is expecting you." He knocked firmly on the door. It was opened immediately by a middle aged woman in a white lab coat. "Here's the girl I was telling you about," Ron explained. Peggy looked me over. "Well, I'll leave you here with Peggy and meet you in the reception area in about fifteen minutes. I'll have the puppy ready."
With that Ron departed, leaving me standing in front of the stern-looking Peggy. Peggy motioned me in. As I walked into the room, I gave an audible gasp. The room was small and spartan. There were a couple of cages on the wall and a cabinet with syringes and vials of a clear liquid. In the middle of the room was an examining table with a rubber mat on top. There were two doors other than the one I had entered. both were closed. One said to the incinerator room, and the other had no sign, but I could hear various animals noises coming from behind the closed door. In the back of the room, near the door that was marked incinerator were the objects that caused my distress: two wheelbarrows, filled with the bodies of dead kittens and puppies. I stared in horror. Nothing had prepared me for this.
I felt my legs grow weak and my breathing become rapid and shallow. I wanted to run from that room, screaming. Peggy seemed not to notice my state of shock. She started talking about the euthanization process, but I wasn't hearing her. I could not tear my gaze away from the wheelbarrows and those dozens of pathetic little bodies. Finally, Peggy seemed to notice that I was not paying attention to her.
"Are you listening?" she asked irritably. "I'm only going to go through this once." I tore my gaze from the back of the room and looked at her. I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing would come out, so I nodded.
She told me that behind the unmarked door were the animals that were scheduled for euthanasia that day. She picked up a chart that was hanging from the wall. "One fifty-three is next," she said as she looked at the chart. "I'll go get him."
She laid down the chart on the examining table and started for the unmarked door. Before she got to the door she stopped and turned around. "You aren't going to get hysterical, are you?" she asked, "Because that will only upset the animals."
I shook my head. I had not said a word since I walked into that room. I still felt unsure if I would be able to without breaking down into tears. As Peggy opened the unmarked door I peered into the room beyond. It was a small room, but the walls were lined and stacked with cages. It looked like they were all occupied.
Peggy opened the door of one of the lower cages and removed the occupant. From what I could see it looked like a medium-sized dog. She attached a leash and ushered the dog into the room in which I stood. As Peggy brought the dog into the room I could see that he was no more than a puppy, maybe five or six months old. The pup looked to be a cross between a Lab and a German Shepherd. He was mostly black, with a small amount of tan above his eyes and on his feet.
He was very excited and bouncing up and down, trying to sniff everything in this new environment. Peggy lifted the pup onto the table. She had a card in her hand, which she laid on the table next to me. I read the card. It said that number one fifty-three was a mixed hepherd, six months old. He was surrendered two days ago by a family. Reason of surrender was given as "jumps on children." At the bottom was a note that said "Name: Sam."
Peggy was quick and efficient, from lots of practice, I guessed. She laid one fifty-three down on his side and tied a rubber tourniquet round his front leg. She turned to fill the syringe from the vial of clear liquid. All this time I was standing at the head of the table. I could see the moment that one fifty-three went from a curious puppy to a terrified puppy. He did not like being held down and he started to struggle.
It was then that I finally found my voice. I bent
over the struggling puppy and whispered "Sam. Your name is Sam."
At the sound of his name Sam quit struggling. He wagged his tail
tentatively and his soft pink tongue darted out and licked my hand. And
that is how he spent his last moment. I watched his eyes fade from
I had never even seen Peggy give the lethal shot. The tears could not be contained any longer. I kept my head down so as not to embarrass myself in front of the stoic Peggy. My tears fell onto the still body on the table. "Now you know," Peggy said softly. Then she turned away. "Ron will be waiting for you."
I left the room. Although it seemed like it had been hours, only fifteen minutes had gone by since Ron had left me at the door. I made my way back to the reception area. True to his word, Ron had the puppy all ready to go. After giving me some instructions about what to feed the puppy, he handed the carrying cage over to me and wished me good luck on my speech.
That night I went home and spent many hours playing with the orphan puppy. I went to bed that night but I could not sleep. After a while I got up and looked at my speech notes with their numbers and statistics. Without a second thought, I tore them up and threw them away. I went back to bed. Sometime during the night I finally fell asleep.
The next morning I arrived at my Speech class with Puppy Doe. When my turn came to give my speech. I walked up to the front the class with the puppy in my arms. I took a deep breath, and I told the class about the life and death of Sam. When I finished my speech I became aware that I was crying. I apologized to the class and took my seat.
After class the teacher handed out a critique
with our grades. I got an "A." His comments said "Very
moving and persuasive." Two days later, on the last day of class, one
of my classmates came up to me. She was an older lady that I had never
spoken to in class. She stopped me on our way out of the class room.
"I want you to know that I