The Legacy of A Shelter Dog
This is Tyson’s tale, one of the many shelter dogs to have changed my life. Tyson’s story ended to soon and it should have been written much differently than it will be today. In fact as I write this with tears streaming down my cheeks, Tyson’s photo sits in an 8×10 frame just to my right. It’s time his story is told.
As I finally sit down to write this, I wonder where do I even start? I’ve realized I don’t talk or write about one of my highest tiered passions nearly as much as I think about it, not even a fraction of how often and how heavily it occupies my heart. My sensitivity to the subject plays a large part in that, in addition to it not being a popular dialogue and often not knowing how to approach the conversation. Tyson’s story is one I have been meaning to tell for some time. Maybe I was hoping for a different outcome, an alternative ending to blossom into reality. What I found was an opportunity to change the outcome for other dogs like Tyson, an opportunity to bring awareness and advocate for the forgotten ones.
A Brief Background
In 2013 a little black senior dog came waltzing into my life. She was 14 1/2 and had been abandoned along a highway in the dead of winter. It was one of those happenings that was larger than life and completely unexplainable, written in the stars if you will. She lived a year and a half with us which truly felt like a lifetime. In that time I started to learn about the lives animals endure on the streets, in shelters, in test labs, and so on. (You can read more about Bear, here.) All that I was finding was pretty hard to swallow and once we had adopted, Styx who was on the euthanasia list at a high kill shelter in NM, I began learning about the dysfunctional shelter system set up in our country.
I learned enough that I wanted to get involved. I didn’t have the property to start a sanctuary (my dream) or a van to begin transporting animals from high kill shelters to no kill rescues (another dream) so I started volunteering with a local shelter. I started out photographing the animals for the website and media sites and quickly moved onto the adoption team where I was responsible for screening potential adopters, observing meet and greets, and completing the adoption process.
Tyson was my first relinquishment or owner surrender, meaning the owner chooses to give up their animal companion for whatever reason. Tyson’s family could not care for him properly or give him the training and patience he required. He was 8 months old when he was surrendered to the local facility but you wouldn’t have thought so by looking at his size. He was huge and because his family did not have the proper resources or knowledge to handle him he was brought to the shelter with a self-made wire harness that was digging into his neck. We had to use a tool to free him from the wire harness. It was visible how stressed, unsure, and full of energy Tyson was.
And because dogs are pack animals, Tyson had already formed a bond with his family regardless of how he was treated. It was obvious which out of Tyson’s family members had formed a connection with him. Not only was it obvious but it was heart wrenching. Animals innately use their intuition. That gut feeling we get that tells us the answer whether we chose to listen or not, that is not lost in animals and naturally they listen. Tyson knew he was being left before the gate even closed.
The woman of the family sobbed from a place so full of pain that I too could feel the abyss from where her emotion stemmed. She spoke Spanish but that didn’t keep us from communicating. She walked Tyson back to the outdoor kennels, turned him out, and closed the chain linked gate. Tyson squealed, bellowed, and barked a broken bark. It took every bit of strength I had not to burst into emotion myself. So I embraced the woman and I promised her I would find Tyson the perfect home and care for him unconditionally. I tried to gently encourage her decision to give Tyson a better future.
As a fellow human I did not feel called to judge her or her family. I did not see the productivity in doing so nor could I see how that would help Tyson’s transition to the shelter. She mentioned she would come back to make a donation since she was unable to do so that day and she really wanted to give back to the shelter in any way she could. The other volunteers scoffed in disbelief at her gracious gesture having already judged her poorly for her decision. Personally, I thought it to be a pretty honorable offering considering the family’s situation as well as the courage it would take to come back and see Tyson.
Weeks passed and Tyson was not getting what he needed from us at the shelter. Many of the volunteers were afraid to walk him because of his size, strength, and lack of obedience. On my shifts I often noticed the volunteers favoring the other dogs and leaving Tyson to watch from his kennel, receiving hardly if any interaction at all. A few of us on the adoption team started what we named ‘Team Tyson’.
A team of volunteers unafraid and committed to Tyson’s rehabilitation and journey to finding a forever home. We met with a local trainer to help us, help Tyson. Now let me be clear in stating that had Tyson not been the size he was, he would have been easier to handle and less intimidating for volunteers. He displayed pretty normal puppy behavior, jumping, love bites, not wanting to go back in his kennel etc. But it was his large, strong stature that made him overwhelming, not the dog himself. This is no fault of the dogs but large dogs often feel the brunt of fault for their size and strength. Team Tyson seemed to disintegrate pretty quickly and the communication between team members suffered greatly which meant, so did Tyson.
I had inquired multiple times with a member (who was directly in touch with the trainer) in regards to scheduled training sessions as I had wanted to be present. I felt that offering as much of myself and my time to Tyson was going to be the most effective and most productive to his journey. I had never received an answer and to my knowledge only one session with the trainer took place. Another member from the board started to show up to walk Tyson and would often comment on how well Tyson was on the leash making it hard for him to understand why Tyson wasn’t receiving his fair share of walks from other volunteers.
After a couple of months Tyson wasn’t showing signs of much progression but could you blame him? Animals must exert excess energy just like we need to. When we’re stressed or anxious, movement is one of the most productive ways to rebalance and find clarity. Animals need the same and most shelter animals only get interaction and outdoor time 3x per day some get none at all. This does not encourage a content state of being or build a foundation for positive growth.
It was mid to late June of last year (2016) I was readying myself and my camera equipment for my shift at the shelter. Each weekend we would be given an updated list of current animals in the shelters care, whether or not they were ready for adoption, any medical notes and so on. I was told I would just have one canine and a handful of felines leaving me to wonder, where was Tyson? I asked just that “where is Tyson?” “he’s not with us” was the response I was given.
Still unsure and thinking he may have been transferred to another shelter, something very common among shelters to help animals get adoption interest, but even if this was the case I should have been notified beforehand as I was on the adoption team. The whole adoption team should consult before anyone makes a final decision. I asked again as I was actually confused by such a vague response. “Where’s Tyson?” a couple more times of “he’s not with us” and finally “he’s no longer with us”. I grasped for my breath hoping it didn’t mean what I felt it meant. But it did. Tyson was euthanized or in reality, he was murdered. Apparently, Tyson was out on a walk with one of his favorite volunteers when he bit down on his hand and didn’t let up with ease.
That caused Tyson, a 10 month old puppy, his life. The alternative would have been to quarantine him for 10 days (another system set up to fail the animals) which means he would have not been allowed to leave his kennel for 10 days, no exercise. In that time arrangements could have been made for him to be transported to a different facility more equipped to handle Tyson’s needs or create an actual program for Tyson’s rehab like was outlined in the beginning. I was told a couple of calls were made, one of which couldn’t accommodate Tyson at that particular time. So the decision was made by someone to use the convenient alternative. And when I was told he was no longer with us it was followed up with “and this is not public knowledge at this time” which I have since found to be illegal but that’s a point for a different post.
A plethora of emotions came over me. I was completely heartbroken for one, angry for two, and felt helpless for three. Helpless because if given the opportunity I would have spent hours calling places to inquire about the best route to go with Tyson and/or the potential of moving him to another shelter or even sanctuary. But it was all too late at that point and Tyson was gone. It haunted me for a while that I broke my promise to the woman who trusted us with Tyson’s life and to Tyson himself. And she did come back while Tyson was still alive and donated $10.00 of her hard-earned money.
I think of what could have been all the time, the life that could still be here. Tyson never had the chance to play with another dog but would always get so excited when one of his own kind trotted passed his kennel. I remember when he started to feel at home at the shelter, I would walk by his kennel and he would be laying on his bed with his favorite ball. I imagined that’s what he would look like one day on his own special bed in his forever home. I pray that he left knowing he was so incredibly loved and if nothing else he left behind his purpose. One that I chose to carry on.
I chose to leave my position at the shelter though it was not easy leaving behind my friends, I felt called to do work beyond the local rescue. I did sit down with the president of the organization to discuss my experience and ultimately my decision to resign. While it was civil and we shared a connection we did not see eye to eye on Tyson’s tale. It was her belief that humans come first, mine was that it is not up to us to choose and a bite should not end a life.
I have since begun building ‘Bears Mission’ in which I network between high kill shelters and no kill rescues. In my spare time I communicate between organizations and people to aid in an animals safety. For instance you may have seen my post on the at risk dog, Audrey who was given 72 hours to find rescue or get adopted before she was euthanized. She had been in the shelter for over 6 months (which is a really long holding time for high kill shelters) when the shelter was at max capacity. She was rescued hours before scheduled euthanasia which is a huge victory. There are also many instances where a dog is ‘rescue only’ meaning they can only be saved by a legitimate rescue organization not an adopter.
Usually because they have demonstrated some sort of behavior during their temperament test that makes them available to rescues only. This can be anything from lack of interest in humans, tail between legs, food guarding or others. Again these implemented tests fail the animals at great costs. There are also animals entering shelters daily that need extensive medical care in which case donors are urged to pledge an amount of money to aid in that animals care + recovery. I voluntarily add these pledges together and send totals to rescues to encourage the organization to save the animal with the safety of financial backing. Then you have to contact everyone that pledged to make sure they honor their donation and that it goes to the correct organization. It doesn’t always go smoothly but its a means to keep it all going!
I may not have a sanctuary or transport service just yet but I have a mission. A mission I feel honored to embark on and uphold. It’s my way to honor Tyson’s life and all of those who crossed my path, and altered my life. Bear may have sparked the inspiration for the mission but it has grown to embody the message of every animal to grace my life. I will forever be on Team Tyson. ♥
If you made it this far, thank you so much for sticking around to read one of the greatest matters of my heart. It was not easy for me to write about sweet Tyson but I’ve always wanted to tell his story to bring him some sort of justice. He meant something to me, like they all do.
As always, thank you for joining me here ♥