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Pets Large & Small

A Dog's Life

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

Alan would have something really to look up for if
he had a home!

Who says you can't find true love on the Internet!

Alan is a handsome, 2-year-old brown tabby who has a really friendly face.
This guy loves being petted and a little canned cat food as a treat, but
he's not too crazy about other cats. He'd prefer to be the king of the
house. He's been at a shelter since February 1, 2010 -- it's been more
than a year! Please help him out!!

To learn more about Alan call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

(5/2011) Days pass and nights go by and nothing ever changes for him. He's started to realize it's actually possible to get used to something the longer it's experienced. You just adapt. Because you have to.

He has fleas. Has had them for years. Living outside, tied to a dog box like he is, it's not unusual. He remembers early on when he was first tied out - after he'd had too many accidents in the house - the fleas used to drive him almost out of his mind. Crawling all over his skin. Making him itch.

In that first year, he had scratched out huge clumps of his hair just trying to get some relief and his skin would be bare in patches. He doesn't know if the lack of hair helped or made it worse.

Now it's like the fleas have almost become a part of him - who he is, if you will. He's not sure he'd recognize himself without them. They lesson somewhat in the winter months, but he thinks there are generations of fleas living on him. And he feels like a part of history or something.

It's strange the thoughts that come to him on random afternoons.

He supposes in a way, he's luckier than most. His fur has grown back from the fleas and it keeps him warm in the winter months and his box is situated under a huge tree, so he's shaded in the summer. His chain never gets tangled - he's got a good five-foot stretch of dirt worn down around his house from pacing. He gets food every day and a fresh supply of water.

See? Lucky.

The family talks about having him for protection, he's heard them from time to time, but he's haunted by the question how can he protect anything when he's tied to the box in the backyard?

Every now and then, he's seen dogs and cats running around trying to scavenge for food - they're thin, obviously malnourished clearly starving, bones poking almost out of the skin. They have a look in their eyes that speaks of desperation, a frenzy, a need beyond what they can even comprehend. And he thinks, at least he's not hungry.

He supposes he should count his blessing where he can find them.

But some nights, especially those cold, winter evenings, he sees the warm light on inside the house where he used to live. He sees the family at the table. Watches them laugh and play and share. It would have to be almost like heaven to get to experience that - even for just one night.

He thinks maybe if he could know what it was like -- just for a little while -- he thinks the memory of it alone would be able to keep him warm for years to come.

Sometimes he gets sick. The cold gets to him or a stray animal probably passes something off to him on their way through. The winter of 2003 was a bad one. He remembers how tough it was to force himself to crawl out of his house for food. No one seemed bothered by his lethargy. They filled his bowl and left. As per usual.

Now, he's gotten to the point where he's old. There's gray in his matted fur and his joints ache just about every day. He can't pace around his doghouse nearly as quickly as he once could and a few days ago, he realized his bark sounds weak even to his own ears. Although he suspects he may be losing his hearing. He doesn't pick up on sounds the way he once could.

The kids visit him from time to time when they're outside in the summer. They pat his head or say something to him, but those moments are quite rare and he finds himself wondering what his life may have been like if he hadn't ended up where he did.

It's probably his old age and nearing senility, but some days he can't help but speculate if there might be a place in the world where someone would care -- about him. That he hurt. That he was lonely. That he really just wanted a hug and a warm fire and someone to ease his aches and pains.

He shakes his head at himself, at the insanity of the thought. Life has certainly taught him that places like that don't exist for dogs like him. Still, it's a nice idea as he watches an army of ants work their way across his wooden dog box one afternoon.

Oddly enough, at about the time this weird, somewhat out-of-place wishful thinking surfaces, something strange happens. It's early one morning when he gets the energy up to bark at a deliveryman in front of the house. Whether from wear or luck, he'll never know, but as he's pulling at the end of his chain, he hears a snap and senses a give in the line that he's never felt before.

It takes him a full ten minutes to realize he's actually no longer tethered to his doghouse - the chain had broken and he's free. His first steps beyond the circle of dirt are tentative. He's not sure whether to believe.

When his paws actually connect with grass for the first time in literally a decade, the most exhilarating sensation courses through him. He honestly didn't even know he could have such a reaction anymore.

With a spring in his step that belies his age, he bounds across the yard, bypassing the house, not even considering stopping. He has a moment where he thinks this is it. He's been given a second chance. He'll get to know what is beyond his little tract of land where he's existed for so long.

His feet fly under him in that initial adrenaline spike and race for freedom as he rounds the front of the house, just making it to the road, but he can't hear the truck coming.

~ ~

A few years ago, shelter staff picked up a mixed breed dog who had been hit  by a car. The impact had killed him. He had obviously lived outside all of his life -- there were signs on his fur and skin of a hard existence. No one came for him. No one called. No one cared. This story is for him, that lost anonymous soul, whose name we never knew. If just one person reads these words and it makes a difference in one dog's life, then it will be worth beyond measure.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website CVAS also operates thrift stores in Chambersburg and Shippensburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the stores.

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau