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Pets Large & Small

I wonder what my life could have been like…

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(7/2011) I was born just a few weeks ago. My mom and two brothers and I live in the woods and sometimes we have to move pretty fast. There are all kinds of threats in the wild for our feline family.

We itch a lot. Mom has fleas and passed them onto us. Sometimes she doesn’t have a lot of milk and even after we all eat, I'm still kind of hungry.

The day mom leaves to get something for dinner and never comes back is the worst one of my short life. My brothers and I try to figure stuff out, but we're little and it's tough and we're so hungry.

We wander onto the road that first night the three of us are alone and the sudden roar of an engine and bright headlights are the only clue we get before our lives are over.

Thirteen weeks old and as I breathe my last, I can't help but wonder what my life could have been like…


The wire cage hurts my feet, but after all these years, I almost don't notice it anymore. I have litter after litter of puppies that I can't even really enjoy. My babies are taken from me so quickly, I barely have a chance to get to know them before I'm pregnant again.

I have to urinate and defecate on the dog below me because the kennels where we live are all stacked on top of one another. It's probably to save space and cleaning, I guess. I get fed once a day and have water all the time, but very little else.

I've been sick for a while now. I'm pretty sure it's my stomach. Some days it's hard to keep my food down, but no one seems to notice or care. All the humans around me want are my puppies -- I've never known their touch. It's not that bad, though, I'm scared of them anyway.

None of us know what's it like outside the cages. Grass is something the dogs around me talk about, but none of us has any idea what it feels like.

The day that my stomach problems get the best of me is a warm Tuesday. The people have already been through for breakfast, but I don't eat. I know it won't be long.

As my eyes close and my heart starts to beat slower and the pain in my stomach becomes agonizingly sharp, my last conscious thought is that I wonder what my life could have been like…


Being a stray kitten in a busy city can be tricky. You learn fast to watch the cars and look out for people who don't like you -- and there are a lot out there.

Usually the good ones will talk softly and give you a bowl of milk and if you're really lucky, a soft pat on the head or back. They aren't afraid of you or turn the hose on you or kick you or chase you out of their yard.

Eventually, you learn who the nice ones are and where you can go to get a decent meal.

The day the young guy walks up to me with that soft, cooing voice is a bit of a surprise, but he's so nice, he actually picks me up for a cuddle. The inside of his apartment is loud because of the music and all the people there. It's lined with posters and college textbooks and smells like alcohol and is really overwhelming.

I try to get away, but there are too many people and they trap me and corner me in the balcony.

Before I know what's happening, I'm doused with a foul-smelling liquid and when I realize it's lighter fluid, I know what's coming. In the moments following the hiss of the lit match, I wonder what my life could have been like…


My breed wasn't born for fighting. Really we weren't. We're loyal and loving and want to please our owners. We like kisses and hugs, not teeth and blood. We've got muscles and jaw strength and that's what the people first wanted when they put together a bulldog and a terrier. Initially, all that prowess was used to hunt.

Eventually people realized we could be used for the "sport" of dog fighting. I use the quotes because I don't really know that much about human words, but from what I've seen, I really don't think dog fighting qualifies as a sport.

I do what I have to in order to get by. If I had my choice, I wouldn't fight, but I know if I don't, I won't be long for the world, so I keep going, tearing into my own kind just so the humans won't take a "loss" out on me.

The ring is so scary. You've got screaming humans and growling pitbulls and I swear there's the phantom scent of money in the air. Every single time they throw me inside the ring, I wish I could be anywhere else, but I was born from a fighter to be a fighter.

They bait us with smaller animals -- Chihuahuas, poodles, kittens, sometimes a rabbit. I know what I'm supposed to do to them, but it really breaks my heart. I've heard the humans say it's supposed to give us the bloodlust to make us really want to fight, but I hate the taste of blood, although I can never let it show.

Some might think I should wear my scars from the ring like a badge of honor, but I really don't. They embarrass me, truthfully. I'm ashamed of what I do, but I don't have any other choice.

I don't know what makes me not fight that one day -- exhaustion, apathy or just an overwhelming desire to be finished with this existence -- it's hard to say.

My first loss is my last fight.

I watch the human who owns the training ground come to me with a shovel and a shotgun in his hands and I know I won't fight what he's going to do. I won't fight ever again and even though it means my death, I'm so proud of that. As I hear him cock the weapon, I wonder what my life could have been like…


I work for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter. I hear stories every day of animal abuse and cruelty and neglect. I think of the ones we are unable to save and I see those who come through our door who are beyond rehabilitation, many of whom get that way because of human beings.

Aggressive, hurt, sick, neglected, injuries too severe to mend.

I look into their sad, lost eyes as we all say that final goodbye and my heart bleeds and I weep and I wonder what their lives could have been like…

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in 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

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau