Sunday, July 30, 2017

Blood Sweat and Tears

As Sherlock sits patiently and quietly to attention for his food, here in my world all is calm and well...meanwhile one of my friends has experience volunteering in clean-up crews at dog hoarding situations, and they were kind enough to talk to me a little bit about what it's like. It's not easy, for sure.
I took a day off work to help out with an urgent cleanup of a dog hoarding situation posted on social media: dogs to be rescued, neutered and the location cleaned. I’ve helped out with hoarding situations before, but this time the sheer numbers took me by surprise….

I got the necessary gear together: wellies, rubber gloves, face mask, rain-wear combo, cap, 2 shovels, towels and a change of clothes. The weather forecast said cloudy with intermittent rain, temperatures around 27 degrees centigrade. At least it wasn’t the glaring summer sun…

When I got there, the dogs had all been carried out of the house, so it looked pretty derelict: the only difference was the crud covering the floor. Foul air, cobwebs on the ceiling, holes in the wall, cockroaches and other insects crawling around, vile stench in the humidity and heat: nobody said a word. Just to think of the dogs and their owner stuck in this, living in this. Nothing but a deep sense of pity welled up, nothing more, nothing less. One thing I’ve learned from volunteering over the years is that no matter how bad it is, if you want to help make things better, you just have to knuckle down and get on with it, meet the challenge head on.

My job is not to pass judgement here, just to break up the rock-hard excrement covering the floor, bag it up and carry it out. Shallow places it was 15cm deep, some parts there was a 40cm deep felted crud of trodden turd mixed with dog hair, so dried and hardened even a shovel wouldn’t go in: I ended up breaking the sod with a Japanese hoe (a cross between a pick-axe and a shovel).

Swinging it high only broke in 5cm deep: if I swung harder it got stuck in the crud and I’d get winded quickly, but if I held back it would take days…and then there was the trash stuck in the crap: magazines, plastic bottles, empty cans, plates, pots, even a folding chair and a toilet seat…the bags of dog food were the worst, the feces somehow didn’t dry so well around and pulling them out there was this mud-sucking feel and completely revolting smell wafting up. Some of the other volunteers ended up throwing up…

Wearing rain-gear with all this hard work in the humidity and summer heat gets really dangerous, with heatstroke a constant threat. We were all taking care of each other, double-checking faces and gestures for signs of fatigue, encouraging each other to take a break and drink: there was a natural flow of working together, supportive and unanimous. “Here, let me take over,” another female volunteer said as I stopped to catch my breath. She encouraged me to take a break, picking up the hoe. I had been worried about not finishing on time, but we got into the swing of things as time went on and established a smooth working pace by the afternoon. Everyone was exhausted. Flushed with exertion. Bathed in sweat. I was covered in excrement. One step short of heatstroke. …

We did our best to clean the place up. Nevertheless, knowing that some dogs were going back to live in what were still rather unsanitary conditions left me with an unspeakable sense of helplessness and a keen awareness of the limits of my declining physical strength - it was a hard day.
Sherlock meanwhile has earned his bowl of konbu soup with radish, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, yam and kibble...Mummy will be picking up poops in the garden tomorrow...dogs are worth the work, all sentient beings are worth the loving and caring. Spread the love as best you can!

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