Forty-one years ago, I was featured in the Washington Star, having just started work as the first layperson and the first female “pound master” at the D.C. dog pound. The position had been vacant for four years, and the place was described as a “rat-infested hellhole” by D.C. residents angry at its failure to provide basic services.
New-Mayor Marion Barry had made good on his campaign promise to clean up the place and see that staff responded to calls for help regarding stray and nuisance animals, dog bites and animal emergencies. If a raccoon got his head stuck in a jar, a child was bitten by a dog, or a cat was found shot or run over, drivers were dispatched to help. The District spans some 68 square miles, and we never had fewer than two vehicles on the road.
But in August, I discovered that the District’s standards of animal care have sunk to below the August 1976 ones.
Driving down Canal Road, near Fletcher’s Boathouse, I saw a large fawn lying on the pavement, her head and neck jutting out into the two-lane road. Because sometimes even turtles whose shells are smashed to smithereens can still be alive, I pulled over, put on my emergency flashers and approached, intending to move her out of traffic if nothing else.
Then I saw that her chest was heaving. As I stared, wondering if this was her last gasp, she opened her eyes, kicked and tried to stand up.
It was an impossible feat for her. Her left front leg was totally shattered, a bone protruding through the skin. As she flailed, pirouetting into the road and then back to the berm, collapsing to regain her strength and again trying fruitlessly to right herself, I called 911. Animal control promised to send a driver out “ASAP.”
But the deer remained in agony for a full hour.
Why did it take so long for the driver to arrive? As I learned later, the Humane Rescue Alliance, the agency under contract to respond to emergencies in our now more congested city, has only a single driver on the weekends. One. And she had had to make her way — without flashing lights or a siren — to the District’s far northwest corner from an emergency call in Anacostia.
I was told that the District had promised the alliance funding for additional officers and vehicles but has so far failed to deliver and that the alliance’s inquiries have gone unanswered for some months now.
When the citizens, wildlife and other animals of our city run into trouble and cannot help themselves, they count on government services. Don’t let them down. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser should not let us return to the bad old “dog-pound” days.
The writer is president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.