|Nommy cheeseburger for Chessa. Photo by Paige.|
I've been told I have a problem.
I have a few dog collars. I have green collars, blue collars, and purple collars. I have one that glows in the dark. I have purple swirlies, pink circles, and a blaze orange collar with "bitch" written all over it. Camo patterns, tie dye, and hot pink with spikes. Collars with my dogs' names on them, with silk lining, and with brass hard wear. Buckle collars, no buckle collars, martingale, and elastic. Ribbon, satin, leather, and corduroy. Puppy collars, medium-sized dog collars, and something I think was probably intended for a moose. I have thirty-nine collars in total.
It's possible I have a slight problem.
But before you judge me (okay, before you judge me more), I demand my right to due process.
Every year in the United States alone, between five and seven million pets enter the shelter system. Three to four million will only make it out again in a black plastic bag. Of the dogs and cats entering the system, about half are strays. From personal experience, I'd say about ten percent of strays are wearing collars. Of those wearing collars, maybe two percent have tags. Do you want to know how many of those tags are up to date? The numbers aren't good.
The harsh reality is that most strays are never reunited with their families - assuming they had one, or that their "family" is even looking for them. Most strays get the black plastic bag express.
I have been doing rescue for the last ten years, give or take a few months. Baby that I am, that's almost half my life. I grew up in the culture, and it has left its mark on me. I was doing animal control for a small Wisconsin shelter as soon as I had my driver's license. There's a glimmer of hope that comes at seeing that tell-tale scrap of blue or red or heck, even chain 'round the neck of some poor lost soul. And what's that? A tag? The hope grows, though it's tempered with the pessimism of experience. And if, by some miracle, we can track down the owners - OH! the sweet relief! Thank God, it's gonna be okay, this one is going to make it out alive.
This scenario has been repeated often enough in my life that I can't help but think of a dog's collar as more than just a handy way of identifying an animal. It's taken on symbolic proportions. Upon arriving at the shelter, the first thing we did was put a collar and a tag with the dog's id numbers around its neck. The collar became a way for me to soothe my own soul, to tell the stray dog that now he or she belongs somewhere. From here on out, there's someone who'll go to bat for you, who'll care for you, who'll keep your best interests at heart. Kind of like a canine wedding ring.
Okay, so maybe that last part is a bit sappy.
I won't deny that having thirty-nine different collars for four dogs is all about me. The dogs certainly don't care what collar they wear on any given day. For all they care, they could go *gasp* naked and be perfectly happy. But I enjoy seeing them all tricked out in their beautiful collars. I like having tangible proof to show the world that these dogs are loved. In all the world, these canines are special - even if only to me.
I've been told that you can't take it with you when you die, but I'll let you in on a secret: I'm kind of hoping I get to take my little collar collection (oh, hush, fine - big collar collection). Because those dogs I could not save weigh heavy on my conscious - no matter how often I tell myself that it was necessary, it was for the best, it was okay because it never got easy. I want to give them each a collar. I want to show them in my own way that while they were here, someone cherished and respected them, cared for them in sickness and in health, for better - and ultimately for worse - until death did us part.