What I Learned at the Kennel
A few days ago, I wrote a post about putting my dog to sleep. Several people asked me if I really put down my dog. I didn't. I was just kidding. But it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago that I thought I would share with you now...
The symptoms started soon after taking a new job. I had been out of work for a while and was looking for something to keep me going until the next acting gig appeared. When I saw there was an opening at the local pound, I jumped. I have always loved animals, and here was a chance to do some good. Plus, when I went in for the interview, my potential boss Kathy told me I’d be able to assist with euthanizing the animals, something I’d always wanted to do. We talked for about a half hour and she offered me the job right then and there. I accepted. No, I’d never get rich putting dogs to sleep, but at least I’d be doing some good.
The first few days were great. I helped to keep the kennels clean, answered the phones and killed a lot of dogs. Then, after about a week, I found myself starting to feel out of sorts: I was feeling lethargic, food tasted bad, and I began getting headaches. Naturally I was worried. What was going on with me?
Had something changed in my life? Diet? No. Lifestyle? No - I was still playing the washboard in my jug band, still writing angry letters to other people's Congressmen. No, the only thing that had changed in my life was this job. Could there be something about my new job that was causing me to feel so bad? If so, what could it be? My first thought was the cleaning fluids I used to scrub down the kennels. Kathy offered to clean them for a few days to see if I felt any better. As we were putting down a two year old German Shepard/Lhasa Apso mutt a few days later, she asked me if the symptoms had abated. No, I said, as we watched the dog’s eyes roll back into its head for the last time. No, if anything the symptoms were growing worse.
Gradually, it began occurring to me that I might be experiencing depression. Depression? Me? I thought depression was just for female poets. Turns out I was wrong. Kathy told me she sometimes suffered from bouts of melancholia and she had never written a poem in her life. Kathy? Who seemed so together? I was fascinated, but we had a backlog of perfectly healthy puppies to dispose of, so I didn't get a chance to follow up.
The next day I went in early to finish up some paperwork. Kathy was already there killing some dogs, and we got to talking. As it happens, many of my curious symptoms mirrored hers. After we finished up in the killing room, we went back to her office to talk. There she gave me a bunch of pills and told me to take one a day for the next couple weeks.
The pills were Lexapro, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. In other words, it’s a happy pill. After a couple weeks of taking the pill and routinely butchering animals who only wanted love, I checked back in with Kathy.
“Feeling any better?” she asked.
“A little,” I said, but the truth was, I still felt rotten. The headaches were worse and I was feeling even more lethargic.
Kathy asked if I’d been to see a doctor. “A doctor!” I said. “That’s a great idea!”
The next day I went to the free clinic down the road from my apartment. A pleasant gentleman with an unpronounceable name and mystifying accent examined me (neglecting to twaddle my balls, which was a relief). We talked about my symptoms. He nodded and asked about my recent history. He was particularly interested in my new job. I explained to him that the cleaning products didn’t seem to be an issue, but he wanted to focus on the whole reason I took the job in the first place – killing the dogs.
He said he wondered if my sub-conscious wasn’t rebelling against committing what amounted to nightly genocide. I said I really doubted it. The more I thought about the theory, though, the more I realized there was something a little grotesque about constantly slaughtering innocent animals who looked at me with compassionate, yet accusatory eyes every time I injected them with that lethal dose of pentobarbital. As I left the clinic that day, I wondered if I had finally figured out the cause of my problem. He took some blood and sent me on my way.
At work the following evening, I explained to Kathy what the doctor had told me. She nodded and said, “Hmmm.” Like me, she had never really considered the effect killing God’s perfect creations could have on a person. Like me, she was just doing a job. But she thought maybe all that death had played tricks on her mind, too. For example, I know that she beat her kids, but I thought she just had a violent nature. Some people are just like that – I don’t think she took any pleasure in either activity: beating her kids or killing the dogs. Both were just obligations and/or ways to pass the time.
We stayed late that night, talking, passing some doobie back and forth, and for the first time since I’d been there, we didn’t kill any dogs. When I woke up the next day, I felt better than I had in months. I even went for a jog (not true).
As evening approached, though, I began to dread going in to work. Would we have to put some more pups to sleep that night? Probably. I didn’t think I could face it again. Not if it meant feeling the way I’d been feeling. I was just about to call in sick when the phone rang. It was Dr. Mahamapojgsea- the blood results came back. Turns out I didn’t have depression at all. I was anemic! All I needed was a little more B12 in my diet! All of this existential angst over a simple vitamin deficiency!
When I heard the news I practically did a jig on the kitchen floor. But I didn’t because I had just waxed it and I didn’t want to slip. Instead, I got in my Prius and drove to work, feeling happy as a lark. Kathy was still a little down in the dumps, so I told her to take night off. For the first time I was alone with my doggy buddies in the kennel. “It’s just you and me, guys,” I said out loud. Then I took out my mop and got to work. I’m happy to report that when Kathy came in to work the next morning, the place was spotless and all the dogs were dead.
I no longer work in that kennel, but I still carry around the lessons I learned there. Most of those lessons have to do with avoiding dog bites, but one of them was about looking deep inside to discover hidden truths about yourself. Sometimes when we think we know ourselves, it turns out we don’t know anything about ourselves at all. Which is why now I always take a multi-vitamin.
As for Kathy, Social Services took her kids away.