Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and someone posted this quote of his on FB:
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
This is quite a co-incidence. The low temperatures and blowing snow of the past day reminded me of a time I “looked the other way” and I’d already decided that today’s post would be about that incident, though I’m not proud of what I did — or rather DIDN’T do.
I don’t remember how many years ago it was — at least a dozen, though it could be more. I don’t remember what month, only that it was in the depths of winter. I was driving home from work in a particularly nasty snowstorm, a blizzard, really. Stopped at the last traffic light before home, I happened to look to my right and in a gap between buildings only wide enough for viewing from exactly where my car stopped, I saw a dog outside in a backyard.
I don’t remember what breed she was, though my mental snapshot shows me a dog without a double-coat of insulating fur. I don’t know why I think of her as “she.” I don’t really think I saw a chain on her, but that is my mental picture. Perhaps I imagined a chain because her body posture spoke so eloquently and obviously of cold and suffering, and being unable to move someplace warmer. She was sitting, ears slicked flat against her head, hunched with her back to the wind and her eyes squeezed shut. I also seem to remember that she was shivering, but couldn’t possibly have been close enough to see something like that. Snow was piled around her and on top of her.
I wish I could say that I don’t know why I didn’t stop and hammer on her owner’s door. It was late. I wanted to get home. I didn’t think her owners would appreciate me barging in. Those rental houses always seemed to hold “undersirable” sorts. I was afraid, but even more than that, was disinclined to put myself out and take the time to help a poor suffering creature.
Dr. King was right; by looking away I have wounded my soul so deeply that it will be with me forever. I’ve thought of that miserable dog many, many times in the intervening years. I wonder if she survived that night. If she ever got brought inside to the warm. If she had to suffer again and again through many more such snowstorms.
No, the wound I inflicted on my soul will not heal. I don’t want it to get better! It’s not so much that I think I deserve the punishment, but that I need the reminder — the pain as a spur to action. I hope the memory of that long-ago, pathetically helpless dog will be such an irritation of spirit that I will never again hesitate to act on behalf of an animal in need.