Photo: Yvette Holzbach, Yvette Holzbach Photography

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

I rarely write news articles in the first person. To my mind, news is best delivered through traditional journalism, where reporters gather facts and viewpoints, present them accurately and fairly, and keep themselves strictly out of the way.

Tonight, because I can’t stop crying, and because I feel sick, I can’t keep myself out of it.

Daniel is gone. I never met him. I only wrote about him. But like hundreds of others following his story, I wanted him to make it.

Daniel is gone. So are billions of other Daniels, whose deaths were just as senseless.

Daniel is gone. And at this very moment millions more Daniels out there stagger along the same road, headed in the same direction.

I’m sick of it. I can barely stand it anymore. Sometimes I feel my head is going to explode. My heart already has.

How much more heartbreak?  How much more suffering? How many more of these impossible missions, where rescuers, sacrificing their own time, money, health and sanity, desperately scramble to piece back together lives that others have torn apart?

Cradled and loved

Daniel, strangely enough, was one of the luckier ones. He died with a full belly, on soft blankets, untroubled by cold or heat or rain, safe from speeding cars, rat poison, shotguns, and psychopaths.

He received a painless overdose of a barbiturate expertly administered in a veterinary hospital, cradled in the arms of the volunteers from Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward Project who deeply loved him—perhaps the only love he had ever received in his life.

But it really wasn’t the barbiturate that killed Daniel. You could argue that it wasn’t even the illness or starvation. Actually Daniel’s death began long ago, before he was born. His torturous demise was in the cards—cards with names like apathy, selfishness, and greed.  The same cards dealt to countless animals all over the world, every day.

‘Time to let him go’

This morning the veterinarian who was caring for Daniel phoned Kelle Mann Davis, founder of Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward Project—the all-volunteer group that plucked Daniel from his life of misery on the streets of one of Houston’s most poor and dangerous neighborhoods.  The vet, Dr. Michael Huddleston, let her know that “our Daniel was having trouble eating and swallowing and that he felt it was time to allow him to go,” Davis wrote in her gut-wrenching Facebook post about the difficult decision she had to make.

Severely starved, stripped nearly bald by sarcoptic mange, Daniel had contracted distemper at some point during his rough life roaming Houston’s inner city.  Though he somehow managed to survive that deadly disease, it left him with neurological damage that caused uncontrollable jerking movements and stiffness in his jaw.

Yet there was hope. In the veterinary hospital where Daniel spent his last days, he had grown more responsive. Though still too weak to stand or walk, and still plagued by his body’s harsh jerking motions—even in his eyelids—he was becoming more alert and aware.

His fur was starting to grow back in.

His appetite was excellent. The videos that showed him gobbling up his food made me chuckle. I watched those over and over.

I also loved the videos made by volunteers including Linda Sullivan, who visited him nearly every day, saying she wanted to “make up for all the petting he had missed out on in the past” during his life alone in the concrete jungle.

Because of those improvements, even though the vet had given Daniel only a 30 percent chance, I had talked myself into believing he was going to make it.

It was devastating to hear that he hadn’t.

A plea

This article is not one of my best. I’m most in the groove while I’m interviewing sources, studying documents, and pulling together the pieces of an animal issue’s puzzle. Instead, this article is disorganized, incomplete, and stained with my grief.

But I suppose it isn’t really an article. It’s a lament. A lament for Daniel, and for all the others like him who have gone before, and who will surely follow.

And maybe it’s a plea. But for what?

Following the death of Kingston, another starving, mange-pocked street dog who was taken in by Forgotten Dogs in cooperation with Corridor Rescue, Inc. and Love Puppy Breath Rescue this summer, I asked a university professor of animal studies some questions about what renders many people blind to the plight of animals, and for her ideas on what to do about it.

“I know that these are big broad questions,” I wrote to her. “But it would help even to have a few sentences to give readers an idea of what can be done.”

Her answer: “I will give some thought to your questions. As you said, they are broad and I am not sure if the answers exist. Nevertheless, it is worth having the conversation.”

That is my plea—that animals be considered worthy of conversation. That Daniel, Kingston, Destiny (a dog strikingly similar to them in her predicament and appearance, but found by a rescue group halfway across the globe in Greece), and  all the rest of this world’s animals be considered and discussed.

That animals be on the agenda. Not just among ourselves and our Facebook friends, but on the public agenda. On political parties’ platforms. In candidates’ talking points. In school curricula.

And also that not one of them—not one of these innocents sacrificed on the altar of our error—ever be forgotten.

To donate toward the many costly rescue cases taken on by Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward Project, please go to the following ChipIn:

Contact Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward to learn more about their work or to help with volunteering.

Read previous articles about Daniel:

Read about Kingston, another difficult rescue by Forgotten Dogs along with partner groups.

Additional groups working in Houston’s impoverished areas:

Corridor Rescue, Inc.
Love Puppy Breath Rescue

Thanks to Yvette Holzbach of Yvette Holzbach Photography for the use of the photos in this article.

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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for  outlets such as National Geographic TravelerThe San Francisco ChronicleTravelers’ Tales, NBC’s, and (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.

Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).

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