Friday, February 27, 2009

The indoor kennels at the SPCA are bright under an open skylight. In the middle of the room, a fat black rabbit snuffles its way around an exercise pen set up in the middle of the concrete floor: low red serrated plastic fencing, a child's version of the stuff city works crews erect to stop pedestrians from stepping into holes. A young woman, maybe fourteen or fifteen, escorts us to a hand sanitizer dispenser and instructs us to squirt once and rub our hands together in between handling the animals.

The cats, lethargic and yellow-eyed in their cages, regard us coolly from a distance. A hyperkinetic white dove, SPCA name "Peace," hops around its cage all aflutter, perhaps sensing its ancient racial foe in the vicinity. The black rabbit wiggles its nose and placidly regards the sky.

In the Small Animal Handling Annex, two teenage girls invite me to pick up and pet any number of rabbits, guinea pigs, and degus. Mr. Bun, a wily red-eyed black-furred adoptee, snuffles his way around the shelves, sniffs the degus, stands up on his hind legs for a treat.

"That's an old dog," says the middle-aged Chinese guy there to look at cats with his teenage daughter, when he observes me bend down to pet a lame Jack Russell terrier through the bars of its outdoor run. "You don't want that one."

"There's a picture there."

"Tell me why," says L., struggling to make the right hand turn onto Clark Drive through the wild rush-hour traffic.

Because the place is so visibly down-at-the heels. Because much is being done with very little. Because the volunteers are spending time that could have been spent "in the greater economy" doing something that apparently means very little to other people, but means a lot to the sick, lost and injured companion animals that come there. Because my dead friend Bruce asked that donations be made in his name to support the SPCA's work. Because Mr. Bun and the degus and the tired cats will be fed tonight, and warm, and -- in their strange non-anthropomorphic way -- feel themselves loved, or maybe only worthy of being loved.

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