There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
But if you go no one may follow.
That path is for your steps alone
- Grateful Dead, Ripple
In the backyard, standing at my outdoor sink, I was borrowing scenery from the small pasture across the canyon that separates us from our backyard neighbors. This is where I often flee to escape from the clangor of the stressful world. This was a particularly welcome spot last week when my household routine was disrupted by some minor indoor renovation.
Early Friday afternoon, I saw Charlie the llama being attacked by two vigorous pit bulls. Charlie is the name my sister-in-law gave to the neighbor across the canyon. He’d actually trot down his hill toward me when I said good morning, and silently watch me. I’d heard Charlie talk and call out before, but I’d never heard such a gut-wrenching sound before. Me and my Trusty Spousal Companion hopped in our car so quickly he didn’t bring his wallet.
After pounding on the front door frantically, I dashed through the carport into the backyard only seen from my house before. I knew Charlie was in a fenced enclosure farthest down the canyon, separated from house by a backyard garden and orchard, and by a gated fence. I grabbed a loose piece of ½” white plastic irrigation pipe slightly more than a yard long, and slightly less potentially effective than a balsa wood shack in a Force 7 Blizzard.
By the time I made it to the gate, Charlie was on his feet and silent. He was being stalked in perfect terrier pack instinct: the dark brown terrier trash talking right in his bloody face, while its silent companion stalked the llama’s rear. I loudly rattled the gate and waved my white sword in what I hoped wasn’t a laughable imitation of heroism. No way was I going inside.
Faithful Spouse finally caught me there, breathless. He’d stopped to pick up rock-hard lemons in each hand with which to defend me if I’d have been stupid enough to open the gate. The police he’d called came: three cars eventually, with two of the three officers carrying long rifles. Then animal control came. From where we’d returned in the bleachers of my backyard, we saw the animal control officers having a friendly tail-wagging encounter with the dogs. The dogs were “impounded”. Later, we saw animal control gently harnessing Charlie to be lead away to the large animal vet ER. That was Friday.
I left a note on the front door with my name etc and said we wished the llama well. We never heard from the owners, but Sunday, I saw the owner cleaning up the llama’s place with new straw and hosing out the water bucket. No sign of Charlie.
Today’s Wednesday. The other shoe dropped. Charlie was put to sleep over the weekend. The owners had returned by Saturday and made the decision with the vet. The reason I know this is that Officer H from Animal Control called and asked me two questions. First, did I actually witness the attack? Yes. And second, would I be willing to participate as a witness in any legal proceedings resulting from their inquiry over Charlie’s death? Also, alas, yes.
I find it no comfort at all that as Jack’s kid I’m supposed to be hard-wired not to care about animals. They don’t have souls, you know. Without realizing it, I’ve somehow learned (from K and my cats) that animals are people too. Some are valuable members of their communities – a llama can be worth $20k. Others are not socialized by their parents and become delinquents and murderers. It seems inevitable to me that the dogs will be punished for their owners’ crime: letting their terriers do what terriers are hard-wired to do – kill. The scene of the crime being where and when it is, I presume an expensive lawsuit will follow; and consequently, that our homeowner’s liability insurance will be red-zoned. All that makes me sad.
But not having Charlie to say good morning to when I am meditating on sunny summer days: that makes me sadder. I often meditate about how our universe balances the continuous karmic “chain reaction of cause and effect.” Somebody must have done some bad stuff, some felony violation of some moral law, to balance the hurt to Charlie and his family and friends.
I guess I do have a fitting subject for future meditation overlooking Charlie’s empty home. Sometimes, our roads lead us through the shadow of the valley of death. But it’s not a one-way journey. Think of it as karmic balance on a much grander scale than a single lifetime. Charlie, I hope we meet again on some future round trip. Some fragrant Spring day, I’ll say good morning, and you’ll stare back, silently knowing.