The Gentlest Dog Is Kilo

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The first time I ever saw Kilo, he had blood on his muzzle. I’d arrived at the shelter early Monday morning, the day I volunteer. The shelter van was unusually parked next to the dog kennels—it’s usually never out so early—and the co-directors, Kevin and Leona, were down around the van, unloading something. I hurried down to find out what was going on.

I lose track of whose voices, who was speaking: ‘There’s been a murder/ We’ve been up since 4 am when we got called to the murder site/ These are the dogs from the house.’

Through the open back doors of the van, gazing back at me over the front seat, was an elderly large white Chihuahua who resembled Yoda. In two large crates, a medium-sized black Dane-y looking dog, and a big brindle dog who looked like a mini-mastiff. No-one was barking. They were all dazed in these circumstances, quietly waiting for whatever life was next to bring them. The air around the van had a swirl around it, that something had happened, that life was getting ready to land but hadn’t settled yet into its new configuration.

Because the dogs’ previous owner was deceased with no next of kin, they were to go up for adoption immediately after their assessment period

Kevin opened the brindle dog’s crate and attached the lead to his collar. As the dog stuck his head out of the crate, I noticed a dark gleam all over his dark muzzle. ‘That’s blood,’ said Kevin matter-of-factly. ‘It’s human blood.’

WHAT?!

‘It’s not from the victim, there were no dog bites on their body. It must have been from the attacker.’

Because the dogs’ previous owner was deceased with no next of kin, they were to go up for adoption immediately after their assessment period. The chihuahua and the Dane got adopted in the week in between my visits. When I returned the following Monday, there was only Kilo, typical of big dogs. The smaller dogs always go first; bigger dogs take longer to get adopted as not everyone has the space or resources to accommodate them.

He sighed, and leaned his body against me, a heavy exhausted weight.

By way of introduction—I’m a professional animal communicator, and every week I volunteer at our city animal control shelter to socialize the dogs and cats. I walk all of the dogs so they get sunshine and exercise out of their concrete-and-chain-link runs, and then afterwards go inside the main office—a repurposed classroom trailer—to sit with, play with, and cuddle the cats. Basically my main job is to love the animals in between their having homes. When you boil it all down, that’s why I’m there.

So that next time I saw Kilo, a warm day in late April, I took him for a walk around the manmade water-treatment lake next to the shelter and then into the play paddock, the exercise enclosure, so he could be off lead for a while. Kilo wasn’t overly interested in walking on that day; unlike the other dogs at the shelter he wasn’t just boiling to run, instead, he sat on the grass. So I sat down next to him. He sighed, and leaned his body against me, a heavy exhausted weight. My nervous system thrilled up with the contact of his body, the trusting weight of him, that just wanted the soft warm earth under his paws and haunches after the concrete of the kennels, that after everything that had happened, just wanted to rest and breathe.

Over the weeks that followed, I became friends with Kilo. He was easy to walk, he didn’t pull, he was one of the dogs who I can take my eyes off in order to do something else—pick berries, clear the debris out of the culvert in the stream—while they stand by on the lead and sniff and wait and do whatever. To walk him was much more like walking a dog who is your dog, you’re just ambling around exploring together and they are in sync with you and you don’t have to constantly watch them.

Kilo became the dog we always walked, because he was so good with the girls.

Late spring became summer, and my niece Eliza, who’d just turned six, was off school so while my family was babysitting her, I began taking her to the shelter to visit. She was interested in doing it, and it was something real and important to break up her summer days, to visit the dogs and cats. Soon, her three-year-old sister Mae started coming with us too. At first we visited the cats mostly because cats are more manageable around small girls, but then among us we decided we could try walking a dog too, and the gentlest dog was Kilo.

So the four of us would take walks together, down through the woods to the stream, or to the fish pond—the gentle slow dog ambling along, the girls beside us or trailing slightly behind, their sweet, light spirits, chattering away, commenting on everything Kilo did. They were especially intrigued and scandalized when he went to the bathroom. Kilo became the dog we always walked, because he was so good with the girls.

One Monday I came in to find out—Kilo had been adopted! This is the best news you can ever hope for in a shelter! A man had adopted him, a single man living by himself. I didn’t get to say goodbye—Kilo was already with him, had broken the endless chain and turning of shelter weeks, and was starting a new life. When I told Eliza and Mae, they were giddy with delight, with the mixed emotions of also missing Kilo and also immediately plotting what dog they would walk next.

Kilo was back at the shelter, and his execution had been scheduled for the following week.

But the following week, Kilo was back. He had attacked his adopter. Kilo had been inside the house, the man’s father had come in to visit, and Kilo had gone after the father savagely, knocking the old man to the floor and pinning him into a corner while his new guardian tried to intervene, to pull Kilo back, and then Kilo turned on his guardian. The man had been scared for his life.

The details are a blur—I wasn’t there, and this was all related to me by Kevin. Kilo was back at the shelter, and his execution had been scheduled for the following week. Because the shelter couldn’t take a risk to adopt him to anyone else.

The girls wanted to walk Kilo again. I told them they could, but they had to keep their distance and if I felt anything going wrong they were to high-tail it back to the shelter building. But I didn’t, and he swayed along as gentle and calm as ever, his brindle back softly undulating with his easy soft familiar ambly gait. He stopped to sniff something at the edge of the woods and before I could say anything, the girls were up on us, swarming up to him, laying their hands on him, their little pink paws. ‘We love you Kilo, we love you Kilo,’ they chorused softly.

It’s hard not to feel like a failure that I did not foresee the danger of Kilo’s deep trauma.

There is a tradition at the shelter that if a dog is to be put down, they get a last meal, usually a cheeseburger. I offered to get Kilo’s. And, for him, no way was it going to be a McDonald’s cheeseburger—I went to Carmen’s, a locally-owned diner, for the biggest, greasiest, double cheeseburger possible, all the toppings on it and in a handmade bun, the best cheeseburger in town, the best I could give Kilo, the best he could be given.

Because I wasn’t allowed to go to the vet with him that day. When I brought it to him, two hours before Kevin took him to die, I stood by Kilo in his kennel, watching him take the cheeseburger apart into sections, eating each piece nimbly with his mouth. Gentle and peaceful, and innocent, and not protesting, and pure.

It’s hard not to feel like a failure that I did not foresee the danger of Kilo’s deep trauma. I don’t want to make excuses for myself either. The truth is, while I was with Kilo, I didn’t probe him. Kilo seemed contented simply to be. To be out of danger, to rest his body against the warm earth, to go on walks with girls. When and while I was next to him on our walks, taking him through the woods past the railroad tracks or around the fish pond or around the big manmade water-treatment lake, I only felt a sense of relaxation of his body, of quiet and peace.

I don’t know why it all happened; I do know why it started.

Kilo lost his life because he’d got caught up in an unkind drama between humans. His previous guardian died in a dispute, likely over a drug deal gone bad. As so often happens in the lives of animals, for our dramas and failings, the animals who are part of our lives pay a price. The blood on Kilo’s muzzle that first day I saw him in the van was from whoever he bit, the intruder that he’d chased out of the house, trying to defend his person whose body was found laying on the ground.

The memory of that killer coming into the old kitchen could have been his new guardian’s father coming into the new kitchen, the memory of that moment, and Kilo, trapped between the walls of a small house, all his canine wiring going haywire, and all the snakes and cables and routes of fate entwining and running forward into the future, grafted those two moments onto one another.

I don’t know why it all happened; I do know why it started.

‘Yes, he was always nice to us.’

‘Why was Kilo sent to sleep?,’ asked Eliza, her six-year-old mind working to form networks of causality and morality, trying to comprehend what had happened. Sent to sleep is her wording and I think I’ll use it forever after.

‘Because he got very fierce and scarey with the man who adopted him, who was very frightened and Kilo could have hurt him. And they can’t let that happen to someone else.’

‘But he was always nice to us!’ she protested. There were two pairs of eyes gazing up at me, Eliza’s mineral blue-green ones and Mae’s round chocolate-brown ones.

I still don’t have a response that is good enough to tell them. I don’t have a straightforward truth that is pure enough to tell a child. So I just agreed. ‘Yes, he was always nice to us.’

This is a guest post by Laura Miller. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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