While searching for Dawn in one of the seediest sections of Springfield, I ran across a middle-aged gentleman called Kenny. He was eating a can of Beanie-Weenies under the carport of his church-sponsored halfway house. I asked if he’d seen a black dog with milk-bloated boobs that hung almost to her paws.
“Do y’all mean Buckwheat?” he answered.
Kenny and I talked about Buckwheat a.k.a Dawn for almost thirty minutes. Kenny stood well over six feet, had light brown, sun-streaked hair and sunburned cheeks. He sat on a lawnmower, gas can chained to the railing. He said Dawn grew up at the old bus terminal with a pack of dogs. She loved fried chicken and napping in drainage pipes.
Kenny had also known her mother “Heinz” and a sister he called “Biscuit.” With a thick southern accent, the kind where two syllables turn into three, Kenny explained how last year he bought 100 pounds of Dog Chow a month to feed eight strays. He proudly described how they had lined up “military-style” and patiently waited for him to put out a few bowls of grub.
I asked Kenny if he ever touched Dawn. He paused, swished the flies away from his Beanie-Weenies. Then he looked me straight in the eye, as though sizing me up, as though wondering if I could handle what happened to animals in his neighborhood.
“No, but she been abused real bad,” he said.
“By one of your neighbor’s?” I asked.
“By the Police Department.”
According to Kenny, last summer a pack ran between Josephine and Smith Street. Springfield Animal Control tried capturing them, failed, and called the police department. The officers showed up with shotguns and live chickens. They set the birds loose in a field and opened fire when the dogs chased them. It took a week. Sometimes they had to shoot the mutts two and three times, but eventually the police killed all of them except for one. Dawn was the only animal who survived the massacre.
Kenny said he heard the dogs’ screams long after the shooting stopped.
A month later, I walked into the Springfield Police Department hoping Kenny had misconstrued what happened, hoping the good guys really were good. Kenny’s story had been haunting me like the dogs’ screams haunted him. It finally got to point where I had to verify it or disregard it. I found it hard to believe such cruelty existed, let alone that it was legal. Looking back, I realize the pitfall for many activists is our eternal optimism, like hope is programmed into our DNA. No matter how many times I see or hear horrific animal abuse stories, I keep wanting the next time to be different.
Unfortunately, I realized Kenny was telling the truth as soon as I shook hands with Lieutenant Marner. He didn’t mince words. The lieutenant said animal control had exhausted every resource to seize that pack. He explained the animals were “vicious” and “harming property,” so the police “set up a situation” and “destroyed” them. He made it very clear this sort of extermination happened before and that it is legal in Robertson County, TN.
Before I left, he said the S.P.D. ordered a net gun that would help them capture feral dogs in a more humane way in the future. He also agreed to help us catch Dawn when the net arrived at the station.
Over the next couple of months, ICHBA reached out to the police department numerous times. They never returned our calls.