ONE OF the great things about love is that it has no limits. You can love your spouse. You can love your kids. You can love your God. You can love your Mud Hens. Your Rockets. Your Falcons. Some of us even love our cars, our iPods, our cheeseburgers, and, of course, our cell phones. But just when you think you can't love any more than you do, your heart tells you otherwise.
A few weeks ago my heart was telling me it was broken. I read the stories in The Blade and watched the TV reports about a house in Stony Ridge and a case of animal neglect that absolutely staggered me. Responding to information about abuse, the Wood County Humane Society found 85 dogs, more than a dozen cats, and two doves - all in the same house. Out in the barn, 20 more dogs struggled to survive.
The animals' condition was unbelievably horrible. Malnourished, living in their own filth, their fur matted and clumped with feces that had solidified, they were taken to the humane society's shelter in Bowling Green in small groups. Group after group, hour after hour, through the night. Volunteers were summoned to help log the animals in and find space for more than a hundred dogs and cats in a building that normally houses a small fraction of that number. Some were housed briefly at the Wood County Fairgrounds until exhausted workers could sort it all out.
It was a calamity that humane society officials plainly acknowledge threatened to shut down the facility for good. The challenge of sheltering, cleaning, feeding, and nursing back to health so many animals was overwhelming in those early hours. Some of the dogs weighed less than the excrement that was removed from their coats.
Then the community found out. The next day they showed up at the shelter. With huge bags of dog food. With bowls and blankets. Stores donated food by the truckload.
The community's response was so over the top that the word went out: What we need now more than anything is cash. Veterinarians lined up to spay and neuter the animals, a prerequisite before adoption, and though most did so out of an unselfish sense of duty and compassion, they could not be expected to put their own practices on indefinite hold. So contributions were needed to help pay for their services.
Eventually the first rehabilitated animals were ready for their close-ups. The humane society conducted its first adopt-a-thon a week ago Saturday at the Woodland Mall in Bowling Green. The timing was fortuitous because the city of Bowling Green was celebrating its 175th anniversary with a big party at the mall. So the crowds who came for birthday cake found something even more appealing - wet noses and wagging tails.
My wife and I made the rounds, more out of curiosity than anything else. We should have known better than to expect to leave alone. There in a cage, licking the fingers of anybody who'd stop and say hello was a little guy whose name tag said Duke. Trust me, he was no Duke. No more than 12 inches high, no more than 15 pounds, was a cream-colored mixed breed with the soft, velvety ears of an almost-cocker spaniel and the gentle wiry hair of an almost-terrier. They told us he was roughly a year old, but who knows?
To picture his face, think Benji. We couldn't imagine the terrible life he'd endured, but here he was, cleaned up, ready to go, and smiling broadly. If anybody ever tells you dogs don't really smile, pat them gently on the shoulder and tell them they're not looking with their heart.
We hemmed and hawed for roughly six seconds and reached for our checkbook. We wrote one check for the adoption fee and another to help with the vet bills. I can't remember the last time writing a check ever felt that good. We walked him through the mall to the exits, and I swear he pranced. If he were a horse, they'd call it trotting. Or pacing. I always get those mixed up.
We got him home and it was time to give him his new name. We narrowed a quick list of 10 or so possibilities to three: Casey, Clancy, and Bailey. Then it hit us. We remembered the main character in the immortal holiday film It's a Wonderful Life. Given this little dog's past, and our obligation to provide him a better future, the choice seemed obvious. Bailey. Somehow I think Jimmy Stewart, rest his soul, would not be offended.
I'm not sure how to feel about the couple who kept all these animals in their house. I'm both angry and empathetic.
I have no way of knowing if they are the sort who can't say no to new strays and simply became overwhelmed.
Perhaps other people, some well intentioned, some not, anonymously dropped off dogs and cats and quickly drove away, compounding the problem. That's for others, perhaps the courts, to sort out.
I make no apologies for shamelessly tugging at your heartstrings here. Bailey left behind scores of dogs and cats that are ready for adoption themselves or soon will be. The next adopt-a-thon will be Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Woodland Mall in Bowling Green and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Petco on South Main Stree in Bowling Green. If that's too long to wait, I'm sure you could contact the humane society sooner. I guarantee you'll find a Bailey who will remind you of your own limitless capacity to love.