Backstory: Giving every dog its day
(Page 2 of 2)
No topic inspires Grim's passion more than strays that live on city streets, both former pets - who often eventually revert to a wild state - and dogs born on the street.Skip to next paragraph
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Feral dogs in the US are so little studied that no reliable numbers exist. But Grim insists that every large and mid-sized US city is plagued by the problem, one that he believes escalated in the 1980s with the rise of gangs and their penchant for using dogs for fighting, protection, and status - and then abandoning them.
In 1999, LA County officials estimated there were 45,000 stray dogs on the streets.In the St. Louis area, Grim puts the number at 40,000. He tries to feed and visit as many as he can daily, and to pick up the injured and imperiled (the only ones his shelter has room for).
What troubles him most about street dogs is that even if they're "true ferals" - dogs that have never had contact with humans - genetically they're domestic dogs with no hunting skills or other survival instincts. They can only scavenge and beg. Rarely can they survive more than a couple of years and their brief existence is generally harsh and full of fear.
Last Monday morning, there were at least 60 strays seen wandering the streets of impoverished St. Louis-area neighborhoods. On a three-hour tour of the junkyards, burned-out buildings, and abandoned factories where these dogs tend to congregate, Grim fed, cajoled, observed, and pondered which ones absolutely had to be picked up.
Along the way, he scooped up a chow-mix with a broken leg that he named Big John, a pregnant beagle mix he dubbed Marjorie, and Cha Cha, a pup he just couldn't leave behind.
Then, just as he was about to head home, a ghostly creature emerged from the weeds - a starving female dog. Her bones poked through skin half bald with mange. Although Grim is fairly sure she's entirely feral and probably terrified of humans, she doesn't move when he kneels next to her. Too weak to resist, she allows him to lift her gently into his truck.
At a nearby veterinary clinic, pet owners gasp as Grim carries in the emaciated animal. Workers here, accustomed to his rescues, are calm. "What do we call her?" asks one. "How about Mercy?" chimes in a watching pet owner. And, so, Mercy begins her new life.
Grim is elated and downcast all at once. Today's rescues are safe and, he believes, will go on to happier days - even Mercy - with much love and attention. Yet there were so many other desperate cases on the street today. Right now there isn't enough room for them in his shelter.
In a year or two, as soon as he can raise the money, he'll open a larger shelter in a building donated by Bob Bagby, CEO of St. Louis-based AG Edwards. It will house at least 100 homeless dogs. Most strays on the street today, however, won't live that long.
Grim is often asked why he dedicates his life to dogs when so many people suffer as well. His friends also fret that he has so little outside life (apart from a recent foray into ballroom dancing).
But he can't entirely explain the directions his life has taken. "I had an abusive father and a very loving mother," he says. The combination, he believes, uniquely equipped him to understand both the terror a stray dog lives with and the warmth that can reach it.
Sometimes, he says, all he can offer a dog is a loving gesture - perhaps the only kindness it will ever know. This ability to even momentarily relieve suffering with love, says Grim, buoys him in ways he cannot explain.
"I don't want this to sound weird, because I'm not really a religious person," he says, "but I pray a lot. And I just believe that this is my special job, the thing I was put here to do."