The one thing about my children is I can always tell when something is wrong. So when my youngest daughter suddenly threw on a jacket and a pair of shoes and ran out the front door Friday afternoon, I knew something was bothering her.
Unable to see where she went, I grabbed my own jacket and shoes and quickly followed. Huddled just out of sight below the living room window, she was trying to comfort a cat that was meowing hysterically.
It was the same gray and white tabby we had seen wandering through our yard and across the neighborhood for the past few weeks. Most of the time, it would run off if we got within 20 feet of the critter.
I'm guessing the cold, windy weather made it change its mind that afternoon. It seemed very desperate to get out of the elements. At one point, it jumped onto the window ledge and looked into the house, which I knew would've been perceived as a threat by at least one of my family's cats.
Against my daughter's wishes, I did what seemed the right thing to do. We convinced it to climb into a pet carrier, complete with bowls of food and water, and kept the feline in our garage and out of the elements until a city police officer took the cat to the local animal shelter in hopes someone could identify the owner.
Since it didn't have a collar or any form of identification, my gut feeling told me that someone had abandoned him. Why someone in this town believes that a pet used to being around humans could suddenly adapt to being without food, water and shelter is beyond me.
Allowing it to run free in the vicinity of two of the city's busiest roads made even less sense since it was only a matter of time before it got hit by a passing car. In fact, my wife almost hit it when she pulled her car into the driveway.
I'd like to say this was the first time I've dealt with stray animals, but I can't. Even in a town of this size, things like this happen far too often.
And it's not just cats that seem to roam free. Listening to the police scanner in my office, I overhear a number of reports each week regarding dogs that roam the streets of Mountain Home.
There's one thing that always bothers me when these reports come over the scanner -- where are the owners -- the ones who are supposed to be keeping an eye on their pets in the first place? The volume of stray animal calls seems to indicate that people either need to take better care of their pets or find someone who will.
My personal view on the issue stems from an incident I witnessed when I was about five years old. My mom, my brother and I walked from our house to a local fast food place to pick up lunch when a stray puppy started following us.
Despite our attempts to get it to return home, it simply refused. Then I watched helplessly from the window of the restaurant as it walked into the middle of a busy street and got run over by a car.
The scream it let out is something that haunted me for a very long time.
Then there are other incidents I've dealt with over the years regarding owners that ignore their pets, which also got my blood boiling. I remember, with regret, the one German Shepherd that an owner kept tied up in their fenced-in yard, which as luck would have it faced my back yard.
I lost count of how many times that dog would bark uncontrollably any time my children would go into the backyard to go play. It got to the point that none of us could ever enjoy our time because of the non-stop barking.
There was only one time I ever saw the owner play with the dog. It was probably the happiest moment of its life since it was begging for the owner to give it any type of attention.
The fact that the owner seemed too busy talking on their cordless phone versus playing with his canine companion didn't help.
At one point, I finally decided I was doing to be the "bad guy" in the neighborhood and report the owner. But it was too late.
After being neglected for so long, it died -- alone and apparently unwanted. All it seemed to want is someone to give it a little bit of love and attention every day. Was that too much to ask?
These are just a few examples where I really wish people didn't own a pet, but unfortunately I know of many more. During my family's time in Japan, my wife and I volunteered to help out at the animal shelter on base and got a first-hand look at what happens to pets when they're no longer wanted or are no longer "cute" since they're not a puppy or kitten anymore.
The worst involved the dog of a military family who were preparing to move back to stateside. Instead of dropping it off at the shelter or finding a new owner, they drove two hours to a rural area and abandoned it.
By the time it was caught, the dog had developed heartworm. Due to bureaucratic red tape, no one was authorized to euthanize the animal, which continued to suffer and eventually died.
When my wife and I decided to adopt our first two cats, we made a pact that they would stay with us the rest of their lives, regardless of the cost. The $1,200 we spent to ship them from Japan to the United States was pricey. However, one of them lived another 15 years, and the other is preparing to celebrate her 19th birthday with us.
Our latest addition to the family was also listed as a stray, although her loving nature tells me she was also abandoned since she's clearly not a feral animal. Why someone would simply toss her out the door is beyond me.
While I understand peoples' desires to own a pet, I really wish they would all stop and think about what that decision entails. Owning a pet comes with plenty of responsibility, which goes beyond providing them with food and water.
This includes all their medical bills, which I've discovered can add up quickly when a dog or cat gets up in years. Then there's the need to provide them with the one thing they crave the most -- our love and companionship.
After all, isn't that why we get a pet in the first place?
-- Brian S. Orban