Background Checks

In the summer, after my first year of medical school, I was a research assistant in a physiology lab. Anesthetized dogs were used to study the circulation in animals experimentally exposed to shock. The dogs were euthanized after the operations. I was conflicted but was told that the dogs used in the studies were slated to be put down in the animal shelter.

            I trust this work led to breakthroughs that helped others, but it made me a passionate believer in animal rescue.

             I am a dog person. Further, I feel a need to help dogs that need a home rather than perish. I don’t care about pedigree or papers, just help an animal out.

            As a physician a great deal of the satisfaction in my work comes from helping people who are very sick and need attention and care.

            It is this humanitarian act of rescue that transcends to all aspects of my life.

            Our last two dogs were Fred and Cozi.  Cozi was a black Lab puppy found roaming the streets, and Fred, a chocolate Lab, was about one year old when we rescued him. Fred was starved and abused.  His coat stretched over protruding ribs and was a kwashiorkor orange, rather than a glowing brown

            We took them in, nursed them back to health, and they were great pets.

            Both lived to be very old, very happy and made us very happy.

            By the time Fred was seventeen, his hips were shot. The dog was not in pain just frail and feeble.  I became his legs and would carry him inside and outside, then set him up allowing him to walk a bit.  Cozi watched and acted as a coach, encouraging her long -time friend and hoping, like I did, that he would somehow get better.

            Fred could not eat from a standing position, so I lifted the food and water to his mouth.

            Eventually I realized it was time.

             The worst thing a dog owner can do is take the long time, faithful, loyal family pet to the doctor for the last time. You know what is going to happen, but the trusting dog is clueless. It bordered on a big double-cross.

            I carried Fred into the doctor’s office and placed him in a room furnished with comfortable furniture and soft lighting. I set him on the couch.

            The vet asked me if I wanted to stay with Fred during the procedure. Tears and sobs and groans emerged from my chest.

            Fred looked at me, concerned about me as always, it was never about him. He tried to get off the couch to comfort me.  He fell and could not get up.

            I placed him on the couch and patted his head.  Fred’s soft eyes met mine as if to say,

“Hey where are you going? Are you going to be okay? Happy up.”

            To watch them inject a needle into my dog would bring back memories of the research lab.  Once injected, I knew my presence would make no difference.

            I couldn’t stay.

            I went home and tried to explain it to Cozi. The two had been inseparable. Soon her health declined, she went into a spiral, refused to eat, and six weeks after Fred died, Cozi would not get up.

            I carried her in and out and set her up so she could walk a bit. Once again, I delayed.

            My wife was in tears and told me she had Cozi taken to the vet for the final time. We put Fred down in June and Cozi in early August.

            Cozi and Fred were with us for graduations, weddings, birthdays and the births of grandchildren. They helped us through family tragedies and funerals. The dogs could sense our excitement with the births and our sadness with our losses. They amped up our excitement with the good times and were a buffer in bad times.

            Dogs are a constant, dependable, emotional anchor.

            Without the dogs our house was empty and so were our hearts.

            We needed a dog. We wanted a rescue.

            I contacted several rescue agencies, paid the fees, and had to fill out questions and pass a background check.

            The questions were somewhat invasive. I was asked what kind of personality did I have? A very pleasant one I said. What kind of personality did my wife have? Even better than mine. What about other family members who would be in contact with the dog? My children and grandchildren are very nice, thank you. What kind of job did I have? A good one. They would contact my vet to see how responsible I was.  I would like to show them the receipts of the thousands I spent over my thirty years of dog ownership. They wanted to know how I would react if the dog had an accident? Glad I didn’t step in it. Did I smoke?  Nope. Did I own or rent my home? Own.  Did I want a particular breed, and if so, why?  Nothing particular, just any animal that needed a break.

            I came close to getting a dog, but the woman said I was too old at sixty- seven to have a young dog. The implication was that I wouldn’t live long enough to care for a dog that would outlive me.

            I assured her, my wife and I were in excellent health and we could rescue a dog and give the dog a great home. The dog could run in our fenced in, wooded back yard of two- and -one half acres.  She instructed me to send a picture of my wife and myself so she could see if we indeed looked fit and then they would make a home visit and render a verdict.

            It was taking too long our hearts were breaking so I bailed on the rescue process and went to a reputable breeder and came back with two ten -week old chocolate Labs.

             It shouldn’t be that difficult. Rescue means rescue, just as I had done with Fred and Cozi.  It would be a better fate than ending up in a physiology lab. They should take a chance on me. There was little downside.

            I am a believer in background checks but thought of them in vetting gun purchases.

             Gun control has been an important, though impotent issue, since the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. Comprehensive background checks would be of help.  Ninety percent of the country are in favor of background checks. But the agencies responsible for these checks appear to come up short. It seems easier to obtain an assault rifle than a rescue dog.

            Lee Harvey Oswald used a military rifle.

            Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke seeks to confiscate and outlaw military assault rifles.

            That won’t fly in our gun saturated society, but comprehensive background checks would help to keep such guns out of dangerous hands. Strong background checks, which should be acceptable to both sides, are possible.

            The American Medical Association and the American Bar Association are in favor.

            A person that needs a gun should have their head examined as the majority of gun related deaths are suicides. That is not a euphemism or joke.

            The CDC has not funded research on gun violence for decades. They are, in fact, prohibited by the government from doing so. (Dickey Amendment)

            I recall the professional athlete that brutalized several dogs while training them for dog fighting. The athlete that abused the dogs was a gun owner.

            The idea came to me that if canine rescue agencies, given access to HIPAA data, would expand their role and become active in vetting potential gun owners, we would have a safer world.

            The athlete might get a gun but would not get a dog.

            At first this was a tongue in cheek idea but the more I thought about it the more I appreciated the effectiveness of legitimate background checks. If they can keep a recue dog out of my hands they should be able to keep guns from the unstable.

            Their policies and procedures should be emulated and expanded to gun control, including exhaustive questions and a home visit.

            I would not want to be around when a home visit is made, however.

            If background checks could assist in keeping firearms out of the hands of unstable people, my wife and I would sleep better with our two puppies at the foot of our bed.

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