You rescued your first wounded animal when you were six years old. Your brother had cruelly removed one wing from a housefly and left it for dead, and when you found it sitting on a windowsill butting its head against the glass, your heart melted. You put it in a jar with some grass and set about the task of nursing it back to health. Of course it was beyond your knowledge at the time that flies don’t typically re-grow wings, and also you didn’t know what flies ate, or that they needed air to breathe, so it died shortly thereafter. You gave it a proper burial and vowed to never allow harm to come to another animal if you could help it.
On career day one of your classmates brought her father, a dogcatcher, and he told your class all about the pound. You were appalled to learn how badly people treated their pets and that the government was committing mass murder right in your neighborhood by putting hundreds of dogs a year “to sleep.” It was an outrage! You didn’t understand how this could be allowed to happen, and why people weren’t lining up around the block to protest this cruel practice. You began making trips to the local animal shelter and adopting the doomed. You were going to save them all one at a time.
Your parents were supportive at first, but as your suburban house started to fill with dogs and cats in varying degrees of health and temperament, and the vet and food bills began to pile up, your mother informed you that you could no longer adopt any pets. You were heartbroken. Your parents were just as much a part of the problem as the rest of them. You gathered all your pets together in your room and promised them that you would become the greatest veterinarian ever, and that you would care for all animals for free, so that nobody would have any excuses to not take care of their pets.
The childhood ideology never faded, even as the weight of your student loans threatened to crush your fledgling veterinary practice, and with it your dreams. Basic economics meant that you couldn’t perform your services for no compensation for any realistic length of time, but you made your best efforts to keep things affordable and you never turned away a sick animal just because somebody couldn’t pay. Your practice was in a fairly affluent region, so money was never a big problem.
As you settled into the routine of your field, it became glaringly obvious that the bulk of a veterinarian’s day is spent giving rabies vaccines, castrating animals so they won’t make new ones, or humanely killing animals whose owners are either unable or unwilling to take care of their supposedly beloved pet. Toss in a prescription flea repellent here and there and that’s the whole job. It was grossly unsatisfying. You weren’t some great caregiver of God’s creatures; you were the enabler of a system that subjugated those creatures for human whimsy.
As a child you never understood the practice of spaying and neutering your pet because you couldn’t fathom anything better than more adorable puppies and kittens. As an adult you couldn’t help but think that “fixing” your pet was nothing more than sweeping the problem under the rug. We artificially created the need to control animal populations by domesticating these animals in the first place. For all of Bob Barker’s rhetoric on the topic, it was our own vanity that prompted the need to alter nature’s course. In the evenings you entertained fantasies of packs of feral border collies roaming the city streets, herding their human pray into dark alleys where they would become a fancy feast indeed for the litters of new pups.
What bothered you the most, however, was when you gave a family the news that their pet would die a slow and painful death without a certain surgery, and they would opt instead for you to put the animal down “humanely,” or worse, take the animal home and let the chips fall where they may. The cost wasn’t the issue. These people paid thousands for their designer breeds because it was the fashionable thing to do. Labradoodle is the new black. They drove to the vet in their H2 or Range Rover. It wasn’t a question of money at all; it was a question of value. When push came to shove, their love of their pet only ran so deep.
You began to do pro bono work for various organizations that rescued abused or unwanted animals from households, carnivals, and even some animal testing facilities. You set up a shelter at your home and were often caring for a dozen or more animals that had been recently liberated from a bad situation. You worked hard to get them healthy and help place them in an environment where they would be properly cared for. You had hoped that this work would fulfill you and stem the rising tide of rage that you felt every time someone made you put down an animal.
It didn’t help. More and more you felt like an outsider in a world where the ability to throw a football meant you could be forgiven for even the most severe transgressions. You considered the possibility that there are absolutely no dog owners in all of Philadelphia, but that seemed unlikely, so you could only conclude that man’s best friend was trapped in a one-sided relationship.
One day some representatives of PETA brought you two-dozen mice that had been liberated from a local pharmaceutical company’s research office. As you assessed the patients you had an overwhelming surge of inspiration. People were out there every day saving animals from a facility like this, and it was good work to be sure, but it was only a small subset of the problem. Someone needed to rescue pets from their owners. Apartments and cookie-cutter McMansions are not the natural habitats of these animals. They were not meant to live lives where small children pulled their ears and tried to ride them across the living room. They were meant to live free.
You began putting together a network of hosts for liberated domestic animals. Using your contacts from your volunteer work you found people in rural areas with expansive lands that were willing to take in these former pets and allow them the freedom they deserve. Thousands of years of selective breeding had made them unable to survive completely on their own in the wild, but this would be the next best thing.
You began the second phase of your plan—liberation. You started by breaking into parked cars where people had left pets while they went grocery shopping. You tried to glean tips on breaking into cars by watching movies like Gone in 60 Seconds, but nothing from the movies ever seemed to work. Plus you were already projecting a suspicious enough picture by loitering around parking lots wearing Isotoner gloves in the middle of summer, so you decided that the best course of action was the quick and dirty smash and grab. You’d break a window, grab the pet, and be gone before anyone had a chance to identify you. After a while you discovered that the car doors were unlocked more than half the time, but you smashed the window anyway, just to be a jerk about it.
The police were baffled by what appeared to be a very odd crime spree. There are no recorded cases of serial pet thieves. You were sending dogs and cats to new homes by the dozens but it wasn’t enough. You had to increase your efforts. You began to remove pets from back yards. You would run through neighborhoods at night pretending to jog so you could knock down people who were out walking the dog and run off with it. By the end of the year you had relocated over a hundred animals.
Not all of the animals greeted you as a liberator. Some were perfectly happy where they were and showed ferocious loyalty to the people that had them imprisoned. You were convinced that you were acting in their best interests, and that they were suffering from a kind of Stockholm syndrome that would fade away once they were running free on a farm upstate. The bites and scratches you suffered in the line of duty were a small price to pay for doing the right thing.
Years of vaccinating animals had made you blind to the possibility that any modern suburban pet could have rabies—even people who run dog-fighting rings get the dogs their shots. When you started to get sick you just assumed it was the flu, and when you realized it wasn’t it was already too late. Your last thoughts before you slipped into a coma were about how cute babies are, maybe even cuter than puppies, and that you probably should have become a pediatrician.