I had to pick up a dog for grooming. The last time we saw him – over 10 months earlier – I was called out by social services. I struggled to make my way through his owner’s house as I didn’t know where to step – the carpeted floor was a Pollock of canine excreta. The dog was covered in dreadlocks and crawling with fleas. I had to give him a surgical-length haircut to get the mats off him.

So, I wasn’t expecting great things this time. Still, I didn’t expect to touch his face and end up holding a pile of pus and a fallen tooth. The dog has abscesses all over his gums. His teeth are rotting out of his mouth. The smell is incredible. I have no idea of how much pain he might be in, and I hope I never find out.

I immediately rang the owner to inform her. She didn’t seem particularly struck by the news. I will inform the authorities, which is all I can legally do. She says she’s going to take him to the vets. I hope she’s not lying.

I have seen her with the dog and I know she deeply cares about him. She’s in a pretty bad state herself, though I’ve not checked her teeth. She is probably giving the dog no more and no less care than she gives herself. There is no malice in her behaviour. She’s doing the best she can. I just don’t think that’s good enough.

We see this horribly often, dogs with all manners of ailments whose owners are failing to manage. I’m not talking little boo-boos, either. I’m talking ulcerated corneas, prolapsed uteri, cancerous growths, massive infections… pus, pus, so much pus, coming out of every conceivable place.

The thing is, none of these owners don’t care, otherwise they wouldn’t hire us. They just can’t manage the situation. Some don’t understand, some can’t handle the practicalities or the emotional fallout, and some can’t afford veterinary care. The result is the same: suffering. And this doesn’t just happen to dogs.

I’m reminded of a dear ex-friend, a lovely lady who desperately wanted to be a mother. She geared up her entire life towards that goal. Unfortunately, she was too unwell to bear a child. Undeterred, she adopted.

What she discovered, to her dismay, was that she could manage a baby – just – but just couldn’t manage a toddler. As her child grew and became more active and capable, she became less and less able to keep up. Instead of seeking practical help, she sought medical help. She managed to get her child a diagnosis of ADHD. Now, before anyone starts shouting, I’m not saying that the condition is not real; I’m saying that I’ve been babysitting kids since I was old enough to say “stop that”, and if he’s got ADHD I’m a giraffe.

She got him drugged up, and we had the inevitable falling out. The last time I bumped into them, he’d gone from being a bright, engaging and engaged little human to a barely-present hollow shape. I didn’t know whether to be sad, sick, or angry.

What do you do with not-good-enough people? People who care, but just can’t manage? People whose very best just doesn’t cut it, and whose shortcomings, although lacking malice, don’t lack consequences?


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