Every town, city, barrio, region, neighborhood, county, borough, and township in the world has a twilight zone. It’s the area in your area that you do not go to after dark. Things are mysterious in your twilight zone, unpredictable and uncontrollable. The people that live in your twilight zone don’t follow the same rules as you do; they don’t even know what the rules are. The school systems there are spotty and everyone marries their cousin. Some places in your twilight zone have no indoor plumbing. Don’t even ask about central air.
Where I live, I-78 is the line of demarcation between us and our twilight zone. Everything north of 78 is in the zone. For those that don’t know, 78 starts in New York City in the east and goes to somewhere in the west. It seems to dissipate at some point before you reach the capital in Harrisburg. If you took secondary roads off 78, you’d wind up in Pittsburgh, but why would you ever want to do that?
I could go into the geopolitical reasons why the twilight zone exists north of 78 while south of it we are thoroughly domesticated, registered to vote, and taxed, but this is just a blog and not worthy of social deconstruction. Suffice it to say that up there they got mountains, down here we got farms and therein lies the difference.
I got a real taste for that difference a few weeks ago when my pal Liz decided she was going to go looking for a standard bred poodle for free up north of 78. She’d already visited all the animal rescue shelters down here and come up empty-handed. Not sure why she thought she’d have better luck up there, but it is the twilight zone so anything could happen.
Our first clue that the Hillside SPCA http://www.hillsidespca.com/ was a little bit off was the fact that they have two greeters in the parking lot. Greeters are nice. They help acclimate you to a new place and introduce you to the facilities. They’ll suggest where to park and point you to the restrooms. Usually the greeters of a facility are inmates. Hillside was no different. The greeters ran up to the car pleased as punch that we were there. They were quite accommodating as they barked and led us to the best parking spot in the joint. Hillside has no fence. Most places up in the twilight zone don’t need one. What with the 400 foot cliffs everywhere, there’s not much point in fencing anything in or out. No one’s going anywhere anyway. Still it feels strange to be greeted by unleashed and overly enthusiastic dogs of indeterminate breed in the unfenced parking lot of a dog rescue place.
The compound was a simple affair. There were three buildings that we assumed housed the rescues. Once the greeters had cheerfully led us to our designated spot, they pointed us to the one building with a sign on its door. We hoped the sign had directions to the standard bred poodles, but when we got close enough to read it, we saw it merely stated “Personnel only, no admittance.” We turned and gave the greeters a questioning look. They seemed to understand but could not help us as there was another carful of potential adopters pulling into the drive by that time. They shrugged and then ecstatically ran off to go and help the new people park.
Not knowing what else to do we headed over to the closest other building. A young, somewhat frazzled woman opened the door and asked what it was we needed. We didn’t know what to say. Wasn’t it obvious? Couldn’t she tell we needed a standard-bred poodle?
No one said anything for a few seconds and finally she said, “big dogs are over there…” She pointed toward the building with the sign that said we couldn’t go in. “…and little dogs are over there.” This time she pointed to the building across the parking lot. We chose the closest, the one with the do not enter sign, and knocked.
Another young woman, likewise frazzled, opened the door and wondered what it was we wanted.
“We’re looking for a …” Liz said.
“Oh you want to see the dogs,” the woman said.
“Er,” we said together.
“Just a minute,” she said. She retreated into the building and almost immediately, over to the side of the building, a pile of medium to large-sized dogs emerged from a single door into a yard surrounded by a chain link fence. They ran around their big cage barking madly, jumping on each other, and laughing to beat the band. They were having the absolute best time of their lives as they showed off their wonderful dogness to us. Half of them were full blooded huskies, the other half were part husky. The halves that weren’t husky seemed mostly to be pit bull. One of them had mange. They were funny looking bunched together like that, but one thing was certain, they were very, very socialized. And very, very happy.
Liz’s face was clouded in deep disappointment. “I see,” she said. “You don’t have any poodles.”
“Well, we might have something over in the small dog building,” the woman said.
“Oh, okay,” Liz said optimistically. Standard bred poodles are not small dogs, but you never know. Liz is an unusually lucky person, and this was the twilight zone.
We traipsed over to the small dog building. We knocked on the door and a very calm, self-assured woman invited us inside. We entered the dog den and were immediately immersed in a pile of puppy-sized, very happy, socialized half-pint dogs. The breeds here were less husky, more indeterminate. They were smaller, happier (if that was possible), and more energetic (if that was possible) than the outside dogs. One of them had mange. They all seemed to have the same grandfather. One little guy, a mixed breed of perhaps long-haired Jack Russell and regular-haired Dachsund parentage caught Liz’s eye. It squeezed into the front of the pack that was collectively squealing with delight at her knee cap and proceeded to worship her silly. It was almost crying with delight. You get the picture. It was a happy dog.
Come to think of it, all the dogs in the little dog den were happy except one. Queenie. Queenie had a throne over in the corner about a quarter way up the wall. She sat on a cushion there and presided over the proceedings with a regal air. There was a sign on the base of her throne that said, “Hi, I’m Queenie. I am not very socialized. I am not adoptable. Don’t come near me.” Liz made the mistake of glancing over at her. Queenie got up from her uneasy nap posture and raised herself to her very tippie toes. She began to tremble and grumble. Once in a while she whined. She kept up this strange behavior until Liz turned her face back to the crowd of indeterminates that were jumping up to her knees and lovingly kissing her there.
As you can guess, there were no standard-bred poodles in the little dog den either. Liz was not too upset. She wasn’t all that comfortable with the casual living conditions of the dogs and wasn’t sure she’d find a healthy dog at Hillside. Like me, Liz is used to the highly organized, antiseptic, and controlled environments of the dog pounds down here. Down here each dog gets its own cage, water bowl, and ragdoll for company. The dogs down here know their place. They are either sullen or out of their minds depending on how close they are to the termination date. If they’re sullen it’s because the date looms and they are in the final phase of death acceptance: resignation. If they’re out of their minds it’s because their date is a long way off. They’re still new to the shelter and haven’t had time yet to acclimatize to life in a cage with no reassuring pack around them. Eventually the out-of-their-minds dogs will settle down into a reassuring sullenness. Yes, the dogs down here in our more modern rescue facilities are quieter, more reserved. The down side is that they are not very well socialized because they’ve been living in a cage without others.
Seeing dogs in a pack and really happy and energetic in a dog shelter feels weird. If puts you off center. One thing’s for sure, though, they are socialized. And did I mention that they’re happy? It probably helps that Hillside is a no kill shelter. Even the mangy dogs exhibited an unbridled joy in the here and now. There are no sullen dogs at Hillside. Except Queenie, of course. I suspect there’s a story behind Queenie, but I don’t want to know what it is. Whatever the story is, it happened up there in the twilight zone. But you have to take the bad with the good.
Which brings me to the Singularity, the whole purpose of this blog. No matter how much I make fun of my local twilight zone, the fact is, I suspect life is better up there north of 78. It’s freer and less restrictive. There’s more room for the creative spirit. The dogs are allowed to roam and find their inner greeter. Doesn’t that freedom translate to the people there too? As we move toward the Singularity, we get more and more organized, more civilized, more sanitized, more restricted. Life will be perfect and forever one day, for sure, but sitting in our antiseptic cages won’t we just get more and more sullen and resigned at the same time? Sure you might get mange, or maybe whatever happened to Queenie will happen to you, but isn’t life better in an unpredictable twilight zone where you’re allowed to hang out in the parking lot without a leash?
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P.S. If you’re in a particularly happy and twilight zonish mood, donate to Hillside: http://www.hillsidespca.com/donations.htm.