No country for unwanted pets

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There’s being lucky and then there’s being Lucky.

One little abandoned dog is both, today and forever, according to Linda and Keith Pratt of Milton-Freewater.

“He’s lucky we found him and we’re lucky to have him,” Linda said with a laugh. “So we named him Lucky.”

The Pratts have lived at the upper end of Walla Walla River Road longer than either can recall. Linda’s parents first resided here in the boxy cabin that is now expanded into a generous custom home. The property sits just below Harris Park, where the earth is nearly touching on either side as if to heal the slit in it’s skin created by the turbulent river’s ancestral flows.

The land looks primeval — gloriously wild, contained only by the harsh outcroppings of rock, softened by natural flora. On this day, fresh snow coats everything.

It’s no environment for those not created to live here or that are without man-made protection, the couple said.

But that doesn’t stop people from dumping unwanted pets at the end of the road, where the Umatilla National Forest begins its enormous geographical reach.

“About 40 to 50 a year,” Linda said. “They’re just giving those animals a death sentence.”

Cats, dogs, horses — taken to the wilderness and left by people, for reasons the Pratts can only guess at.

“Maybe it’s the economy,” Keith offered. “People can’t afford to feed them anymore.”

Linda is less optimistic about human nature.

“It’s just terrible. We never see them do it, but we see what they’ve done,” she said, citing one example of finding a large garbage bag in the park, containing dead black labs.

Officials are aware. Angie McColley, who served as an animal control officer for several years in the Valley, is well versed — remote dumping of man’s best friend is everywhere, she said.

It’s illegal in Oregon to intentionally abandon an animal, but it’s hard to prove, requiring an eyewitness, she said.

Sgt. Tawin Compton with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office agreed. It’s a problem all over the 3,200 square-mile county, he said.

“Most of the time we don’t get called on it,” he said. “Ranchers that have livestock, they usually take care of the (stray dog) themselves. Cats, though, get to be a real issue. They turn feral.”

The horses that survive often join up with tribal wild herds, he added.

The deputies do what they can, Compton said.

“If we can find the owner, we make the owner responsible. If we can identify them, we will prosecute ... it’s kind of a personal issue with several of our deputies.”

Linda and Keith want to believe it’s mostly a case of ignorance, that people think their abandoned animals will somehow revert to the wild and know how to live off the land.

Instead the land becomes a grave, said Linda, her eyes going to the steep terrain at the side of the road.

The killers are numerous. The animals often freeze to death in the winter, a season with a longer life cycle in this spot. Vehicles hit them. Herds of deer that calmly patrol the area will stomp to the death a cat or smaller dog. Cougars, bears and coyotes don’t distinguish between domestic or wild meat.

Even raccoons will kill cats that get in their way, Keith said.

“And there’s no source of food for them at all,” Linda said. This, coming from a woman who makes her own special food for her dogs, is strong condemnation. “They are going to die up here.”

But not Lucky.

It was about a month ago that the white poodle mix was left close to the Pratt homestead, along with two others of his breed. Petrified, none of the three animals would approach humans. When Keith put out a live trap, only Lucky took the bait.

If only the little guy, skin and bones by then, knew heaven on Earth was just waiting for him on the other side of the patio doors. Instead Lucky bit Keith, then proceeded to cry inside the house for days. Not even the welcoming tongues of the Pratt dogs soothed the little guy.

After visiting the family, however, I would be surprised if Lucky ever cries again.

There is nothing in the house lovingly crafted by Keith that doesn’t express admiration for God’s creatures, and dogs get top billing.

“Keith loves dogs and so do I. We both had dogs all our lives,” Linda said, after reading two canine-related poems she wrote for publication.

There are the dog pillows, framed needlepoint sayings about dogs, the warning signs painted low on screen doors so Lucky and his two new siblings, Gizmo and Buddy, won’t bonk their snouts. And that’s not talking about the toys.

A vet visit determined Lucky to be about 2 years old, with enough good health to recover from his trauma. He’ll join his new brothers for monthly trips to the groomer.

“Isn’t he adorable,” Linda cooed. “Who could have ever dumped him?”

But they want people to know the Pratt house is at its three-dog limit, and most of the neighbors can say the same, Keith and Linda told me.

That means the next dumping victim is unlikely to be so lucky.

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