Monday, May 24, 2010

Neutral Water

On Sunday, 23 May, I traveled with a couple of friends to Ste. Genevieve Missouri for the Missouri State Championship Bicycle Road Race. Both of my friends were racing.

Rob Landes was racing Masters 40+ class and his race would be two laps on a 35 mile course. At the beginning of the second lap the racers would pass a "feed zone" where a crew member would be able to hand up extra bottles or food to the racers. The day was hot and muggy, so having that crew member ready with extra water could be the difference between winning and not finishing.

The feed zone was a little over two miles from the start line, so I walked up, carrying the cooler with Rob's extra hydration and nutrition. By the time I got there, I was sweaty and thirsty. I couldn't imagine riding in this heat without extra water.

As the riders passed the zone, each crew member held out bottles or bags to "their" racers as they whizzed by. When most had passed, a lone rider came along asking for "neutral water". He rode by the crowd holding out his hand asking for "neutral water". Neutral water would be water not designated for someone else, just extra water that any rider could have.

None was lifted out to him. He kept riding with his hand out all the way past the feed zone, but no one was prepared with neutral water. I immediately felt the wrenching feeling of deep compassion mixed with deep guilt at having nothing to put in his outstretched hand. It was a bad feeling.

So you wonder why I have posted the picture of the dog with this story?

The dog's name is Duchess. Nearly everyone drove the two miles to the feed zone. There were only two people who walked to the feed zone on Sunday. Me and the woman holding the leash attached to Duchess. She had cached her cooler, to avoid having to carry it, but now that she had arrived, it was nowhere to be found. In vain she searched the weeds where she had left it, dragging Duchess behind her.

I asked if I could watch the dog. Thanking me she handed me the leash. Duchess is a Pit Bull who is 40 pounds of pure cane sugar. I fell in love immediately. Duchess was also a very hot dog thanks to the walk to the feed zone. The woman who brought Duchess hadn't yet found her cooler. Duchess needed "neutral water". I had already finished all the water I brought with me. So I dug into the ice of my cooler and held it in a cupped hand for Duchess. She greedily licked the ice to cool herself. We repeated this twice more. Eventually, her owner found the errant cooler and poured Duchess a proper drink. And then sat down beside me, for which I was grateful as it offered me more time with this wonderful dog.

You see, the racer with his hand out came to the race without a crew member to help him. He chose to be there. He could just as easily drop out if the struggle with the heat became too much. Duchess didn't choose to be there. There was a 5 foot lead attached to a chain around her neck. And she couldn't leave when she felt the need to find an open gas station so that she could purchase water. She was depending on either her owner to provide for her, or someone else with "neutral water".

Dogs are usually completely at the mercy of the people who keep them. They can't go where they want, or leave when they need to. If they are indoor dogs, they can't even go to the potty unless someone lets them out or they risk punishment by pottying indoors.

Dogs on chains in the back yard have it the worst. They usually live in a dusty (or muddy) 10 foot circle of their own filth. Their water, if they have any, is dirty and hot. If they have a dog house, it is flea infested and stifling. Is this any way to treat the animals which God gave us for companionship? Given any small chance at all, a dog will be the most loyal friend you'll ever find. And what does her loyalty purchase for her in return? Decent treatment? Sometimes not, I'm afraid.

I doubt if Duchess would remember me. But I'll always remember her. Will you? Next time you see a dog on a chain, perhaps you might remember Duchess and offer some "neutral water".

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