One week ago: Ryker’s thighs have withered, and he walks in a kind of hunch, his upraised vertebra showing and the knobs on his rib cage so apparent they trouble the flat of the hand that strokes his side. All four paws have been poisoned by his own urine. He walks as if each step requires his full concentration. The ugly scarlet color of his ankles sets off his nails which resemble melted wax. His coat has thinned and is flaking and roughed up by scabs.
A man ignored him as if he were a broken tool or an uncomfortable chair and placed him in a dog crate and left him there, fed him little and did not mind that he spent every hour in his own waste. Before he was locked away, someone house trained him. Volunteers take him out first. He tries to hold it until they arrive.
Found wandering a nearby road, Ryker has come to this refuge. A volunteer remarked that she did not understand how any person could do such a thing. Our first reaction to cruelty is incomprehension and moral disorientation.
We all have seen cruelty up close, and all but the saints among us have been mean and delivered the stiletto remark or the adolescent push or punch to some undeserving sod, but Ryker’s treatment seems worse than a word can describe. His treatment needs a name we cannot find because it exists in some unknown, frozen wasteland of knowledge, out there in nightmare country where all creatures innocent and defenseless are attacked or left to die — all children; any life small or old; ones so powerless and weak they cannot fight back; any who depend upon our good graces for their care and sustenance.
Our imaginations can readily bring up the video and photographs of multitudes gazing at us from behind barbed wire and bars, held by chains and bearing wounds. Their eyes gaze at us so directly. Jesus wept — what words can encompass that universe? Maybe no words can do justice to such actions.
What was done to Ryker lives on the edge of that nightmare country; far worse happens in every beat of time. His case however, because it is so quiet and ordinary, illustrates the often impassive nature of cruelty and its connections to other even more hateful points on its arc.
Ryker was thrown away. The actions of the man who threw him away are related to any of those actions that harm the defenseless and weak no matter the species. They seem to require only a thin shred of motivation to go active. Maybe such people enjoy watching suffering or wielding power or they carry a disdain for another’s color, face, or the heritage of a last name. Maybe they wish to be rid of a dependent. Maybe they have no patience. Something triggers their coldness or ferocity. In cases like Ryker’s, it also makes that person blind and deaf to the suffering of a creature living under his roof.
However, when suffering is directly at hand, the cries before us, the pain indissoluble, and we are free of fear and have escaped ideological or racial indoctrination, then many will act on behalf of the helpless even at great risk to themselves — I do hate the reality of this sentence; its qualifiers threaten to choke out a sense of hope. Bloody news gives plenty of reasons to be cynical about the hearts of human beings.
Yet, like the volunteer and like most with whom we live and work, we see Ryker and think “Protect, Heal, Love” so quickly that the wish makes it to our hands before the sentiments ever appear in our imaginations. We move to help, perhaps even to rescue. Newton’s Third Law of Motion is accurate in the moral realm too. Cruelty collides with our readiness to shield and shelter and thus creates its opposition. Goodness is comprehensible. It does possess moral clarity.
Perhaps I believe by faith that the the essential answer given by most of us to cruelty will be active resistance. Even the use of first person plural in this essay reveals that faith. But here at this refuge, and in other events I have witnessed, and in more stories than I can remember, I have seen goodness rise up and challenge the heartlessness of such actions as have harmed Ryker — that sentence must be the response any of us give to the choking qualifiers.
This morning Ryker seems better. His skin is smoother, his paws less red. He ate a full dish of food. His gaze is unwavering. He is not afraid. He rests in his run on layers of foam and blankets. Yoga mats are arranged for his walk over stones to grass. He is attended by dozens of volunteers who are capable of pity and who monitor his well being. He is safe.
It will be touch and go for him — he is so malnourished — but for this morning the news is good, and each small promise of light is another reason for hope both for Ryker and for the progress of our own mortal, urgent efforts. There is more. Even as you read this, numberless ordinary people, living ordinary lives beneath the sheen of this blustering, cold, too often indifferent American world, are saying to themselves “No more,” and are defending a child, or stepping up for someone worn out by the ugliness of another. They are standing sentinel over another’s life in their ordinary, undramatic manner. It all counts. And so yes, today there is good news.