A special photo hangs in a plastic frame in a corner of my office, intentionally fixed in a spot within my line of sight but not necessarily obvious to visitors. I spend time with it virtually every day and have done so for many years. A fuzzy snapshot rather than something professional, the photo is an enlargement of the last in a series of seven pictures sent by a girlfriend to her boyfriend in prison. Seized by a prison guard, I received them as possible evidence of a crime against animals.
The first two photos in the group show two muscular dogs held back from each other by heavy chains looped around their necks. The next couple of shots are of those same dogs attacking each other. Pictures number five and six show a lot of blood, teeth and torn flesh. I lost the letter long ago that that accompanied the photographs but, along with mundane talk of everyday things, it referred to these pictures taken at the previous weekend's dogfight just like you or I might talk to a friend about a good movie we caught last weekend.
The last photo of the series is the one on my wall. It's a close-up of the two dogs, and one of them takes up most of the frame. She is splashed with blood. Her swollen nipples show that she is a recent mother, perhaps still nursing her babies. The face and much of the head of the other dog is fully within her muscular jaws. There's a lot of dark, shadowy redness, contrasted against a few white teeth. The picture speaks of pain and death, and of man's twisted betrayal of the loyalty shown us by animals who don't know how to ask for anything different but who deserve so very much more.
And in the upper left corner of the photo is the face of an angel. A pretty little girl, maybe three or four years old, watching this massacre. Whether a passerby or a child brought to watch this prolonged bloodbath, she is a member of the audience.
These two dogs are surely now both dead, probably long forgotten other than through their continued life as icon on my wall. The girl, she's likely a woman now. I don't presume to know anything about her, not really, but I do keep a snapshot of this one moment of her childhood. It's a moment that mocks everything a child should see and learn. It's a moment that tells a child that life has no value, that violence is normal.
I keep the photo on my wall as a constant reminder that life has its enemies, and that what is done to protect the animals has vital equivalents in the lives of children. That cruelty to animals can not only be a precursor to cruelty against people, but also that any act of cruelty can and so often does impact many victims. The work we do to fight violence against animals, as such, may help more than the dog or the cat we are working to save. The photo reminds me why I come to work every day, even on the hardest days.