One day several years ago I was returning from an assignment and driving through Arkansas when I saw a sign for “free puppies.” I don’t know why I stopped. As I try and remember I think there was a girl holding a puppy in the air above her head inspecting it. The sight of her doing this may have caught my attention. I know I have a photo of this girl somewhere, though I haven’t been able to find the file. Though that image might have caught my attention it wasn’t the image that has survived in my archives across the years. The photo that has survived is this one of the puppies piled on one another in the bed of a pickup. This photo has never served a “purpose.” It has never been published. It has never illustrated a story. I don’t know that I have even shared the photo with anyone, although I think it may have made it into a facebook album at one time. Yet this photo sticks with me and keeps traveling to new hard drives. In the end this photo will go down as one of my most cherished. But why? I think it is the situation. I think somehow I feel like this does illustrate something. It illustrates something about the heart of my life. I relate to the predicament, and so do many of the people I care about. It is the predicament of what is valuable. Stuck in a pickup, removed from the warmth of the mother they pile on one another for warmth. And their value to their owner is no value whatsoever. They are free, which means they are a nuisance. They matter not except that they be removed. I know I am placing a lot of emotion onto an image. I know the man with the truck probably did care about the fate of the puppies. I am sure he was tender to them. But the world has no economy for them. To move them from his inability to care for them to a place where someone could care for them he is forced to give them away at no cost. Free puppies. It is not that I feel abandoned or unappreciated. That’s not what I relate to now, or back then when I took the photo. It is not that I feel like something has been done to me, some injustice. This is just the way it is. I am free. I am an overpopulation of something that has no place in the global economy. My place in this world is not an economical necessity. I am free. But forced metaphors or allegories aside, there is something about this photo that grounds me and humbles me. The fragile life of relationships that we cannot control. Maybe at the end of the day the pickup was emptied and maybe by some miracle every single one of these free puppies was taken by a loving little girl, but still they would be no more together. Even if they survived to be taken by happy homes it is unlikely any home took them all. In the end these free puppies had a family relationship no one’s economy could afford. But seriously, who could afford a pile of puppies? Who has the time? It is this fragile relationship that was almost certainly taken away from them that strikes me and is cause for my attachment to this image. I feel like this could be me and my sisters, me and my brothers, all of us, or all of us with our parents… when we were little. But life broke us up. We live in different states now. I look at these puppies and wonder if they are even aware of the separation that is about to happen to them. Maybe they are piled on one another because there were others that had already been taken and they are huddling in a vain attempt to prevent the loss of others.
March 20, 2011