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Friday, September 9, 2005
By Paul Ford
A single paw on the wheel as the bus pulls away.
I find myself taken up by the story of Snowball. This is a dog left behind in New Orleans because dogs were not allowed on the evacuation buses. "Snowball!" cried his owner, a little boy. "Snowball!" Then the little boy vomited in agony.
There is video that purports to show Snowball, a tiny white terrier-looking dog, as he or she (let's say "he") is abandoned. Snowball puts his paw on the wheel of a bus, begging to come along. He is barking but we cannot hear it. A few seconds later a burly police officer pulls Snowball away from the wheel and the bus drives off. We do not see, but can imagine, the face of the little boy, who has lost his home and spent days locked inside the horrors of the Convention Center, with his hand moist on the bus window-glass (from wiping his own tears), yearning for Snowball to somehow transcend physics and leap into his lap. But the bus just drives off. The entire thing is that pathetic, and yet at least mostly real.
Now concerned dog afficianados have posted rewards for anyone who can find Snowball, and a number of newspaper articles have appeared about the tragedy of Snowball. USA Today says Snowball has been found—but who can be sure? It may be another Snowball (if there could ever be another Snowball). Other sources say Snowball is still missing, but in any case the dog has struck a chord amongst anyone with a soft touch for animals. And yes, it's an easy story for a tired journalist to put together, quick and sad, requiring only a few phone calls and some Internet searches. But it's also a good story, because it gives us an accessible take on the tragedy in Louisiana, makes it personal instead of political. Because a puppy is not political. Snowball can't be blamed, or even subtly criticized, as the people of New Orleans were subtly criticized for being both poor and mostly black—as if these factors had made them responsible for the flood. A dog just yaps, pants, loves, and eats. A dog has no interest in the efficency of Mike Brown, head of FEMA, or in the political hay to be made of the failure in New Orleans. The dog's equation is simple: if the little boy is not here, who will bring me biscuits? Also, will I be eaten?
That's why it's so why it's so easy to empathize with Snowball's bafflement in the face of something so terrible. This mess has been conflated with so many other things, coming as it does when the country has come unmoored and is floating perilously close to the edge of the world. Snowball puts it back into simple, animal terms and makes it possible for me to grasp a little of what it's like in New Orleans. I don't want to be one of those people who feels that he knows what's going on because he reads The Note and the front section of the New York Times. I want to feel as well as know the facts; analyzing the spin is not enough.
The dog and the little boy were friends and they had a contract. The little boy would take care of the dog and the dog would adore the little boy and be a faithful friend and servant in return, without question. The dog spends its life believing this and then one day it's far from home and the little boy is in his bus seat, sad but impossibly far away, and a policeman's hands are pulling the pup even farther away as the bus drives off. Yes, it's important that Michael Brown be taken to the back room and re-educated, preferably with peanut butter smeared on his face and hungry rats in the room, and yes, Barbara Bush is an insensitive ogrish hell-hound. But these things have a way of becoming more important than the actual human suffering, because it's more fun to be horrified at Barbara saying that the refugees living in the Houston Astrodome, thrown out of their houses into a lifetime of rebuilding what they've lost, are glad to be there—more fun to feel that familiar partisan disgust than to contemplate Snowball lost in New Orleans, keening for his little boy as—as helicopters fly overhead? As fires burn out of control? As alligators pad nearby, snapping their jaws? Huge pieces of America have been obliterated in the last four years, the bus has left, and it's too bad we don't give dogs the vote.