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Letter from America. 

By Cara Sheridan O’Donnell. 

Part One.

O'Donnell IrishO'Donnell IrishOne mild spring Sunday in 1995, about three months after we moved from New York to Georgia, our dog, Jack, was leashed and thoroughly enjoying a short walk with a young neighbor who was trying to convince her parents to buy her a puppy.  She was close to doing just that, in large part by “borrowing” Jack regularly to demonstrate to them how diligent she would be in caring for a pet.  We had adopted Jack four years earlier from an animal shelter on Long Island.  He was a “mature adult” border collie when he came to us—his “fur-ever” family—at the time of his adoption; therefore, none of us knew his precise age.  What we did know, though, was that Jack was as lean and lively as a much younger dog.  On the other hand, we had just recently noticed that he seemed to be developing what we and the vet thought was age-related hearing loss.

After a solid half-hour or so of walking, Jack made it clear to his young companion that he wanted to return home.  He tugged at his leash and, apparently deaf to the sound of a vehicle approaching at a high rate of speed, trotted into the middle of the road, where he was hit by the oncoming car.  It was a miracle, plain and simple, that the driver missed hitting the child, as well.  (The fact that the driver was someone who shouldn’t have been issued a driver’s license is another story.)  The little girl (now grown and a beautiful wife and mother of two) screamed for help when she realized that Jack had been hit, and hit hard. Hearing her cries of anguish, people emerged from houses, including ours.  I arrived at the scene just minutes after the accident and fell immediately to my knees on the asphalt beside Jack.  A “mama’s boy” from the moment of his adoption into our family, Jack tried to raise his broken and bleeding head when he finally heard my voice.  I remember wailing out to anyone who would listen that we had to get him to a vet.

One of our new neighbors knelt next to me.  Gently but firmly, he explained that a trip to the vet—the nearest one a good ten miles away and not open on a Sunday, anyway—would be fruitless; that there was nothing—with the exception of one thing—that anyone could do for Jack now.  This same gentleman then offered to do that one thing, to "put the pup out of his misery." Deep in my gut, I knew it had to be done, and done quickly, or Jack could suffer for hours.  In a voice quaking almost as violently as my body was trembling, I asked, "But how?"

Mindful of the children who had gathered at the scene, he whispered, "With a gun," as his arm tightened around my shoulder.

My response to that sounded stupid, even to my own ears: "Gun?  But who has?  Where? Gun?"  Remember, I was a suburban New York City girl who had only recently been transplanted to a then-semirural Atlanta suburb. At that time in my life, I knew very few people who owned (or even knew how to shoot) a gun, apart from an FBI agent friend of my father, a family member who was a Secret Service agent, and a sitting judge who carried a gun for self-protection.  (On reflection now, I might also have known a few guys who were rumored to have more than a passing acquaintanceship with firearms, but they surely didn’t go around talking about it.)

border collieborder collie"Cara, you're in Georgia now; there are lots of guns here.  I'll take care of it," my neighbor said, his soft Southern drawl somewhat calming me.  When I nodded my understanding, he urged me to go home, so as not to have to witness the act.  I said I’d wait with Jack until he returned with his gun, but I was able to shoo away all the children who were standing there in stunned silence.

Before he left to get the gun from his house, however, another neighbor, who had just come home from church, pulled up in her car.  This Southern belle sized up the situation in a flash and, much to my surprise, held her handbag out the car window, saying to our mutual neighbor as she did so, "Here; look in the side pocket.  I can't watch, but y’all can use my gun."  Honestly, I was never so grateful in my life to be in such close proximity to a gun.  Only later did I learn that the woman, who had been trained as a child in the responsible use of guns, owned a store which she often closed late at night by herself, and carried her little pistol in the unlikely event of a robbery.  On that Sunday, her gun was put to a merciful use.

I turned away but heard the shot, which sounded too loud to have come from such a tiny pistol.

Later that day, our Jack was buried in our backyard by two solemn dads, their eyes red-rimmed.  Jack was mourned by all who knew him, especially by the little girl who loved him so and who blamed herself for quite a while for something she could have done nothing to prevent.  The driver of the car that hit Jack, on the other hand, was a woman whose name we never learned.  During the few minutes she reluctantly stayed at the scene of the accident she had caused, she never came even remotely close to expressing simple sorrow over the death of a dog, much less any remorse over her part in that death.

I never did become a gun owner myself, but living in the South for 16 years certainly shaped and, to some degree, changed my thoughts regarding gun ownership in general.  I believe it should be something of a pain in the backside to procure a gun.  It seems reasonable to me to require a background check on a buyer, as well as a waiting period before that gun is removed from the store by a buyer. Permits to carry concealed weapons should be issued with equal vigilance, in my opinion.  Yup, that is what I believe; those are the views of Idealistic MeRealistic Me, however, knows that criminal minds are not going to obtain their weapons through legal channels.

Gun control is a hot topic in the United States these days, certainly the hottest topic in the past month or so.  Both Idealistic Me and Realistic Me agree that more stringent gun-control laws are not the answer to curbing and/or preventing acts of violence.  I intend to expand on this topic next week, but, in the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.

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