Animal control director empathizes with displaced animals
The shared sense of estrangement from the succor and security that proceed from family and certainty of provenance informs the kinship Hot Springs Animal Control Director Dan Bugg feels with the wards circumstance has placed in his care.
Forsaken animals waiting for humanity’s better angels to intercede, abandonment and neglect find expression in their plaintive eyes and skittish bearings. It’s a condition not unfamiliar to Bugg, who 60 years ago was plucked from a disreputable West German orphanage by Elden and Wanda Bugg.
Before Bugg became a naturalized U.S. citizen at age 4 during a ceremony at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., he was adopted by Elden, a U.S. airman stationed in England, and Wanda. They had already adopted Bugg’s 2-year-old sister, Beverly, when they learned she had a 7-month-old brother in another south German orphanage Bugg said had a reputation as a “concentration camp for orphans.”
Bugg and a German exchange student he hosted in Hot Springs researched the orphanage’s history after a cryptic conversation Bugg had with a man near the site during a trip to Germany a few years ago. Their research revealed it was closed after an investigation in the early ’90s, a revelation that put the conversation into context.
“There was a man cutting wood about a block down the street from the orphanage who said ‘you’re lucky to have gotten out of there,’” Bugg said. “I never understood why until this year. There’s been some horrific stories that have come out of there.”
Providence had delivered Bugg from a dubious future and placed him in the care of loving parents, a fortunate turn of fate he honors by caring for Elden and Wanda during his regular visits to their Boonville, Mo., home.
Their affirmation and love notwithstanding, Bugg was compelled to flesh out his identity ever since learning of his true origins at age 10 or 11. Initial feelings of resentment for his biological mother, Gertrud, softened as he discovered more about the circumstances that made him and his sister wards of a West German state still feeling the aftershocks of World War II.
Bugg doesn’t believe their placement for adoption was born out of maternal indifference but rather a paternalistic state mandate that stripped single women of custody rights in the name of providing a better life for their children amid the war’s hardscrabble aftermath.
“I think in those days in Germany, if you were a single parent, especially a woman, the state took your children away,” Bugg said. “No one had jobs, and things were difficult.”
Alienation from loved ones also shaped Gertrud’s childhood. Born in 1935, her formative years were spent in the children’s camp she was sent to at age 5 along with other children whose parents hoped to put them at a safe remove from the tumult of total war.
“The war had broken out and all the children from the north were transferred from the big cities to camps in the south,” Bugg said. “So my mother grew up in a kids’ camp without her parents.”
At about 18, she met Bugg and his sister’s biological father, Klaus. Bugg said the bio he’s stitched together of his natural father is spotty. He knows Klaus and Gertrud never married, and that Klaus died in 1997. Neither had a profile in Bugg’s mind’s eye, as he had never seen a photograph of them. That changed a few days before Christmas, when an unexpected email brought a piece of his past into focus.
Sent by a German woman who had been helping Bugg find information on his biological parents, the electronic missive bore a picture of Gertrud.
“She wanted to give this to me as a Christmas present,” said Bugg, who said Gertrud appears to be about 40 when the picture was taken. She died in 1990. “I almost couldn’t speak. Besides having the comfort of seeing my mother as a personal thing, I wish I could’ve met her and looked into her eyes and tell her how sorry I was she had such a tough life.”
Bugg began a 40-year career in animal services after leaving the Air Force, arriving in Hot Springs in 1999 after stops in Houston, Arizona and Missouri. It’s a vocation he thinks his origin story was a prologue to.
“I’ve always kind of wondered in the back of my mind if that’s why animal adoptions mean so much to me,” Bugg said. “I think that’s why I’m in this business, at least subconsciously. The displaced need a family to support and care for them and be part of their lives. I think that’s important for all creatures.”