More of before


Baxter, 2009
One year, a craftsman’s event called Holiday Market had a “mind reader” whose sign said that she worked to bring harmony to people and their pets. I told the woman that Peggy and I were dealing with a case of schnauzal abuse, namely that Baxter would slap Peggy when she tried to put him down after their morning cuddle (this was true, but it was more like a touch than a slap). I said that we thought his anger was racially motivated, what with him being black and Peggy white. The “mind reader” patiently explained that dogs don’t see race the way people do. It was a very edifying conversation, but I demurred when she offered to come to our house for counseling.

Bonnie, 1997
From the time we got her as a three-pound pup, Bonnie would challenge anyone or anything that annoyed her, and a lot of things annoyed her. One day, we passed a city bus just as it was pulling away from the curb, and Bonnie’s window being open and our car being abreast of the bus’s engine, the noise was loud. This infuriated Bonnie, who jumped up with a snarl to see what had interrupted her nap. When she saw the bus, she tried to go out the window after it, and would have too if I hadn’t knocked her legs out from under her so that she fell to the floor.

When she was young, Bonnie often challenged my authority while ignoring Peggy’s. Still, those early days were happy ones because Bonnie was so loving and her intelligence such a joy. One day, when Peggy was alternately throwing a ball and a Frisbee to Bonnie, she decided to throw them both in quick succession to see which one Bonnie preferred. After puzzling over the matter, Bonnie picked up the ball, set it atop the upside-down Frisbee, and returned them both at once. 

I should think that herding dogs are the most intelligent of domestic dogs, but a dog doesn’t need to be brilliant to be a good pet. I’ve even concluded that intelligence can be a liability because smart dogs get bored faster, and a smart-bored dog can be a real problem. The worst-case scenario is a tame wolf. I read of one that demolished the inside of a car, including the dash, the seats, the steering wheel, and the ceiling. 

Things came to a head for Bonnie and me one night when we were home alone, and I had put my supper on a TV tray. I was leaning forward to pick the tray up when Bonnie stole my food right there in front of me. I scolded her severely, but made the mistake of shaking my finger in her face, and she bit it hard enough to draw blood. When our eyes met, hers got big in recognition of the fact that she had pushed me too far. When I finally cornered her in the laundry room, I flipped her onto her back and yelled in her face, scaring her so badly that she peed on herself. After that, she would still nip me from time to time when we were roughhousing, but I almost never had to raise my voice to her. Peggy is weak when it comes to disciplining pets because, “I’m afraid I’ll hurt their feelings,” so every now and then she would say, “Make Bonnie obey me!”

One day, while standing around with several other people in a large and empty parking lot, I decided to pass the time by throwing Bonnie her tennis ball. Everyone was enjoying her marvelous leaps and catches when the ball bounced off her nose and headed for a  busy street with Bonnie right behind it. A gasp arose from the crowd, and I was so frantic that I couldn’t  remember the word STAY, so I yelled STOP, and although I had never used that word with her, Bonnie stopped within twenty feet of where her ball was being bounced around by cars. Hell was averted and heaven arrived when that dog put on her brakes.

Sometimes, a person would ask if Bonnie was a full-blooded heeler, and I would say, “She’s supposed to be, but I still have to go to the doctor sometimes.”

Peggy and Bonnie would play fetch in the laundry room each night when Peggy got home from work, and their game would end in a tug of war with the tennis ball. Peggy would grip the ball as tightly as possible in both hands while sitting on the step that goes down from the kitchen to the laundry room, and Bonnie would be inches from her face growling loudly while tugging for all she was worth. She only weighed 31-pounds, but it was all bone and muscle, so it was a rare night that Peggy won.

About the third Christmas we had Bonnie, we were sitting around the living room with her, Baxter, and two human couples. Everyone was having a gay old time until Peggy decided that “it would be fun to put bows on the dogs.” Baxter welcomed any form of friendly attention, but Bonnie was obviously uncomfortable with having a big red bow placed around her neck, and her celebratory mood really went to hell when everyone laughed. She ran in humiliation to the kennel that served as her bed, and wouldn’t come out. I tried to coax her out, but she wouldn’t hear of it, so Peggy decided she would try. Bonnie snarled at her before she even got near the kennel, and hours passed before she would accept Peggy’s apology. Never again did either of us do anything that might offend Bonnie’s sense of dignity, which remained strong until her last two years.

How men decorate cats
During those two years, Bonnie went blind. People often say that dogs adjust well to blindness, but Bonnie didn’t. She instead lost a little more self-confidence everyday until she had none. Then Baxter died, and we made the mistake of getting Brewsky. Being a kitten, Brewsky tried to play with Bonnie, and Bonnie’s response was to try to kill him, but luck was never with her. Aware of the danger but still wanting to play, he started doing strafing runs, during which he would race at her, bounce off her flank with all four feet, and run away before she could bite him. Bonnie was helpless against these attacks and would run into walls and furniture trying to escape. 

At age fifteen, she got megaesophagus, and couldn’t keep her food down. The young vet we saw put her on antibiotics without telling us she was terminal. I don’t remember how the drug was supposed to help, but within a day, the problem appeared to be gone. By the time it returned with a vengeance a week later, we had seen another vet and knew the score. When she started vomiting again, even worse than before, she was so distraught that it broke our hearts. Peggy and I took a stroll to discuss whether to put her back on antibiotics, but we only got three houses down before deciding to have her euthanized, and two hours later, she was dead. 

Baxter had died two years earlier from lung cancer (no, he was never exposed to smoke), and now with Bonnie’s death, we were emotionally drained. I went from a lifetime of certainty that I would always have a dog to realizing that their deterioration and death was more than I could manage. Bonnie had gone being an arrogant goddess who had me halfway convinced that she would be forever strong and beautiful, to being a defeated and emaciated wreck with a skin tumor so big that we could see it through her fur. Years after their deaths, we are still in grief for Bonnie and Baxter (I’m not even over Wendy, and she died in 1994), and it’s just all too sad. Also, I can’t help reflecting upon the fact that what happens to dogs is but a speeded-up version of what happens to humans.

Bonnie and Baxter, 2001
I don’t know why I miss dead dogs more than I miss dead friends and parents, but I do, and Peggy does too. Maybe it’s because they’re so like children in that their welfare is in our hands 24/7. It’s a big responsibility if a person takes it seriously. Sad to say, the world is filled with people who regard dogs and cats as animated knick-knacks, and while these people might feed them and take them to the vet, they assume no other responsibility. The best I can say for such people is that they’re probably more ignorant than cruel.

I’ll tell you something else—Ill never pay another person to breed pets because the world is already so overcrowded with dogs and cats that millions have to be killed every year (I’ve done some of the killing). I don’t know how I could have been blind to this during those years that I bought dogs from breeders, but I had the self-serving idea that as long as I treated my dogs well, I had nothing to be ashamed of. Yet, for each of the four dogs that I bought, another dog that I could have given a home to had to be killed, and that makes pet breeding a moral issue.  I saw a woman recently who had a pedigreed pup. Because I knew her to be a devoted Christian with an unpaid career of helping people, I tactlessly expressed surprise that she didn’t get a shelter dog. She said she does so much for people that she thought she could give herself a break when it came to dogs. Her attitude was consistent with my observation that churches never do anything to help nonhuman animals, which they regard as soulless creatures that only exist for humanity’s use.

I slowly evolved toward the realization that the lives of dogs and cats—and everything else—is no less valuable than the lives of human beings. Whatever respect we deserve, they deserve, and however seriously we take ourselves, we must take them. Almost no one will agree with me on this, but instead of making me think I might be wrong, the opinion of the masses only heightens my conviction that mine is a species that is blind to inconvenient truths, and that our institutions (schools, churches, governments, etc.) are largely a means to rationalize our bad behavior. 

There’s a TV commercial in which four men and a small dog get into a compact car. Because the dog’s doting “owner” is the car’s owner, he and the dog sit up front while the other men sit scrunched in the back. When Wendy—my first schnauzer—got past middle age, she would no longer relinquish the front seat to a person, but would doggedly push against them with all of her thirteen-pound schnauzerly might when they tried to force her out of it. I didn’t support her in this, but I so enjoyed watching man and schnauzer compete for the same seat that I didn’t say anything (except on the one occasion when a man concluded that he should sit in the back). I thought that Wendy had a point in demanding that she be accorded the same respect as people, but what she either didn’t see or didn’t care about was that it made more sense for her to sleep in the back seat (sleeping being her main pastime in the car) than for two humans to carry on a conversation between the back seat and the front seat. 

Jerry and Smokie
I mention Wendy’s campaign for Dog Rights to illustrate that the greater our recognition of the rights of animals, the more guilt-ridden our lives become unless we’re among those rare people who choose principal above all else. For instance, we can’t morally justify killing cows and chickens in order to feed dogs and cats (we’re even less justified in eating them ourselves since we don’t need to eat meat), but without the killing, we wouldn’t be able to have dogs and cats, and what would we do with the billions that are already alive—force them to become vegans? I’m not even a vegan myself because I prefer the taste of cheese, eggs, fish, milk, and honey, to a life of principal, and it’s by the same logic that I buy pet food. There’s an old country song that goes If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right, and this is how I feel about Brewsky and about the little Persian, Smokie, that I’m taking care of temporarily because his adopted father, Jerry, died last week.

Smokie is true to his breed in that he is surely the most mellow and lovable cat I’ve ever known, but his breed also comes with numerous and serious health concerns. Most pedigreed animals do, so along with the knowledge that buying a pedigreed pet will result in the death of a shelter animal, it’s also true that I’m getting an animal that is likely to be inferior health-wise in ways that can make his or her life miserable (two of the first breed characteristics I noticed about Smokie is that Persians cant adequately bathe themselves, and that theyre prone to eye problems). This makes buying a breed a moral issue for reasons other than the death of shelter animals, so I’ve decided that if I should ever have my heart set on another pedigreed animal, I’ll get it from a rescue organization, some of which are breed specific.

17 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

My father used to chastise our German Shepherd by beating her with a blade of grass. It was his voice which hurt her most.
Some animals do hate, loathe and despise anything which causes them a loss of dignity. And who can blame them?
I am with you in missing and mourning some animals I have known more than humans. Much more.
How long will Smokie stay with you? Are there any other options for him?

THINGS YOU'D NEVER GUESS ABOUT ME said...

In my life, I've had "dogs". I say it that way because to me they were JUST dogs. Let them loose and they get hit by a car. Get another one and tie it to a tree. Holy crap. Someone should have shot me just for being so stupid. I learned better with Lucky (our Bichon) that loved to hide from me and when I'd find him, he'd run through the house laughing. Hey, it was his way of laughing, not mine. And when he was being euthanized, I said "Let's go home now" and he moved his feet as if padding to the car. His last memory, I hope. Beau crawled up to me, dying, and I brought him home to show him love until he passed. 9 hours of non-stop petting in my lap and his tail wagged. Then he looked up and licked my face. Six years later, he's facing a terminal illness and I'm doing for him what I would do for myself. Drugs can be more cruel than the disease, so "no" drugs. To him I am god, and like god, I'm just as powerless, but I'm full of love just as Beau has for me. Beau saved me as much as I saved him. I regret the years I was too ignorant to realize they are actually our superiors on many levels.

Winifred said...

What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & feelings about Bonnie & I had to laugh at Brewsky bless him.
I've only ever had one dog, Monty I grew up with him & he was gorgeous. When we lost him I never wanted another. That was 56 years ago.
I've had a few cats over the past thirty years, all unwanted ones, strays, cats on their way to be put to sleep & from so called friends? who no longer wanted their cats!!!!
We lost the last one 3 years ago & like you I just can't face losing another one. The house feels desperately empty & I miss the funny things cats do but my husband says another young cat would outlive us & it wouldn't be fair to take one.
I've thought about fostering an older cat from the Cats Protection League, but I'm still worried I'd get too attached to them.
I totally agree about breeding dogs & cats for money. It's immoral!
Sad about your friend Jerry, I hope his cat finds a good home.

Stephen Hayes said...

We've had several dogs over the past thirty years and we've always gotten rescue dogs. I don't have pedigree papers and I don't care if my pet does.

kylie said...

I think my dog Taffy had lung cancer and he was never around smaokers, either. Maybe it's a thing for dogs.
I say I think he did because he was an old dog who gradually got slower and less active. Eventually I realised that he had only gotten up for the toilet for a whole weekend, no checking on where I was or nosing the kitchen for scraps. The day after I realised that, he was in obvious respiratory distress and I didnt want to drag him to a vets only to put him through a consult and find out what I already knew. I waited for the kids to get back from school and had him euthanised. He had laboured hard to get outside to check out the vet's van and we let him stay there and go to sleep peacefully with his family around.
Taff was a rescue dog who i chose in the hour of his looming execution. If I ever own another dog, it will be another rescue.

Tom Sightings said...

We sure do love our pets, don't we. And I'll agree that putting down your old dog is one of the saddest, and most memorable, occasions you'll ever experience in your life.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Fantastic post. I have come to know so much about dogs after reading your post. I once tried to have a dog but I had to give it away because I could not manage it.
Here is something which happened today in my town Kochi.

Kochi: Industrialist and Stray Dog-free Movement chairman Kochouseph Chittilappilly flayed the Director General of Police for saying that action would be initiated against those who kill stray dogs. Chittilappilly is staging a 24-hour hunger strike at Marine Drive on Sunday demanding solution for the stray dog menace in the State. He came out against all those who are against killing of stray dogs.

Chittilappilly began his hunger strike at 10 am and several from film fraternity, social and cultural leaders expressed solidarity with the strike. Even when the state had taken an approach of how to deal with the violent dogs, the DGP’s strong statement provoked the industrialist.

Chittippilly also criticized Maneka Gandhi who is a minister in the present government and alleged that she too is at the receiving end of the companies which manufacture the anti-rabies vaccine. Those coming out in support of stray dogs have ill motives, he alleged.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very sad to hear her decline. I finally had to quit reading. got a lot of things going on myself these days. Can't bear the sadness.

Sparkling Red said...

I'm very impressed by Bonnie's intelligence! The only pet I've ever had who was truly clever was a rescue kitty who had lived as a stray for around 2 years (and had at least one litter of kittens) before she asked me, from her cage at the Human Society, if she could come home with me. Outdoor pet cats are the next most intelligent, followed at a long distance by pet cats who are never allowed to roam free. Although it's true that the world is a dangerous place for animals, keeping them inside and protected all the time makes them grow up into sucky babies. I mean, very sweet and loveable sucky babies, but nothing like my childhood cats that had the run of the neighbourhood.

My parents brought home a Persian kitten when I was in high school, and that cat had no end of health problems. I got very practiced at giving her eye drops, ear drops, and pills. She did live to a ripe old age, eventually succumbing to kidney failure, poor little fuzzy wuzzy.

G. B. Miller said...

I've been around dogs for as long as I can remember, and when each had moved to the great beyond, it did hurt for a while, but I was able to move on from the grief. Same goes for cats. I'm on my 2nd cat, and while the grief was real when the 1st passed away, I was able to move on with the 2nd cat.

Father Nature's Corner

kj said...

here's a religious statement for starts: how could anyone creating a universe be so cruel to give dogs such a shorter life span than their human families?!

i have loved and mourned every dog I've ever had. i'm a 100% shelter advocate for all the reasons you mention. it took our stella two years to truly feel safe with us, but her deserved transformation was so gratifying. you may remember that our last rescue dog, chase, didn't work out for him or us. we all tried, but he was unhappy and i think in large part because he missed his track mates. we returned him to the greyhound group and they found a home for him among other greyhounds. this was the first time in my life i relinquished a dog and it was very sad but the right thing for him.

bonnie looks like quite a doll of a dog. a spunk…..

we dog people know things others don't.

love
kj

Myrna R. said...

I love your writing about pets. I relate to your feelings re: mourning, missing them, valuing and loving them. I too wish I could become Vegan because I respect the lives of animals. I always consult with Peta on how to repell not kill bugs (little lives) that sneak into my house. But I still eat cheese and eggs. Perhaps, I'll change, but I know I won't today. Needless to say, I love my two dogs, both rescued boxers and have loved all the ones that have shared my life. Thank you so much for this and the previous post. You express what I feel.

The Bipolar Diva said...

First of all, hello! It seems I've finally been able to settle down after running for over a year. I'm able to catch up with my favorite people and their lives, writings, ideas, thoughts, etc.
In all the running I made sure I kept track of my cremated dogs. They stayed safely with me. I just can't part with them. I can completely relate to what you wrote. It's nice to be back. xoxoxo Diva

billy pilgrim said...

i've had shelter dogs for the past 30 years and they're excellent beasts. they've has issues to deal with but all in all i think a large shelter dog is infinitely superior to a purebred decorator dog.

have you watched deadwood yet?

uthman saheed said...

Great post. I had to read in between the line with the captivating introduction of this post.

But honestly, your post exposed me to know more about dogs and pet generally. I never knew people could reserve love for pet like you do.

In this part of the world where I belong, keeping any form of pet is not really as popular and fun as you do over there.

I have never keep a pet, not even my family and am not planning to keep one. In order not to be guilty of keeping a bet, you really need time and commitment which I dont have for now.

But from your post, its really an eye opener for those who intend to keep one.

How are you doing?

Linda said...

Growing up, I never had a dog, just one cat. Our family had dogs, but they were claimed by my siblings. I was afraid of dogs and still am. Then, just lately, I discovered I am allergic to both...sigh. I would never harm a cat or dog, but am not overly fond of either. I have actually conquered my fear to go and untangle dogs who were choking or in the rain because their owners were bad pet parents.

When I become fond of an animal and it dies, I am highly discouraged from getting too close to another.

After I divorced I got a Border Collie and was training the puppy. Sadie was hit by a car, so I vowed I would never have a dog until I had a fence. I still don't have a fence.

I have had cats and want a cat, but when my cats died, I could no longer face getting a cat, either.

Chickens make nice pets. Really! But, I screamed so when my Fancy died in front of me in the den where I brought her in acage to care for. BF who was here was so disturbed by my screaming. I was in shock for days and depressed over her death for months. I like my other chickens and care for them tenderly, but Fancy will never be replaced. She was a loving chicken who talked to me all the time.

I do love your expressive posts about your pets!

Ginny said...

I miss pets that have passed so much. After a cat passes I always say never again because it's too painful but then I think of all the cats that need home and I get another one.