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.