An excerpt from the book “Pack of Two” by Caroline Knapp ( June 1999) was the homework for discussion a few months ago at the weekly gathering of writer’s that I hangout with. I didn’t care for it. It is a story about humans and dogs, so that was a bit of a surprise. After a few weeks I decided that I should read the book, give it an honest chance and if nothing else figure out why it didn’t appeal to me. As I began reading it, I started liking it a little better and then later not so much. At times this book feels like it was a project, get a dog and write about the experiences. She constantly delves into why people love dogs by quoting many studies and other books, so plenty of research had be done. Discussion’s with many other dog people and their experiences fill about another third. Perhaps a book full of trying to understand the bond with people and dogs is too much, maybe it is as simple we trust the love of a dog because we know they won’t drop it and walk away. Could it be that learning to write Memoir has (finally) made me want to see more scenes and less telling? Am I too independent to be concerned with the opinions of other’s as to why I love my dog? Despite not really liking the book – I read it anyway (a first).
Will this experience make me a better writer – time will tell.
Seeing them standing under their umbrella as we walked by; feeling the rain made me wonder if they knew what they were missing…
Mist in their hair, drops hitting their faces, fresh water running down their necks – No they missed all of this.
The Magic of Rain isn’t for everyone rinsed through my mind every time I said, “Come on, let’s go get wet” as we headed out the garage door to walk in our weather.
My phone has traces of acquaintances, pets, friends and family who are no longer living.
No longer living here with us.
Their birthday’s pop-up as if to remind and say “Don’t forget me.”
Photos in the memory mix float around and surface at times, blending in with new experiences.
It is hard enough to say “Goodbye” in this life,
making [Delete] impossible.
So, My Collection Grows…
SOME PEOPLE ARE STILL ALIVE ONLY BECAUSE IT’S AGAINST THE LAW TO KILL’EM, so reads the sticker on a motorcycle helmet. Some sayings stick in your mind.
Like most days, the terrible ones start out and move along in the same old way… Until they tear your heart out and show it to you. January Seventh, Two Thousand Three, was one of those days. I came the closest I have ever been to punching a female in the face. I didn’t, but I still wrestle with my decision. Every time I share my twist on this experience I go into it knowing the risk, but then again anyone who thinks less of me for ‘this’ and cannot get over it, can go Ffff…. Kiss my Ass.
Years ago I discovered that I have “a bit of a temper.” It seems normal people get angry for a few hours: I get stuck there for a few days. I learned that it is nothing to be proud of and keeping it under control, is for the best. I also have a tendency toward being Vindictive, when properly motivated. These traits, combined with a good memory, create lasting residual demons that live in my head. The misfortune of this day lit my blood on fire, woke up these demons and let them out. Rage is not always a bad thing, we discovered that day.
Inadvertently, I walked Sarrah into a life-changing event, a fight she could not win. We were walking our typical after dark evening route, around the block across the street so as to utilize the sidewalks and streetlights. This night was like many others, nothing special. Walking on the time twisted concrete past a tall weathered wooden fence, a few old cars in a dark driveway and a scraggly hedge of overgrown rose bushes, put us directly in front of a winding narrow stone walkway to the open front door of a one story house. In the yard were two large dogs with thick fur, curled tails and huge heads. One was white, the other dark. With wide expressionless eyes, they immediately, quietly, came straight for us. Sarrah started to panic and kept turning quickly to look back and forth at them with bug eyes. I tried to speed up and keep her moving as they began to methodically circle us. A few steps later, the closest sniffed Sarrah for a few seconds and then with swift silence, sunk its teeth into her hindquarter and hung on. Quiet air filled with a wounded shriek and ongoing crying sounds of excruciating pain. With no thought, I attacked the Offending dogs. I quickly Kicked! the second dog as it was moving in, two maybe three times as hard as I could in the ribs and stomach. Thankfully, it just walked away. I then dropped to one knee, punching on my way down, kneeling I Hit, Hit, and Hit the attacking dog in the eye area five to ten times. I was probably yelling, I do not recall. It finally let go of its bite hold on Sarrah and walked away. I assume that these dogs were more confused than hurt and were probably just regrouping from their crazy human experience. It seems that the noise from all of this strife eventually woke up someone in the house, to get up off the couch near the doorway. This tall person filled the backlit doorway about twenty feet from the sidewalk and appeared to stagger around.
“Send me the bill.” That’s all that she said. The dogs turned and quietly came in at her command. We walked down the sidewalk a few yards, to get away from that house so I could look Sarrah over. A neighbor who had just driven home, hopped out of his pickup and yelled at her, “It Fuck’n Happened Again!” I checked Sarrah out, the bite was into muscle and bleeding, but she could walk. While looking her over I spoke with this stocky guy around my age, we talked a bit about what happened and then walked her home.
It was almost six o’clock when I started calling local vets. One answered and told me “We’re closed” and that they “could not help.” I replied, “Then why did you answer the phone?” and slammed it down. After a few calls and phonebook searching I found what I was not prepared for. My day ended with taking Sarrah into the vile blend of disinfectant and urine stained twenty-four hour emergency veterinary hospital in Auburn. It was deemed that they had to perform some torturous repairs and keep her overnight. I had to leave her in this concrete warehouse filled with caged cries and howls of despair.
Following a mostly sleepless night, I picked her up as early as I could the next morning. She was drugged and out of sorts, but greeted me with a lone tail thump. Her body was shaved of some white and black fur with three “ports” of perforated surgical tubing connecting the bite wounds under her pink and black skin, extending out each blood-caked oozing side and sutured in place. A far-away voice explained that this was done so that a disinfectant solution can be flushed thru with a syringe to clean them out, to avoid infection, as damage heals. Sarrah’s glazed brown eyes closed as I carried her outside.
After I got her comfortable in the safety of her garage, I typed up a brief letter and returned to that house. No one answered the doorbell or knocking, so I taped it to the door and left. It read:
“Dear Akita Owner,
Please mail a reimbursement check (see attached) for the emergency veterinary work performed on my dog, due to the attack by your two dogs last evening. I will mail any subsequent bills incurred by this event.
This entire situation is unfortunate and disturbing as we were merely walking on the public sidewalk, obeying the leash laws. The vehicles in your driveway, combined with a lack of light made it impossible to see your unattended dogs until we were in front of your house—at which point they attacked.
For the future safety of all people and pets in our neighborhood, I hope that you no longer allow them to wander freely.
An apology from them at this time would have just pissed me off, more.
I would rather live in a world where people take care of their own problems, not by simply punching three numbers on a phone. A favored saying of my friend Jeff is “Nobody likes a Squealer”, though I completely agree, I did. As I thought it over… Most people would not be dumb enough to fight with dogs, nor lucky enough to win. Anyone else walking Sarrah probably would have met with a different ending. Besides, years of experience on that street I had seen other dogs and kids walking them in the same area. I stewed on all of this for most of the day following the attack, argued with myself a little and then pulled the trigger. I decided that if another attack happened, whatever the outcome, it would “Be on Me”, so I broke my own rule and called.
That evening I answered the door for the Animal Control Officer, who to my surprise in our small town is also a Cop. She arrived in full police issue gear: jumpsuit, combat boots, vest, gun, handcuffs, pepper spray and all. I took her to Sarrah and told her what had happened, while she photographed the damage and made notes. She also strongly advised against fighting with dogs, suggested walking with pepper spray and something like a walking staff for the visual and physical defense as many times spray does not stop dogs in attack mode. Though not exactly how she advised, I have never walked unarmed, again. The officer was very sympathetic and nice to us, but she lied to me. As we spoke on the phone I stressed that I did not want the animals destroyed. But the instigator dog was confiscated later that night, detained for a few days of testing and then put down. Charges were filed. I also had no interest in pressing charges. I would have been okay with reimbursement, an official visit and the proverbial ‘slap in the face’ wakeup call that comes with it. I learned a valuable lesson; by making ‘the call’ I put our legal process in motion simply becoming part of “Citation No: 2003-096” and what I wanted, had nothing to do with it.
The process of flushing her ports two to three times per day for two weeks was excruciating, for me. I cannot imagine what it felt like for Sarrah, but she tried to stay still. I can’t imagine what she was thinking while I held her down and painfully cleaned her, but she seemed to know that I was helping her. Each time I got ready to clean her wounds she gave me a look that could tear a real human heart, if nothing else scar it. A few times this routine brought tears to my eyes, once vomit to the back of my tongue and always blood pressure that could kill. I held her and tried to comfort her after each cleaning, while my blood boiled.
The road of recovery also included a few trips to Sarrah’s regular veterinarian. She was never happy to go there, but whatever was done behind closed doors after the attack caused her to tremble when we went back. Even driving toward that general area caused her to be alarmed and wail, for the rest of her life.
The Animal Police Officer’s second lie came to light, I got subpoenaed for court. Being no stranger to court myself, mostly due to moments of youthful renegade wildness and heavy-footed tendencies, this was my first time as “Plaintiff”. I was not happy about being hauled into court twenty-nine days later, simply to say, “Yes, that is what I said happened.” People gathered in the large white overly lit silent courtroom, to wait in this place without windows and breathe controlled air. I sat on one of the hard dark wood benches in a section with people I recognized to be other residents of that street, including the guy who yelled at the woman that night. I guessed that these people were other witnesses to our trouble and possibly other problems. One quietly told me “Those dogs killed every pet we ever had.” Some of these people momentarily seemed a little pleased to be part of this event and offered solemn nods of approval.
The dogs belonged to arrogant examples of oxygen wasting beings; these average-looking middle-aged people were even a little cocky in the courtroom, talking with their eyes while sharing quick smirks and sarcastic grins before and after those in charge were paying attention. Court went very quickly. They plead guilty and said that they were “very sorry” in court, to the judge. More to my satisfaction we all heard the list of court ordered matters of compliance that these people were to do to keep their other dog:
- Reimburse me, (which they already had done).
- Rebuild their backyard fence, updating it to adequately contain “a potentially dangerous animal”.
- Post a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign on the front of their house.
- Muzzle their dog when walking it.
- No one under eighteen would be allowed to walk their dog.
- I think there was a fine as well, but I do not recall.
The scars that we carried with us after the battle with the dogs and their people, changed us. Sarrah’s physical scar tissue bothered her hip, even after time had passed. Massage could not completely remove the residual damage. Sarrah’s mental scar faded, faster than mine. After she healed, we did walk around that block, on the other side of the street, Armed, eventually Sarrah was no longer afraid of that area. We had a point to prove, I had a best friend to heal, and potential for who knows… Later I did forgive the dogs, after all they are genetically bred to quietly stalk and kill. But I did not, will not forgive their people. My mental scar still glows brightly, if something makes me focus on it. Mine is rage-based loathing for ignorant animals, in human form.
In fairness, Officer Jan is a good person who deeply cares for animals. She told me what I wanted to hear so that she could do her job and what she believed needed to be done. I am certain that she would be much happier if the actions of Dumb Animals would stop requiring their pets to be “destroyed.”
After a year or so of blatantly ignoring the court ordered requirements with in your face demonstrations (they were too lazy to walk often, so this was no big deal to me). I heard about another problem near that address. Their remaining dog attacked a Labrador Retriever being walked by a mother, carrying her baby in a papoose carrier. The woman was knocked down and her dog was hurt. History repeated and that Akita was put down, too. Soon after these idiots sold their house and moved away. Hopefully some kind of poetic shape shifting happened, trading places of sorts with these dogs and their humans.
Around this time, at the end of each day; before I went to bed I would say “Good Night” to Sarrah. In addition to normal evening chores, I rubbed her ears, touched my forehead to hers and whispered, “Every Day is a Gift.”
* * *
I decided to post this improved version of FUgly (I added [DRAFT] to the title of my first version). It made sense to me to have both versions for those interested in comparing them. This improved version came after having the group of writers that I spend Tuesday evenings with, “Workshop” it (read it in their spare time and have a group discussion on its strengths and weaknesses). This discussion and the returned copies with their notes helped me rework this chapter using some better words and sentences to weave in more details that living in the eye-of-that-storm makes it hard for me to see objectively. I did leave most of my usual ‘bent literary rules’… such as using Capital letters mid-sentence, to make words Bigger.
I’m sure this new version will continue to evolve… as I learn.
At first I was Pissed Off!
Nissa ‘set me up’ with an email link to a sad story. I was not ready for a dog, let alone another Dalmatian, I honestly believed that I would not have another. This caused my mind to race and all of the emotions Hit me, I was completely Consumed by this conundrum, for a couple of days.
The story was put out on the web by Jodie Ray Kelley, who founded and runs the Dalmatian Rescue of Puget Sound organization. This posting was about a dog who was rescued for a financially impacted family in California, who could not keep the five-year-old Shelby and her brother. Seems California has a quick death penalty for dogs without homes so Jodie went down and brought a few back. Two of these dogs had been together since birth, so efforts were taken to find one home for both of them. After a few months of issues, the male was adopted, but not Shelby. Apparently she liked living with Jodie and learned that causing problems… got her returned. The post had a worn tone and a few pictures.
There I was mentally; standing in a deep puddle of thick Sadness, heated by Anger and shouldering a heavy damp blanket of Guilt (for a dog I had never met, but could help).
I went for a few long walks and tried to calm my mind, enough to let me find the best reactions. Later, I did let Nissa know that I was Irritated. We talked and I did some more searching… While trying to sleep on it, my mind worked over the situation.
The next day I decided to let fate decide, a little. I typed up an inquiry and the required application for the possibility of adoption. I sat there and stared at the computer, with damp eyes. I went for a walk and talked to myself a little, came home and much like a; cliff dive, gnarly new ski run, first skydive, bungee jump or other self inflicted adrenalized moments that make palms sweat, I pushed the “Send” button. Instantly it hit me, I asked myself out loud “What did you do!?” Later a reply came back that “Shelby already had an interested family”. I felt some relief and at the same time a little disappointment, but told myself that it was for the best. A few days later I got an email briefly explaining that the family didn’t think that it would work out, was I still interested? I went for another walk and replied, “Yes”. This time I felt better about it, but still apprehensive. We set a weekend day for the first step, to met the dog and go from there. The Friday night prior, I got a call that “The interested family had re-changed their minds and wanted to try again”. This hit a little hard and hurt, but I was still going with fate. Almost a week later, I got another email with a longer explanation about how Shelby definitely was not working with the indecisive family and was there any chance that we might still be interested? This rollercoaster process was excruciating, but I found the energy for one last turn, I replied and another semi-blind date was made. Looking back, being put through these sudden painful ups and downs sort of helped me work things out in my mind and show me that at least in part; I knew that I felt some desire to meet this dog.
Rescue dogs have history, who really knows neither what nor how they interpret it. Shelby came with a reserved mellow attitude, like a foster kid, as if suspicious of the world. We shared a look and she showed a willingness to give me a chance by rolling over onto her back to let me rub her belly. Our meeting went well and while we were in the backyard, Jodie quietly left without a “Goodbye” in an attempt to make it easier for Shelby. I have no idea how she can handle this emotional part of her rescue service, but we are all better off because of people like Jodie.
We agreed to have her stay for the required “trial period” of a couple weeks, to see if living together would work out. She did not bring whatever issues had kept her moving and homeless. Maybe Shelby found a sense of belonging, or a purpose that the other places lacked. As I suspected, she chose to keep us and we eased forward. It turns out that Shelby and I made a good pair; both worn down by realities of life, skeptical and unenthused. We drew some energy from each other and got a little better, we continue to get better.
Sharing with cats is never easy for a dog, let alone later in life. With a little quick feline toughness, stubborn human guidance and canine willingness, in time… our animals friends learned to live together. Again, Rah occasionally tests his game, but in a much appreciated awareness of the noticeably greater risk.
Shelby did not find the first beach weekend road trip and stay to be special; she seemed a little on guard. Perhaps, thinking that she was being handed off, yet again. Her first few walks out to the beach surprised me a little. She acted aloof, as if to be wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
Eventually the persistent magical powers of the ocean and its beach took over, suddenly. on a sunny walk Shelby’s eyes lit up and she launched! into a full speed gallop. It felt good to observe this shared passion come alive in her.
To my relief, Shelby and Sarrah have little in common other than obvious similar instinctive traits, looks and a bond with me. Where Sarrah was a smaller version of “perfect”, Shelby is a much larger version. Shelby’s additional twenty five pounds give her much more power and torque, pulling me forward. Shelby is mostly quiet. She does not have the range of vocal expressions, and would rather quietly observe with silent strength. She fiercely feels a need to protect me from, well, the rest of the dwellers. It is as if she senses that I am distracted by damage and commands respect for our space.
I am certain that they would have not liked each other on the same life plane, but maybe a Spirit Dog has an advantage, a power to overcome. Perhaps Shelby had help holding out to find me.
This life experience reminds me of another lasting question, “?Who Saved Who”.
If you see a guy walking a Dalmatian, talking to two, he may not be crazy.
One day at the Beach House while participating in yet another round of Jack-Assory with Roslyn, Mike and Libby’s young dog, Sarrah slipped on the smooth floor and yelped. She got up trembling a bit, favoring her hind leg. In an instant the mood and her life, changed. I massaged her leg and we kept them mostly apart for the rest of the weekend. Sunday afternoon I took her on our last walk to the beach, for the weekend. She was a little wobbly and I sat on a log, held her and wept. I took her leash off (in violation of the law) and let her walk on her own, with a spark of energy from the added freedom. She enjoyed the stroll, but was in pain and dragging her feet. Looking back I was scared, afraid that Sarrah was near the end of her life.
Back home we immediately cut back on the distance of our usual walks from over a mile per day to just few blocks, as Sarrah was dragging her toenails and was (depressingly) happy to do less. I was looking into all options like dogcarts, surgery, and whatever might be a cure or any method of preservation for my friend. I desperately needed to find a cure for what time had done to her, to replace what was Stolen. Around this time Sarrah and I had bodies of approximately the same age and condition.
I decided to try Acupuncture for her, as I’ve found it to bring much relief. In some ways it would be easier for Sarrah to gain from it, as animal’s don’t have to ‘turn off the human preconceived mental junk’ in order to have an open mind. Over the last couple of years I had read a few news articles about the growing practice of animal acupuncture and the successes with it. Fortunately, the progressive culture in the Pacific Northwest is open to many forms of alternative care for people and animals making these treatments readily available. Fortunately, I found a veterinary clinic nearby that offered acupuncture and began the effort to restore what could be, for Sarrah. Initially she was nervous, a little scared and not trusting the surroundings of this new place that had similar sounds and smells of the vet clinic that she absolutely hated. Shortly after arriving we met the acupuncturist. This wonderful veterinarian, Darla Rewers was the first one that I recall meeting who seemed genuinely delighted to be with the patient and openly passionate about caring for them. Sarrah picked up on this faster than I and seemed to trust her. It was determined that hip dysplasia, common for Dalmatians’ and probably a tear of some tissue was the cause of Sarrah’s loss of stability in her leg. The initial treatment of just a few general points and a couple specific for her hindquarters was sort of an easing into treatment with needles.
Sarrah initially trembled and hated the session, but noticed improvement almost immediately and tolerated the treatment. We went frequently and with each session the quantity of treatment points increased, she improved with each visit. Soon she stopped dragging her toenails and regained most of her abilities, with the exception of having a trick hip and a need to avoid slippery surfaces. We both, through error and trial, discovered many little things that Sarrah either needed help with (such as climbing into the back of the car and rug runners for slippery floors) or had to avoid completely (no more beloved games of tug-o-war and going down stairs, so I carried her). I used to whisper in her ear while lifting and carrying her “Us old dogs, Gotta stick together”.
I shared some of Sarrah’s acupuncture experiences with my acupuncturist. We talked about how gains in health and pain relief with animals prove that it is not merely just in human minds. Occasionally, I also ‘stood on my soapbox’ and preached the proof based experiences that I have witnessed with this ancient method of healing, for animals and people. It was a miracle at least to me, that the clock was turned back a bit for Sarrah. A huge gift!
I started playing Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” for her visits, too.