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Culture
Dale's Doggies Die

15 Oct 2014
What is it about dogs that make them so special to us? My family always had dogs and cats when I was growing up, so I took dogs for granted. As a Cub Scout I once read six dog books in a week, until my mother tried to put a stop to my obsessive-compulsive reading tendencies that emerged right around that time. But I never had a dog as an adult, mostly due to living in apartments, I thought, because I would not have a dog without a yard. As I dig into my own psyche, I wonder if the reasons go deeper.

This year, living alone in a house in a small, desolate town in the middle of a harsh desert, I decided to get a dog for company. The joys and the heartaches are comparable to those from a child, with the obvious notable exceptions.

Before we continue with my story of the present, let's back up for a minute so I can elaborate on the context. The context is: all my doggies die young.

At age eleven my parents decided to make the next family dog "my" dog. Of course, he was only mine in the sense that I was responsible for his feeding and fouling, but at that age it was a totem position of responsibility. All that ended when someone - a sister or a friend, I cannot recall - came running to my house to breathlessly exclaim, "Something's wrong with your dog!" I was led outside to the street.

We lived in an agrarian Portuguese village, where animals running freely were commonplace. My dog was wheezing and breathing with difficulty. Between my judo training and my Boy Scout first aid, I instantly saw that he had broken ribs, and a punctured lung; someone had kicked him. I watched as the poor dog died within a few minutes. I was not closely bonded to the dog, cannot remember his name, and was not seriously affected by the incident.

Later in Austin at age 24, shortly after finishing graduate school and working in a new job, I adopted a stray puppy who had gotten separated from its master. When I went to work I tied the dog by a long leash to my back stairs - eight concrete stairs about four feet high with a metal hand rail. One day I came home and the poor dog had gotten tangled up, fell, and broke his leg. With an income of $13K a year I could not afford the surgery bill, so we had to put him to sleep. My girlfriend cried all the way home.

Fast forward to this year. I wonder if I subconsciously avoided getting a dog because of the experience in Austin? Three of my sisters had dogs, but in many ways you might have expected me to be the first, not the last, to get one. So I bought myself a birthday present for my 60th, a little 7-week-old puppy, Kuno, who was a real sweetie of a pup. Five weeks later I proved that I knew nothing about taking care of animals properly: I left Kuno in my back yard for an afternoon. The yard was fully secured so that he could not escape, but the gate was not locked; when I returned home, Kuno was gone. I searched high and low; I am confident she did not escape and get lost. I believe she was taken; I hope and pray she was taken.

But I was clearly at fault for leaving the little girl outside. I was too tender hearted and couldn't stand to leave her cooped up alone inside; I didn't know. I didn't consider the worst-case scenario, which is the gold standard for risk management. Aggrieved by my culpability, I even went to confession/ reconciliation for cleansing. My priest suggested I get a rescue animal. Three days later, at the Las Vegas SPCA, I adopted Stogie.

By now I was nervous and jumpy. Three dogs of mine had come to an end that was premature, all in unhappy ways. There was no way I would leave Stogie outside alone. For months I did not even allow him in my gated back yard without being leashed.

Now I understand that leashing the animal is the essence of keeping it safe. Three times this summer Stogie and I went on long road trips - to the Grand Canyon, to the Rocky Mountains, and to Salt Lake City. I got in the habit of removing his lease inside the car so he could move around with getting tangled up. Always present was my memory of a dog tangled up with a broken leg.

Outside Salt Lake City returning to Nevada, I stopped for a water break; Stogie got out of the car when I wasn't looking. Although I got him under control, he took off after a low-flying pigeon that led him across a six-lane highway. Stogie made it across safely, but died trying to get back to me. I am heartbroken. I cried all the way home, for six hours.

Anyone with a sense of self will wonder about this record. Am I a bad owner? Am I simply learning the hard way how to own a dog successfully? My #1 sister has had numerous dogs who lived to old age; I've never had a dog that lasted more than the five months I had Stogie. Am I meant to be alone?

I learned, as millions learned before me, what a great joy a dog can be. A dog properly cared for loves unconditionally, without judgment. Although never smarter than a young child, they are smart enough and capable of learning. I adopted Stogie as a kindness to him. My next dog I will choose as a kindness to me, to heal my broken heart. Stogie, I am so sorry.


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