Friday, July 6, 2012

Why you gotta kill off the dog?

Last night I finished a book called The Art of Racing in the Rain that I wouldn't necessarily categorize as the most compelling, funny, or entertaining story ever written, but the author, Garth Stein, did that thing that always gets me.  There's a spoiler alert here, but trust me, it's not really, as you are told this information in Chapter Uno.  

He wrote about a selfless, wise, and clever dog... who is about to DIE!!!!

Now, I appreciate the author's creative technique in telling an otherwise overly dramatic narrative about his amateur race car driving owner through the  eyes of his beloved bow-wow, but it made me sooooo freakin' sad.    The whole time I knew the flashback would return to the predicament of the aging pooch nearing and describing his last moments, but I still found myself crying the UGLY CRY.

You know about the ugly cry.  It's the one you stifle in front of others to be courteous until you get home and really let it out.  Often occurs in bathtubs after that third glass of wine.  No sound comes out.  It's just a really awful face and then snot.  Lots and lots of snot. 

This book was like watching the film Titanic.  My God, we knew it wasn't going to have a happy ending.  Check your History books folks; the ship goes down!  Nevertheless, we all cried as Rose dropped poor popsicle Jack Dawson down into the frosty abyss. Selfish bitch. 

Anyway, this time, after finishing the story, I admit, I felt a little manipulated.  Really?  Why you gotta kill off the dog? 

Why?  Because all animal lovers are moved by the heavy handed pathos when it comes to innocent pets.  Case in point.  Another novel I recently finished was  Zeitoun by Dave Eggers detailing the heart wrenching plight of one family right before, during and after the catastrophic hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  

It's a wonderfully written and powerful novel that everyone should read.  The part that made me the most emotional was not the dead bodies floating, not the displaced mother and children forced into hostile situations, not even the terrible injustice Zeitoun suffered in a maximum security prison, but rather the two abandoned dogs trapped in their flooded homes he was taking care of throughout the novel that didn't survive.  That was the part that made me cry.  

And who hasn't teared up at least once when that save-an-animal commercial backed by Sarah McLachlan's sappy "In the arms of the Angel" comes on?  Hitler would donate.   

Most of us can say we have had pets who died, or have pets who will (sorry) die someday.  There's a third category.  There are just those freaks of nature who aren't "animal people."  

You know what I call them?  


( I have a motif working here.)

The logical part of my brain understands the natural order of things--circle of life and all that, but the thought of my sweet Piper girl no longer being with us... there I go... waterworks!

So, why do we do it?  Why did our parents put us through it?  Why do we bring home these wonderful creatures who we know will not outlive us, making it an absolute likelihood that we will have to go through the heartbreak of their degeneration and then finally their death?  

Growing up I had a steady and consistent line of pets--much later mimicked in my style of dating.  One at a time and with reckless abandon to each.  

My first fish, named Violet Prince (can you tell I was dramatic from an early age?), or V.P. for short, was one of those Vietnamese Fighting Fish--a Betta, so he had to be alone since he did not play well with others.  I loved that damn fish.  

He had all the fishy accouterments a third grader with a limited allowance could afford.  It was the Taj Mahal of tanks.  I followed all the feeding specifications and cleaning requirements to a T.  So, upon his death, I was horrified.  

Where did I go wrong?  Why is V.P. dead?  Is there a God? 

My mother, in her efficient but perhaps insensitive way, asked if I wanted for us to flush him down the toilet together or if I wanted her to go ahead and get the job done alone.  

This did not go over well.

Flash forward to the Lifetime Movie version of my fish funeral in our front yard, in the flower bed, where the rain-spout dumps its contents from the roof (since he liked water).  I also demanded he be buried with what I imagined to be his favorite plastic plant decoration from his tank.  I'm giving a pretty strong ugly cry at this point standing over the three inch grave site marked by two Popsicle sticks glued together in the sign of a cross, and that's when our neighbor decides to pay us a little visit.  Since I'm unable to utter decipherable words or phrases due to my grief, my mom fills her in on the proceedings.  My neighbor puts her hand to her chest in a sign of relief and tells us she was worried something awful had happened as she's shaking her head and smiling. 

Smiling!  The nerve...

"But something tragic did happen!" My seven-year-old mind yells at her.  Righteous indignation at her lack of sympathy in my time of need. 

Later, there was G.P.  Short for..., wait for it... "Guinea Pig."  I wasn't terribly creative at this point, apparently. 

It's the same love story, but a change of food, container, and poo.  I was a little older and more prepared for G.P's death.  But the ugly cry emerged.  This time my mom didn't attempt any quick solutions.  There was a full-on-funeral in the backyard with readings.  

And finally, the big one.  Our family dog, Brinkley.  I honestly don't know how much I could even write about this since he really was not just our dog.  He was the third and, in many cases, preferred child. We didn't take family pictures really, but if we did, he would be in the center. 

Now, it should be mentioned that this dog was not like sweet Enzo in The Art of Racing in the Rain.  As a puppy, Brinkley was just terrible despite Doggy University.  He'd jump up on people, scratched, ate things, peed on things, and was generally a little shit.  Later in life he was a cranky bastard.  He'd snarl if you touched his hips, refused to share any bed or sofa, and would keep ringing his "potty" bell until someone, no matter the hour, would get off their duff and take him out.  

In between all that though, he was our best friend.  He knew our various moods and navigated those troublesome waters.  He was a vacuum cleaner in the kitchen and a pillow to sometimes cry on at night. He made us laugh when he stole my brother's food off the table, he made us worried when he ate four dozen Oreo cookies from Sam's, and he made us cry when it was time to leave us.  But in a way, he made us a real family. 

When Brinkley was diagnosed with bone cancer, we weighed our options, and choose to let him go out with some dignity.  The day we put him down, we all went to the veterinarian's office, and I mean everybody.  My divorced parents, my brother, both vets, the assistants, and me.  I was already teaching by this point, but took the day off.  I claimed a death in the family, which, to me, wasn't a lie.  My parents couldn't agree on anything, but this was something bigger than ourselves.We all felt we owed it to Brinkley to be there together.    

And that's why we have animals whom we know won't last our lifespan.   They remind us of what is important.  They exemplify pure and unadulterated love.  They never mask what they really feel in fear of rejection or ridicule.  They never judge or criticize.  They show us that playing catch, rolling around being silly, and taking naps fucking rules. And when we simply can't shake the ugly cry, they bury their head in your crotch and make you laugh.  

Ultimately they make us better humans.

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