For The Love of Dog

A friend of ours lost her dog this weekend.  The pit bull cross named Niko was smart, handsome, protective and loyal.  He was one of those big dogs that dropped a giant Kong toy covered in slobber on you, over… and over again, until you threw it.  Saying “no” wasn’t an option… he was smart enough to be persistent.

I know that for some people, pets are not the center of the Universe.  For me, $50 shampoos and designer jeans with sparkles on the butt are not the center of mine.  Everyone has passions and levels of priorities in their lives that are unique.   I don’t think everyone must be a “pet person” and have the same level of commitment to animals that I do.  I relate best though to people who love their pets in responsible, lifetime relationships.  My pets are my kids.  I like people who share that emotion.

Jill and Niko

Jill and Niko

It breaks my heart to see people abuse the privilege of guardianship.  In my mind and soul, you do not own an animal; you’ve been trusted with a guardianship of a living, breathing, thinking and feeling creature who craves a deep social connection with you.   My parents were the type to tie a dog outside on a chain.  That never felt right to me.  Later, we had a fancy doghouse and kennel, but they were still outside.  Like property and chores, being fed and watered and occasionally being let off “the chain” to run.   My parents didn’t seem to think they needed to train a dog, so the dogs we had lived their lives at the end of a chain.  I was a kid, and didn’t have the power to change that.

In our house, we now have three small dogs.  Combined, the trio might weigh in at about 25 pounds, which is how I rationalize our dog quota to Kevin.  Really, if you consider weight, we have one dog :) <— that’s the smile I use on him.   The truth is that Kevin has always loved animals his whole life, and now living with three dogs and a cat, they are just like our kids.  They talk back slightly less though, and they don’t have to be grounded from time to time.  Also … the dogs don’t eat my Fruit Loops (unless one or two fall off the counter).

I am sick of watching people get a puppy on a whim, only to find them at the age of six months being advertised for a $50 “re-homing” fee.  Something irresponsible pet guardians do to get their value back from their investment?  Or sometimes they say that it will prevent their “beloved dog” from finding it’s way as a bait dog in a dog fighting training facility.   It’s a lie of course, and when people ask me I am both angry and honest about it.

“Labs pay up to $200 per test animal.  People drive around looking for dogs for a variety of reasons, and laboratory testing is one of them.  Dog fighting and bait dogs are another.  And then there are even more malicious people out there who purchase dogs … to abuse them.  It happens all the time, but yes … your $50 re-homing fee should prevent all that.”

[Insert blank stare]

How can people live on a planet and not know this kind of stuff?

Diego has cost me (not including food, dog treats and other essentials) about $9,000 in vet bills, surgeries and medications in the last five years.  There were many times I wasn’t sure where my grocery money was going to come from, but I never once resented doing the right thing to care for my dog.  He is Diego, my longest running successful relationship.  My furry wing man. My sarcastic, hilarious, stubborn and bossy Senor.   The soft fur I cried into through years of frustration, transition and loneliness.   Right now as I write this, there is a gray haired, snoring, one eyed, bionic legged chub-chub chihuahua snoring beside me…  and it’s the best sound ever.  One day, I know that sound won’t be there, and I don’t think I’ll cope as well as our friend Jill is coping with the loss of Niko.  She’s far more Zen than I am and lets be real; I am going to lose my shit and curl up into a ball.   I’ll try not to though.

A dog (and I am learning even a cat) really bond with you.  To them, you are the center of their world; there is nothing more important to them than their special person.   You are wise, a leader, a protector, a friend and a source of treats.  You are companionship, comfort and joy to their lives and they love you unconditionally in return.   My best friend in the entire world is Diego (it’s okay, Diane and Kevin know this to be true).  I would run into a burning house to save him.

In my spare time, I find myself on animal rights pages and social media communities advocating for animal rights.  On the local shelter pages, I make a big deal about as many adoptions as I can, praising the people for choosing to provide a home for a homeless animal.  Giving them acknowledgment and laurels is a small way I can contribute enthusiasm and support for people who are responsible pet guardians.  People who get that pets are exactly like children, a daily responsibility and lifelong commitment.  Visitors and friends think our dogs are well behaved and cool, but they don’t realize that I train our dogs daily.   Mimi (my first female dog ever) is a royal pain and proving to be a challenge … but I shall overcome.  Diego was a pretty arrogant chi-chi when I first started to train him too, until he learned that I am twice as stubborn as the most indignant chihuahua.  Mommy always wins.

It’s work … and expense … and patience … and more work.   That is the debt you pay daily for the love, laughter and joy that pets bring to your life.  And if you do not have the kind of lifestyle that allows for the responsibility, get a plant.  Or a stuffed animal.  Or volunteer when you feel like it at your local shelter, playing with dogs and cats to socialize them and get your “furry fix” (shelters always need volunteers).

But that’s not what you see on Craigslist or Facebook is it?  You see people breeding dogs irresponsibly for a quick buck.   You see people abandoning elderly dogs at the shelter, or at the first hint of a medical expense.  This makes me sick and belies the true heart and soul of a person; ditch any relationship when it becomes inconvenient?  That’s not someone I can relate to or respect, and I am one of those outspoken folks that have no problem calling people on that shit.   Perhaps when they are elderly, they’ll experience vulnerability and the same lack of loyalty.   Karma is a given, not a maybe … I have seen the payback and it’s not pretty.

There is no room in my world for shallow, selfish people.  I avoid them like I avoid the fresh bakery aisle at Kroger.

The ability to love deeply is not inherent in every human being.  If it was, we would not be living in the kind of world we live in, would we?   But when I find these people who are capable of going to distance in relationships, sacrificing through hard times and rejoicing through good times, I know that these are the enlightened beings of the world.  People who have love to give and seek out love to enjoy.  The real humans, in a less than humane world.

Niko was a very good dog.  But Jill is an extraordinary human being.   I promised her that they’ll meet again, because I know in my heart that they will.