Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My dog, Daughter

My dog had me. Completely. As long as she needed me. She had me as soon as I parked and got off my motorcycle at the City of Long Beach Animal Shelter on a lunch hour. Once inside I could have been the Grinch with a millimeter-sized heart. But when I saw her pleading jet browns begging me to let her out of her doggy jail cell, my heart grew in my chest and it sprouted wings. At that moment, I vowed to take care of her forever or the rest of her life.
Leslie, a fervent dog lover and the owner of the salon I had been working at, knew that I was only beginning to entertain the thought of getting a dog myself. Thinking she was going to ask me to take one her more taxing clients that day, she instead came at me on the stylist floor and handed me a handwritten piece of paper that had a code number on it. I’ll never forget it. SW30. Leslie had been secretly keeping her eye out for me. And she watched The Pet Place, a Long Beach cable-access program that showcased adoptable dogs and cats from the local shelter. “Go there on your lunch break,” Leslie commanded, “instead of getting skin cancer.” Leslie was not only the sweetest of animal lovers, she was also very motherly to me and the rest of the staff. She didn’t like me taking my lunch hours and tanning my skin at the beach, which happened to be only a few blocks away from her salon. SW30 was the code to the dog at the pound that Leslie wanted me to check out.
I did not expect to take my dog home that day. I told her that it was just a look-see to appease Mama Leslie. I hadn’t even warned my new roommate that I was even thinking about getting a dog. As the female dog-warden escorted me down a long aisle in the dog prison, I kept my chin and eyes up. I knew enough not to look at any of the dogs that yipped for my attention from the insides of their six foot high chain link fence cages. If I saw too many of their pleading puppy and doggy faces I’m not sure I would have come home with only one special dog.
Luckily, the numbers were affixed to the outside of the cages, just above eye level. I could count down to the number code that matched the mutt that Leslie wanted me to see. Taking a breath, I abruptly stopped a few feet in front of the cage with the engraved metal plate that was stamped 30 in the Southwest building of the pound. Taking a deep breath, I let my eyes scrape down the chain links to look at, for the very first time, my little terrier-mix, Daughter. She certainly wasn’t a purebred, but she was very pretty. She had evenly curled light multi-colored fur that looked soft instead of course, like a pure-bred. A blonde Toto, is how people used to describe her. In her cage she was silent, which was the opposite of all the other dogs. But the veil of her dog bangs let me see more than enough of her beseeching, hypnotic brown eyes that looked like they were lined with mascara. She reminded me of one of those Life magazine photographs of a hungry orphan of war in the devastated streets was a war-torn country.
“You have to be mine,” this dog was saying to me with her eyes. “You have to be mine because I don’t think that I can take it in here anymore. I have been through so much – you don’t want to know. If you don’t take me out of here, I will not live another day. I just know it.”
She looked directly at me and paid no mind to the dog-warden who was at my side as if she knew the woman was useless to her on the subject of her release.
I choked on my breath and did an immediate about-face. I suppressed only my visible tears from the dog-warden who had to follow me quickly. Walk-running back to the main office house, I informed her, “I’ll take that dog.”
“I’m so glad,” the dog-warden-woman said, not a bit surprised. “That little dog seemed to smile as you ran away. Like she knew you were going to sign these papers.”
“She’s a little dirty now,” I sniffed. “But her fur looks so pretty that after I condition it with a little bit of Nexxus and style her she’ll be the Veronica Lake of dogs.” I always babble when I’m emotional or drunk.
“She’s intelligent too,” the dog-warden said. “But people seem to want the more playful, loud dogs.” Behind a counter, she began shuffling papers and then guiding my hand around a pen and made me sign things. (I couldn’t see clearly because there was a film of happy love-tears in my eyes.) “And, you’re in luck. She has had all of her shots so you can take her home right now.”
“Oh,” I said, astonished and apprehensively happy at the same time. “I thought you had to, you know, get her fixed or something. Aren’t there some kind of adoption papers I have to fill out?”
“You just filled them out.”
It all happened so fast. No time to think. No time to tell my roommate that we had a dog.
“This dog has already been spayed,” she informed me. “We do that for all the dogs on The Pet Place. But you’ll have to take her today because this is her last day here. You understand.”
“Why is it her last day?” I asked, thinking that I was going to have to try and outbid someone else. “I don’t understand.”
“She’s been here for awhile…” She bounced her head back, from side to side. “She hasn’t been adopted so …”
“Because people want the loud stupid dogs?”
Dog-warden shrugged.
“Can I pick her up after work? I get off at seven.”
“We close at five. After that …” Her head bobble-headed again.
At first I was appalled and I took personal offence. My dog was on The Pet Place, for god’s sake, and there wasn’t a line of people to adopt her? The whole world must have been stupid, because they wanted loud stupid dogs.
And yet there was something else that needed to be brought up.
“But, I’m on a motorcycle,” I said. “And I’m only on my lunch break.”
“Ok then …” Left to right… Then right to left – went the warden’s head.
After I screamed for her to get my dog, the dog-warden brought her to me, with a complimentary rope to use for a leash. The rope slipped off of the dog’s neck just as I began to lead her out the office. But she did not run off. In fact, she had paid no mind to the temporary leash when it was on her. She stayed well-heeled by me all the way to my parked motorcycle in the parking lot. A stupid dog would have run off. But not my smart dog. My dog knew she was coming home to the best home in the world and that we’d be the best pals and live together forever. We both just knew. We were fated for each other. It was the perfect time in my life for a dog. This dog. I had had my last break-up with my high school sweetheart and we had been together for eight wonderful turned sour years.
“What do you think?” I asked her, as we stood looking at my motorcycle.
She looked me, like the situation was pretty self explanatory. Duh, she said.
I picked her up and put her in one of my saddle bags and zipped her up to her neck. Of course, she was a perfect fit. And she rode back with me to the salon with her nose to the wind and a flapping tongue that hung from her smug-mug smile. We looked at each other many times while waiting at stop lights or at left-hand turns. We noticed pedestrians, bike riders, and drivers and passengers alike that looked at us. They all smiled at the new dog owner taking his dog for her first ride home on a motorcycle.
I named her Daughter, after the dog of the man who mentored me in the hair biz. His toy poodle, Daughter, had passed away of old age only a few months earlier. My friend was more than touched when I asked him if I could make my dog his dog’s namesake. And, like a mother, Brooke was happy that I was going to have unconditional love for a very long time.
Daughter never became a clingy lapdog and she never licked my hand or used a leash. She never had to beg me for another thing after that day I adopted her. With only a simple look or a long patient and demanding stare, she has conveyed to me whether it was time to go outside for a walk-and-sniff. Or that she just would appreciate a rub on the bum as well as to tell me how she didn’t appreciate me leaving her too long whenever I got home too late from work. Most dogs were a little more forward and vulgar. They used their paws or barked their needs or defecated. But not Daughter. Without a scratch or a whine, Daughter has been able to assure me that a piece of chicken off of my plate would not upset her stomach at all. Maybe all terriers were like that, sophisticated. Ever since she begged me with all her soul from the inside of that doggy jail, I have been able to understand her like I will never understand people.
Our friendship has been more than a fair relationship and we would be companions for as long as her life would allow. I accepted the awful responsibility of alleviating any suffering that Daughter might ever have to go through. I had minor practice many times over the many years; taking her to the dreaded doctor to get a tooth pulled or get treated for a parasite or get stitches as a result from an imprudent scuffle with a German Shepard. She always sat still while I blow dried her fluffy fur near a sunny window after a bath. She’s was mine. I was hers.
I don’t think anyone can trust people who don’t like dogs—especially my dog. My dog used her eyes to speak and I know that can be very intimidating, like she was looking into your soul. But, if you didn’t got nothin’ to hide, then you didn’t have nothin’ to worry about. Being a dog person made me a better person.
My last human love-relationship did not make me a better person. In some ways it made me bitter – for a long time. And Daughter went through those two years with me. Oh, not patiently. She let me know that he was not so good for me. And I should have known that the relationship was doomed when I moved in with him to Canada, where he lived, and he suddenly informed me that he was allergic to her and she had to sleep at night in the hallway, and not at the foot of the bed, which had been her place for the last fifteen of her eighteen and a half years.
To give my lover some credit, he simply didn’t know how to have a real pet and was afraid of Daughter and her soulful eyes. According to his growing up, animals only communicated by bleating, barking, mooing and oinking to convey they were uncomfortable, hungry or acknowledging his presence. He grew up on a farm. If Daughter acknowledged him at all, she would just stare at him as if she couldn’t believe her own eyes that he could have put on such a tragic outfit combination. Or maybe she was asking him, “So, you’re leaving when?” It didn’t help that he kept trying to win her over by talking baby talk to her or bringing her treats like the ones from Canada that were actually made in moose shapes. She didn’t eat anything he bought for her.
“That’s the way terriers are,” I kept trying to tell him. “They’re smart and finicky. Just don’t talk baby talk to her. She knows what you’re saying.”
“She’s a dog,” he would say. “She’s a spoiled city dog who doesn’t like dog food.” It was like talking to a tree. He continued to talk baby talk to her and kept trying to feed her moose-shaped things.
“She’s an American and only eats things that look processed like Jerky Treats, and Puperoni’s, and Science Diet,” I argued. “She’s never even seen a moose to know if she even wanted to taste one.”
“I suppose she told you that?”
Well, neither of us Americans in the room had to say anything. He could see it in mine and Daughter’s eyes. Of course she could talk. Duh. And she continually communicated to us both that she had no use for him.
After my latest break-up and a return to my latest home-city, Chicago, we had the best three years of Daughter’s life. I had felt so guilty that I dragged her though that last relationship that I promised her that I would take her to the dog park by my new apartment, rain, snow or sun-shine for one hour a day until the day she died. And as she grew older, she became more socialized, more secure and came into her own person, if you will. She had old dog friends and she taught young dogs and new dogs how to play and behave in the park. She was like the sweet and firm granny that everyone loved to see yet everyone knew they couldn’t get away with anything in front of. Everyone loved Daughter and she attracted so many new friends to me as well. These people were my new posse. The dog-people who listened to the story of my break-up and patiently watched me heal.
Those three and a half years were the best of her life. She was the life of the party and the center of my universe and she was certainly the most popular girl in the park. On the last day of her life she woke with a little bit of arthritic pain. I had already made an appointment with her vet to drive up at 3 p.m. to just talk about pain meds for her. I did not plan to take her because she had not been suffering from pain very much, she just had a few rusty days, every once in a while.
When she wet the carpet that morning, she knew I wouldn’t scold, but she just looked at me, as if to say, “Really? Is this what getting old is all about?” She looked mad and I could tell that she wanted nothing to do with this age thing anymore.
That was the first and only day that I carried her to the park across the street. We were an hour early for our regular 8 to 9 a.m. peeps. But we got to see the 7 to 9ers. We loved them too. Daughter didn’t run and play, but she just stood on all fours, while all the other dogs came up to sniff noses with her as they always did, to pay their respects to granny. She stood there for the entire hour and it was so amazing to see the reactions of the other dogs. They said hello and then their heads went down and then they walked away.
One of the 7 to 8 a.m. people had tears in her eyes and said, “Is she saying goodbye?”
“I think so,” I said. I had never seen anything like it.
By the time our 8 to 9 regulars began to trickle in, Daughter just splooge-plopped onto the pavement. She had been standing and receiving for a full hour. I scooped her up and held her in my arms like a baby. As she let her head lull over my arm, for the next hour, she said her goodbyes to her very good dog friends from her human cradle and I comforted my friends with my words and kind smiles. They were shocked to see such a touching moment as this and they knew, from the past three and one half years, this dog was never a clingy lapdog. At the time, I don’t think I was fully letting the emotion of the situation sink into my heart, but I was very thankful that I had until 3 p.m. to make sure that Daughter was ready.
Oh, the responsibility ... I took it on and I think I kept my vows to alleviate any suffering. I drove through McDonalds and bought and fed her a whole hamburger on the way to the vet. She appreciated the treat but she knew what her last dog-job to me was. It was to give me long patient stares of love which assured me that she was, indeed, ready. That last day was the day that she picked to go. Most dog-people and dogs would never be so lucky.
She’s was mine. I was hers. We trusted that this was the constant and the commitment of our relationship (something I've never been able to do with humans) and I think it’s made us both better people.
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  1. What a beautiful essay about a beautiful dog. I'm an animal lover. I have two cats that are my family. I also grew up with a cat that lived to be 19. We put her down when I was 28, and I held her in my arms as the vet administered the shots and the rest of the family looked on. Pets are the most special people you can have in your life.

    God Bless Daughter.


  2. This is beautiful! The story, the person, and the writing. Keep up!

  3. You have had your Bob. I have too.
    ox, PK