News: Guest Posts
Set in the green and rolling Texas hill country, Austin is known for its eclectic cultural events—think Austin City Limits and SXSW—Lady Bird Johnson’s bluebonnets in the spring and the bats of the Congress Avenue Bridge. It’s also a pretty dog-crazy place, as noted by Beth Bellanti Pander of Austin’s own Tito’s Handmade Vodka, where she’s the company’s Program Manager of Vodka for Dog People. Here are some of her hot spots …
Ahh … the water, the trees, the squirrel sightings: Red Bud Isle and Emma Long Metropolitan Park’s Turkey Creek Trail are great places for a leash-free dog to unwind. Dogs can go also off-leash at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, 293 acres of trails (which, FYI, they share with cyclists), hills and creeks. For a more contained experience in the central city, give Norwood Dog Park a try; it’s fully fenced and has a large, shaded main section and a separate area for small dogs. For time on the water rather than in it, stop by Zilker Park Boat Rental, where your dog’s welcome to join you in a canoe (bring his life jacket, as the rental company doesn’t provide them for dogs). Finally, if you and the pooch are in the mood for a movie, look into Austin’s “Movies in the Park” series, which runs through November in parks across the city; the pup will need a leash, but you’ll both enjoy being entertained under the beautiful Austin night sky.
During the upcoming Austin City Limits Music Festival held at Zilker Park, Tito’s Handmade Vodka is partnering with the nonprofit Emancipet to make veterinary care accessible to all pet owners. Throughout this weekend and next (Oct. 6–8, 10–13), festival attendees will have the opportunity to give back by taking and sharing photos in front of a special mural which will prompt donations (up to $10,000) from Tito’s to Emancipet.
Then on October 21, the 10th Annual Dogtoberfest celebration-fundraiser will be held. It will feature a 1K walk and an outdoor event that includes a costume contest, dog demonstrations and silent auction—all raising money for local dog rescue organizations.
Also on that day, the 4th Annual Dog Beard and Moustache Competition will be presented at The Mohawk, benefitting The Schrodi Memorial Training Fund which helps owners who can't afford top-dollar training be able to train and keep their dogs.
Barkitecture 2017, the custom doghouse design show, is set for Nov. 4. The fundraiser is hosted by Animal Lovers of Austin, and showcases the creations of city’s brightest architects, interior designers and builders.STAY
Consider taking the HomeAway route; at press time, the online booking site had 157 pet-friendly listings in Austin—which, coincidentally, is its home base.
Dog-friendly eateries are thick on the ground in Austin. Jo’s Coffee not only welcomes dogs, it also sponsors the annual Lyndon Lambert Easter Memorial & Pet Parade. Perla’s serves some of Austin’s tastiest seafood, which can be indulged in on the patio in the company of your dog. Likewise, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters has patio seating (in this case, fronting Lake Austin) as well as—you guessed it—fine coffee drinks and a decadent selection of desserts. Three venues go the extra mile when it comes to kicking back with canines. Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden not only provides a leash-free area, it also makes a sausage just for dogs. At Dog House Drinkery, dogs are welcome to congregate with their people in the bar area or run off some energy in one of the Drinkery’s fenced OLAs. Wet your whistle under a shady tree at the Yard Bar’s off-leash dog park while your dog goes nuts on the agility course; the bar’s full-meal menu includes two “Dog Food” entries: Bones and Co sliders and house-made ice cream.
Beth notes that on Amplify Austin day, Tito’s Handmade Vodka does its part to raise money for local charities by creating a special cocktail served at participating watering holes.
Art works cited as cruel pulled from Guggenheim Museum show
The recent controversy involving the Guggenheim Museum’s decision to pull three art works from an upcoming exhibition has the art world and animal rights advocates abuzz. The art pieces in question were scheduled to appear as part of a much anticipated exhibition “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World” slated to open October 6. The three works are intended to symbolize oppression in China. One 7-minute video titled “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, shows four pairs of Pitbull dogs on non-motorized treadmills, struggling to make contact and seemingly fight. Another video, “A Case Study of Transference,” shows two pigs mating in front of an audience. The third work removed is an installation, “Theater of the World,” which features hundreds of live lizards, snakes, crickets and other insects and reptiles on display under an overhead lamp. Protesters in favor of removing the works ranged from the ASPCA to PETA and the AKC, plus a host of vocal animal rights activists. An online petition demanding the museum remove the works garnered more than 600,000 signatures over five days, contending that the three works depict animal cruelty.
An initial response to the protests drew this comment from the museum: “Reflecting the artistic and political context of its time and place, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control,” the Guggenheim said in a statement. “We recognize that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share.”
This week the museum relented to pressure and withdrew the controversial works, citing “concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.” They now face criticism from the art community for bowing to public pressure in dictating what is acceptable art and what is not. This dilemma challenges those, like myself, who are both staunch supporters of artistic expression and advocates for animal rights. I have not seen the video featuring the dogs but the written description is sufficient to sicken me at the act of subjecting the animals to unnecessary violence, stress and harm. There is no intellectual argument for allowing this that I can accept. For now, knowing that it is wrong will have to suffice.
Others, such as Sarah Cohen, an art historian at the University at Albany whose research examines the artistic representations of animals, have wisely articulated the reasoning behind the emotions. She cited a perceived failing by the museum curators thus:
The curators themselves do not appear to have considered very deeply the problem of humans forcing certain behaviors in animals,” she said in an email. “Nor did they apparently stop to consider that using pigs as performers to ‘inform’ human spectators about their cultural hangups is a shopworn strategy—as old as dancing bears and the circus.”
“In my opinion,” she added, “the exploitation of animals to make artistic points is, well, bad art.”
News: Guest Posts
America’s first art exhibition for dogs, dOGUMENTA, opens at Brookfield Place New York this Friday, August 11! Not by or about dogs, dOGUMENTA is a curated art show for dogs. The exhibition invites artists to create work addressing the canine sensibility through a variety of media—from sound and sculpture to kibble and squeaky toys.
The concept for dOGUMENTA was born during art critic Jessica Dawson’s New York gallery walks with her rescue dog, Rocky. It was clear that Rocky saw art differently than humans, ignoring New York Times reviews and artist resumes and engaging directly with the work. Dawson realized that Rocky had something to teach human art lovers, and that he and his friends deserved an exhibition of art all their own. dOGUMENTA offers an unprecedented opportunity for the creative community to engage with a new breed of art lover and to consider its new points of view.
dOGUMENTA’s curatorial team is commissioning ten new artworks by established and emerging New York City artists. Artworks will align with the artists’ established practice and also take into account canine experience and perception. Four-legged exhibition-goers will encounter work in a range of media that address formal, conceptual and experiential elements such as color, sound, scent and touch.
Tibi Tibi Neuspiel
A radical, pioneering exhibition, dOGUMENTA takes its name from Documenta, the major art survey that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. Considered the gold standard of exhibitions of contemporary art, Documenta, like dOGUMENTA, is energizing, exciting and unexpected.
Click here to register. Walk-ons will be accommodated based on availability.
ADOPTION DAY: Saturday, August 12
On Saturday, August 12 from 10 am – 1 pm, the pet welfare organization Bideawee will be visiting dOGUMENTA with adorable dogs and puppies available for adoption. Bideawee experts will be on-site to help find you the right pet to match your lifestyle.
This dog-loving artist’s first full career retrospective.
Roy De Forest’s paintings, drawings and sculptures invite the viewer into mythical terrains of mountainous vistas and overgrown foliage. Set within those landscapes are mysterious figures, boats, planes and animals, particularly dogs. With titles that often suggest a journey or a quest, De Forest’s works are densely composed, complex mélanges of textures, colors and shapes … phantasmagorical universes where humans and animals wander in awe.
The artist, who died in 2007 at the age of 77, had a long and successful career. His visionary creations drew comparisons to folk and aboriginal art, and to the fantastical works of Henri Rousseau and H. C. Westermann. A life-long dog-lover, De Forest favored squat working types, particularly the hearty Australian Cattle Dogs who shared his life (along with his wife, Gloria, and their children) in Northern California.
De Forest’s love of dogs began in childhood. Born in Nebraska in 1930, the son of migrant farm workers, he grew up in Yakima, Wash. As a young boy, he had several dogs in succession, each of whom he named Hector. The rural landscape, his affection for pulp adventure magazines, model planes and local Native American crafts would all influence his art.
Beginning in 1950, De Forest studied on a scholarship at the San Francisco Art Institute, deeply immersed in Abstract Expressionism and exposed to the burgeoning Beat movement. He went on to teach art at the University of California, Davis, from 1965 to 1992. Art created by De Forest and his eclectic group of UC Davis art department colleagues— among them, Robert Arneson, William Wiley and Manuel Neri —was dubbed California Funk. Other monikers include “Dude Ranch Dada,” which referenced the works’ humorous, anti-authoritarian nature. De Forest, who didn’t like these labels, supplied his own: Nut Art. In the catalogue for a 1974 retrospective mounted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, De Forest identified himself as an “obscure visual constructor of mechanical delights.”
The image of naïve outsider, however, belied De Forest’s vast knowledge of art history and interest in a wide variety of disciplines, including poetry, literature, philosophy, psychology, science and mathematics. He enjoyed slipping obscure historical references into his work: animals assume postures found in Medieval art, and his compositions draw from sources as diverse as mid-19th-century romantic landscape painters to modern geometric abstractions.
This summer, the Oakland Museum of California is showcasing a comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre. Titled Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest, it is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue written by the show’s curator, Susan Landauer, and published by University of California Press.
Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest
News: Guest Posts
A sport and lifestyle of spotting random dogs
First there was trainspotting, then planespotting, and now…dogspotting! Take an object that interests you – in our case, dogs – and turn it into a hobby by seeking as many different examples as possible, taking photos of them and sharing with other enthusiasts. A Facebook page called Dogspotting has become wildly popular. Members – currently over half a million - post photos of an incredible diversity of dogs in all sorts of situations from around the world. One can easily become lost scrolling through the photos, reading comments, smiling all the while.
There are rules for participating. In a nutshell: no photos of your own dog, or a dog you already know; no photos taken at dog parks, vet clinics or other “low hanging fruit” locations; no service dogs (they’re working, so leave them alone); no posing humans in the frame; and be nice to each other. If you have photos that break the rules but still want to share, there’s a sister page called Dogspotting Society where they’re allowed. There’s also a Dogspotting phone app.
The site has generated its own dogspotting lingo. Some common words include: doggo = dog; sploot = dog lying with all legs splayed; pupper = puppy; floof = especially fluffy dog; cloud = white fluffy dog (usually a Samoyed); mlem = dog’s tongue is licking its muzzle in photo. The lingo and photo descriptions (e.g. describing a bulldog puppy as a giant wrinkle) are half the fun. There’s also a point system, with higher points awarded for spots of unusual dogs or situations, for example a dog carrying its own leash, or a wild canid (fox, coyote, or wolf), “the most noble of all spots.” Links for the rules, the points system, and frequently asked questions are available on the page.
This is a hobby most easily indulged in a city or urban area where seeing “strange” dogs on streets or in cafes is common and photographing them easy. For those of us living in the country, spotting a wild canid is a challenge worth embracing. Visit the page, but be warned, it’s a time sink! It’s difficult to avoid scrolling through the photos and reading a few comments for each. Initially, that’s time well-invested before posting your first spot as you’ll see site administrators chiming in on rule-violating posts, gently reminding the poster that sister site Dogspotting Society is the appropriate place for their photo.
The wide variety of dogs and settings in the photos and the accompanying comments are wonderful antidotes to life’s daily stresses. Just don’t forget to take your own dog out for a stroll – maybe a stranger will post a photo of her on Dogspotting.
Premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17 2017, 9:30 pm
Downward Dog will be the newest entry into must-view TV when it premiers on ABC next Wednesday, May 17. The unconventional comedy centers around Martin, a soulful mutt, whose person, a millennial named Nan, struggles to find her way in relationships, work and life in the modern age. Through it all, they have each other—their day-to-day trials commented on philosophically by Martin. You see, Martin talks … to the camera, as a device to share his inner thoughts. And before you cringe at the memory of Mr. Ed (the talking horse), this show ensues broad comedy aiming instead for a satisfying mix of smart and sweet. It succeeds due to the clever writing (Samm Hodges, who is also the voice of Martin) and fine performances from Allison Tolman (recently seen in Fargo) as Nan and Ned, an endearing rescue dog, as Martin. We caught up with Hodges and Tolman after a recent screening.
Bark: Congratulations on a wonderful show—are you longtime animal lovers?
Hodges: I was always around dogs growing up, my mom was always bringing home mutts who had ran away—we had a menagerie of dogs around the house. Currently, I don’t have a dog but look forward to getting into a routine and adding one to our family.
Tolman: I have a cat and it’s really hard for me to be away from her. I take my cat with me when I am filming whenever possible. I grew up with dogs and a houseful of animals, my mom has always been very into animal rescue, so we had lots of rescue dogs and cats at home — she couldn’t be more pleased with my involvement with this project!
Bark: Can you talk about the concept of the show, and Ned’s communication to viewers.
Hodges: Martin is not actually a talking dog. In our rules, it’s more a conceit to give us access into the thoughts of the character. So much humor associated with animals is goofy and detached from reality — this was a way to keep the world real and treat the canine character with some seriousness and gravitas. It’s hard to do that when you have a dog talking because then he’s no longer a dog. So all the time that Martin is not talking to the camera, he’s acting 100% like a normal dog, it allows us to honor the reality of what dogs are.
What we have in common with dogs is that as people we don’t make logical decisions, we react to environments, and later justify our actions, so in that way, I think Martin is very human in that sense. He’s an animal who is completely controlled by his instincts and later has to deal with the consequences.
Allison: The first episode reflects the lead character’s dilemma of the push-pull of her personal and professional life and the effect it has on her dog. It was important to tie those two things together in the first episode, and say these things are inextricably linked. The writers did a great job constructing the episodes so that big things happen in Nan’s life that mirror the small things that happen in Martin’s life that he thinks are huge.
Hodges: We all struggle with self-love, it’s something that Nan’s character wrestles with. There is something genuine about how a dog just accepts you as you are. The personal growth of Nan’s character throughout the season is learning how to accept who we are and in the process make us more loving of others.
Tolman: That is the very best part of loving an animal — having this other creature who thinks you are the moon and the stars, it’s so powerful.
Bark: Tell us about Ned, the dog who plays Martin.
Hodges: Ned is a rescue from Paws Chicago, he had been at the shelter for a long time. He’s the kind of dog that people often don’t adopt. He wasn’t a puppy, he wasn’t a pure breed. We found his photograph and thought his eyes were so emotive, I just immediately wanted to write for him. We rescued him and the trainers had about six weeks to evaluate and work with him. They are amazing and it’s been remarkable to watch Ned heal from a fairly traumatic life over the past year. It’s been an amazing transformation.
Tolman: From my experience with my mother working in animal rescue — what made him less adoptable for many people, made him perfect for us and this role. Ned is kind of a somber and a serious dog, not excitable, not a tail wagger. He’s not motivated by praise, he’s very much his own man. When you go to the shelter to find your dog, you want the one who is effusive in his love for you. And Ned’s not really like that, you really have to earn it.
Hodges: This impacts the writing as well … you’d write a script where the dog is supposed to look scared, and you film it and the dog doesn’t look scared at all — so you go and rewrite the plot around whatever the dog’s face is doing that day.
Tolman: The character who Martin is has been shaped by the kind of dog Ned is and that is charming. This is who Ned is. I hope that this will really speak to pet owners, because most people don’t have the kind of dog who appear in dog food commercials in their home — they have dogs who are temperamental or a little bratty or pout, and that’s who this dog is.
Hodges: The whole show thematically is about a mutt in the back yard in a regular neighborhood of Pittsburg who is asking if he matters. When you look at a dog in a shelter that nobody wants and say that this dog matters—we are turning our lens on a relationship which up until now has been thought of as too small or too incidental to focus on. This relationship between this woman and this dog does actually matter, and suggest how we all matter.
Bark: That’s a very existential storyline.
Tolman: That’s right, It’s palatable because it comes from this dog, and never seems preachy or too heady, it makes you think about these things and also makes you smile. It’s a very sweet, sweet show.
Hodges: Plus, there are poop jokes!
Downward Dog premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17, 9:30 pm, then moves to Tuesday nights 8–8:30 pm beginning May 23.
Television fans (and working women in particular) are mourning the passing of actress Mary Tyler Moore. She is the rare individual who not only entertained but inspired generations with her characters’ independence, smarts and spunk. The actress will also be missed by her beloved animals—the menagerie of cats and dogs she shared her home with, and the legions of animals saved through Broadway Barks, the animal rescue event/organization she founded in New York with her friend Bernadette Peters. The star-studded event benefits New York City animal shelters and adoption agencies, while educating New Yorkers on the plight of the thousands of homeless dogs and cats in the metropolitan area. In July, Broadway Barks celebrated its 18th annual fundraiser, contributing to 27 organizations and adopting out over 200 animals. The event and organization will continue as a living testament to the love and spirit of Mary Tyler Moore, actress, producer, philanthropist and activist.
Culture: Stories & Lit
When God made the sea,
— Connie Hills
Life with Dogs
A good dog’s journey:
Culture: Stories & Lit
A Boxer’s greeting is a joy to behold. They jump into the air in such a jubilee of delight, it’s as if your return to hearth and home were the most noteworthy event of the century when all you’ve done, say, is walk to the mailbox and back. Return after an hour or more and you’ll get backflips, trumpets and a procession of drum-beating pageantry befitting a king.
But this last time, my Shelby outdid herself with the circus greeting, and a few moments later, her hind legs began to falter. As she tried to recover, her front legs failed, too. She staggered about the house slamming into furniture and walls, wagging her tail all the while. Was she having a seizure? Had her heart failed to pump enough blood to her hindquarters? Or had the cancer already spread to her brain?
She was eleven years old, this big brindle beauty to whom I was not going to get too attached. I was certainly not going to let myself love her the way I’d loved the one before her. When my previous Boxer died in my arms at age fifteen, I felt as if a part of myself had died too. I emerged from the vet’s office into a black-and-white world, a world literally devoid of all color. An hour went by before my color vision returned. I vowed right then and there: Never again.
But dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, filling an emptiness we don’t even know we have. So it was for Shelby, who took all of five minutes to stake her claim to my bruised heart. At nine months, she was big and bold, bright and brash, the daughter of two champions. My wife didn’t want another dog, and my daughter, then seven, was wary of this bumptious intruder. They held out only slightly longer than I had before they, too, were summarily seduced.
As canine crimes go, Shelby’s were all misdemeanors: she had three accidents, chewed one shoe, and swallowed a single bar of bath soap. That was her entire rap sheet. At the first light of day, with an exuberance she never outgrew, she’d come bounding into my bedroom to play. My friends and associates dare not wake me before noon (“I don’t care if it’s nuclear war, don’t ever call me in the morning!”) Yet I understood the natural world and couldn’t blame my little angel for her uncontainable high spirits at the first rays of dawn. It took me more than sunbeams to get on with my day, but when I’d finally consumed enough coffee to come back to life, Shelby and I shared our invariable breakfast: a can of King Oscar sardines. She got the three biggest. Next up: Quaker oatmeal. I served Shelby hers on a plastic Ronald McDonald plate that I set just outside the back door.
On cool days, she would run fifteen miles with me. She shredded three cotton ropes a month playing tug of war. She ran down Frisbees; she wrestled and boxed with me. In hot weather, she could dive and retrieve in depths that exceeded six feet. Like me, she was at home in the water. On a visit to my mother’s summer cottage in Wisconsin, I heard a child say, “Daddy, look at that duck.” It was Shelby, of course, a quarter-mile out on the lake, swimming after a mother duck and her flock. One large, square head surrounded by little round ones; a sort of Loch Ness Boxer, I guess you could say.
When I became diabetic, and had to walk off high blood sugar readings in all kinds of weather (mostly rain), Shelby splashed through the puddles beside me, nearly pulling my arm out of its socket. Our neighbors referred to us as “the two thugs.” That was outdoor Shelby.
Indoors, she was delicate as a cat, taking great care around my young daughter. She calibrated her strength according to each customer, sensing precisely how much each could endure. We had similar tastes in people. Friendly but discriminating, Shelby liked the same visitors I liked, but merely tolerated the people I only pretended to like.
Fun and games are all well and good, but like most dogs, Shelby liked to work, too. To stave off boredom and enhance her self-esteem, I devised various duties for her, appointing her chief of security. It wasn’t until later that I would realize she’d already taken on the job of looking after me. The fact that I’m still here is a testament to how well she did it, despite all those dog IQ ratings that only place Boxers somewhere in mid-range.
I’ve read that fifty percent of all dogs can smell epilepsy and warn their owners of impending seizures. I have simple partial seizures—twitches and jerks that come on toward the end of the day. Before I switched medications and got them under control, Shelby would throw her shoulder against the back of my legs, as if to say, “Hey, pay attention!” Sure enough, within minutes, the seizures would start.
Shelby was still a young dog when, as a writer with a hot book, I got a call from ABC’s “20/20.” The producer asked me to appear on the show. He was under the impression that I had grand mal epilepsy and wondered how long it would take after I quit my medication to have a fit in front of a camera crew. Seizure dogs are trained to sit near their masters to protect them in the event of grand mal seizures. The well-intentioned producer pointed out that millions of people watch the show, and suggested I could sell lots of books. I politely declined in light of the stigma attached to epilepsy, to say nothing of the fact that I had a personal life. Besides, I was just having twitches, which I doubted would make for thrilling TV.
I was teaching in Iowa City at the time, and had just written a Village Voice piece. Having eaten a fairly small breakfast, I drove downtown to fax them a revision. The forecast called for heavy snow that day, so instead of going straight home, I stopped at the market to stock up. By the time I unloaded my groceries, I had a vague sense of my blood sugar dropping, and realized I needed to eat. It was my last conscious thought before I hit the floor in what proved to be a diabetic coma.
I’d always assumed that a coma was akin to sleep. It is not. Soaked in sweat, my teeth chattering like joke-store choppers, I was essentially paralyzed. I felt as if I were being strangled. Meanwhile, the insulin pump attached to my body was delivering drop after drop of insulin, putting me in deeper trouble. I needed sugar and each succeeding drop of insulin became a kind of poison.
As I lay there immobilized on the kitchen floor, I became aware of Shelby licking my face and bumping me with her snout, then leaping onto the couch and sounding her deep bass alarm out the window, then coming back and licking me some more. A neighbor heard her barking and looked inside, saw me lying there, and called the paramedics. Saved by my boisterous four-legged nurse, the one with the mid-range IQ.
When we left our subdivision for a house in the country, Shelby took on expanded duties. She was never happier than when she was chasing deer from our clover field. She also kept close watch on the horses next door. I was standing in the kitchen eating a sour apple one day when I spotted one of them back by the fence. I fed him my apple and after he’d eaten it, I got another one out of the fridge. It must have been mighty sour; the horse took a bite, then spit it out. Shelby, who had been standing there taking this in, suddenly took off for the gate like a brown cruise missile. She was soon a mere BB on the horizon. I watched in amazement as she crawled through the gate. She was soon standing on the other side of the fence wolfing down the sour apple. From then on, I waited till my jealous darling was asleep before venturing out to feed the horses their treats.
My life—the writing life—has its fair share of perks. It’s a stay-at-home job, for one thing. It allows me to sleep until noon, for another. And given that I like to write—at least some days—I haven’t had to “work” for a living for more than a decade. Shelby was at my side for most of those years. She watched me write countless stories, lending moral support. She rode shotgun in the passenger seat of my Saab or my daughter’s Checker whenever I drove to the video store, or made a library run. We lived our lives side-by-side, me and this singular dog to whom I was not going to get too attached.
I used to travel the world at the drop of a hat, but that, too, changed when I acquired Shelby. Book tours, visits to relatives—any trip that involved breaking out a suitcase, induced separation anxiety in us both. It got worse as she aged; the older dogs get, the more they seem to like their routine. I put Shelby on Sinequin, an antidepressant. There were times when I took it myself. It helped us both some, but it wasn’t until I walked through the front door that her sense of well-being was fully restored.
A few weeks ago, as the long, rainy, Washington winter gave way to a rare sunny day, Shelby and I drove downtown to the park. We took a leisurely stroll, then sat on a bench for a while soaking up sun. I couldn’t help but think back to the days when our “walks” had been runs. We were both slowing down. At the same time, however, we were still in sync, keeping the same, steady pace, stride for stride.
An old dog has a beauty and dignity all her own, with her graying muzzle and soft, knowing eye. Her silliness gives way to serenity; more time is now spent in sleep than in play. In a perfect world, we would die, man and dog, as we lived: sideby- side, simultaneously. No one who’s given his heart to a dog should have to walk in the door to this deafening silence. Or come upon a faded Ronald McDonald oatmeal plate. Or a chair whose cushions are forever imprinted with the shape of the slumbering dog.
But the world isn’t perfect. And so, the end came—much too soon, the way it always does. She did not succumb to her lymphoma, an incurable cancer that led to four surgeries over her final six months. Shelby’s faltering legs turned out to be a sign of low blood sugar, caused by a tumor on her pancreas. While I’ve long heard it said that dogs come to resemble their owners, I never knew it could happen to such a degree. The condition that led to my Boxer’s demise was in fact the mirror image of my own.
I am still in the early stages of grieving, still disoriented, still easily brought to tears. She is gone, but somehow, she’s still with me, her invisible presence watching my every move. I can’t open the door, or a can of sardines, without feeling her like some phantom limb—severed but still part of me, always here. As she will be for as long as I live.
Fine, Evil, you win. Take this body. This 12 ½ year old shell of the dog I once was. Take it all. See what it gets you.
Take these eyes. In the end, they were blind to the world and useless to me. I will keep images of every face I have ever loved, ending with Tim holding me as I hopped toward the light and into another world.
Hey Evil. You want these ears? Take them now, for what they’re worth. For in my mind, I have recorded beautiful harmonies and rhythms of nature that speak to my heart. My soul has embraced words of love and friendship that your essence will never comprehend.
My nose? All yours pal. Like you, it’s dry and shriveled like stale fruit. I’ll keep the scent memories of dew on newborn prairie tallgrass and the titillating stench of a rotting log. I can catalog the bouquet of love and joy, and happiness. I’ve known them all my life.
These legs all bent and paralyzed? Take them. I only have three so I bet you’re feeling short changed. Funny how I never felt that way. What you can never possess is the passion that fueled them. For these legs have elevated me to more mountaintop experiences than you will ever know. I have hiked more miles on flatland trails and city sidewalks than you can count. My legs have run, weaved, and tunneled their way to 18 agility titles. This single front leg has enabled people to see that we are all greater than the sum of our parts.
Last is my heart. The grand prize. Bet you think you’ve won the lottery with that one. But it rests silently in my chest and will soon be reduced to ashes. The essence of my heart that lived and loved and pumped blood through my body so I could climb mountains and wow agility audiences remains with me in a place that your cancerous tentacles will never penetrate.
You are a hideous mass that took my life. Damn you. I wasn’t ready to go just yet. Tim still needed me. But I am still here because death doesn’t end relationships. I have legions of beings that have loved me and will continue to do so.
Most of all, I love you, Tim, and I always will. And I will be waiting for you on the other side.
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