Culture: Stories & Lit
On September 1, 2001, I peered into Afghanistan from the very small corridor that touches the Chinese border. Working for a student travel company, this trip along the Chinese portion of the ancient Silk Road had reached its westernmost point. Tomorrow we would retrace our path back eastward to Beijing, to board our plane back to the States on September 11. Life was following its trajectory to extreme and far flung adventure. I had been out of the country on various assignments for nearly two months – time to come home.
The next month would unfold into events far from anyone’s control. On the evening of September 11, I was packing my bags in the Beijing hotel preparing for my flight. With the time difference, we were in horror of what was happening back home on the morning of 9/11. It took another two weeks before I had finally finagled my way back to Boulder after being stranded in Beijing following the terrorist attacks and the chaotic cancelation of international flights. The following week, I was glued to the TV watching anthrax scares after all the employees at my student travel organization were laid off. The director could see the writing on the wall.
Out of all the possible ways to stay sane during those uncertain and CNN-watching times, I chose puppies. I wandered out of my house in the crisp October and into a pet store.
“How many puppies can I have with me in the puppy meeting room at one time?”
“I’ll take a Beagle, a Dalmatian and Golden Retriever, please.”
I sat cross-legged in a sterile 6 X 6 room as they were brought in one by one. They wrestled and tumbled the anxiety right out of me.
Two days later, Roy came home with me from the Humane Society. The dog I named Roy was a three-month-old Bloodhound / Sharpei mix. Yep, try to picture what that looks like. I had no idea what I was doing with my life, but I knew I needed some levity and grounding. I purchased a leash, a food bowl, and a clicker for training at the Boulder Humane Society store. The woman behind the counter said with a knowing smile, “Watch out. When you settle down enough to have a dog, a husband and kids are not far behind. You’re sending a message to the universe - I see it all the time.” It seemed a bit overreaching for the volunteer cashier, but I thought at 31 years old, with some serious curve balls thrown into my career as a travel guide, that a husband and kids might be cool.
“Roy” is a slang word in the Southern Thai dialect (where I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer) that means everything good. Food was roy, clothes were roy, even the weather or a new pickup truck. And my caramel-colored Roy with a wrinkled forehead got me away from the news reel and out of my slump. Like all puppies, he chewed my shoes, needed to be let out to pee two or three times a night and demanded my attention through exercise and socialization – all really good training if you are going to have children one day.
This optimistic, enthusiastic companion bore witness to my next 13+ years: finding the love of my life, three moves, three children and my own wrinkled forehead. He protected me from the fed-ex man and things that go bump in the night, licked the tears of miscarriages away, slept in the bed next to me when my husband traveled or when I had 68 days of pregnancy bed rest. He even kept my feet warm when I was up through the wee hours nursing and soothing my infants and stood guard next to their cribs and infant carriers. Roy is their godfather, after helping me send my message to the universe, my harbinger of life’s gifts.
For the first 3 years we were together, he was my baby. We hiked, I obsessed over his possible ailments on the internet and kept a folder with all his report cards from puppy preschool to adult behavior training. When he was two, Will and I lived in Austin. On the weekends I took him running through the wildness of Barton Creek. He ran three miles for every mile I did - looping ahead and behind, patrolling my perimeter and stopping to hump the smaller dogs he passed. Running, humping, drinking from the fresh creek: good days to be a dog. When we came back to Colorado, we lived on ten acres in Nederland and he chased the huge mule deer and roamed free without a fence. As life progressed, other human babies cornered my attention, we moved to a fenced yard three thousand feet below and I would often look over to him with guilt. I’d love a run too, I thought. How many mornings was I trying to get my three kids to school on time without losing my shit, that I didn’t even turn around to meet his watchful eyes? I’m sorry, buddy.
In two day’s time I have scheduled to have Roy euthanized in our home. I wonder at the tears that lay centimeters below the surface as I go about my day as usual – It’s the logical thing to do. He’s almost 14. He’s lived a great life. He’s suffering. He can’t stand up on his own any more. The drugs have left him a sleepy shell of his former self. Yet, today as I return from the grocery store, his tail thwaps against his dog bed to see me enter. I eat with him in his dog bed. He gets smoked salmon from Whole Foods - all he can eat. I eat my sushi. He sighs his long yogi-ujay breath. I cry.
When someone you love is dying, all the refrigerator magnet platitudes suddenly feel profound. No one else has been such an intimate witness to my life, a bridge through my chapters and cheerleader and non-judgmental friend through my craziness. There’s always some editing to what I show – to even my husband or best friends. Roy has witnessed me trying to squeeze into the too-tight jeans, lip-synching Aretha with a hairbrush, blubbering sad, saying what I wish I’d said to the bathroom mirror and the Madmen evening marathons that I explain away as being really swamped with life. He knows.
My ten-year-old daughter asks me why dogs don’t live as long as we do, why they live seven times faster. Maybe another gift from our pets is to remember that life is brief. We get to witness their silly infancy, their wild and confident teen years and finally the old age that we all might be lucky to face ourselves. All of this happens for them in a decade or so of our own life. Our time here is just a blip – don’t take anything for granted - they remind us.
I hold Roy’s white muzzle in my cupped hands and look into his clouded eyes. I am looking for a message, permission, my further life instructions. I can insert anything I want: “my message to you is _________________. “ A) Yes, I need your help to go. B) Thanks for doing the right thing because I’m hurting. C) You’ve got this, Anni. You don’t need me any more. Or even D) Please remember to wear sunscreen. Instead I just see his goodness, his Royness and maybe that’s all the life instruction I need: remember the goodness.
Slayer was attacked by two large dogs in a moments notice, and he didn’t make it. We buried him earlier this morning.
He was the first person to ever teach me about unconditional love. He would cry if we went in the bathroom and shut the door. He had to be with us no matter what. This dog would hug us. He would lean his two front paws on our shoulders, rub his face against ours, and genuinely embrace us. There’s no denying it for me - dogs are human. They can shut down just like humans do in the face of torture or become as sweet and loving as their owner.
He was a cuddle bug. Mornings we would wake to Slay biting my hair, his soft fur tickling my forehead. If we didn't arise at a time of his liking, he would climb under the covers and jokingly bite our toes! He would come get me when newborn Lars made a peep after we brought him home from the hospital.
But Slay hated not being the baby anymore. When Lars moved into our bed, Slay pouted but eventually found a comfy spot on the side of Daddy instead of on my head. Elongated and now facing our feet, he would keep a vigilant night watch of the bedroom door.
On days when I would try to write at the kitchen desk, Slayer would make the sweetest short bark as he commanded me to give him treats - after all, I was in the kitchen - didn’t that mean it was feeding time?! I spoiled him. I feed him chicken on top of his super expensive no-grain, uber-organic dog food. I gave him cheese, I gave him scraps, I gave him gourmet meals, I gave him everything. And it still feels right.
He came to us a little black fluff ball - he became Mike’s military squadron dog. All the VFA-32 boys knew him. He was always a guardian. Always a little “mayor” who loved everyone.
I will forever be grateful I loved this dog and knew the wholehearted love he bestowed to me and my family. He survived eye cancer only to be taken away from us in this violent way. I fought for him. My arm tells that story. I don’t want the bruises to go away. I want scars. It means I tried to do my job even though I didn’t. Once they fade, Slay’s memory might too.
The tears come in waves. Our family is shaken in a way we luckily have yet to experience. Larsen asked if he will die one day too.
As we came together today to bury my best friend and first born, my heart is heavy, my heart is broken. Of course we will be satisfied with the life we gave him. Yet, we are greedy. We wanted more hugs, more cuddles, more love from this little guy.
How does one write an obituary for a dog?
You just sit down, rub his gray fur, hold his paw for one last time, and let the tears fall into the dirt that you throw on his small white casket, hoping your hurt and love cradles his grave. You remind yourself this is the messy side of life, and you aren’t special enough to avoid it. You graciously accept the ways your son tries to “make you happy again.” You zone out a lot, almost in hopes of deceiving yourself you are living your normal life again and he is just around the corner as you walk in. You leave his bowl out on the counter. It hurts, but it feels like the right thing to do.
You shut the blinds so you can’t see the spot where it happened. You lie in bed a lot. Your friend brings you dirty martinis and croissant sandwiches. You finally face it. You sit in a dark, cold room, drinking hard booze while clutching his collar and clinging to the good times.
You take in the hurt and happiness, swallowing gulps of air after the intense crying, and you tell yourself it will get easier each day. You plan your escape route. You remember how you repeated “He’s a fighter” a zillion times at the emergency vet, with the prospects that positive thinking and words really do create reality. You take in the love that family and friends provide. You tell yourself it’s okay to keep grieving, even if its over a dog-eat-dog world.
He’s been with us since a few days after we were married. Nine years we’ve known his love. It’s funny how we found him. He was named “Teddy” and was in a Hawaiian shirt. He seemed just as laid back as us in that photograph. I imagine taking him to dog beach in San Diego one last time, letting him people watch and catch the ball in the waves.
He will be forever missed.
She was their baby in the beginning.
She was calm, laid back,
And then the human puppies were born.
She didn’t seem to mind the missed walks.
One of the grandfathers took her
The other grandfather brought her
Grandmothers bought her new collars
All the grandparents slipped her treats
When the human babies were learning
She was so calm, laid back,
When I spent the night at her house,
Her sweetness broke my heart.
She had knee surgery a year and a half ago.
And yesterday, Ben called to tell me
The vet came to the house.
Surrounded by the people
Oh, you sweet dog.
Culture: Readers Write
The pit/boxer mix is named Chance and the pug is Trinity. Chance is a rescue from our local shelter. I'm sure you've heard this type of story before but he was running the streets in New Britain, CT and his leg was injured, had intestinal issues and now he is going to have his picture in a national magazine. My wife saw him on her way to work one day in the winter and tried to get him into her car but he was too scared. It took us a while but within a few days we were able to get him. He went from sleeping outside in the cold to sharing a queen size bed with my with out pug and my wife and I.
Culture: Readers Write
Never underestimate the power and influence of a dog
A few years ago a friend suggested to my sister a nice walk down to Park Ave. Sure, my sister, Marcia, responded since it was a beautiful day in New York. On the way to the café, they passed a pet store and friend beckoned Marcia in for a look. They saw birds, cats, and other animals, and finally got back to the dog area. All the while, a little dog was loose in the store and kept following them around. Kind of a nuisance! Marcia kept tripping over the dog. They looked at all the dogs on display, with no intentions of getting one, and turned to leave. Here again was that darn little dog to step over. Marcia asked a store clerk what was wrong with this little guy. He’s told her that he was a Chihuahua but he is too big for the breed. Many have looked but rejected him for his size. They proceeded to the coffee shop. Angst began to set in with my sister as they had coffee. She’s had Maltese and Lhasa Apso dogs in the past, but had been seriously ill for several years and without dogs. She was feeling sorry and taking pity on the little pet store dog and suggested they go back to see him again. She decided to him buy and happily took him home! Billy Buddy settled into his new apartment living and for many years made Marcia a fine companion. He got her out for walks around the neighborhood twice a day. They would go over to the “grassy knoll” a couple blocks away where Billy would do his business and play with other dogs. When I would make my weekly Sunday call to them, most of what we talked about was Billy Buddy. I hunt, and the dogs I’ve had were black Labrador Retrievers. I really don’t have a ‘thing’ for little dogs. But I was happy for my sister. Two events came together in late 2008. Marcia’s memory was failing and I was concerned about her being out in New York, getting turned around and not being able to find home. Also her apartment owners were upgrading and remodeling rooms and wanted to move her to another apartment two floors up. My son and I flew to New York to check the situation and visit with the apartment manager. Marcia looked at another apartment and became disturbed. They offered to buy her out of her apartment and she accepted. I made plans to move her and Billy to Missoula, and for her to live in a nice apartment at the Clark Fork Riverside overlooking the river. She moved here in January 2009. My sister (with Billy Buddy), daughter-in-law Suzanne and I made the plane trip back to Missoula from New York via Minneapolis on the last flight out on a very stormy winter night. I was a wreck, worrying about getting stuck in LaGuardia Airport. We got out and made connections in Minneapolis. We were all tired and on nerves. The best passenger was Billy. He rode his doggy travel bag like a trooper. And I was most worried that he might bark or present other problems. Neither happened. At the Clark Fork Riverside, Marcia settled in and Billy was a social hit with other occupants. He is cute and a very engaging little dog. They have a nice riverside trail and grassy area to walk and the two could visit with folks. One of the apartment renters was an older, wheelchair-bound gentleman named Gilbert. He was an uncle of Jan’s, a friend of ours. After two years or so, my sister’s memory worsened and was moved, with Billy, to an assisted living apartment unit. There, they also had nice sidewalks and grassy areas to walk plus someone to watch after them. But in time, Billy’s pulling and leash tripping led to several falls for Marcia so I needed to find him a new home. Marcia was saddened but understood the need to let him go. When Billy left, Marcia’s disposition brightened and she stopped smoking. Billy’s earlier positive companionship had become a negative for Marcia as her stress and mental condition changed. I mentioned that Billy might need a new home to Jan and she said her uncle Gilbert often commented on Billy. He offered to take him. I suggested we try this for a week or so and see how they get along. Jan frequently asked her uncle if she should find another home for Billy and he wouldn’t answer. Jan persisted and Uncle Gilbert finally told her that with Billy, folks downstairs in the lobby talked to him. Billy was a conversation starter; he opened a social world for Gilbert, which he relished. Well, it was a match made in heaven. Uncle Gilbert dearly loved Billy Buddy and had two loving years with him. At 96, after a short illness Gilbert peacefully passed with his dog Billy in his lap. Jan was on a trip when uncle Gilbert became ill. She asked me if I would go to his home, get Billy, food and supplies and take him to Showcase Dog Grooming. The owner, Kathi, and her crew had clipped Billy’s nails and cared for him before. I arranged for them to keep him until Jan returned in three days. Meanwhile a young lady, Kalina, 27, working at the groomers became attached to Billy and later offered to take and care for him after Gilbert died. Her family had dogs but she never had one. From her work in the dog business, she knew older dogs were difficult to adopt out. She thought Billy adorable and noticed he was comfortable and social around people. With Marcia and uncle Gilbert, Billy was too well fed and unhealthfully over weight. Kalina managed his diet and walked him a lot. He lost at least two pounds and looked great. They bathed and groomed him and he looks like he’s only a year or so old. In fact, we do not know exactly how old he is. He is at least 15 years old, how many years over that is a guess. While Billy wears his special goggles and sits in his basket, Kalina bikes him to work each day. He takes his place lying on a bench with another “front room” dog and seems to oversee and command the business operation. I have only had big dogs, six black Labrador Retrievers. I have normally eschewed little dogs. They can be barky and might nip at folks. My experience with this little dog has shown me that the size of the dog does not matter concerning the quality of relationship a human can have with their dog of choice. There is no doubt that this little dog-brought joy, pleasure, happiness and positive companionship to these three very diverse people. This big-city puppy came to the Wild West and won hearts, lots of hearts. Long live Billy Buddy and may he continue keeping people happy.
Culture: Readers Write
Every day pets are exposed to various temperature levels from heat to cold, and while it is easy to forget, you really need to consider just how much your pets can be affected in extreme conditions. That’s where we come into play.
We are Pause4Paws, the voice for pets who cannot speak up for themselves. Pause4Paws is a group of sophomore Community Problem Solvers from Flagler Palm Coast High School, Florida. Community Problem Solvers (CmPS), is one of the four competitive components of Future Problem Solving Program, International (FPSPI). FPSPI is meant to stimulate critical and creative thinking skills, encourage students to develop a vision for the future, and to prepare students for leadership skills. In CmPS specifically, we identify real problems in the community, then create and implement real solutions. We all share a strong passion for pets. As Pause4Paws, our mission is to increase familiarity of the dangers associated with climate for household animals so that a healthy lifestyle for them isn’t compromised.
Because we live in Florida, our group knows all too well about how hot it can get. We are called the Sunshine State for a reason—our sunny weather and high temperatures. Occasionally, the heat can be too much for us, and it’s just too hot to stay outside. This does not just apply to humans, but also to our furry friends.
Regardless of where you live and what your weather conditions may be like, a pet still has the possibility of overheating in a matter of minutes. When left in extreme heat, a pet’s body temperature can reach 109 degrees, to the point where it can no longer cool itself to accommodate the heat, a term called hyperthermia. A heat stroke commonly follows elevated body temperatures. Upon reaching these conditions, the pet’s health may begin to take a dramatic turn towards organ failure, damage to the pet’s brain, heart, liver, nervous system, and in extreme cases, death.
By taking a few precautions before spending the day with your pet in the sun, you can decrease the likelihood of your pet from getting injured.
With winter approaching quickly, we can’t forget our friends in states that aren’t as sunny as Florida! While it may be enjoyable to play with your pet in the snow and cold, you need to know what actions to take to keep your pets warm.
As you can see, pets are at risk of danger during the hot and cold seasons. Considering that pets are a part of your family, you need to make sure they stay as happy and healthy as possible. It’s up to you as an individual to take a stand for your pets. After all, they rely on you heavily. You feed them, wash them, love them, and care for them. It’s all up to you! They deserve the best care available to them, just like Pause4Paws’ slogan says, “Best friends need best care.”
Culture: Readers Write
Zoe’s molten eyes flick in my direction, alert, picking up an unconscious signal: the movement of my gaze, my posture or breathing. And with a thump of her tail she knows. It’s time for a walk. Up, up, and stretching. Front legs extend outward, claws grip the floor, butt high in the air. She gives herself a refreshing little shake and follows me into the kitchen.
The leash rack is overflowing: an old too small harness, training leash, fancy leash, everyday leash, treat pouch, portable water bowl, hats, poop bags. I disentangle our trusty everyday walking leash from the mess and turn to Zoe.
“Go for a walk?!”
Her eyes say, “Yes! But first let me just give you a little bit of a hard time…”
I walk to the front door and wait for Zoe to join me and after a few triumphant circuits of the living room she does. As we step out onto the porch I watch her nose come to life. Twitching, sniffing, tasting. She opens her mouth, letting her tongue loll out to really drink in today’s scents. I wonder about what she learns from this morning sniff: a deer and fawn passed through the yard in the night, the neighbor’s yappy dog got loose again, a rabbit pooped by the walkway just moments before we came out!? But these suppositions are limited by my own experience. Perhaps Zoe smells the evaporating dew on the grass or the passage of sunlight through the air. Impossible to imagine.
We make our way onto the street and so begins our first neighborhood inspection of the day. I like to imagine that Zoe fashions herself the Sheriff of Cedar Ave and its environs. Monitoring the street and its residents, human and animal, is an essential duty. Next Door Lady let the cat out; she leaves a brief message by the big smelly Pine tree--just reminding the cat who’s in charge! You can never be too cautious or prepared when it comes to cats. Wonderful Milkbone Man mowed his lawn! I watch her snout bob upward inspecting the air around his house smelling the man’s springy scent, the gas from the mower, the grass...or more likely desperately trying to detect the presence of treats.
“Not today, girl,” I placate, tugging her leash past the well-groomed lawn.
She only looks back three times before focusing on the path ahead. We turn onto the wooded trail that runs behind the houses. In the afternoons we hear the sound of dirt bikes and ATVs back here, but this morning we have it to ourselves. The black soil of the path stains my sneakers and the pads of Zoe’s paws. The mosquitos are blessedly dormant at this early hour. Zoe trots beside me plunging her nose into the ferns periodically. I enjoy the view: verdant leaves backlit by golden sunlight, a small stream at the bottom of a shallow ravine bearded with weeds and young pine trees. I smile with the simple delight of being out in nature with my friend.
I spend a large part of my work day cooped up in a climate controlled building sitting behind a computer screen. It is a gift to start my days with the brush of wind against my skin, the freckling of sunlight on the trail ahead and the happy panting of my dog beside me.
We’re about to turn back for home when Zoe’s head pivots to one side and I see the focused interest in her eyes. I follow her gaze but it takes a minute for my eyes to catch up with her nose. Then I see it: the rigid form of a white-tailed deer frozen by the stream below us. I catch my breath and Zoe stands still beside me. We watch for a dazzling moment before the deer leaps into a prancing retreat, her snowy tail swishing behind her. I feel the momentary tension in the leash as Zoe watches the animal disappear. I look at her and she looks at me. Can you believe it? And then we turn back for home.
Culture: Readers Write
Unexpected death brings new beginnings for one family.
She was a long hair mini dachshund and we did not know exactly how old she was. I do know that when I first rescued Tessie eight years ago, she could not see or hear well, but she sure could smell another dog a mile away. She was so energetic, happy, loved her walks, food and lots of people attention. I thought she was quite young.
On December 22 while I was getting ready for work, Tessie and I did our usual routine of breakfast and outside for her. After she ate her breakfast and jumped around a bit, she just lied down on the floor and could not get up. I could see something was very wrong and rushed her to the emergency pet hospital at 6:30am but she died in my lap on the way.
I was devastated and in absolute shock. It was a good thing I was on vacation for two weeks because I did not stop crying for four straight days. I was obligated to cook dinner for my children and their friends and in looking back it was good short term distraction. While I shopped for dinner, I cried all through the store. I would run across people that cried with me as they remembered their lost pets.
I guess perception is everything; I thought I had about 10 more years with Tessie. We now realize that she was most likely 6 or 7 years older than we thought. That would have made her 13 or 14 years old.
As I was lying in bed grieving, I started looking on PetFinder.com for dachshund rescues. I decided to rescue another dachshund because I understand their quirky and stubborn personalities. In honor of Tessie, I decided to rescue a senior dog.
Even though my friends and family kept telling me to wait, I just could not. It was just too painful and I knew that I wanted to have a dog in my life at all times. I was still able to go through the grieving process even though I was looking for another rescue. I did everything to get out of my heart, went to the animal shelter and dropped off items they needed for the shelter dogs, and took long walks.
I contacted Phyllis Van Boxtel, rescue director, of Recycle Love Dog Rescue to enquire about a little red dachshund mix that was apparently dropped off at a shelter by someone who could no longer take care of her. I was not sure about it, but it made me feel better just to find out more about her. Her name was Flower.
I live in Northern California and was in no shape to fly or drive to San Diego (400 miles) to pick her up. When I told this to Phyllis she said it was not a problem and they would fly her to me. I asked how much this would cost and she said it was free as she is affiliated with a company called Pilots n Paws who flies dogs for free to good homes. I could not believe it! So I just went with it, filled out the application and sent my adoption fee in. Sight-unseen I agreed to take her.
Three days later, I drove to the Palo Alto municipal airport and waited in a little building near the tarmac for the plane. Once landed, I was able to go out and greet them when they opened the airplane doors. It was amazing!
I renamed her Jolie Fleur (pretty flower in French). I’ve now had my little Jolie for 3 weeks. She is doing very well and taken me on as her person.
I believe my little Tessie led me to Jolie as I do believe she was trying to tell me something before she died. She was clingy and not her usual self for a few weeks before she died. Her signs were so subtle and I didn’t notice because she did not appear to be ill before she died.
I know that eventually I will go through a grieving period with Jolie because she is older. I don’t know how long we have together, but I am going to make it the best time I can for her.
It is worth rescuing senior dogs. They are so lovely and really know when they are safe and loved.
I would like to thank the following people for making this miracle happen: Phyllis Van Boxtel of Recycled Love Dog Rescue. Angel Pilots of Pilots n Paws. Luke Freeman for taking all the photos and being my best support of the Day! Thanks Luke, you are a trooper.
I am so happy to know that there are so many human angels still helping and loving the innocent animals that do not have a voice of their own and cannot defend themselves.
News: Guest Posts
Inspired by 9/11
Jim Kessler has worked at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, New Jersey over a dozen years now, and when I was training with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney, I happened to ask if he’d had any other jobs before this one.
His answer was surprising. “I worked for Lehman Brothers until it imploded, and then I worked at the Federal Reserve,” he said. “And I can tell you the very last day I ever went to work in Manhattan: it was September 11, 2001.”
Jim had already been contemplating a career change at the time, and 911cemented the decision. He said a position at the Seeing Eye appealed to him because it combined his interest in teaching, working with dogs and helping people. His three-year apprenticeship program at the Seeing Eye started at the end of 2001, he became an instructor in 2004, and he was promoted to Senior Manager of Instruction and Training in 2011.
I learned all this during a drive with Jim to visit his daughters’classrooms. The last few days of training at the Seeing Eye are called “freelancing”—instructors expose us to some of the unique situations we’ll be facing once we’re home.
I’m a children’s book author, and I give a lot of presentations at schools. When I learned Jim and his wife Carrie have three daughters in school (in addition to a two-year-old son at home), I asked if I could spend my freelancing time visiting the students at Warren G. Harding Elementary School with Whitney.
Jim stayed at the school with us during the visit, and you didn’t have to be able to see to know he was beaming when we arrived. He was unabashedly delighted to be at school with his daughters, and they were proud to have their dad—and a Seeing Eye graduate with her working dog—at school with them that day, too.
A story in The North Jersey Record reports that salaries start in the $40,000 range for those in the Seeing Eye’s three-year apprentice training program, and that the salary for full instructors ranges from $50,000 to $85,000. Odds are that Jim Kessler took a significant paycut to work for the Seeing Eye, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks instead about his respect for the instructors he works with, his pride in the remarkable work the dogs do, and how much he loves his family. And after what happened on September 11, 2001, he'll be the first to tell you that he considers himself a very lucky guy.
Culture: Readers Write
The Year of the Dog is associated with kindness, good fortune, harmony and humanitarianism; idealism is supposed to overshadow materialism.
For us, the Year of the Dog began early. Just before Christmas, as I strolled through San Francisco’s Washington Square Park on the way to the post office, my dog Jeff met Midnight.
As the two performed the doggy circle dance, a young man put down his newspaper, rose from his bench and introduced himself as Junior. He explained that he was taking care of Midnight, a throw-away, but she wasn’t really his. “I just don’t want her to be destroyed.”
From the look of things, Junior was trying to keep himself alive as well. “I can try to find her a home,” I offered. Junior liked the idea. “One of us at least could have a home.”
From my gallery nearby, I went to the post office often; stopping to talk with Junior became routine. I dropped off Christmas cookies for Junior and his bench friends, a couple, aging alcoholics. I brought dog food. “Her coat is better, but I think she’s sick,” said the woman with few teeth and bright lipstick. Junior disagreed: “I think she’s just unhappy.” He wanted to have her spayed.
I began asking around for a home. She’s lovely, I told people, very quiet and gentle, mostly Border Collie. She had black, silky fur with a white chest and white feet. I felt she would have perked right up with a little care.
One night I spotted the man–dog pair on the street near my gallery. Two Pit Bulls, residents of the housing project on the corner, set after Midnight. Terrified, she flew into the street. Junior and I got to her simultaneously. “I’m sorry,” Junior mumbled to the dog. “I love you.”
“She’s in heat,” Junior said, on my next visit. “I called the SPCA but the fee for spaying is $35. I don’t have any money.” I called. No matter what I said about homelessness, unwanted puppies, desperation, the fee was still $35. I told Junior I’d pay. I’d pick her up on Wednesday. But on Wednesday, man and dog were nowhere to be found.
“Pregnant,” announced Junior, with obvious chagrin. “Crack’s the father.” We all knew this street dog, a tough little brown thing with a stub tail who belonged to an older guy from the projects who called himself Hitler.
My real concern was the dog, but I also wondered about the man. “I’d like a simple life,” he told me. “Nothing special. Just a little apartment, an ordinary job, a family.” Junior, who was 26, had a nine-year-old son he rarely saw. “I don’t want my son to see me like this,” he explained. Once, while we were talking, he dashed away to assist a disabled man who had fallen. “You’d be good in nursing,” I suggested. “I worked in a nursing home for two years,” he said. “It’s too hard on me. People dying all the time. Maybe I could do house-painting.”
I had begun to ask around for a job for Junior. He was slight, with a somewhat askew and whimsical face. He was bright and fun to talk to, charming and gentle. I didn’t see why the situation couldn’t have an easy fix. Man with job and dog in little apartment, gets son back.
I was beginning to plan the spring exhibition for the gallery. I’d met the artist several years earlier when I was a juror for a photography competition. Looking over the photographs, we all knew immediately which would win first place. It was a large, black-and-white solarized print of a bough of roses, beautiful and sad. We’d not heard of the artist, someone called Gay Outlaw, apparently a pseudonym. At the reception, we were astonished to find Gay Outlaw to be a gracious, elegant, young Southern woman, using her given name.
In January, as Gay and I were discussing the show, she said, “I’m thinking of getting a dog.” Within minutes, we’d arrived at the park and were rubbing the now rotund Midnight. “I might be interested in one of the pups,” Gay told Junior.
From then on, Gay and I were partners in the save-the-dogs mission, conferring constantly. We brought food daily for Midnight and sometimes for Junior too. We talked to vets and animal rescue groups. I arranged with Junior to bring Midnight to the gallery for the birth, but not long after, we found Junior on his bench next to a basket of puppies. “They were born out on the pier,” he said. “I slept through it.”
There were nine pups. Then four. Then three. Then, somehow, four again. Gay chose the only female and gave Junior $60 to hold Suzette. James, a nice young man who worked in the neighborhood, fell in love with the largest one and put down $50 for Jordan.
During the day, Junior held court in the park. An old man came each morning, chatting at Junior in Chinese. A batch of private-school boys dropped by every afternoon to hold the little blind babies. Yuppies and drunks gathered to peer into the basket. Animal Control paid a visit. “Everything’s wonderful,” Junior beamed, passing out the pooper-scoopers they had left. He joked about the next litter.
At night, Junior dragged the basket, the mom loping along beside, to whereever they would spend the night. Sometimes they stayed outdoors and sometimes they slept in an old truck that belonged to Hitler.
“Midnight’s really stressed,” Gay reported, when the puppies were about a week old. “She’s barking and running after everyone. I’m afraid she’s going to bite someone.”
And bite she did. First, a cable-car driver. The police came. Junior was arrested and released. The next day, another bite, another arrest. Midnight and the puppies were taken to the pound for a 10-day rabies observation. Junior cried.
Our goal became to keep the puppies nursing for six weeks until adoption, then maybe rescue Midnight, too. Junior was frantic. “I’ve got to get my dog back,” he cried. I couldn’t decide if I thought it was worth “sacrificing” the dog for the happiness of the man.
On the release day, Gay and I went alone to the pound, feeling guilty and sneaky. We’ll take them all, we said.
Then, to our astonishment, Junior arrived, claiming ownership. Legally, he was right. I snagged an animal control officer, who led us through an hour of tense negotiations. He got Junior to agree that all the dogs would come to the gallery. Junior could walk Midnight during the day, but she would continue to mother the puppies for three more weeks. After that they could go to their new homes. Midnight would still be Junior’s dog. He promised to have her spayed. We all felt better. “This is a real nice place,” Junior said. He took a copy of the Questionnaire for Volunteers. Gay paid the fees. We all left in her car.
The gallery turned into a kennel. A show for a famous photographer I’d worked years to organize now looked down on shreds of newspapers, puddles and Purina crumbs. My assistant, Myung-Mi, disappeared for hours to coddle the little brown runt. The neighboring architects hung out in our space to watch our roly-poly cutie-pies. Passing children and tourists peered through the windows. Clients still came, and while I was initially mortified, they were enamoured. “You can be forgiven a great deal for a litter of puppies,” a friend said. He was right.
Junior bought Gay a book on puppy care. Gay bought him a watch. He came every morning at 10 to take Midnight to the park. He brought newspapers and mopped, too. “These puddles are arranged like art,” he laughed, catching on to us. At night, Midnight curled up on a quilt. Junior walked back into the chill.
The little ones grew bigger and bolder. They learned to eat and drink from bowls. They came when called. Unlike a matched set of purebreds, this litter had brown, black, white and tri-colored. No two of our puppies were exactly alike.
March 3 was an opening for a new show. We decided the dogs would move to Gay’s house. They still had another week to nurse. Junior arrived at moving time, drunk. Midnight jumped happily into the car. “Come on,” Gay said to Junior. “You can see where they will be staying.” “No,” snarled Junior. “I’m sick of all this shit. I’m sick of you. Gimme all my dogs.”
“Hit me, if you want to,” said Gay, “but you’re not taking the puppies.”
“Gimme my goddamn dogs,” he shrieked. Hitler showed up with Crack, on a chain.
I called 911. “Are there guns?” the dispatcher asked. The responding police officer proved to be another excellent negotiator. Jordan and Suzette, already paid for, were set aside as out of contention. We had to hand over the white one as promised to Hitler. Myung-Mi helped me put together $50 to buy Brownie on the spot. Junior left with Midnight. It was over.
Back in the gallery, exhausted, we locked the door, opened a bottle of wine and wondered what we’d done. Perhaps gotten too involved with too few skills. We had devoted several months to hysteria but rescued neither man nor dog. And I’d bought a puppy I couldn’t keep.
The pups stayed together another week. James took Jordan to his new suburban home. We gave Brownie to a designer we knew. Happy Suzette remains with Gay, romping in the garden, the source of the beautiful rose photographs. The gallery is quiet now. We’re back to showing real life in photographs.
Postscript: In May, Midnight was rearrested and put to sleep. Junior left—for alcohol rehab, we were told. A car hit the white puppy. Hitler was bitten by a woman.
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