“How Could You?"

Copyright Jim Willis 2001

When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You
called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of
murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was "bad,"
you'd shake your finger at me and ask, "How could you?" - but then you'd
relent, and roll me over for a belly rub.
My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were
terribly busy, but we worked on that together.

I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your
confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more
perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for
ice cream (I only got the cone because "ice cream is bad for dogs," you
said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the
end of the day.

Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more
time searching for a human mate.
I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and
disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee
at your homecomings, and when you fell in love. She, now your wife, is not a
"dog person" - still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her
affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy.

Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was
fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them,
too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my
time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love
them, but I became a "prisoner of love." As they began to grow, I became
their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs,
poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my
nose. I loved everything about them and their touch - because your touch was
now so infrequent - and I would have defended them with my life if need be. I
would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams,
and together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway.

There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you
produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These
past few years, you just answered "yes" and changed the subject. I had gone
from being "your dog" to "just a dog," and you resented every expenditure on
my behalf. Now, you have a new career
opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment
that does not allow pets. You've made the right decision for your "family,"
but there was a time when I was your only family.

I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It
smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the
paperwork and said "I know you will find a good home for her." They shrugged
and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a
middle-aged dog, even one with "papers."

You had to pry your son's fingers loose from my collar as he screamed "No,
Daddy! Please don't let them take my dog!" And I worried for him, and what
lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and
responsibility, and about respect for all life.

You gave me a goodbye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused
to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I
have one, too. After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew
about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another
good home. They shook their heads and asked "How could you?" They are as
attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed
us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago.

At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was
you - that you had changed your mind - that this was all a bad dream... or I
hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me. When
I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy
puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited.

I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded
along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She
placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart
pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of
relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was
more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her,
and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood.

She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her
cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years
ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the
sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily,
looked into her kind eyes and murmured "How could you?" Perhaps because she
understood my dog speak, she said "I'm so sorry."
She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to
a better place, where I wouldn't be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have
to fend for myself - a place of love and light so very different from this
earthly place. And with my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her
with a thump of my tail that my "How could you?" was not directed at her. It
was you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait
for you forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so much
loyalty.

The End

A note from the author:

If "How Could You?" brought tears to your eyes as you read it, as it did to
mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the composite story of the millions
of formerly owned pets who die each year in America's shelters.

Anyone is welcome to distribute the essay for a non-commercial purpose, as
long as it is properly attributed with the copyright notice. Please use it to
help educate, on your websites, in
newsletters, on animal shelter and vet office bulletin boards.

 


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