My dog Rags died last week. He was old and feeble, blind, deaf, incontinent; his organs were failing. He had to put him down, and it was so sad. We had spent sixteen years together on long walks, running on the beach, going to the groomers, enjoying each other’s cookies. He was a great dog—lots of people who knew Rags were genuinely fond of him. He was the sort of dog you want to like you. He was furry, easy to pet, desperate for human attention, and eager to please. He was that dog that truly looked well-turned out in doggie clothes; not all of them do, I feel. In the truest sense, I was really missing him.
Then, last night, I got a letter in the mail from his attorney. It seems that my impression that we had a wonderful life together is being challenged by a civil suit filed on his behalf. Amazing, right? He is being represented by one of those sleazy attorneys who solicit cases on late night TV. This one specializes in domesticated animals malpractice claims. His attorney is claiming that I am obligated to pay for years’ worth of doggie mistreatment, including emotional abuse.
As I review our many years together, it seems to me that, if anything, he was an indulged dog, which is not to say that he didn’t deserve the best of everything but there were some demands that could have been considered excessive. I mean how many dogs insist on a Tempurdic dog bed? He actually refused to sleep in ours.
We subscribed to a dog magazine on his behalf, although it was much more focused on dog consumerism than on the human experience of dog ownership. (It should be noted here that he absolutely despised the term “ownership” to reflect the relationship between domestic pets (he didn’t like that term either) and their human companions. Often enough at night, when I would bring him his slippers, (we shared household duties) I would find this magazine opened up to a page full of advertisements for gourmet dog food that was guaranteed to stave off doggie dementia. His right paw was placed right on the order blank for this stuff. When I tried to pull the magazine away, he lifted his right doggie eyebrow, I gesture I read as a not so veiled threat. If I didn’t buy this food, there would be repercussions. Enough said. I took his advice I ordered the food right away at $100 for 40 lbs. The stuff smelled like a dead cat (which I assume he found charming) and had the consistent of hot fudge sauce with gravely bits. And sure enough, he was right. He was in complete command of his senses till his last day on earth, thanks to that food.
With respect to all the doggie arrangements—food, water, cookies, walks, toys, access to furniture and leftovers—I felt that we had negotiated fairly with him. I thought I could read this affect very well and thought he was happy. In retrospect, I should have known better. We referred to him as a mutt; he, on other hand, made much of his hybridized pedigree, the result of planned pregnancy between a poodle and a Bichon Frise, which he argued made him French. I must note here that I did speak French to him on occasion. He seemed not to understand the “Sit” command any better in French than he did in English. Either he was faking his knowledge of French or simply disdained my accent, which it should be noted is more Canadian than Parisian, so I can understand the confusion.
There were other episodes and indications as well now that I look back on our time together. I ended up in the hospital a few times on his account. One a third degree rope burn. On another occasion, my partner tripped on his leash which Rags had tangled, and knocked out her front teeth. Yet another time, he ran away and caused another dog to burst out of his house, flying through the screen door to chase him. The owner (sorry) followed, calling “Killer, come back.” He didn’t, meaning that I crossed several lanes of heavy traffic (courageously with no concern for my own safety) to rescue him. And there was another time, when he stared down a female pit bull, growled at her actually, causing the other dog to grab him by the neck, pushing me to the ground, where I nearly got mauled by this vicious animal and could have died right then and there, except that the other dog lost interest when his owner called him back. And, then another time, when he stuck his nose into a nest, which liberated a troop of hornets in attack him and me. I then hauled him out of the forest in a two-mile walk with a thirty-pound dog whining in my arms. I fixed up a special doggie sling out of twigs and my torn shorts to carry him. I was swollen for a week.
It occurs to me now that I am hearing from his lawyer that these were not casual accidents but instead something more ominous. Foucault and post-modern theorists may characterize his behavior as resistance to hegemony, which I accept and understand. And, I must say that I forgave him at each turn, attributing these events to immaturity and a failure to plan. But, what I am left with here? Could all these incidents be signs of aggression on his part, against me, the most devoted dog owner one could imagine? Or maybe he was passive-aggressive? My therapist doesn’t think dogs are smart enough to be passive aggressive, especially Bichons, but I think she has a personal issue with my dog. She felt all along that I was a little too indulgent with him. I do think she blames me for this turn of events, but no matter, this is my issue to fight.
Here is the real problem. I cannot find an attorney to take my case. They all expect that Rags must have a case otherwise he wouldn’t have contacted a lawyer. “No dog would do such a thing—they are much too loyal and adoring—unless they have been provoked.” I hear this over and over again. So, it seems that either I defend myself or settle out of court. And, if I defend myself am I really going to get a fair trial in any state in our dog crazy culture? I would stand a much better chance defending myself against a Vietnamese pot bellied pig. And, there’s another problem. The complaint insists that I located his siblings and his children (he claims he fathered six puppies before he was placed at the shelter for adoption) so that I can pass on the settlement to them. It seems of all the “sins” I committed this was the worse. I know the pains of adoption and should have been sensitive. Maybe, we could have arranged a monthly visitation program. I wish I could have told him the bitter truth—that he wasn’t a very good father after all. When we adopted him, he had his eyes on another lady dog—not the mother of his children. But, you know, we all live with regrets. And, even with this lawsuit hanging over my head, I am glad he went to his grave with this delusion that he could have been a good dad with a swarm of happy puppies. Let him rest in peace.
A final cautionary note. I can’t say that I would have treated my canine companion any differently had I know this would have been the outcome. We may have had more heart-to-hearts about whether he was happy. Maybe, I would have asked him if he wanted to go back to the shelter or maybe list himself on dogmatch.com to find a more perfect owner. Maybe, I could have indulged him less and made him watch videos of working dogs on sheep farms so he would have known how bad things could get. Or maybe, that was the sort of life he was dreaming of. I know that his favorite movies of all time were Wallace and Gromit series. He never was happier than when he watched Gromit, the super-intelligent dog with rectitude and grace, get the idiot human Wallace out of yet another scrape. In fact, that is only time I really ever heard him really laugh long and hard. I remember that now with such mixed emotions.