COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX, OCTOBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
A MAN AND HIS DOG:
IF TWO LIVED IN THE UNITED STATES, ONE IN CANADA WILL
I came home one day after
treating my two six-year old nieces to the circus to find dog vomit all over the
apartment I shared with a friend. I had cleaned up after his cats so I was
surprised to see a party happening with this mess all over the place.
One of his guests told me
my dog had made the mess. After he had done so he threw his drink in my face.
Without thinking I picked him up as if he were a rat, shook him and threw him
down the long hallway, where he flew to the end and slumped on the floor like a
In my room I found my dog
hiding under my bed. Naturally, he was very disturbed.
In the morning they found
him outside the ten-foot fence they had around their outdoor enclosure. I had
trained him how to jump high walls. He did not know where he was so he had had
sense enough to stay there.
I had had him from the
moment he was born.
Two weeks later he had lost a lot of weight. The vet had come back. After a series of tests had been run, I was told that what had happened was a genetic defect common to German Shepherds. The muscles in his esophagus had simply stopped working. He could not swallow his food.
"The best thing you
can do is to put him down," I was told, "but if you want a second
opinion you can take him to the vet college in Guelph."
Two more weeks passed while
my dog was in Guelph.
By this time he looked like he had been kept in a Nazi concentration camp. His eyes bulged from their sockets.
"No dog in this
country has survived with what he has," I was told.
The key words were "in
this country." "What about outside this country?" I asked.
"Two in The United
States did," the vet answered.
"If two in The States
did one in Canada will," I answered.
The big problem was to get
his food down. Also I had raised him on canned dog food, which I discovered was
useless to get the weight back on him. I had to get him to eat the dry food.
This he would not do.
He was a
Shepherd/Collie/Labrador mix. He had the stubbornness of a Lab. I called him
He was from the first
litter of my first dog, Lady, a collie mix (whom I had found on the subway on a
rainy day and brought home). She changed my life for the better. I was
astonished. I'd never wanted a dog.
Shortly after I brought her
home she went into heat. Every male dog in the neighbourhood was lined up at our
door. I took to taking her out late at night/early in the morning for her walks
as only then were the streets empty of other dogs.
One night/morning as I took
her out she flashed across the street. A car coming down the hill saw her, sped
up, hit her, sent her flying through the air. She landed at my feet. Incredibly,
she was not hurt.
"You pick out the one
you want," I told her the next day.
She picked out a huge,
sturdy German Shepherd.
After he was done she stuck
her self in front of his face again. "I want more," she told him. He
was happy to oblige.
The litter was born on a
rainy day when I was running a PLANET OF THE APES FILM FESTIVAL.
I came home to find my bed
soaked through and eight little pups.
I threw out the bedding.
After a few days I could
not sleep at night for the sound of crying puppies.
My neighbour downstairs
sent me a lovely note telling me what a monster I was.
I gave it some thought.
I emptied out a dresser
drawer, stuffed it with rags and put in the pups. I shut it just enough to let
the air in.
It was as if they had been
returned to the womb.
The room was filled with the sounds of eight happy puppies snoring.
decided he would let
one of the litter
I did that every night
until they were too big to go in the drawer.
By the time they no longer
I was sleeping on a
mattress on the floor. One morning I looked up at a little fellow staring up my
nose. "So you are the one," I told him.
I found homes for the rest.
One night Lady and Reefer
made so much noise I could not sleep. I decided to lock them in the back yard.
I sat on the front steps.
Lady returned by herself after an hour had passed.
"You go back and get
that pup," I told her.
She turned and went away.
Half an hour passed. She
came back with the pup.
said a kid a few days later, "a few days ago your dog scratched at the door
to our house. My mother answered the door. When she opened it your pup walked
in. Then, an hour later, your dog came back and the pup walked out."
Lady had not wanted to
spend a second away from her first litter. Her second litter was a different
story. She hated being left behind while I took Reefer out. It was remarkable to
She hated being left behind
so much that when she got the chance she ran away. I was astonished but after
reflecting on it, it made sense.
I never put my dogs on
leads except when I had to.
While Reefer was still a
pup I had him sitting while we waited for the traffic to clear so we could cross
a busy street. Suddenly he bolted across the road narrowly missing death at
least ten times.
When he got to the other
side he turned, looked at us, saw the shocked expressions on all of our faces
(including his mother's) and then ran for all his little legs were worth.
"Aren't you worried
about where he is going?" a friend asked.
"No," I replied,
adding, "I know exactly where he is going."
At the time I lived in a neighbourhood filled with baby gangsters. I kept my backdoor open always.
"You show trust,"
one of them told me, "we respect you." I had the safest place in the
I came home and looked
under the most difficult place for me to get into. He was there. "Don't do
it again," I told him.
The next scrape with death
came a few weeks later when he again darted across the street, this time bumping
off the wheels of a huge trailer truck. He hit first one set of wheels, got
bumped off, picked himself up, then got bumped off the second set. It was a
miracle he did not get squashed flatter than a pancake.
That was the last time.
I trained him to jump by
putting him behind higher and higher fences. He got so he could clear a
twelve-foot fence. One day I was walking him through a school playground when a
group of students burst out. Naturally, being students, they were rude.
I told him. They gaped in awe as he soared over a spiked fence. It was beautiful
to see. Their jaws dropped.
Another time I was walking
Reefer and my friend John's little dog, Charlie. They were way ahead of me. It
was the same playground. I came around a corner to find the dogs circled by a
gang of about twenty or thirty boys who were throwing sticks and stones at them.
Without thinking I said, "Charlie...Reefer...SIT." They did. Then I
said in a voice loud enough to echo off the nearby buildings,
The dogs had never heard
that command before. They sat there trying to figure out what it meant. The gang
of kids got away so fast I could literally see cartoon speed lines around them.
Reefer refused to eat the
dry food. He lost more and more weight.
Finally I decided the best
thing to do was to end his misery.
My friend, Doris Mehegahn
Doris was built like
a washing machine. She smoked like a furnace. She drank like a fish.
We had become friends when
I answered the phone at a friend's house. I barely knew her at this time.
"Charles is dead," she said when I picked up the phone.
I did not know who Charles
was. I asked her where she would like to meet. We met at a pub where we got so
drunk we had to be shoveled out at closing.
Charles was Charles Wideman
who, with Martha Graham and Doris Humphries (all out of the Deninshawn School)
had created modern dance. Doris taught the Wideman dance technique at the
library where I showed my films. She was also the head of THE SPACED OUT LIBRARY
(now THE JUDITH MERRIL
"Doris, I have had
enough. I am going to have to have Reefer put down." I said.
"You can't," she
We argued back and forth.
When she left she was convinced the best thing to do was to put him down while I
decided to give it one more go.
I went into the bathroom to
wash my hands.
Reefer got up, put his paws
on the sink and drank from the cold water tap.
I had been trying in vain
to get him to do that for weeks.
I realized he had listened
and had understood while we talked. I went into the kitchen, put some dry food
into a bowl and mixed it with some canned. He came over, put his front feet on
the counter top and, for the first time in three months, he ate.
When he was done I held him
up for a half hour while gravity took the food down to his stomach. When I had
to go out or go to sleep I tied his neck to a doorknob so that he could not lie
The big problem was fluid
getting into his lungs. If that happened he would get pneumonia and die.
When I walked him people
gave me hell for not feeding him. I tried in vain to explain what he was passing
through. Tired of being berated I took him for walks when I knew the streets
would be empty.
After several months had
passed I was preparing Reefer's food when I heard a voice in my head. The voice
said, "It's okay. I am alright now."
This is what I call the
lost language of dogs. We, as we use them for food, are frightened to consider
the other beings we share this earth with have a consciousness and can
communicate. We refuse to listen.
"Are you?" I said
to him. This time I put his food and water on the floor. He ate with no problem.
Like I said, two in The United States had lived and so had one in Canada.
To be continued. ##
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