I must admit to a certain bias. Not to open the age old rift, but I fancy dogs more than cats. While I can accept the anthropomorphic attributes of wisdom, solitude and supremacy that we impose on cats in an effort to embrace them as something other than the self-centered, personality restricted, hangers-on that they truly are, I rather prefer the capricious, attention seeking, connection of a dog. The dog yearns to become part of a family, to participate in activities, offers affection and seeks attention. Is this any different than me? And while I anthropomorphize them and admit to attributing human emotion to their actions and reactions, I will not apologize.
I confess that I was fortunate enough to have been raised with dogs, and while their names (Bozo, Booker and Pandora) mean nothing to you, they engender warmth and familiarity on par with that of siblings to me. Their deaths were no less painful than those of my grandparents, having occurred during the same era of my life. Now, as a father, the addition of our dog Delbow to our family offered no less enchantment. When we welcomed him into our hearts, he was only eight weeks old and my twins were only nine years old. Missing only the white picket fence, our future was a pastoral Rockwell painting.
Unfortunately, the past nine years has seen us leave our wonderful home, family and friends in Rhode Island and move to Texas to fight my wife’s aggressive, single-minded (though unfathomably suicidal) breast cancer, forced my children to uproot their lives and face parental mortality sooner than should be required and witnessed the various medical afflictions with which our beloved dog has had to endure (from blindness in one eye due to a retinal detachment, to emergency surgery to save the other, to two tibial plateau leveling osteotomies following two ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments, to surgery and radiation for a cancerous tumor in his neck). In short, the life we had planned vaporized with the unwelcomed arrival of that insidious cancer and we have done our best to remain a family, drawing strength from each in our times of weakness under some unnecessarily painful and harrowing conditions. My wife fights on, my children pursue their lives and Delbow continues to offer his boundless affection.
It is against this backdrop that I share with you now my vexations at the way in which dogs are treated here in Texas (or at least in the area I travel daily to and from work). Not a week seems to elapse without my seeing the body of a dog lying by the side of the road. My anger comes in waves, my heart breaking. Unanswerable questions flood my mind. What home did this dog belong to? What must the family be thinking? Do they know their dog is missing? Do they know he is dead? Are there children in the home, facing the loss of their beloved boon companion? How could they not have secured their dog? Did he escape by accident? Did someone leave the door or gate open and now must endure the timeless misery of guilt? Why does he lie there, day after day? Does no one care to retrieve him?
Sometimes the dog looks like he simply put his head down on the side of the road and slipped into a peaceful eternal slumber. Other times, the carnage left by the accident leaves me hoping that pain was inhibited at the moment of impact. Either way, there is no excuse for these creatures to remain in their final repose for weeks on end. Soon bloated and fetid, and eventually transforming into a fur bag holding only bones, accumulating the dust and road grime wafting ever over them each day, they seem to linger there, pleading for exemption, crying in silent strains for finality as I hurry on my way, unable to avoid the scene, unable to look away. Like some highway of death, this well-traveled road tears anew the gash in my heart every time I see the next victim. Left there to die, and just left there. Will I become accustomed to this over time? Will I no longer see death’s hand by the side of the road? Will I no longer have all of these questions surge through my mind? I hope not. To have your heart broken requires a heart to begin with and and while mine tears anew, I defend against the nerve dulling scars and callouses that repetition imparts. I am grateful for my Delbow and yearn to get home to give back to him that which he freely offers.