Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Man's Best Friends

Lonnie and Flex (Astoria, Queens, NYC - 2010)

      I have a stack of books I might someday read. I have acquired these books from stoop sales, free-book piles, and then there are the ‘recommended reads.’ I do not discard book from this stack easily. I believe each is awaiting the opportune moment to intersect with my experience. Likely, I will not be able to read them all (especially as this stack continues to grow and change.) Sometimes, I begin one book but become disinterested, or distracted, and so decide to liberate it back out into the broader cycle for potential readers. Other times, the book is exactly what I am looking for - it comes into my life when I need advice or an alternative perspective. Books can be an escape, provide comfort, and can also teach empathy and understanding.
       I suppose, books are a lot like dogs.

      This fall, I found an old copy of Jack London’s classic adventure novel, The Call of the Wild - a canonic piece of literature I had (for whatever reason) yet to read. That afternoon, I read about, Buck, the sled dog while sitting on a Florida beach wearing shorts and applying copious amounts of sunblock to my pale skin. Although I was in the sun, my mind was right there beside Buck as he led his pack through the unforgiving Canadian Yukon learning the “law of club and fang.” I became so emotionally attached to this dog’s story that my skin broke out in goosebumps when I read about “the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead” and wept quietly behind my sunglasses when arriving at the sad scene of Dave’s death. This simple story of a tame dog, kidnapped from his home to be sold as a sled dog is about a popular theme - survival.
       My reaction to London’s story of a dog’s struggle to survive in a brutal climate became cathartic. I attribute part of my emotional response to reading the book while visiting my mother - a woman who has always cared for dogs, seems to relate to them more than humans, and whose impoverished, uneducated life reminds me of just how unforgiving this all to human world is. 
       I also intimately related to The Call of the Wild because our beloved dog, Flex, had recently died. Flex a fifteen-year-old rat-terrier mix, was cute, had a lot of character, but also held a rather temperamental disposition. Flex was a small dog with a limp in his left hind leg. By the last year of his life, he mostly hobbled around the apartment, or just yelped for someone to pick him up to lay on the couch. I miss the way Flex slept between us at night. I was carrying Flex during the final moments of his life. I felt his body go limp in my arms as his heart started to fail and watched helplessly as he took his last breaths on the floor of our apartment.
       Our second dog, Lonnie, a pit-bull, lab, dachshund mix, was also having medical concerns at the time of my reading The Call of the Wild and would need to be put to sleep three months later. Lonnie was a loving, loyal, gentle dog. Timid, always smiling, and wagging his tale - Lonnie was the quintessential “man’s best friend.” His eyes were always there for you and his soft head was there to be pet. Lonnie never harmed a living creature. 
       Accordingly, Flex and Lonnie would have not survived the brutal Yukon. Both were rescued dogs who only lived the comfortable life they did because of the care, patience, and attention my loving wife provided them. I only met these dogs, Flex and Lonnie, because I became romantically involved with and later married to their “master.” At first, I was unenthusiastic about dating someone with dogs. I liked dogs. But dogs were an extra, unneeded hassle. Why would anyone want to willingly take care of something else? I grew up with dogs as a boy and knew the work they entailed. I decided I would never have dogs. I didn’t want to wake up when they wanted me to or to be home when they needed me to be. They were a responsibility I chose to forego. But love eventually showed my heart another way. 
      Dogs come into our lives for a reason. 
      Flex and Lonnie intersected with my life when I needed to learn some lessons. One lesson was patience (still learning…) I also discovered how important it is for these companions in life. Dogs need us as much as we need them. Flex and Lonnie required me to feed them and take them for walks, but eventually the feeling became mutual - I was the one who needed them, but on other levels.  I learned about leadership, dogs require a confidence and assurance from their owners (i.e., pack leaders). Dogs do not benefit from pampering or abuse. Dogs are attuned to our energy.  
       Now that they’re gone, I miss them and the way they would be here waiting for us when we return home. I have relearned the other reason to why I never wanted dogs - when they die it hurts.   
       Of course they are no longer here physically, but I still feel them while I am preparing food in the kitchen, cleaning the apartment, or just walking along the street where we used to walk, together.

   Rest in peace, Flex and Lonnie, we love you.
Flex and Lonnie series (2001, Astoria, Queens, NYC)