We raised two dogs from puppies, an American Bulldog and a Keeshond. Just past their fourteenth birthdays, they each got cancer. We tried everything, even chemotherapy. In the end they were weak and in constant pain, so I held them in my arms while the vet euthanized them. My wife and I cried for weeks. I dream about them still. In a recurring dream, Goose and Copey are running up a gentle sloping wheat field. I’m at its base. When they reach the crest, they turn and look back. I call to them to wait for me. They wag their tails, their mouths open in panting dog-grins, and they turn and trot over the hill out of sight. I wake up crying every time, and I cried again writing about it here.
When they died, I vowed I would never own another dog. It hurt too much. I held out for two years. Then I fell in love with Zoey, an American Bulldog, who had been abandoned, and we took her in. Couple years after that, we adopted a five month old abandoned Pit Bull with severely cropped ears. The vet told us his owners cut them off with a pair of scissors so they could fight him. Those people are lucky we don’t know who they are.
P.D. is the Pit Bull’s name. The letters stand for nothing. They just seemed to fit. Zoey and P.D. think I’m the leader of their pack, sort of a Big Dog, but P.D. is partial to pretty girls and greatly favors my wife. I think it’s because she’s forever slipping him slices of grilled chicken. She thinks it’s because he’s a good judge of character. Zoey is my dog. She loves me above all other living beings because she’s much the better judge of character. Our trips to Starbucks every morning, where I split a piece of lemon pound cake with her, have nothing to do with it.
I write in my office at a desk that sits between two dog beds. Zoey takes the one on the right (it’s the one closest to me) and P.D. deigns to loll around on the one on the left when he can’t find Big Dog’s Wife.
If it wasn’t for the dogs, I’d weigh 300 pounds. I’d sit here writing all day with ever expanding layers of fat metastasizing to fill the broad well of my desk chair. But the dogs won’t have it. Every hour or two Zoey lays her head on my thigh; her adoring brown eyes look up at me; and she whines. Whatever brilliant artful passage I’m working on melts out of my head, and we go out for a walk or playtime. Both dogs are eighty pounds of muscle. Their idea of a walk is to run like the wind, while I hang on to their leashes like one of those guys in an old western movie, who gets tied to a horse and dragged on his belly through a field of cactus. Playtime is easier. I throw a ball or a chew toy. They fetch it, streak back to me, knock me down, and do a wild victory dance on my prone carcass. These workouts are good for my health, I suppose, because I don’t have much of a weight problem, although the occasional life-threatening injury can be inconvenient.
If it’s not already obvious, let me be clear that I solid-down love the dogs. Which is why an article entitled Dogs, Strangers and God by Dennis Prager, the radio talk show host, caught my eye. Since the 1970’s, he has asked college students who they would try to save first if a stranger and their dog are drowning together. He’s gotten the same result for forty years: one third would save the stranger, one third the dog, and one third don’t know what the hell to do.
So I took the test. Zoey and some stranger are drowning. What would I do? I thought this through rationally. I don’t know anything about this drowning stranger. He could be a really bad person, a pedophile, a serial killer, or someone who posted a bad review about one of my books on Amazon. Not a close call. I choose Zoey over such despicable scum.
But suppose the drowning person is someone I know, an acquaintance or a close friend? I am still unmoved. If it’s just an acquaintance, I’m fishing out Zoey. I don’t know the person that well; whereas I love Zoey. It’s also crystal clear that saving a close friend could end up being a mistake. I mean do we really know anyone deep down, no matter how good a friend he may claim to be? How do I know my good friend isn’t secretly a bad person? How do I know this so-called friend really even likes me? He could be faking it to gain advantages from me, like being hauled out of a lake when he’s drowning. But I know beyond all doubt that Zoey is a Great Dog, who loves me. I’m picking Zoey over this phony pretender every time.
How about a relative? . . . Long pause . . . Which relative?
A relative I love? My own child? My wife? . . . . Much longer pause. . . . You see, people, this is why you have got to teach your dog to swim. Put them in the pool and show them where the steps are. And don’t forget rattlesnake avoidance training and teaching them not to walk out into the road and make sure to get them all the shots on time and run them through a complete physical every six months. . . . Sigh. . . .Okay, pressed to the wall, if my child or wife was the person drowning, I’d try to save them and Zoey together first, but if that failed, I wouldn’t let my kids or wife go down. Sorry, Zoey. Sob!
Dennis Prager is astounded and troubled by the college students who choose to save their dog and he would be even more appalled by my attitude. The moral choice is clear to him. You save the human being in all cases because man is created in God’s image and animals are not. Feelings of love for the dog should give way to moral values “divinely revealed” by God. I admire Dennis and agree with him about many things, but on this one, I don’t see why he ignores God’s pivotal role in causing all the trouble. Who does he think dumped Zoey and all these people in the drink in the first place? I mean God’s in charge, after all. If He tries to drown my dog, He oughtn’t blame me for bailing her out.
But this, I know, is not the moral high ground. Dennis lays that out here: http://www.dennisprager.com/dogs-strangers-and-god/
In essence, Dennis’ position boils down to this: humans have a soul; dogs do not. I hope this is not true. When my brother’s dog, Oscar, died, he was devastated. “If they don’t have dogs in heaven,” he said, “I don’t want to go there.” If you combine my brother’s IQ with mine, and even if you throw in my other brother’s IQ, my guess is we’d total out at about half Dennis’ score, but I agree with my brother. I’ll confess I’m a little troubled about the consequences of turning down heaven, considering the alternative, but a dogless one does not sound like a happy place to me. I hope Nicky, Pam, Brigid, Joey, Copey, Goose, and eventually Zoey and P.D., not to mention the eighteen cats we owned over the years, all make the cut and get into heaven. It’s only fair. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if heaven went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. In the meantime, I’m not taking my dogs near any body of water more than a foot deep.