Dog Days

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:

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.