This is a political blog, not a dog blog, but in recent days most of my thoughts have gone to quadrupeds -- and to the larger issue of love. So many people have been so kind to me after publication of the two preceding posts, part of me would prefer never again to say anything unkind about another human being. But if that policy took hold, who would come here?
Readers not only helped fund Bella the Hell-Hound's upcoming surgery, they recounted their own tales of the ineffable bond between man and animal. I'd like to share one particularly amazing story, which comes from a reader named Dan. The words below the asterisks are his:
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I lost my job in 2004.
I lost my house, my car, and most of my possessions, with little remorse, in 2009.
But the two things I fought to keep, the two things I would not give up, though people said I should, were my dogs, Erma and Anna. Some even suggested I just put Erma to sleep because she's old and an inconvenience.
Due to the kindness of a friend, instead of being homeless, we ended up living on a farm in a house without heat or running water. I'm telling you, digging a hole in the morning to poop in the wintertime in Tennessee is character building. I was on food stamps and broke.
Erma and Anna loved the farm. 100 acres to roam, dog heaven. But Erma didn't get to roam very much without me.
See, Erma had been run over as a pup and crippled for life before a friend gave her to me. Being part Cocker she had a stinky fungus in her ears and was deaf as a post as well.
(The friend who gave Erma to me, Kristie, actually had stolen her. Kristie was at her friend's house one day and heard the man next door cussing. The next thing she knows, the back door opens up and this little snow white puppy is flying through the air. She decided right then to steal that puppy, and that very night she did. Kristie is a little bit crazy, but she has a soft heart.)
While living on the farm, I cured Erma's ear fungus using a recipe I found on the internet. (Vets want a lot of money for a medicine that doesn't work.) Even though the fungus was gone, she remained deaf. But she understood hand signals. If she wanted to do something, and didn't want me to tell her no, she just wouldn't look at me.
In 2006, before I got Anna, someone, school kids I assume, kicked a hole in my fence and I hadn't noticed.
As a result of not noticing the hole in my fence, a stray dog got into the back yard then came in through the doggie door at my old house and attacked Erma. Her throat was ripped open from her bottom lip to her sternum and her back was broken in two places.
Back then my credit history was still good enough to borrow money from Care Credit to get her stapled up. It took well over 50 staples.
The vet didn't even notice her back was broken. She couldn't walk for a month or two.
She was around 14 then, and lots of people said, "She's old. Just put her to sleep."
Needless to say, due to her strong will and just plain toughness, she recovered.
But her broken back caused her to drag her bad leg, whereas before her leg worked and she had walked on the top of her foot with no problem.
I kept wanting to get her some "wheels" but never could afford them. Instead I made little leather booties for her foot to keep her from rubbing it raw.
I must have gotten a bootie too tight one time, and as a result she got gangrene in her foot.
I didn't have the money to take her to a vet, so I soaked he foot in Epsom salt dissolved in warm water daily for over a month before it finally healed.
Through all these trials and tribulations I never heard her let out one whimper, not one peep.
Despite everything, Erma was a happy dog.
For years to take her for a walk I would grab her tail and hold her backend off the ground and she would tear through the woods as fast as her two little front feet could go, or rather as fast as I could run. I'm sure we made quite a sight.
In late 2010 when Erma got a terrible infection, due to the screw put in to hold her hip together poking through her skin, there was nothing I could do about it because I was broke.
I wrapped her in a blanket to keep her warm and laid her on the ground in front of the farm house.
I laid there with her till well after midnight, but when this dog I had never even heard whimper started to moan in pain every few minutes I just couldn't take it and I left her there to die alone on the cold hard ground.
I felt like a coward. I was ashamed of myself for running away, and I felt I was disloyal to her, but I just couldn't stand to hear her cry and I couldn't stop her pain.
It ripped my heart out, because if Erma had been a human I could have taken her somewhere to get her some help and not been told, "She's old; just put her to sleep."
Like you, I have not had children, and I know it sounds bad to equate an "animal's" life with a human life. But I do believe the pain and worry one feels for a dog is very much akin to the pain and worry one feels for a child, because the relationships are so similar -- the main difference being that people expect their children to outlive them.
Us dog "owners" go into it knowing the pain is coming, but we are willing to do it anyway. That's how special dogs are.