Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dog Days

            On Sunday June 9th 2012, Angele Lazurko, 20, and Matthieu Arbour, 21, both from Sudbury Ontario, left Lazurko's 1½ year old dog, Tucker, in the back seat of their parked car. They went inside the Vaughan Mills Mall, just outside Toronto, for over 2 hours, leaving only a small crack in a window for ventilation. Temperatures in Vaughan that afternoon reached 32ºC (89.6ºF). A passerby noticed the trapped dog and alerted mall staff who then called 911. Rescuers attempted to splash the dog with water through the insufficient crevice, to little avail. Tucker died before emergency services arrived on the scene. Both parties face animal cruelty charges.
            Police were called to the Vaughan Mills parking lot around 2:15 P.M. and found the Weimaraner and Chocolate Labrador cross unresponsive. Emergency crews forced their way inside the vehicle, breaking a window, however it was too late. The cause of the dog's death is unknown, but the temperature at the time the police arrived was an unforgiving 28ºC (82.4ºF). The pair was in the Toronto area to attend Woofstock, North America's largest festival for dogs when they decided to do a little shopping.
            The Ontario SPCA receives "six to eight calls a week" during the summer regarding dogs trapped in cars. Every year, come the dog days, people leave their responsibility behind them, ignorantly believing, or not caring, that their animal is safe. I suppose they forget that the same rules of nature apply to everyone, including our canine friends. Even with a space in the window, dehydration can take place very quickly. Fifteen minutes can have deadly consequences. Calls in Ontario for harsher sentences resulting from such neglect and cruelty have, thus far, fallen on deaf ears.  
            People who leave their pets unattended in a sweltering vehicle are just as neglectful as if a child was left in the same situation. Abandon your child to the backseat of your car on a hot sunny day and you'll end up with a charge much more severe than cruelty or abuse. It seems to me that somehow animals don't matter as much, their value is not equal. Tell that to the kind-hearted soul for whom a dog is their child. Of course, people forsake their own kids to this type of automotive hell all the time. This does little to lessen my anger regarding this treatment and the way some recklessly disregard their pet's right to refuge. Animals are entitled to the same dignity and compassion that human beings are. Why do we casually cast them aside, well knowing the consequence when we do?  Dogs are supposed to be man's best friend. This statement not only implies, it demands, they are granted the same right to respect, consideration and safety that children are. When you own a dog, it is not only your responsibility to give them a good life, but also to make sure they have a dignified death. It's the least we can do.


            Although I have spotted memory of the three dogs my family owned when I was a wee lad, Trixie and Chico and Sparky, it is a medium-sized purebred poodle named Nugget who brings back my fondest childhood memories of this creature called the dog. We got Nuggy from my Dad's sister, who ran a kennel farm at the time. At approximately eight months of age, he looked nothing like a poodle. He wasn't unkempt; he was covered with a dense, curly mound of soft, almost golden brown hair, thus the name. His tiny tail was a curlicue at the end of the line. The only time he was ever humiliated by clippers was to free his summer hair for regrowth before winter. Year after year, he was transformed from Benji to weasel, his light grey skin so foreign to the sun.  Despite city living, Nugget fared well. He had his own yard, his own space and five children to torment him and love him. I could not have imagined when we got him home in 1972, that he would become such a longtime member of our family. We thought of him as one. When we moved, late summer 1976, to the pseudo-country living of Strathroy Ontario, Nugget's reward for his friendship was parks and lanes and forest to play in. He had a huge front and back yard for his pleasure. He even had his own room, if you count the garage as one. He was always such a pleasant dog.
            As he aged, so too did his family. He sat alone much more than he once did. When the children of those children found legs, and discovered the dog in the yard, he once more was cherished and embraced by childhood fancy. As the dog days of his summer settled in for the waiting game, he didn't bark as much, he didn't run as much, but his presence was always just a step outside the house. I can remember how soft and warm his fur was, how it bounced back to skin when you petted him. Growing old did not change anything but the speed of his stride. Up to the day he died, he was aged but still Nugget. I spent a lot of my free time as a teenager with him. It often felt like he was my only friend. Words cannot express my fondness, even though he was just a dog.
            August of 1988 was extremely hot in southern Ontario, Canada. Nugget was incontinent and had to be kept out in the garage for sanitary reasons. One day I found him, shaking, on the cool floor of his room. He was a good age at 16 years, but he somehow seemed so much older. I picked him up with great concern and witnessed maggots squirming in the lining of his mouth. We knew his health was compromised, sometimes even weak, but we never imagined he would end in this place. The day before, Nugget and I sat underneath a tree up on the hill, together one last time. He seemed fine. I cannot explain what happened; the extreme heat must have caught up with him. The Vet later told me that bugs lay their larva in old animals all the time but somehow I wish I could have done something so that he had avoided such pain. We never knew.  I alerted the household and a friend of the family took him over to the animal hospital to be put to sleep. He was the first animal laid to rest in the yard, up on the hill beneath the Lillie of the Valley and a spruce tree. 


            The first time I saw Teddy, I almost pissed my pants. He scared the living shit out of me. His onslaught was ferocious. I hoped his chain would hold. I had been attacked and wounded by an Irish Setter when I was almost 8, leaving great trepidation toward larger, more aggressive dogs. Teddy was both. An enormous, deep-black Chow Chow, weighing well over 75 pounds, he seemed to me a juggernaut. I knew the breed was considered a "high risk dog" and that it was in his nature to protect the home, but that did little to stop me almost crapping in my shorts. First there was the snarl, then he would withdraw to the growl, lunge, then one more, then stop and show his teeth. He stood there, mocking me. I just knew it. I was his toy, covered in my own fear. He sensed it, I know he did. I ran, and ran, then I ran some more.
            The job I was offered did not come with instructions for Teddy. With the main entrances protected by his might, I had to widen my pattern of approach. For weeks we played this game; every time he was the champion. The porch, which overlooked his den, stretched out into the backyard so I could stand in safety overlooking the beast.  One afternoon, I was sitting on the deck eating my lunch when I heard the strangest noise. I took to the rail to investigate. Sitting 10 feet below me, staring right back, Teddy whined even louder, like a stuck pig would. The toss was made from sympathy. The cookie met a horrid fate. The dog was in love.
            The very next day, I started bringing treats for my new friend. Every chance I got, I tossed a nibble of this and a handful of that. Eventually, he allowed me to feed him by hand. Suddenly, I was able to pet him, and then brush him. When I walked him, he walked me. He was the most impressive animal I have ever had the privilege to experience up close and personal. It's odd how the fiercest are often the most faithful.  For someone so terrified of large dogs, with an allergy to dog saliva, you would think I would have avoided wrestling with such a monster. Each night, before heading for home, I would approach the ring for battle. He knew exactly what was coming. He jumped and clamped onto my arm, twisting and shifting it with the stretch of my leather jacket. I could feel him controlling himself, he was playing and I knew it.
            Teddy's nature got the best of him. I don't know why he attacked that woman, but I know that he did. I could not have taken him home with me. He had to be put down. It's one thing to strut your stuff, but it is something very different when you try to bite someone's calf off their leg. This did nothing to lessen my pain, or his destiny. I used to sit up on the hillside and watch as clients and visitors came and went, all the while observing this fascinating dog do his job. I have to believe it was not his animal nature that I came to know, rather his true nature that I got to experience.   


            Shortly after Teddy's death, the other dog from that household, Skipper, was brought fully into my life. I had contact with him while at work, but Teddy had garnered my attention rather than Skip. A white Cockapoo, around 13 years of age, he was almost completely blind from cataracts when I finally agreed to take him home. My decision was not a difficult one to make. His owners were forced to leave him to nature, chained by the same string of metal that once held Teddy. He was uncontrollable, difficult and very much a mess. I found him literally screaming against the rock wall, begging God and mercy to set him free from his dark place. I couldn't bear to leave him there.
            I suppose it was memories of Nugget, left out in the garage, which played on my sympathies. The moment he was set down in my home, he changed completely. He turned from a fractured victim of his own health to the vibrant and loving pet I had seen glimpses of while I was at work. I had made the right decision. He took to his new life as if he had been waiting for it all of his old life. I was amazed how well he adapted to his new environment. I have never been witness to any creature holding onto life with such fierce resolve; nothing seemed to take away his zest for living. Almost in an instant, he became part of the family. After a few days of adjustment, even my 15 year old cat Gizmo took to his presence. It seemed there was nothing Skippy could not rise above.
            For years, this poor blind dog demonstrated nothing but a passion for living. When I was forced to relocate to my parents' home for a few months, he even took to Nugget's space like a trooper. For me, my strongest memories are of walking him, like Nuggy, down the street on snowy evenings and sneaking him inside on harsh cold nights. When I found myself resettled in Kitchener, his end began. First it was the incontinence, a sure sign of impending doom. Then his blindness worsened. Often he became lost and found himself at the bottom of my staircase, despite the blocked entrance. When his teeth started falling out, you could not ignore it was time.
            The day before the deed was done, the sunshine was gruelling and humidity hung heavy in the air. I took him into the shower with me, to lighten his load. He seemed to whimper softer than he usually did. I remember him standing in this rain like it was yesterday. The next day, Monday July 4th 2005, and the choice to say goodbye was made for him. There was no way what had happened to Nugget was going to happen to Skip. They almost sit together now, up on the hilltop; his stone has shifted with the passage of time. As much as I tell myself that it was the right thing to do, as much as I just know it, I cannot help feeling guilty, almost as if I murdered him. All the amount of mercy that was given that day cannot replace his loving ways and the tender moments this family shared with him. Even though he really wasn't my dog, I think I miss him most of all.

"Be thou comforted, little dog,
Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail."
(Martin Luther)

            Examining these dog days has been like sticking pins into my eyes. It fucking hurts. I guess I miss my friends. Even though they are gone, they are always going to be a part of me. The pictures of them that are scattered throughout my home do not stand discreetly or in shadow. Like photographs of my parents and my partners, they mingle with the mosaic of my life caught on film. They will always be part of the best days from my living. The reward for their camaraderie was dignity and a painless death. These things were the best things that could be offered to them in the end. 
            Most people do not seem to form attachments to animals like I do. The difference is that I believe everything has a soul, especially animals. I never forget that I will one day be held responsible for my actions which involved them. I will have to answer for the way I treated each and every one. Some people are way too stupid to realize this. A pet for them is as easily discarded as a wrapper from a chocolate bar. I would imagine the same retards that leave a dog in their car on a summer's day also beat their children and think its okay.  It is not okay. Maybe if we tied Angele Lazurko, and her caring boyfriend, in the backseat of some automobile, then rolled up the windows to hold in a hot summer day, they might consider their actions before they commit to them. For their sake, let us hope freedom comes to them before their kidneys fail, their lungs stop working or their brains explode. Lazurko claims to have loved her dog. I would not want to see what she would have done had she hated it.

 "It's not the size of the dog in the fight,
it's the size of the fight in the dog."
(Mark Twain)





Summer 1980

Late Winter 2003

Spring 2004