OpEd: Along Came a Dog

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I grew up and lived all my life without a pet. Actually for about two weeks, one summer eons ago, we had a dog. It’s a memory that could fit in a Fellini movie. “Amarcord” comes to mind.

We were in our house in the Italian countryside when one morning stepping out of the door my brothers and I were greeted by an ugly, malnourished mutt of a dog. We had never seen him before. He did not belong to anybody in the village; he was obviously starved for food and affection and in need of a bath.

Our parents immediately told us he was not allowed in the house. We had a very large garden in the back so we took him there, fussed over him, fed him and petted him. He could not stop licking our hands legs and faces.

We called him Ringo, after the Beatles’ drummer. Somehow he understood he was not welcome in the house so he stayed by the front door waiting for us to come out and play. That's where he slept at night and that's where we found him each morning. We fell in love with him and him with us. He quietly followed us everywhere. A week later, when we got up, he was gone.

We looked for him all over the village, left treats by the door, cried, but after two or three days we resigned ourselves that the same way he appeared he had also vanished from our lives and moved on. We referred to him as our lost gipsy mutt.

Unbeknownst to us kids our father had locked Ringo in the trunk of the car, drove ten miles and let him lose in the woods.

Four nights later we were tucked in bed when we heard a bark. We thought it was one of the neighbor’s dogs, but then we heard scratching at the front door. And we knew. Ringo was back. We flew out of our bedrooms, opened the door and there he was. Dirty, even skinnier, starved, but ecstatic to see us. How he made it back is a mystery to this day.

We fed him, cleaned him, and loved him under the annoyed and stunned eyes of our father. Both our parents were adamant — Ringo had to go. We were not going to keep him. We begged them to allow us to adopt him but they pointed out he was sick and riddled with all kinds of diseases and flees, perhaps so.

There was no arguing. A couple of days later we thought a miracle had happened. Our father came out of the house carrying Ringo's food bowl. He placed it in the same spot we always did in the back of the garden. The dog ran for it.

And then the village's priest appeared out of nowhere. Flowing black tunic, a Borsalino's cap on his bald head and his faithful hunter's shotgun on his left shoulder. He was often showing up unannounced and since he was already chatting with my father, I paid little attention to him. By then I was already a tiny little atheist in the making.

It is a scene that my mind has revisited for years. We were watching Ringo happily scarfing down his food when out of the corner of my eyes, I saw the priest slowly lifting his shotgun, aiming and firing two shots. I will never forget that moment. I knew what was going to happen and I knew I could not do anything to prevent it. I can still see it in slow motion but it took seconds. Ringo was dead. I never considered having another dog.

Fast forward to 2013. Perhaps to please my partner who loves dogs, I watched, for the first time, the Westminster Dog Show. Banana Joe, a seven-pound Affenpinscher, claimed the title of Best in Show.

I instantly fell in love with him; his devil may care attitude, his funny monkey face, the bright eyes, and the confident strut made me feel like a child again. I shocked my husband when I said: “We should get one of those.” Two months later we drove 1,000 miles to Tallahassee and back in one day, to pick up an eight-weeks-old female puppy. We named her Cabbage. It was love at first bark.

I had often heard that dogs are gay people's surrogate children. I always dismissed the notion. Now I am a daddy. I live and feel a type of love I never knew or thought possible.

She is a full-fledged member of the family, she knows it because she runs our household and her toys have taken over the once immaculate den. Each morning she wakes up with the certainty that it will be the best day of her life because she truly enjoys every moment.

I don't have to tell her when I am sad, when I am happy or angry. She knows, sometimes before I even know it. With her sitting by my side I chill out, I unplug from the world and release the stress of a day at the office.

She doesn't ask for much. I can tell what she feels when she sees me even after a short absence. Her happiness never diminishes, it is new each time. Her excitement is contagious and real. I just have to pick up the tennis ball for an endless game of fetch and she becomes a gazelle. It’s easy love, love without anxiety. The anxiety for the people we love more often than not comes from fear, fear of their reactions. We are afraid they will hurt us, disappoint us, come short of our expectations, that our emotional investment will crash. With Cabbage it cannot happen. She accepts my love for her and gives it back in spades unconditionally. I know for certain she will not hurt me, she will never disappoint me. She will always be loyal. She will not judge me or leave me one day because she is tired of me. She teaches me that joy, happiness and the capacity to love is not exclusive to human beings but instead inclusive of all living things.

And no Catholic priest will ever take her away from us. Not even with a shotgun in his hands.


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