HOW COULD YOU?

                                                           By Jim Willis 2001

                               When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my
                               antics and made you laugh. You called me your
                               child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and
                               a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your
                               best friend. Whenever I was "bad," you'd shake
                               your finger at me and ask "How could you?" - but
                               then you'd relent, and roll me over for a bellyrub.

                               My housebreaking took a little longer than
                               expected, because you were terribly busy, but we
                               worked on that together. I remember those nights
                               of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your
                               confidences and secret dreams, and I believed
                               that life could not be any more perfect. We went
                               for long walks and runs in the park, car rides,
                               stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because
                               "ice cream is bad for dogs," you said), and I took
                               long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home
                               at the end of the day.

                               Gradually, you began spending more time at work
                               and on your career, and more time searching for a
                               human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted
                               you through heartbreaks and disappointments,
                               never chided you about bad
                               decisions, and romped with glee at your
                               homecomings, and when you fell in love. She, now
                               your wife, is not a "dog person" -- still I welcomed
                               her into our home, tried to show her affection, and
                               obeyed her. I was happy because
                               you were happy.

                               Then the human babies came along and I shared
                               your excitement. I was fascinated by their
                               pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to
                               mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I
                               might hurt them, and I spent most of my time
                               banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh,
                               how I wanted to love them, but I became a
                               "prisoner of love."

                               As they began to grow, I became their friend. They
                               clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on
                               wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes,
                               investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my
                               nose. I loved everything about them and their
                               touch - because your touch was now so
                               infrequent - and I would have defended them with
                               my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds
                               and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and
                               together we waited for the sound of your car in the
                               driveway.

                               There had been a time, when others asked you if
                               you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me
                               from your wallet and told them stories about me.
                               These past few years, you just answered "yes"
                               and changed the subject. I had gone from being
                               "your dog" to "just a dog," and you resented every
                               expenditure on my behalf.

                               Now, you have a new career opportunity in
                               another city, and you and they will be moving to
                               an apartment that does not allow pets. You've
                               made the right decision for your "family," but there
                               was a time when I was your only
                               family.

                               I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at
                               the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of
                               fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork
                               and said "I know you will find a good home for
                               her." They shrugged and gave you a pained look.
                               They understand the realities facing a
                               middle-aged dog, even one with "papers."

                               You had to pry your son's fingers loose from my
                               collar as he screamed "No,Daddy! Please don't let
                               them take my dog!" And I worried for him, and
                               what lessons you had just taught him about
                               friendship and loyalty, about love and
                               responsibility, and about respect for all life. You
                               gave me a good-bye pat on the head, avoided my
                               eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and
                               leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and
                               now I have one, too.

                               After you left, the two nice ladies said you
                               probably knew about your upcoming move months
                               ago and made no attempt to find me another good
                               home. They shook their heads and asked "How
                               could you?"

                               They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as
                               their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of
                               course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At
                               first,whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to
                               the front, hoping it was you that you had changed
                               your mind - that this was all a bad dream ... or I
                               hoped it would at least be someone who cared,
                               anyone who might save me. When I realized I
                               could not compete with the frolicking for attention
                               of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I
                               retreated to a far corner and waited.

                               I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the
                               end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after
                               her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room.

                               She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears,
                               and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in
                               anticipation of what was to come, but there was
                               also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run
                               out of days. As is my nature, I
                               was more concerned about her.

                               The burden which she bears weighs heavily on
                               her, and I know that, the same way I knew your
                               every mood. She gently placed a tourniquet
                               around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I
                               licked her hand in the same way I used to
                               comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid
                               the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the
                               sting and the cool liquid coursing through my
                               body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes
                               and murmured "How could you?"

                               Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak,
                               she said "I'm so sorry." She hugged me, and
                               hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I
                               went to a better place, where I wouldn't be
                               ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to
                               fend for myself -- a place of love and light so very
                               different from this earthly place. And with my last
                               bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump
                               of my tail that my "How could you?" was not
                               directed at her. It was you, My Beloved Master, I
                               was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you
                               forever.

                               May everyone in your life continue to show you so
                               much loyalty.

                               The End
 
 

                               A note from the author:

                               If "How Could You?" brought tears to your eyes as you read it, as it did to mine as I
                               wrote it, it is because it is the composite story of the millions of formerly owned pets
                               who die each year in American and Canadian animal shelters. Anyone is welcome to
                               distribute the essay for a noncommercial purpose, as long as it is properly attributed
                               with the copyright notice.
                               Please use it to help educate, on your websites, in newsletters, on animal shelter and
                               vet office bulletin boards. Tell the public that the decision to add a pet to the family is
                               an important one for life, that animals deserve our love and sensible care, that finding
                               another appropriate home for your animal is your responsibility and any local humane
                               society or animal welfare league can offer you good advice, and that all life is
                               precious. Please do your part to stop the killing, and encourage all spay & neuter
                               campaigns in order to prevent unwanted animals.