I have four of them: Dexter, Delilah, Tank, and Mo. They wait in the living room, gnawing on my work shoes and peeking between the curtains to the street outside, ears perked for the rumble of my Explorer down the street at any moment now. When the door to my kitchen creaks open, they fly from the living room across the kitchen tiles and scrape at my knees for attention. Pet me first, scratch me first, hug me first!
When you think about dogs that care and love and fight for their owners, you think about Lassie and the dogs from Homeward Bound. You think about the journey and difficulty these animals go through to find their best friend, their family. Dogs are known as “man’s best friend” for a reason. It’s more than the drool that dribbles from their canine teeth at the sight of a slab of beef brought home from the butcher. It’s more than getting to ride in the front seat on the way to the vet with the wind flying through their fur. It’s more than sleeping inside, on the couch, next to the fireplace when it snows outside.
It’s knowing that this other creature—despite walking on two legs and barking commands and wagging a finger once in a while—this creature cares.
I was born into a home that loved dogs unconditionally. Before the age of five, we had owned four of them in our small home in Onalaska, Wisconsin. I even had one of my own; her name was Tasha. Tasha was naughty, my mom explained, because she always got off her leash and barked a lot. I thought Tasha was a nice dog because she licked me often and liked to play fetch. Sometimes she didn’t bring the toy back and she kept running beyond where the toy landed, but she was still my favorite because I knew she wouldn’t lick me unless she really liked me.
We sold Tasha when I was four to a farm. “She can run wherever she wants there,” my mom explained to me as the pick-up drove down our driveway. Today my mother mutters under her breath, “I bet that dog was run over by a tractor on that farm.”
Insurance companies, such as State Farm, will provide insurance policies for people with pets, dogs in particular. It’s important because “it isn’t about the [dog’s] breed, it’s the bite.” Responsible owners of a dog should do the following:
- Never leave small children around dogs, even if it is the household pet.
- Socialize the puppy at a young age to keep them at ease around others.
- Do not tease or threaten the dog.
- Use a leash to control the dog.
- Be alert.
My other dog was Sadie. She was an old dog even when I was born, but she was my dad’s favorite and got to do everything with us. Whenever we would go somewhere in my dad’s truck, Sadie came with us and stuck her head out the window. I laughed at her because her drool would dangle across the top of the window and her jowls would fly like flags in the wind. Her fur was thin but soft, and her eyes were dark like chocolate. She was like a mother to me, in a strange way. I could tell she cared for me.
Dogs over the age of ten are fifty percent more likely to develop cancer. Not always do dogs have a change in behavior once the disease has begun.
Symptoms of cancer in dogs include
- lumps and bumps
- weight loss
- coughing and difficulty breathing
- evidence of pain and discomfort.
At some point we stopped taking Sadie with us in my dad’s truck. She spent a lot of time on the couch and no one played with her anymore. “She has a tummy ache,” my dad said and told me to just leave her alone.
If you don’t realize that your dog has cancer and she shows more than one of the symptoms and has been acting differently for weeks, visit your local clinic for a vision test.
I knew that if Sadie had a tummy ache, she would want to feel better. When I had a tummy ache, my mom would give me 7-Up and rub my belly until I fell asleep and forgot about it. I wasn’t stupid; I knew dogs couldn’t drink 7-Up. But if I rubbed Sadie’s belly, I knew she would feel better.
She was on the couch, resting on her side. She dragged her long tongue across her front legs, washing them up before dinner.
I sat down on the floor, elbows deep in the couch cushions.
She noticed me quickly, her tail bouncing.
Very gently, I rested my hands on her stomach, petting quietly.
Sadie stirred. Her tail stiffened. She looked at me,
her eyes like swollen chocolate candies.
I cooed at her, telling her how nice she was, and felt
a sharp bump in her middle.
Sadie growled quietly and looked away.
I was curious. I pressed my fingers into the bump.
“A dog’s tendency to bite depends on such factors as heredity, obedience training, socialization, health, and the victim’s behavior. There are good dogs and bad dogs within every breed, just as there can be responsible and irresponsible owners of each breed.”¹
That day was the first time I saw my dad cry. At first I didn’t think he was crying because my eyes were glazed over, but I heard him sniffling and saw his fists crushing his face.
We kept Sadie on the porch for a while after she attacked me. I don’t know how long she was kept there, if it was one day or a few days. I never got to see her but my parents took turns taking her food and water.
My brother said it was my fault Sadie died. I don’t know if she died naturally on the porch or if my dad took her in to get her euthanized. I never considered asking.
I just wanted to help her tummy ache.
In Elroy, Wisconsin, on February 14, 2002, Alicia Clark died from the attack of six Rottweilers. She was 10 years old. She attempted to pet one of the puppies of the group. One of the adults began the attack. Her body was mauled by these six creatures, dragged from room to room, and bitten to death. The attack may have lasted 15 minutes.
The other night my dog Delilah licked at her paws before she fell asleep. I nag at her constantly to stop licking. I’ll tell her no and move her head away from her paws, but her head always follows my hand and licks that instead. She’ll hold my palm between her legs and lick my skin clean. If I pull my hand away, she comes closer to my face and licks my cheeks. Sometimes a lump will appear in my throat, which happened this other night. With a dog that close to your face, you don’t know what she’ll do.
Delilah licks the surface of my cheek and touches the tip of my nose, and she hinders herself suddenly. Her lip doesn’t curve nor do her eyes swell or tail stiffen, but she notices the lucky white scar lingering on my bottom lip. Sixteen years ago, five stitches resided there. Now it is simply a surrender flag
¹“State Farm Releases Annual Top 10 States for Dog Bite Claims,” http://www.multivu.com/mnr/56916-state-farm-usps-avma-national-dog-bite-prevention-week.