Friday, July 18, 2008

Dogs, Death Squads and Deliverance

His occupation as a doctor proved he was smart. I eagerly accepted going out with him, thinking he was also nice.

My dog knew better.

Two dates later, this guy was sitting in my apartment and kicked off his shoes. Shiloh peed in one.

Neither me nor the man discovered this until the next morning. He was livid. In my young and dumb 25 years of life, I giggled. Secretly I was glad because he had been a jerk the evening before, beginning in the restaurant.

I had ordered shrimp.

"Eewwl," he said, "those things crawl at the bottom of the ocean and eat shit. Do you really want to eat something that eats shit?"

Even as I wondered what planet this young doc grew up on, I could see where this conversation was going. "The cook de-veins that part," I said innocently. "I love shrimp."

"I don't know if I can kiss you if you eat shrimp."

"Thanks for the warning," I replied, and ordered a plate of the jumbo fried shit-eaters anyway while he ordered rabbit food, uh, I mean, a salad.

Afterwards we went dancing. He had a little too much to drink and was a tad too rough in holding me and trying to kiss me on the dance floor. I let it ago. By the time we got back to my place, he had sobered up enough to look hot in my eyes again. Extending the evening with a little romance seemed like a good idea.

Shiloh, however, had sabotaged any budding relationship.

"Why are you laughing!", Dr. Rabbit yelled at me the next morning. "This isn't funny! I have never had a dog pee in my shoe!"

"Uh, she's sorry?"

"That's not good enough!," he yelled.

Being a gynecologist, he knew all the right spots and was fun in the sack, but hell, all he had to do was rinse out the pee and have a good laugh later. I like smarts in a man but like humor more.

I said, "Maybe she knew you hate shrimp and you're not that nice when you're drunk... or the morning after."

He adjusted his tie, stuck his feet in his shoes and squished out of my door.

I giggled and thanked Shiloh. She rewarded me by wagging her tail.

Some dogs are cool like that. They have judgment and insight into others when ours fail us, often because we just want a little human company at night. Dogs have been among my best friends most of my life.

Many years later, Shiloh saved my niece.

I'll call her Marie. She was in college and asked to stay with me during her senior year. It was a good deal; she helped with babysitting my newly adopted young son from time to time. We lived in a two bedroom house and Marie slept upstairs in the hot-assed attic that had killer steps to get there. She loved and needed her space so she could have playtime with the guy she'd eventually marry, and uh, later divorce.

Anyway, my neighbors next door rented a room to man who was interesting, and boy do I mean interesting. This good looking, alcoholic was from El Salvador and loved to chat with me over the fence when I messed with my flowers. I didn't mind. I talk with anybody.

One day and out of the blue, I looked up from my gardening and asked him if he ever met a guy who was in his country's military. I didn't mention that I knew the man helped run the death squads.

"Oh, you heard about him?", he asked.

"I try to read a little," I said innocently, "and saw his picture. He was playing tennis."

Not only had he met him, he had worked for him.

"Doing what?", I asked.


Hmmm. Now I understood why my dog didn't like him. Their security was about terror, torture and death. I buried my face back in my flowers.

"Yeah, he was a wild guy," he added, smiling and sipping his beer. "I knew him well."

I've never known what guides me to ask off the wall questions to people. However, I could sense a brutal spirit about him, and knowing where he was from and what had gone on in El Salvador in the '80s was a 2 + 2 equation begging for an answer.

It was shortly after this conversation that my niece moved in. I watched his eyes follow every move of her shapely, 20 year old body. He said little to her other than a polite nod. He laid low and I didn't sense she was in danger.

One day, I packed up my then young son Xavier and went on a mini-vacation. When we got back, I found out that the night before someone had tried to break into my house while she was at home.

"I didn't know what was wrong with the dog," Marie said. "I didn't hear a thing because I was studying in the attic. Shiloh went crazy. She barked and barked and growled and howled. I called the police. They didn't find anything."

The next time I saw Mr. Ex-Death Squad, I lied.

"Why did you come into my yard last night? You frightened my niece."

His eyes began shifting this way and that. I could smell liquor on him, probably from the night before.

He said, "Oh, she said she saw me? It wasn't me. Probably someone who looked like me. I wasn't there."

I lit a cigarette, stared at him coolly, and said, "Good."

I gave a small nod. He knew I knew. I walked back into the house with Shiloh at my side.

Sometimes the less you say to dangerous people, the better. This is particularly true of women when dealing with unstable macho men who are quick to view confrontation as an irresistible challenge.

He left her alone and shortly thereafter skipped out of the area. He had to. My poor El Salvadoran neighbors said he stuck a dirty finger in their ten year daughter.

Damn I feel sorry for a lot of immigrants. My neighbors worked day and night, and their relatives lived with them so the women could take turns babysitting. Everybody worked one or two jobs. They were determined to buy a home, and when they did, their relatives moved out so they could buy a home and use the same formula for getting ahead.

Their houses looked good too, at least in my old neighborhood, because they know how to landscape, do siding, roofing, painting, carpentry, lay sidewalks, etc. But this kind of shit happens to them more often than one thinks. It only takes a few minutes for a monster to get to a child, and then they have to worry about their kids becoming Americanized and falling into street violence, similar to the kind of stuff they tried to escape.

Anyway, Shiloh, the beautiful reddish-brown mixed-breed friend whom I found at the county dog pound, passed away from old age. It was sad but she lived a good long life.

I got another great dog a couple years later. I remember the day we met as clearly as today.

I drove way out to hell and back to this lady's house. She was a poodle breeder. I met her at a dog show, and her poodles looked great, so I picked up her card.

I love mutts, and it's not hard finding a great adult dog that's housebroken like Shiloh had been, but I thought I'd I'd try something different this time. I liked circus poodles as a child and read how quickly they learn. Seemed like one would be fun.

When I arrived at the breeder's house, her husband guided me into their living room where I met the missus. There wasn't a dog in sight. Like a number of breeders, they hid them in the basement. This is usually because they have so damn many that the neighbors will complain it's against community bylaws, and/or they're in cages which freaks out some buyers.

"I'm not looking to buy a show dog puppy," I explained. "Just a pet quality poodle will be fine. It doesn't have to be that young either."

I told her this because a pure breed pup (or kitten) under 10 weeks of age is more expensive, and takes longer to house break. I wasn't looking for a fu-fu show dog either, just fluffy pet poodle.

She brought out a seven week old puppy that promptly piddled in my lap.

"Um, you have anything else?", I asked. "Maybe a little older?"

"Well, we have one that's six months old..."

"That's fine."

Her husband brought out the stupidest looking poodle I've ever seen. He sat it down it down in my lap, and poor thing kept his back to me and trembled in terror. That's a baaad sign. Never get a dog with a nervous or aggressive temperament. Some change but most don't.

"I don't think this one will work out," I said. "Anything else?"

"Oh, but he's nice!", she lied.

I trusted my instincts and shook my head. "Well," I said, "call me if you get any new puppies in a few months. I'm not in a hurry."

Her and her husband exchanged looks. They were talking to each other with their eyes. She nodded to him and jerked her head toward the basement.

"We have one other," she said.

I leaned back and waited.

That man was down there nearly an hour.

"What's he doing?" I asked.

"He needed a bath."

Finally, the mister brought up a ball of fluff, white with apricot ears, and sat him in my lap. This lil' guy wagged his tail furiously, then jumped out of my lap and bounced from the sofa, to a chair, down to the floor and back to my lap and gave me a big 'ole smoochie.

"He's the one! He's the one!", I yelled with glee.

"Yes, I'm the one!" my new dog said with his tail.

I loved him and those Mickey Mouse ears. Eventually his ears blended in better with his white coat (to my slight disappointment), but as he grew older, they got that apricot look again. That's him below, posing.

Mickey was always glued to me at home, and like Shiloh, I took him everywhere. He was soooo smart. My son was six when we got him, and as they both got older, this dog had radar for which one of my teenage son's friends were trouble. He would not be friendly with them, I don't care if they had on casual attire and were polite. That dog could smell a thug a mile away.

Mickey could also tell when Xavier wasn't in his right mind from a combination of a hot temper with bad drugs. Mickey would stare at him real funny, and would growl at him if he got too belligerent or verbally abusive to me or his young sister. My son hated this.

"Why is he growling at me!", he'd scream.

"Because he can see you're nuts right now."

Otherwise Mickey was loving and friendly to him. Initially Xavier resented my dog's ability to pick up on his brainwaves, aka 'vibes', but as he got older he appreciated it. We learned that some dogs can even tell minutes before if a person with epilepsy is getting ready to have a seizure.

Sadly, Mickey was lost to me in late 2004. My mother had died two months earlier and my father eight months earlier. I needed a vacation. In the past, a girlfriend had taken care of him when I went away and everything was fine. This time the worst imaginable thing went wrong.

He escaped from her yard and got lost.

When I returned, I couldn't believe it. Losing two parents and your dog in less than a year is a friggin' nightmare. I spent 10 hours a day canvassing her neighborhood for two weeks. At least three people claimed to have seen him, so he was still alive. The thing is, he was afraid to let a stranger catch him.

I dropped a pound a day from walking and driving, and must have knocked on 500 hundred doors, stapled posters on every block in a one or two mile radius and spent a fortune in ads. Sometimes I'd wake up at 2 in the morning and would drive over there, and spend hours searching in the night. I talked to anybody, especially the homeless and winos in the park who were dying to find him and get the reward money.

Then the weather dropped below freezing. One night as I lay in bed drifting in and out of sleep, I heard what can only be described as a telepathic message.

"Kit, Kit, I can't hold on any longer. It's too cold. I'm sorry..."

I sat up in bed and cried. I drove back over there and looked for hours to no avail.

God, I'm tearing up now.

It could have been a dream, and the logical part of me says it has to have been, but me 'n Mickey were tight.

There's something peculiar about deep and true love, where there's a telepathic connection that defies logic, and sometimes we know without knowing how we know that something is terribly wrong.

Many families have stories like this, including my own, and I'm always surprised when something bad happens to someone I love and didn't have a premonition before hand. In those times, I chalk it off to God's will that I didn't.

I was pretty torn up over losing my dog. Friends and family encouraged me to get another, especially my kids who wanted to see me stop grieving. I half-heartedly agreed to look, and boy do I mean half-hearted. If the dog didn't look like Mickey, I didn't want it.

I picked up a Poodle magazine and called a few breeders who had decent looking poodles in their ads. One in the mid-west gave me the name of a guy that lives a 12 minute drive away from my place. I couldn't believe it.

I called him.

"Hi, you don't know me but a lady you know said you might have a pet quality poodle pup. It has to be a male, white with apricot ears. You don't have anything like that, do you?"

My kids frowned at me. They knew I was being deliberately picky.

"Yes! I do," the breeder replied. "I was going to keep him for myself, but he'll grow too big to show. What a shame! He's the only one in his litter and has a gorgeous coat. You do know their ears whiten up as they get older?"

"Uh, yeah..."

He gave me an appointment for that evening. This guy's house was cool as shit. He had furniture in there made by hand. Incredible wood carved chairs...

I really didn't want another dog, but my daughter, Casie, was excited. She sat down in one of the man's thrones while I stood and waited for him to bring up this nearly four month old puppy from his basement.

He placed it her lap. It was like watching myself with Mickey for the first time.

"Oh Mommy! Can we have him? Please? You know we need another dog."

"Sure baby. He can be your dog."

She was thrilled. We named in Jani, meaning God's gift. Casie and I were delighted to watch this puppy see a tree for the first time and smell the soil because he had never been outdoors.

When we got home, my son was shocked. He said, "I can't believe you found another Mickey."

"He's not the same," I said, a little sadly. "Looks like him, but feels different. I think he'll work out though. He and Casie dig each other, and at least I'll have a dog around that reminds me of him."

She loved Mickey - for the first couple weeks.

Then she got tired of walking him.
He behaved like an idiot every time he saw another dog.

He barked at her friends when they came over to play, not the first few minutes but every time they'd run around or dance or move from one room to the next.

This poodle also had a weird habit. If you tell him to jump on the bed or sofa or in the car, he started counting. He'll prop himself up on his back legs, and go one-two-three-four with his front legs in effort to hop up. He should jump, but doesn't. He then starts the process all over again, and again, and again. It's a riot.

"He has OCD," my son said in wonder. "He's as fucked up as I am.

We laughed. This might be true, and if not, it sure made him more acceptable in Xavier's eyes.

Then Jani
began to pee next to his dog bowl if he didn't like the food. This is actually funny to me. However, no one wanted to wipe it up.

Finally, Casie brought him to my bedroom one night.

"I think he has a flea," she said. "I hate bugs. He can't sleep with me anymore. I think he likes you better."

"There are no fleas in January," I said.

"He scratched. I think he was really meant to be your dog."

Kids know when mommy is still grieving. Casie knew what I needed even if I didn't.

I looked at the dog who looked like Mickey but wasn't a thing like him.

"Come on," I said to him, "you can keep my feet warm."

One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four... and after ten repeats he was on my bed.

I tried to resist making comparisons to Mickey and to cut the lil' guy some slack, because he did sit in a damn basement cage all by himself too long as a puppy. Being an only child is a bitch, especially when you're all alone and locked up in a room or in his case, a cage. This negatively affected his social skills, which needed some work, because he really was an asshole on walks.

Did I have what it took to do this?

It didn't feel like it.
It occurred to me that it's unfair to a new pet to be a replacement for one that passed away and the owner hasn't fully recovered.

Bereavement, also known as grieving, is complicated. It takes longer to connect with the "replacement", and with some people, it never happens.

This is why it's usually a bad idea to run out and get a new lover immediately after your spouse or significant other has left or died, or get pregnant right away when a child has died. This is generally true of pets too.

Each person or pet is unique. The 'replacement' can never truly replace the one you lost, no more than you can truly be replaced.

Finally I had a talk with myself.

Kit, you're being a fool. Your heart is nailed shut because you loved and lost a precious friend. Life is like this. If you're lucky, you find a few people and some pets that you love and who love you back. Life is temporary and can be terminated at any time. Be glad you have love or friendship whenever you get it, and stop hating yourself for making a decision that you couldn't have possibly known would end in tragedy. He's gone. Be thankful for the good memories.

Meanwhile, there's another little life that wants and needs to connect with you, and he didn't have a thing to do with your past losses. Stop ignoring him and enjoy him for who he is. He only has one life to live, and how dare you short-change him. Wouldn't you want the same consideration?

I started playing ball with him when I took him for walks. Jani loves this, and I discovered that with a ball in his mouth, he doesn't bark at other dogs! The ball broke him of the habit.

He's close to four years old now and sleeps with me every night, usually at my feet, or if it's cold or I'm sick, against my back. He has the uncanny ability to sense when I'm not feeling well and snuggles up closer.

And like my first dog I mentioned, Shiloh, he's turned out to be a helluva watchdog. He also hates the sound of military bomber jets that occasionally fly over my building; it's like he can sense they're transporting death.

Like Mickey, he can smell a thug a mile away, and until my son went into rehab could sense when he 'wasn't quite right' from drinking. He also works hard at being just as good a companion.

And like himself, Jani still counts before jumping on something, and pees next to his bowl when he hates a new brand of food or is tired of the usual.

This still makes me laugh.


I'll add some pre-digital pics of Shiloh as soon as the machine is working at my local store.


  1. ok, you got me crying right now. I really love your blog because you seem to embrace the basic human need to love and be loved. Your story about Jani, Mickey and Shiloh had tears welling up in my eyes because I used to have a dog of my own but we had to give her away because we couldn't take care of her well enough. Her name was Theo. Anyway, beautiful post. I hope to meet someone like you some day. ;-)

  2. My life is also one long succession of dog lives.
    When you are good to a dog, the dog is always good back to you. I believe that is why, like you, I've had only good dogs.

  3. deaths squads - dang some humor

    and u know i just opened a store for dogs in atlanta

  4. Hey KIT,

    My sister had two of her dogs die in the last three years so I understand...the grieving is hard... I have a photo of one of her dogs in a frame in my office... next to family pics...people don't understand unless they have a dog...

    Great post.


  5. I grieved for a while over a Yorkie I lost about two years ago...I got him off of Craigslist b/c a girl was moving in wth her boyfriend and he didn't like the dog...He was 9 months old when I got him and AKC registered. The woman GAVE me the dog, no rehoming fee..NADA.

    Luke was the best dog ever. My son and him were inseperable. He went every where with him. He was the most obedient dog I've ever had.

    One day I had a family member staying at my house and I reminded her to be careful when she opened the door if he was not on a leash.

    She calls me at work around 930 am to let me know she was gearing up to take him out for a walk and she didn't put on his leash quick enough, by the time the door was half way open, he ran. This happened in Feb...I told her she had to find him ASAP b/c he could literally die in the matter of hours b/c of the cold.

    I came home shortly after receiving the call, and to no avail we didn't find Luke. I sat outside in the cold with tears streaming down my face.

    In similarity to your story, I laid in bed one night and I could have sworn I saw Luke in the corner in my bedroom, but I woke up and he wasn't there. The next morning I walked outside to the woods behind my house and he was there balled up in a tight little knot. I don't think I've ever cried so hard in my life!

  6. Great post, thank you Kit. It reminded me of several of the dogs I've had around in my life. We do get attached to them! My parents lost theirs to that damn Chinese food poisoning shit. And like your Jani, this dog went from messed up (because he'd been penned up) to the sweetest thing on earth.

    You tell great stories; I look forward to your book!

  7. Oh, and the rabbit-shrimp photo was hilarious!

  8. Thank you, all above for your comments. I took off from responding yesterday b/c some of them also made me misty-eyed.

    Orchid, you got me started first. I'm touched by your compliment; and also having to give away a pet you're attached to is incredibly difficult.

    Sagacious, yeah, your dog will always love you back if you treat it even half-way right. Can't say the same for all the people who come and go in our lives.

    Torrance, thanks, and I saw your Tee-shirt ad. Good luck.

    Lisa, oh boy, I've know so many people, mostly women though, who have a photo of their pet in their office, lol. I've been one.

    FunkyBlackChick - I got damned teary-eyed when I read your comment! Thank you for sharing your story and happy ending of finding your dog. It's odd, isn't it, how being in an altered state between sleep and wakefulness these things happen.

    Macon, I hadn't heard about food poisoning that killed dogs; this must have been hard on your folks. Thanks for the compliment on the funny pic I made; I'm still chuckling. That's really how ridiculous "Dr. Rabbit" came across to me.

  9. Aww. I adopted my dog Honey (a Siberian Huskey/Shepard blend) about a year and a half ago. She's a mess. She drives me crazy. She has all sorts of weird habits and ways that I still haven't figured out. She chews. And half the time I wanna kill her, lol.

    When I first got her, she was terribly sick. She had really bad pnuemonia and a few other ailments. I'm still paying off the credit card bills. And she still drives me crazy.

    But she's been my only friend for almost 2 years. And I dunno what I would do if she were gone.

  10. Hi La, I understand... this is why they say a dog is man's best friend. Glad you've had one to hug thru the tough times. She's lucky to have you too.

  11. Cats know too. My little baby, Jasmine, is 14 years old and still acts like a kitten. She has bitten two people, with reason.

    I introduced a friend to her about 10 years ago. Friend went to pet her and Jas reached out and bit the friend, hard, in the hand. I was mortified and scolded her. A year later, when (so-called) friend and I were doing some research together, this friend stole our data. Jasmine knew.

    A while after that, I had a guy-friend that I was hanging out with. Jas bit him too. Not long afterwards I realized that this "friend" had more on his mind than just friendship, like I did. Then I started listening to her, as I'm not quite as swift as she is.

    When Jas met my honey, she laid down on his chest and took a nap. I knew then that he was a keeper. Jas knew before I did. I don't know how I ever dated without her.

  12. I love your story, Laurel. Cats are great too and your little Jasmine is wonderful. It's amazing how some animals 'know' things about people.

    My favorite felines were a Siamese I had as a teen and I wept for days when she died at only three from a blood clot that crippled her hind legs. I later developed an allergy to them and had to give up another favorite after two years because allergy shots didn't help enough.

    Dolphins know nasty too when they see it. We had a coworker who was the meanest, bitchiest person in the building. She went on some trip and snorkled with dolphins while a tour guide filmed this, and during a staff meeting showed us the video!

    Honey chile, Flipper snipped at her when she tried to pet him. Dolphins never do that. The staff snickered and everyone was thinking the same thing and trying to keep a straight face.

  13. Jasmine's a Siamese too. Beautiful and wonderful and ever so much company. I've known her since she was 2 days old. I swear Siamese are the most dog-like of cats with being social and knowing about people.


Hi, this is Kit.

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