For the love of a dog

Note: While cleaning out some old files, I found several things I’d written over the years. This is one of them. – Jim


Tomorrow my dog, Hook, will be 21. Actually, he’ll be three, but in ‘dog years’ that equals 21. Where did they ever come up with this ‘dog year’ stuff? Is it supposed to make us feel better when they die? As if, even though they only live to be nine, they think they had 63 good years?

Well, I don’t buy it. It didn’t make me feel any better as a boy when Rufus, my basset hound died, and it doesn’t make me feel any better now. The point is, people years are the ones that matter. It matters how much time we get to spend with them, how much joy is added to both lives, man and dog, by being together. So Rufus lived to be nine and we pretend that he was 63. Either way, now he’s gone and there’ll never be another one like him, no matter how many dogs I have, or how hard I try to make it so.

On the other hand, if one of my years equals seven for Hook, that means that one minute for me is the same as seven for him. No wonder he’s so hyperactive! He paces around the living room looking at me with those big brown eyes saying, “C’mon! Get Up! Let’s Go! There are rabbits to chase, streams to jump in, cats to harass! And there you sit… Don’t you see? Time’s a-wastin’! Let’s go!” But I don’t go. Not enough, anyway. Because there are other responsibilities and other distractions. I have to do the dishes; I have to go to work; I have to vacuum the living room, and wash the car, and pick up the trash can he knocked over and the trash he has strewn haphazardly across the floor.

“Later, Hook. Not right now, Hook. Lay down, Hook.” And then I start to worry that I’ll be like this with my kids. “Cat’s in the Cradle” begins playing somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind. “Aw, Hook, it’s been a really long day,” I explain. “You know I’m gonna be home soon, son,” Harry Chapin sings in my mind. “But he’s a DOG!” I protest, mainly to myself. But Harry is as relentless as Hook. I give in and head to the kitchen for his leash. Hook knows where I’m going and what I’m getting. He begins to tear back and forth through the house, stopping abruptly on the carpet in the living room and sliding crazily across the hardwood floor in the dining room. I stop for a moment to consider that, like a child in his stocking feet, he probably likes to slide on the floor. After all, he’s been doing the same thing for nearly three years.

Outside, the night air is cool. The moonlit sky is perfectly clear and I can see shimmering contrails of airplanes criss-crossing above. He pulls me along the sidewalk, stopping every few feet to verify that he still maintains ownership over this bush and that. “This tree is mine,” he seems to think. “Hey, somebody’s been at this hydrant!” I can see in his eyes he’s perplexed. He stops, briefly looks at me as if to ask me to turn my head, and quickly re-establishes his rightful ownership.

I follow obediently as we walk on. Slowly, my mind clears and I can feel the pressures of the day slipping away as easily as Hook on the dining room floor. We arrive at a park and I sit down on a bench. Hook sits at my feet and leans against me. I lay my head back, close my eyes, and breath deeply. I smell grass that’s been recently cut and the exhaust of a car that’s burning a little too much oil. I hear cicadas in the trees and grasshoppers on the ground and traffic streets away. Hook sits and waits with his mouth open, panting. He looks around us and sees people walking on the sidewalk. A car drives by. Somewhere nearby cats are fighting (or mating; either way they’re noisy) and Hook cocks his head at the unusual howl. But he doesn’t move. It’s the only time he’s been still since I arrived home, and I think that he is still now because he knows that I need him to be. He knows that I’m regrouping, cleansing my mind and my heart and my soul from another day of free enterprise. He looks up and me and… waits.

When Hook is gone, I’ll wish that I had spent more time with him. I’ll wish that I had taken him to the park more and the lake more and everywhere more. Because when he’s gone, like Rufus, there’ll never be another one like him, no matter how many dogs I have, or how hard I try to make it so.

Dear 16-year-old me…

I got a message from my mother this morning with a link to this video. Just five minutes and three seconds, it was a short investment to make me think about this issue from a completely different perspective.

Malignant Melanoma is far more deadly– and far more common– than I thought. This short video was created by a company called evidently for the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund and contains people, all of whom who have either suffered from skin cancer or lost someone to it, sending a message to their former selves. They don’t intend to reach them, of course. They hope to reach you. And me. And everyone that any of us care about.

Spend five minutes watching, maybe read up a little to know more about melanoma, and then, for God’s sake, get to know your own skin.

Thanks, Mom.