Friday, June 3, 2011

Dogs and Other Animals In My Life

My brother really was the one who wanted a dog or cat or bird or anything. I really didn't care as long as I didn't have to take care of it. One day he came home with a cat in his arms claiming it followed him home. My mother made him return it to the rightful owner. He brought home turtles that we kept in our backyard. They would disappear for months on end and suddenly appear again never seeming to be in a hurry to go anywhere. Once my brother found a bird with a damaged wing. My mother got a cage and my brother nursed him back to life. Finally the bird was well and had to be let free. The night before the cage would be opened  my brother gave the bird a cold shower. The next morning the bird was found at the bottom of the cage, stone cold dead. I guess that is what is called killing with kindness.

For me the experience with animals was when my Uncle brought home a puppy, a mutt, who had golden hair so we called her Goldie. My Mom was from the City, Manhattan, and really knew nothing about animals. She used to let Goldie out by herself and she became known to all the neighbors and garbage men. Little did my Mom know that she became known, in the biblical sense, to all the male dogs and so she became pregnant early on in her life. This changed my Mother's attitude about the handling of Goldie and so it began with me and my brother walking her on a leash. In those days most dog owners in the neighborhood couldn't afford the Vet. for spaying so it was enforced birth control while the bitch was in heat. Goldie gave birth to a litter, I don't know 7 or so, on Christmas Eve. She was the perfect mother allowing people to view her offspring but growling if a non-member of the household got too close. They would gather at her teats and feed lustily. This was good, for awhile but like all mothers when they started to teethe and the teats became sore she pushed them away almost saying that they were getting big enough to fend for themselves. When they were given away she showed appropriate sadness but like most mothers she also showed relief that things were getting back to normal. She finally had to be put to sleep around 10 years old. Back then a call to the ASPCA and the dog catcher's truck came. Looking back this was cruel because even though Goldie was ill she needed someone from the family for the last goodbye. But back then we didn't think that way, even the church used to say Dogs had no souls. Maybe they still say that but we know that isn't true. Don't we?

The next dog that came into my life was an Alaskan Husky that one of my Uncles gave us. Since my brother and I weren't available for morning walks my Mother had to take this dog. One day they came to a corner where my mother wanted to cross the street and go straight ahead, the dog wanted to go left up the block. There was a tug of war and when my Mother became overly aggressive trying to show who was boss the Alaskan Husky bared his teeth and growled. They went left and walked as long as he wanted to. The dog found himself on some farm shortly thereafter or at least that is what Mom told us.

A little while later another Uncle brought home a pup who looked just like our first Goldie and as she grew she was an exact double. By now my Mom had a little savvy and more money so this Goldie got spayed and never knew the bliss of Mother-hood. Mom also let her out in the back yard and my brother and I walked her and cleaned up the yard. The turtles were still appearing and disappearing. This Goldie was a little rougher than the first one. Give her a bone and she'd go in back of the oil burner and growl ferociously at anyone who came into the house. What was hers was DEFINITELY hers. I tried to break her of this habit by hitting her with the top of my baseball bat until my mother made me stop. Didn't break her. We moved from The Hill in 1954 and left Goldie for the new owners, our cousins, who said they wanted her. Goldie was in the house with the painters for a week. My cousins changed their minds and we took Goldie with us to our new Port Washington house. She was in a car turning up our block and she saw us from afar and created quite a fuss so they had to let her out and she ran up to us whimpering and and licking us, she was really happy. We got the idea she was maltreated by the painters and was miserable for a week. She was now happy but nervous and she bit my cousin Angela one day for no apparent reason and then showed appropriate sadness in face and body language. Angela forgave her and life went on. In our new surroundings our cousins lived next door with my Aunt Anna (we called her Aunt Thannna). Everyone got up around 6 AM. Every morning my Mom would let Goldie out in the back and she would walk to my cousin's door and give a short bark and go in where my Aunt and cousin would give her some treats and talk to her. Then around 8 or so when my cousin would go to work she'd let her out back where she would go to our house give a low bark and go in until the evening where the ritual would repeat itself. This Goldie had a special liking for me because when we lived on The Hill and she was young she seemed to have something wrong with her mouth or throat and my Mom sent me to the Vet with her to check it out. Before we got there I stopped and tried to look in her mouth but she growled because she didn't trust me. I talked to her soothingly and asked her to please open her mouth. She did and upon inspecting I saw a piece if bone stuck between her teeth which I gingerly removed. She was out of pain. We didn't have to go to the Vets. and she seemingly never forgot this bond between us. After a decade or so this Goldie fell very ill and the Dog-catcher's truck came and she too left without one of us to comfort her. We just didn't know any better. There were no more dogs for my Mother's house as I finally entered the Army, got married and had a home of my own.

My wife and I had 7 children in the first nine years of our marriage and our house was too small for a dog that my kids were asking for. I promised them a dog if and when we moved to a bigger house. a confluence of occurrences happened in 1974. My neighbor's dog had pups and we moved. The day we moved was the day the next Goldie was brought to our door. We named this dog Goldie even though she was more brown than gold. He mother was a full breed German Shepard but whoever jumped over the fence and became her father must have been a runt because she was the runt of the litter, but as we found out, the best of the litter. Goldie was really my kids dog, when she was a pup she was like our 8th. child. She was very inquisitive. My oldest son had brought home a turtle from Oakland Lake and Goldie was determined to find out what was under the shell. One night when the house was full of people we let Goldie out back and when she came in she had blood all over her mouth. She acted like she did something wrong. We found the turtle. He was still alive and was brought back to the Lake hopefully to recover and live a long life. Goldie never did find out what was under that shell. One day as I was leaving for work I noticed the garage door ajar and the light on. I checked to see what was up and low and behold there was a dog with 3 and 1/2 legs looking at me  with an expression that said "OOPS my cover is blown.". I went back in the house screaming and yelling because my oldest son had sneaked this dog into our house. I left with the ultimatum that that dog better be gone when I come home tonight. By the time I got to Flushing I felt like an ogre, called home and said the dog could stay until we find him a home. We placed ads and in three weeks or so we had someone who showed up with her daughter. By this time the little mongrel had wormed his way into my heart. The little girl and the mother wanted him. I pointed out his half back leg and he looked like he travelled with a pack of wild dogs. Nothing that I said mattered , they still wanted him and I had to admit I couldn't let him go, even Goldie looked happy. This began the era of Goldie and Henry (his name). When I referred to them many people thought I had an old Jewish couple staying with me, and believe me sometimes they acted like an old couple. She was the domineering one but at times he'd try to get a little amorous and she'd nip him. She didn't seem to mind when they would lie on the floor close to each other but don't try anything.  Someone we knew had to get rid of a Myna bird and we had him for 8 months. This bird would drive Goldie and Henry up a wall by calling their name and they'd come to the cage and stare at the bird. When they would leave she'd say "Why don't you stay awhile.", which would drive them crazy. We didn't have air conditioning then and the August heat killed the bird, who by the way really disliked my oldest son. Goldie and Henry seemed relieved that no-one was calling their names and asking them to stay awhile. Henry was getting older and weaker. He'd go out in the coldest weather and stay in the backyard. One day one son drove him to the Vets. while one son held him in his arms in the back seat. Henry died in his arms fully evacuating all over my son. What a way to go Henry! At least we didn't have to "put you to sleep". Years later Goldie was getting older and very ill. She was about 16 and had been to the Vets around Thanksgiving and it didn't look good. One night she was jumping all over the place like the young Goldie.  Very early the next morning we were awakened by high pitched yelps. Goldie couldn't walk. Two sons came with me to the Vets. This time I stayed with her as they injected her. He eyes were pleading with me to help her and I did the only way I knew how. Soon she was gone and our house had no more pets. That is until Benny came.

Benny was found by my youngest son in a warehouse out on Long Island. He was seemingly a nice mild mannered dog. Had a brownish color sort of like the 3rd. Goldie. Unfortunately we found out later he had some mental problems. If it was a real nice sunny day he liked to lie in the sun outside and if you weren't looking he'd jump the fence and wander away. One time we got a call from someone 2 or 3 miles away who found him wandering just enjoying life. The other big problem was he could sense if a storm, big or little, was on the way and this would drive him into a frenzy. We found this out one day when we were away from the house, my son upon returning found a screen ripped, a window out and Benny running all over the place seemingly shouting "The Sky Is Falling!". At night he'd insist on keeping someone awake with him as he awaited instant doom. One night as I was deep asleep a foul odor caused me to open my eyes and I was staring into the mouth of Benny imploring me to get up and await the impending doom. We tried everything but nothing worked. Then one winter's night during a snow storm Benny seemed to have trouble with his eye. We took him to Vet. specialists and the like and he had a tumor. My son accompanied Benny for his farewell since my experience with Goldie was still haunting me.

The last dog I had a close relationship with was a Border Collie mix which we named Jessie, actually Jessica but we called her Jessie. One day my Daughter who was working at Stern's comes home with this big black and white dog who was foaming at the mouth so much I thought of Rabies.  Apparently someone had her but couldn't afford to keep her, and a cat I might add, and left them tied up in the parking lot. My Daughter had her checked out by the Vet. and Jessie came to spend some 16 or so years with us. Jessie was my Daughter's dog but she got married and couldn't take her with her and to tell the truth by then I would have been lost without Jessie. Jessie was with me when I got downsized and we used to take long early morning walks. I could tell Jess anything and she'd listen. She was a great listener. Then in the 1990's my Mom suffered a stroke and came to live with us for seven years. My wife suffered a heart attack and began her Alzheimer's journey. My back went out on me so violently that I almost need an operation. When the times seemed the roughest I'd wake early before sunrise and Jessie and I would lay on the floor in the Living Room and I could see out of one window to a tree on the corner and I talk to Jessie. My head would rest on her and she wouldn't move unless she wanted to kiss me then she'd lie down again and let my head rest on her as I told her of my troubles. Jessie liked to chase squirrels. One day she caught one but didn't know what to do with it so she let it go. My Mother had a great Aide that came for years whose name was Sophie. She was African American and extremely heavy but she loved us and we loved her. But Jessie loved her most of all. Whenever she'd come into the house Jessie would stand by her and Yowl with her head pointed up to her, singing to Sophie telling her how happy she was to see her. Jessie back legs were starting to go on her. The Vets. couldn't help her. I took her to a Chiropractor who was a forerunner in Chiropractic treatment of animals. Jessie wasn't too happy with this and it didn't help but at least we tried. Finally Jess had to go to the Vets. She evacuated in my car and it took weeks before I could get the odor out. She was embarrassed by this even though I assured her it was OK. The next day when I went to see her The Vet. told me it would be best to put her out of her misery. With the vision of Goldie 3 in my mind I said I wanted to be present. When Jessie saw me she was happy. I would take her home, for sure. I would rescue her. They carried her onto the table and injected her and the Vet., his nurse and I cried as Jessie slipped into the here-after.

I was blessed to have these animals in my life because they taught me how to love and how to die while enjoying life. The first Goldie made me realize that unless you want the results it is sure to bring don't let the young whose hormones are raging, out on their own without proper supervision, and even then who knows what will happen. But it is no-body's fault if the human condition is like those we call animals. Goldie two taught me never to abandon anyone especially those who are most vulnerable. My experience with Jessie and Goldie three gave me the strength to deal with the crisis I faced with my brother, mom and wife, knowing that sometime the right decisions that have to be made are not always the easy ones. The crazy Myna bird showed how a sense of humor is always great to have. All together, the dogs, birds and the turtles showed me that life is precious and in sharing the experience we all benefit. I would venture to guess the biggest lesson I have derived is if you are going to accept the responsibility to care then it can't be done half-way. My loving pets let me be me with no facade always ready to love because they trusted me, and I let them be who they were because I trusted them.

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