The Love of a Dog
might be all we need.
A year ago, I adopted a foster dog. In truth, I simply read in the newspaper that a library patron I knew was arrested for abusing and neglecting to pay taxes on his dogs. And I knew the small blind dog he had snuck into the library under his coat was penned in a small outdoor cage in the dog catcher’s yard, in the cold, and alone.
I knew the man was troubled. I thought his “four-year-old son” was a human child for months. Finally, a staff member said, “You know he’s talking about a dog, right?”No, I did not. And then he brought his son with him to the library, a timid but adorable little character, high-stepping and happy as he trotted along behind his dad.
Frankly, I was astounded when I heard of the animal abuse. They loved each other deeply, human father and canine son, and then they were split apart. I have a feeling Dad was riding the Meth Train at the time… Dad went to jail for six months, and I visited the sheriff, and then the dog catcher, and “Sun,” as I now refer to him, joined our family.
Upon his release from jail, “Dad” immediately came to me, explaining that he would never abuse the dog, that they were filming a movie at the time, and no one would listen to him. Though barred from owning pets for five years, he asked if he could have his son returned to him when the time came.
I said yes, provided he kept his nose clean, thinking five years was a long time, and much could change before then. And as Sun adapted to our environment over the last year, his Dad’s life has not improved. The small camper he lives in was trashed while he was in jail, with no running water, and no electricity. He spent the summer in a tent.
Then I saw him with a cast on his arm one day when I ventured into town. I no longer work at the library, so I pulled over to tell him that Sun was doing well, and Dad replied, “I know. I can see him with my satellites.” As I said, a troubled fellow who, a year after losing his son, still carried the belief that they would be rejoined someday.
Each morning lately, as his small blind dog lays before the gas stove, I check Dad’s social media. He writes songs for his son, posting videos of him singing them. He leaves status updates on how much he misses his son, and on a recent morning covered in fresh snow, Dad posted a video of himself outside, just awakened and in his pajamas and hoodie, noting the level of the cold, and that he was looking for his Son, who wasn’t there.
No. Sun was warm and toasty in front of the stove. Happy and secure not far from my feet. And though I had once believed “Dad” was harmless, I began to carry a level of gratitude that Dad didn’t have a car, and would never likely travel to our farm. And yet, I also thought of him cold and alone in that dingy unheated camper. I thought of how Sun loves to burrow under the covers for warmth.
Who am I to think that Sun is happier here? Warmer, more secure, with a new family? Does a dog determine any standard of living outside the parameters of food and unconditional love? There is a man, alone in the world, pining for his furry son, still living his life for a dog that’s been gone more than a year.
There’s a romantic sadness in it, a man who truly has lost his best friend, his sidekick for life’s adventures.
I have to remind myself sometimes that people cannot be saved. That they live off-grid without amenities by choice, and that there is help for them long before they become any responsibility of mine. That they have to want change, want more, and who am I to say what “more” is? Who am I to determine that a life I think is unfit for a dog is not sufficient for a human being? Dad wasn’t suffering the snow or the cold. He was suffering the loss of his son, his best friend, his compadre’.
A year after the dog has been long gone.
We can’t adopt the world. We cannot grab people up from the cold cages of their lives and plop them down in a better space. Nor can we assume they want, need, or desire what we want. Perhaps for them happiness includes a simple home of their own, a warm hat, and the unconditional love of a dog. Perhaps, they understand better than we do, what is truly important in life.