A man and his dogs
Column by Bruce Sallan
When I was a child, my mother brought home a little dog that was so small that she carried it in her purse. The dog was a mixed-breed of Pekinese, Pomeranian, and Chihuahua and my mother named it Su-Su. Fully grown, she weighed maybe seven pounds. Su-Su was cute, adorable, and annoying, but I loved her. However, I always wanted a bigger dog. Like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. Little dogs belong to girls or Paris Hilton, not to men.
So, there was no doubt in my mind that when I grew up and had a family of my own, we’d have dogs. I believed that with all the dogs killed each year in pounds that the only moral thing to do was to adopt one from the pound.
My first rescued dog was a golden retriever I named Mazel, and this dog and I had an immediate special bond. When my boys arrived, Mazel adored them, though once my oldest poked him in the eye causing him to retaliate with a slight nip to the face.
Later we rescued a small 50-pound female pointer mix, and Mazel and this new dog got along beautifully. We named her Tache, which is French for “spot,” as she had distinctive spots. All too soon, it seemed, Mazel developed cancer, at about 8 years of age, and deteriorated quickly. When his condition got to the point where his life was impossible, and he was unable to eat and relieve himself, I made the “arrangements” with the vet.
I remember it like yesterday as I lifted him into the back of my car and went to the park for our farewells. I had a Frisbee in the car, and filled it with water, hoping he might take a drink after he’d stopping eating and drinking due to the cancer throughout his body. As if he wanted to please me, he made the effort to drink a little. We said our goodbyes. At the veterinarian’s office, I held his head in my hands as Mazel was given a shot and he quickly drifted away. It was the first time in many years that I cried.
We rescued another dog: a big black Shepherd mix that had been labeled a “dog-fighter” on the card that had his information. He was named Simon and he weighed around 80 pounds. Before we adopted him, we introduced him to Tache and they got along instantly. He was about a year old and completely lovable. I still think he actually smiles.
However, this dog was called a “dog-fighter” for good reason. We went to a basic dog-training course, but it turned out not to be very effective as we later had an accident in which he attacked a dog in our neighborhood. Neither dog was hurt, but the owner had put his hand between the fighting dogs and got slightly nipped, though no blood was drawn. A lawyer, he saw an opportunity to sue and took it, resulting in a pay-off from our insurance company.
For years thereafter, nothing else happened concerning the dogs. However, during the dark days of my divorce, especially when the boys were staying with their mom, I felt that the companionship of Simon figuratively saved my life. Tache was there, too, but it was Simon who gave me solace and the love that I needed on those painful and lonely days and nights.
When I met my present wife, she also had a female dog. Charlotte is a Weimaraner with a bad paw, arthritis, and a quirky personality. We hired a dog trainer to introduce her to Simon. All went well and soon we were a family of four (humans) and three (dogs). Not long afterward, Charlotte developed cancer in her eye and had to have the eye removed. She also lost most of her hearing, but she’s still with us.
After moving to a more rural area, we had two more incidents with Simon, both with our landlord and neighbor’s dog (same people). The first was minor and no one seemed concerned. The second was not minor as Simon hurt their dog badly, requiring surgery. Their dog recovered but, ironically, was killed by our landlord’s other dog a few months later.
Simon was sent away to doggie boot camp for three months and was taught stricter behavior. I was also given dog-handling lessons, again, with extra attention paid to my apparent deficits in this department. I was and am a softie with my dogs and I’m learning that isn’t what they need. Simon learned pretty easily, but I struggled. When we brought Simon home it was under strict rules and care. Everything went well for the next year, until the day of my recent birthday.
I took Simon for a walk and apparently hooked the leash on the tags part of the collar, which is weak. As luck would have it, another dog and his owner were walking nearby. I quickly turned Simon away and went in another direction. We encountered the dog again, from far away, but Simon saw him and pulled in his direction, breaking the leash-hold and tearing after this dog – a 110-pound Ridgeback named Cash.
I got there in an instant and pulled Simon off and the owner and I quickly said all was okay and bid each other goodbye.
When Cash got home, his owner noticed a loose flap of skin on his side. We got a call from our mutual friend and landlord asking, “What happened?” I called the owners of the Ridgeback right away, apologized profusely, said we’d pay any vet bills and please let us know how their dog was.
A couple of days later, I talked with the dog’s owner, who was walking him. I saw that Cash was fine, though he had some stitches on his side. She was quite gracious, under the circumstances, and told me the story of a dog they had that was also aggressive. Eventually they had to have the dog euthanized when he attacked their housekeeper’s child in the face.
We love Simon. We’ve agonized over the right thing to do. Some friends say we’ve no choice but to euthanize him. Our vet and the dog trainer who came recently said there’s no evidence of any hostility towards people. We, mostly me, need to change our behavior. Extra vigilance, a choke and prong collar together, and a basket muzzle can provide safety to a large degree. Life is so often not black or white and I worry and hope that we are doing the right thing.