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COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX, OCTOBER 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

A MAN AND HIS DOG:
IF TWO LIVED IN THE UNITED STATES, ONE IN CANADA WILL

I came home one day after treating my two six-year old nieces to the circus to find dog vomit all over the apartment I shared with a friend. I had cleaned up after his cats so I was surprised to see a party happening with this mess all over the place.

One of his guests told me my dog had made the mess. After he had done so he threw his drink in my face. Without thinking I picked him up as if he were a rat, shook him and threw him down the long hallway, where he flew to the end and slumped on the floor like a rag doll.

In my room I found my dog hiding under my bed. Naturally, he was very disturbed. I took him to the vet the next day. The vet was away and would be away for two weeks. Although his staff thought my guy had distemper, they kept him.

In the morning they found him outside the ten-foot fence they had around their outdoor enclosure. I had trained him how to jump high walls. He did not know where he was so he had had sense enough to stay there.

I had had him from the moment he was born.

Two weeks later he had lost a lot of weight. The vet had come back. After a series of tests had been run, I was told that what had happened was a genetic defect common to German Shepherds. The muscles in his esophagus had simply stopped working. He could not swallow his food.

"The best thing you can do is to put him down," I was told, "but if you want a second opinion you can take him to the vet college in Guelph."

I did.

Two more weeks passed while my dog was in Guelph.

By this time he looked like he had been kept in a Nazi concentration camp. His eyes bulged from their sockets.

"No dog in this country has survived with what he has," I was told.

The key words were "in this country." "What about outside this country?" I asked.

"Two in The United States did," the vet answered.

"If two in The States did one in Canada will," I answered.

The big problem was to get his food down. Also I had raised him on canned dog food, which I discovered was useless to get the weight back on him. I had to get him to eat the dry food. This he would not do.

He was a Shepherd/Collie/Labrador mix. He had the stubbornness of a Lab. I called him Reefer.

He was from the first litter of my first dog, Lady, a collie mix (whom I had found on the subway on a rainy day and brought home). She changed my life for the better. I was astonished. I'd never wanted a dog.

Shortly after I brought her home she went into heat. Every male dog in the neighbourhood was lined up at our door. I took to taking her out late at night/early in the morning for her walks as only then were the streets empty of other dogs.

One night/morning as I took her out she flashed across the street. A car coming down the hill saw her, sped up, hit her, sent her flying through the air. She landed at my feet. Incredibly, she was not hurt.

"You pick out the one you want," I told her the next day.

She picked out a huge, sturdy German Shepherd.

After he was done she stuck her self in front of his face again. "I want more," she told him. He was happy to oblige.

The litter was born on a rainy day when I was running a PLANET OF THE APES FILM FESTIVAL.

I came home to find my bed soaked through and eight little pups.

I threw out the bedding.

After a few days I could not sleep at night for the sound of crying puppies.

My neighbour downstairs sent me a lovely note telling me what a monster I was.

I gave it some thought.

I emptied out a dresser drawer, stuffed it with rags and put in the pups. I shut it just enough to let the air in.

It was as if they had been returned to the womb.

The room was filled with the sounds of eight happy puppies snoring.


He decided he would let
one of the litter
pick HIM


I did that every night until they were too big to go in the drawer.

By the time they no longer needed it, I decided I was going to keep one of them. Which one? I would let the one I would keep pick me.

I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. One morning I looked up at a little fellow staring up my nose. "So you are the one," I told him.

I found homes for the rest.

One night Lady and Reefer made so much noise I could not sleep. I decided to lock them in the back yard. In the morning I found the gate broken. Both dogs were gone.

I sat on the front steps. Lady returned by herself after an hour had passed.

"You go back and get that pup," I told her.

She turned and went away.

Half an hour passed. She came back with the pup.

"Hey, mister," said a kid a few days later, "a few days ago your dog scratched at the door to our house. My mother answered the door. When she opened it your pup walked in. Then, an hour later, your dog came back and the pup walked out."

Lady had not wanted to spend a second away from her first litter. Her second litter was a different story. She hated being left behind while I took Reefer out. It was remarkable to see.

She hated being left behind so much that when she got the chance she ran away. I was astonished but after reflecting on it, it made sense.

I never put my dogs on leads except when I had to.

While Reefer was still a pup I had him sitting while we waited for the traffic to clear so we could cross a busy street. Suddenly he bolted across the road narrowly missing death at least ten times.

When he got to the other side he turned, looked at us, saw the shocked expressions on all of our faces (including his mother's) and then ran for all his little legs were worth.

"Aren't you worried about where he is going?" a friend asked.

"No," I replied, adding, "I know exactly where he is going."

At the time I lived in a neighbourhood filled with baby gangsters. I kept my backdoor open always.

"You show trust," one of them told me, "we respect you." I had the safest place in the neighbourhood.

I came home and looked under the most difficult place for me to get into. He was there. "Don't do it again," I told him.

The next scrape with death came a few weeks later when he again darted across the street, this time bumping off the wheels of a huge trailer truck. He hit first one set of wheels, got bumped off, picked himself up, then got bumped off the second set. It was a miracle he did not get squashed flatter than a pancake.

That was the last time.

I trained him to jump by putting him behind higher and higher fences. He got so he could clear a twelve-foot fence. One day I was walking him through a school playground when a group of students burst out. Naturally, being students, they were rude.

"Reefer...jump," I told him. They gaped in awe as he soared over a spiked fence. It was beautiful to see. Their jaws dropped.

Another time I was walking Reefer and my friend John's little dog, Charlie. They were way ahead of me. It was the same playground. I came around a corner to find the dogs circled by a gang of about twenty or thirty boys who were throwing sticks and stones at them. Without thinking I said, "Charlie...Reefer...SIT." They did. Then I said in a voice loud enough to echo off the nearby buildings, "CHARLIE...REEFER...KILL."

The dogs had never heard that command before. They sat there trying to figure out what it meant. The gang of kids got away so fast I could literally see cartoon speed lines around them.

Reefer refused to eat the dry food. He lost more and more weight.

Finally I decided the best thing to do was to end his misery.

My friend, Doris Mehegahn came by.

Doris was built like a  washing machine. She smoked like a furnace. She drank like a fish.

We had become friends when I answered the phone at a friend's house. I barely knew her at this time. "Charles is dead," she said when I picked up the phone.

I did not know who Charles was. I asked her where she would like to meet. We met at a pub where we got so drunk we had to be shoveled out at closing.

Charles was Charles Wideman who, with Martha Graham and Doris Humphries (all out of the Deninshawn School) had created modern dance. Doris taught the Wideman dance technique at the library where I showed my films. She was also the head of THE SPACED OUT LIBRARY (now THE JUDITH MERRIL COLLECTION) which my friend Judy Merril (the mother of modern science/speculative fiction) had founded first in Rochdale College and then moved to The Toronto Public Library System. Judy was the one who got my film program moved to The Palmerston Library after Rochdale College was murdered.

"Doris, I have had enough. I am going to have to have Reefer put down." I said.

"You can't," she said.

We argued back and forth. When she left she was convinced the best thing to do was to put him down while I decided to give it one more go.

I went into the bathroom to wash my hands.

Reefer got up, put his paws on the sink and drank from the cold water tap.

I had been trying in vain to get him to do that for weeks.

I realized he had listened and had understood while we talked. I went into the kitchen, put some dry food into a bowl and mixed it with some canned. He came over, put his front feet on the counter top and, for the first time in three months, he ate.

When he was done I held him up for a half hour while gravity took the food down to his stomach. When I had to go out or go to sleep I tied his neck to a doorknob so that he could not lie down.

The big problem was fluid getting into his lungs. If that happened he would get pneumonia and die.

When I walked him people gave me hell for not feeding him. I tried in vain to explain what he was passing through. Tired of being berated I took him for walks when I knew the streets would be empty.

After several months had passed I was preparing Reefer's food when I heard a voice in my head. The voice said, "It's okay. I am alright now."

This is what I call the lost language of dogs. We, as we use them for food, are frightened to consider the other beings we share this earth with have a consciousness and can communicate. We refuse to listen.

"Are you?" I said to him. This time I put his food and water on the floor. He ate with no problem. Like I said, two in The United States had lived and so had one in Canada.

To be continued.   ##

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