Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Memorial for a Hero

My dog Ari passed away over Labor Day weekend. She was 12, which is considered to be advanced age for large breeds. She had stopped eating on Thursday and within 24 hours was unable to stand. When she finally passed, it was in the cab on the way home from the emergency vet clinic, the visit to which had been less than useful to say the least. When I realized she had stopped breathing it was a relief because she had really been suffering and it seemed there wasn't much I could do about it. It was also very messy and nasty, but the less said about that the better. The cab driver was an angel. He kept suggesting I get a piece of wood to carry her on, and when I said there wasn't any he went over to the abandoned house next door and scrounged up an old three-legged table, which she is resting on in the drawing above, propped up in one corner by a milk crate. He also didn't charge me for the mess in the backseat, although that might just be because most of it was all over my pants. Upon arriving home, the first thing I did after taking a bath was to start working on the drawing. This would be my last opportunity before she was buried in the backyard late Sunday night.

I first picked Ari up over 9 years ago at the Mesa, an off-the-grid community full of Viet Nam vets, meth addicts and creative types. She had been given to a junkie couple who weren't paying much attention to her, so off she went roaming around with a pack of semi-feral dogs. Since Animal Care and Control refuses to visit the Mesa, the dogs there are such a problem that anyone who doesn't want them leaping straight through their solid glass windows needs to erect a sturdy 6 foot tall fence which must be surrounded by buried chicken wire. Some of them are mixed with coyote, according to the rumours. When I first met Ari I thought she wasn't quite big enough or aggressive enough for me. At the time she was about 95 pounds. I was so frightfully ignorant then that I didn't realize that a casually aggressive dog is one which would be a danger to me, to others and to itself. As it was, I am incredibly lucky that her temperament was mild enough that my inability to physically control her didn't result in a lawsuit or worse. Later, she mellowed with age enough that I developed the ability to manage her, but that was years down the line. On that first day, I was so disappointed by her placid disposition that I went to go look at an even bigger dog, which growled at me and hid under a car. He could obviously tell I was spoken for. When I came back to get Ari with resignation, her original owner offered to go find her puppy pictures and I told her I didn't care one way or another. I don't even like to think about the scandalous things I would do for those puppy pictures today!

Throughout the duration of her career as my protector, she has stopped 3 attempted robberies and saved one of my friend's lives. Well, maybe I should say 2 and a half robberies, since I'm not 100% certain that the second was intended to be one. But when a man in a ski mask rushes at me diagonally from across a dark abandoned street in the middle of the night, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that he was going to get bitten, and lightly, if I might add. My roommate and I were joking afterwards that the guy needed to go back to Mugging 101 so someone could remind him not to go after the target with the ginormous rottweiler mix. The first robbery was my fault because the guy was twitching so much I already knew he was a crackhead who would not be able to sell me any quality weed. When he tried to snatch my money and hand me a little balled up piece of paper with a crack rock in it, Ari intercepted his attempt. Again, little damage was done and no belongings were lost. The last thwarted robbery was two years ago, at a point where I was starting to think she was too feeble to be an effective guard dog. That time I was in my bedroom on the computer when I heard a thin crashing sound and ran outside to see a man with a metal implement trying to break the window. When he saw me he continued with the attempt until Ari ran out and started barking. He then immediately turned around and ran away. There is still a long winding crack running down the window from that day.

But the time when Ari saved someone's life was her crowning achievement. A friend of mine, who was accustomed to walking her and playing with her, had tried to break up a huge fight involving at least a dozen people, bare minimum. When my friend was lying on the ground in a pool of blood after getting walloped on by a skateboard, she ran up to the scene and the crowd dispersed. At the hospital the doctor said my friend would have died if the assault had gone on for any longer than it did. The doctors had to give my friend injections to make his eyelids swell up, because the bones around that area had been shattered and they were concerned his eyeball would fall out. Ari was generally a very quiet dog although she would bark at anyone who was being aggressive, so I also used her to break up fights on several other occasions. Actually, it might be a stretch to say that I did much of anything at all since the only action required was for me to stand in the general vicinity of an altercation while she lunged to the end of her leash. I never had to train her for that, either. Her response to belligerence was pure instinct, or maybe just personality. And on top of all that, she was never once aggressive with children and did nothing but cringe when she got punched in the face by a random toddler after I smuggled her on the BART train.

Ari has also protected me in ways that are less obvious. There have been many times throughout the years when there was little besides her aging process to keep me from returning to homelessness, since wandering around the country with few goals was a habit that was starting to be a little too comfortable. The thing about rottweilers, or rottweiler mixes, is that, unlike more gregarious breeds, they tend to be one person dogs. Ari's separation anxiety was so bad that, if I left her tied up outside a store for even a few minutes, she would ignore people who tried to pet her and howl so loud you could hear it from blocks away, and that is no exaggeration. Around the house, she would whine if a door separated us for more than a few minutes and was almost always less than 5 feet away from me. I might have been able to shift a golden retriever or a lab off onto somebody else, but with her it was not an option. She taught me a lot about commitment and responsibility.

Over the past few years her effectiveness as a guard dog has become somewhat of a running joke. It's been nice to have an elderly dog hanging around because, unlike with younger animals, I knew I could walk away from a delicately arranged work area and not come back to a disaster zone. But I shouldn't have underestimated her capacity for protection. During this summer I've had two dreams where a robber tried to crawl through the window and she chased them away, once even biting the man in the face! After awakening from one of these dreams I saw that she was sleeping on the floor directly beneath the window, which she never does. What's interesting is that, right after those dreams occurred I was reading a novel, Heart Shaped Box, which I discovered midway through contains a protagonist whose two dogs have shadow spirits that act as his guardians in the spirit world. When the dogs were killed protecting him, they were reincarnated in a new set of puppies. However relevant that story may be, Ari was too perfect for replacement. I guess I'll get a new dog eventually since the neighborhood I live in kind of requires it. For now, I hope I can stop with the inappropriate displays of public emotion sometime soon. I've been acting like a leaky faucet and it's really embarrassing.

Here is another interesting thing that makes me feel slightly better. While transporting Ari to and from the vet, not one but two cabs pulled up and refused to take her. That's not the part that makes me feel better, obviously. When I called the cab dispatcher back I could not help but to step outside and start yelling about this incompetence because every second can make a difference in an emergency. She was very apologetic and nice, and after sending another cab she informed me that she owned a website about breed specific raw food diets for dogs, which is beyond strange because Ari was on a raw food diet for 6 years. What is the likelihood? O_O I'm interpreting this interaction as an omen to continue with the adoption plan (eventually), even though I feel like a giant exposed nerve right now.