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"How Could You ?"
Copyright Jim Willis 2001

When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh.
You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a
couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I
was "bad," you'd shake your finger at me and ask "How could you?" but
then you'd relent, and roll me over for a belly rub. 

My housebreaking took a
little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we
worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and
listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life
could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the
park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because "ice
cream is bad for dogs," you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting
for you to come home at the end of the day. 

Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career,

and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently,

 comforted you through heartbreaks and
disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with
glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love. She, now your wife,
is not a "dog person" - still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show
her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. 

Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated
by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too.
Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my
time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love
them, but I became a "prisoner of love." As they began to grow, I became
their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly
legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses
on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch -- because your
touch was now so infrequent --and I would have defended them with my life
if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and
secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in the

There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog,
that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories
about me. These past few years, you just answered "yes" and changed the
subject. I had gone from being "your dog" to "just a dog," and you
resented every expenditure on my behalf. Now, you have a new career
opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an
apartment that does not allow pets. You've made the right decision for
your "family," but there was a time when I was your only family. 

I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It
smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the
paperwork and said "I know you will find a good home for her." They
shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities
facing a middle-aged dog, even one with "papers." You had to pry your son's
fingers loose from my collar as he screamed "No, Daddy! Please don't let
them take my dog!" And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just
taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility,
and about respect for all life. 

You gave me a good-bye pat on the head,
avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with
you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too. 

After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming
move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home.
They shook their heads and asked "How could you?" 

They are as attentive to us here in the
shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost
my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to
the front, hoping it was you, that you had changed your mind -- that this
was all a bad dream...or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared,
anyone who might save me. When I realized I could not compete with the
frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate,
I retreated to a far corner and waited. 

I heard her footsteps as she came
for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after her to
a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table and
rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation
of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of
love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her.
The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the
same way I knew your every mood. She gently placed a tourniquet around
my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way
I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic
needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing
through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and
murmured "How could you?" 

Perhaps because she understood my dog speak,
she said "I'm so sorry." She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her
job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn't be ignored or
abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself -- a place of love and
light so very different from this earthly place. And with my last bit of
energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my "How
could you?" was not directed at her. 

It was you, My Beloved Master,
I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you forever.

May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.
The End

A note from the author: If "How Could You?" brought tears to your eyes as you
read it, as it did to mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the composite
story of then millions of formerly owned pets who die each year in America's
shelters. Anyone is welcome to distribute the essay for a noncommercial
purpose, as long as it is properly attributed with the copyright notice.
Please use it to help educate, on your websites, in newsletters, on animal
shelter and vet office bulletin boards.

A foster parent speaks out