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’ve 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 driveway.

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 dogspeak, 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
directed at you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of you. I will think of you
and wait for you forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so
much loyalty.

—————————-

A Note from the Author:

By Jim Willis, 2001

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 the
millions of formerly “owned” pets who die each year in American and Canadian
animal 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. Tell the public that the
decision to add a pet to the family is an important one for life, that
animals deserve our love and sensible care, that finding another appropriate home
for your animal is your responsibility and any local humane society or
animal welfare league can offer you good advice, and that all life is precious.

Please do your part to stop the killing, and encourage all to do the
same.

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