Author’s note: As many of you know, my four year old GSD Smokey passed away this Saturday. The emergency vets and staff did everything they could, but he died on the table after his heart stopped. They think that he was bleeding into his GI tract and probably threw a clot, a complication of the Evan’s Syndrome. It’s shocking how fast things can spiral out of control. A week ago, the prognosis looked good, the vets were telling us Smokey would likely make a full recovery. Now, after a roller coaster that just kept spinning downward, Smokey is at least free of his pain. Each moment is precious.
The following is part fiction, part truth. Obviously, I know very little about what Smokey went through before we rescued him. His life could have been like this. It could have been better, it could have been worse. What follows is a chronicle, a tribute, a story of what I believe, in the end, shines through as hope. Of all the qualities that Smokey inspired in people, I think that hope was the highest among them – hope for better times, hope for acceptance, hope for learning, hope to just be better. We are better people because of Smokey, and I hope that he was a better dog because of us.
In some ways it is anthropomorphic, but I try to keep it as “doggie” as possible. There are parts of Smokey’s experience that I will never understand because I can’t live through a dog’s eyes, but there are parts of his experience that I think he knew better than we gave him credit for. This story will be written in parts, because Smokey’s life was just too big for one post.
Long before I opened my eyes, I smelled metallic smells from the cages, combined with the ammonia-like scent of urine and the thick, tangy wreak of feces. Vaguely, I smelled Mother’s milk, and I pulled myself toward it.
Not so long before I opened my eyes, I heard loud, high pitched barks, soft whines, harsh growls and the incessant click, click, click of unclipped nails against hard floors.
When I opened my eyes, I was in a stuffy, hot pen surrounded by steel bars. Other small, soft figures squirmed about, nudging toward a larger, rougher black figure. This was Mother. Mother had warm milk and a rough tongue. Her belly was big and she mostly ignored us. But she let us cuddle in her flappy stomach and drink her milk, and she had a smell that I’ll never forget.
My days were mostly the same. I played with my littermates, I slept, I drank from Mother. Then one day, harsh things that smelled strange, the things that brought the food to Mother, picked me up and put me in a smaller cage away from Mother and my littermates. I cried and pawed at the metal until my paws bled. My stomach growled, but there was no Mother. Eventually, the things came back. They put a bowl like Mother’s in my cage. I understood from watching Mother I was to eat this. I tried, but it hurt my teeth. I laid down and licked my lips. I was thirsty, cold, hungry and above all, lonely.
The days went by. I grew stronger, the cage grew smaller. I was mostly bored. I spent my days napping, pacing and chewing on the cage. I learned that the things were called people, and they were not like me or Mother. They brought food, and sometimes, water that tasted funny. I learned that I was never to chew on the cage when they were around, because they would hit my face with sticks and bark in their people way that I didn’t understand but scared me. Fortunately, they weren’t around that much, so I got plenty of cage chewing done. It felt good on my teeth, which started to fall out.
I saw the people carry my littermates out, one by one. I never saw them again. But they never came for me.
I kept getting bigger. The cage kept getting smaller. Eventually, I couldn’t even stand up in it, so I spent my days laying around, chewing on the bars.
One day, the people moved me into a bigger cage. They put a rope around my neck and drug me down a hall of barking, growling dogs. I smelled blood, urine, feces and fear. I tucked my tail and followed. They put me in the bigger cage and shut the door. I walked around, sniffing my new home.
Sometime later, the people came back with another dog. They put her inside with me and shut the door, then stood back and waited. She was my age, maybe younger. I could tell by her smell. I walked up to her, and she danced away, whining. I kept going. She smelled good, but I don’t know why. She let me sniff her. She smelled like blood, but not the kind of blood that came from my face when the people hit me. She whimpered, but I listened to my body and mounted her.
When it was over, the people took her away. Then they put me back in the small cage and left.
That became my new routine. Sometimes the dogs were the same, but mostly they were different. Some of them were very old and growled at me. Some were coy and liked to play a little until the people yelled at them, and they tucked their tails and we got on with it.
But one day, it was different. I was laying in the corner in the big room, waiting. I had been there longer than normal. From down the hall, I heard snarling and the people barking. I got up and walked to the end of the cage. I smelled her before I saw her. Mother.
I panicked and starting running the length of the cage, jumping up on the bars, people be damned. Mother was being held high in the air while the people hit her, trying to get her unlatched from them. She looked crazy. Her eyes were wide, her teeth bared, hackles raised. Eventually, they got her under control. I watched while they walked her down the hall. The people stopped in front of my cage. They opened the door and let Mother in. I cocked my head and walked up to Mother, licking her face submissively, telling her it was me. She growled, and I backed off. I went back into the corner and laid down. She smelled like blood too, but it was different. This was Mother.
The people started barking. One of them walked into the cage and grabbed me by the scruff, dragging me toward Mother, who bared her teeth and lunged forward. The person threw me in the way, but Mother stopped before she bit me. I backed away and went back to my corner. What were these people doing?
The people kept barking. They tried again to get me near Mother, again, she tried to bite them, narrowly missing me. Eventually, the people came back. This time, they had another dog I’d never seen, a big male who snarled and gnashed his teeth at me. I don’t know how he didn’t break his jaws snapping like that. I cowered in the corner and rolled onto my belly. It was like he wasn’t even there. He didn’t even see me. All he saw was Mother, who was shying away, her tail tucked.
The people came in with the rope for me and the new dog. While they were trying to put the rope around my neck, the new dog broke free and charged toward me. Before I knew it, he had me pinned to the ground. I screamed in pain and rolled over, but he just kept ripping at my face.
Somehow, the people got in the way and pulled me out. I heard Mother yiping in pain while they drug me back down the hall, but I didn’t have the energy to turn around and look at her.
The people led me past my cage and into another room with a metallic smell, like the rest of my world. There was a person I’d never seen before waiting. He grabbed my ears harshly as two of the other men laid on my hips and back, pinning me to the ground. The stabbing pain started in my left ear first, then my right ear, then my face. When it was done, the people didn’t need to hold me anymore, I couldn’t move. I trembled and whimpered.
They took me back to my cage and shut the door. I laid my head in my paws as the pain subsided and thought about Mother.