when i was in college, i got a dog. a totally inappropriate response to my loneliness, low self-esteem and my totally crappy now-seems-insignificant-but-at-the-time-was-wild-and-universal-and-deep - relationship. i had procured a key to my hometown "pound"in high school, when I volunteered to clean the kennels on the weekends and in the summer time. I kept it, knowing that it would make a great hiding/hangout spot if I ever wanted somewhere to go try cigarettes or impress drummers.
now, i was absurdly dark and poetic in college and believed that i would just KNOW my dog when I saw him. Some universal force would bring our eyes to meet, I would rescue him and he would save me. It only had to be a him and he had to be BIG. I wanted to intimidate people. I wanted him to make me feel significant.
I probably visited (*read: broke in to) the shelter every weekend in 2003. And then, at the end of the summer, I found him. Sitting in the very back run, taking up almost the entire space with his massive paws outstretched, he looked like something out of a movie (think "Dances With Wolves", "Iron Will" and, lest we forget, "Eight Below" with Paul Walker) but BIGGER. "Rocky" was the name on his cage and clipped to his card was a note, written on a dismantled box of marlboro lights. It said something to the effect of, "this is an awesome dog. he's about 6. he knows sit, stay, shake and lie down. He pees on my boyfriend's stuff, so we had to leave him here." Pee's on boyfriends stuff, huh? Sounds like this dog knows what-is-what. I took him out for a quick walk and, when I could finally get ahold of the person in charge of adoptions - the town's optometrist - I wrote a check for 56 bucks and loaded him into the back of my Saturn. Done and done.
Most of you know I work at an animal shelter. When a dog comes in, it is given an extensive behavioral and medical exam to determine what it's individual needs are for treatment both here and in its new home. I would say that 1 in 10 dogs that we see are great, no fuss, no issues dogs. The other 9 will have issues ranging from resource guarding (snapping or biting when someone gets too close to food or other objects) to needing a special diet for allergies. Man, am I lucky that this dog was that 1 in 10. When I took him, I had zero idea what his medical history was. Zero idea if he was going to be a barker, guarder or just plain eat me in my sleep. I named him Apollo, after the space mission, not the God - and maybe subconsciously because I wanted him to have the most opposing name from his given one, Rocky.
It was the smartest, dumbest thing I've ever done. Apollo came into my life at a time when I needed a confidant, a companion. And was he ever. Looking back, the behaviors I'm about to describe are not the most desirable in a well-trained dog, but, gosh, do they tug at my heart-strings. Here are just a few:
-he came to my college classes with me. every day. almost every class. thanks NE Wesleyan for turning a blind eye to the gargantuan wolf-dog running loose on campus.
-the director of the theatre loved him and wanted to take him for a ride in the back of his pickup. at a stoplight about a mile away, Apollo jumped out and came back to find me.
-during a rehearsal of A Streetcar Named Desire, we were rehearsing one of the end scenes where Blanche and Stanley finally have it out - Apollo wouldn't let Stanley near me. He would not let anyone take him out of the building. We had to postpone the rehearsal.
-the one and only place he would stay put if I had to leave him was the back seat of my car. Anywhere else, he would bust out and find me. no joke. Privacy fences, dog kennels and storm doors could not keep this dog away from my side.
On Lua's due date, Apollo was hit by a car that broke one of his legs. It healed nicely, but he began to get arthritis and went on medication to help him walk. He started looking like the 14 year old dog he'd become. Lua got to meet him twice. The second time, just a few weeks ago, she was in total awe of him and he, so patient with her.
Apollo died this Friday, quite suddenly, from what we think was a hemorrhaged tumor. My parents said they found him curled up, like a fawn, in his doghouse. How I wish I was able to spend those final hours by his side - anything to repay him for the years he spent by mine. I suppose that's why I'm writing this. I wasn't able to be with him in the end, but somehow, letting you all know how much he meant to me feels like I'm doing something.
Please hug the animals in your life. Treat them well.