Many years ago, I had a “survival job” that was actually a very good one. As I was building my acting career, I worked with very cool creative types who were way too talented to have to have a second job, but that’s often the way it goes with creative types. One of my co-workers was this immensely talented film editor, and he and his wife and a little French bulldog puppy. I can’t remember this dog’s name, but I do remember how cute it was and how much they loved it, especially, my friend’s wife. I’m sure I’m getting some of the details mixed up, but from what I can remember, my friend and his wife were going to have a really long work day, and asked a downstairs neighbor to check in on the pup and walk him at least once. It was way too long for the little guy not to relieve himself, and it was one of those kick you in the ass hot summer days, when your apartment feels so oppressive and baked, that being outside in the heat is an actual reprieve to the heat madness. Well, this neighbor flaked in a big a way, and if you have a sensitive spirit, you may want to stop reading right now.
It turns out, that in wanting to protect their little guy from overheating during the hottest summer weeks, his very loving parents would leave the air-conditioner running all day – without it, the upper floor apartment would be unbearable and unsafe. This would have been perfect, except by accident, the fan button was hit and instead of cold air circulating, very very hot air from the outside was aggressively being pumped in, heating up an already hot NYC apartment. This was bad enough, but the neighbor fulling f&*king flaked and forgot to walk the dog. Forgot to the do the one thing she promised to do to qualify as “low-maintenance helpful neighbor.” Okay, maybe you can’t imagine what this little guy went through, but I assure you that it was more awful than your mind will let you go to. French Bulldogs already have a difficult time breathing in the heat because of their squished up faces (that people manufactured because it’s cute), but this little guy suffered beyond imagination. When my friend and his wife came home, they found their beloved pup up against the front door, having tried to claw his way out, laying dead next to piles of vomit. The heat killed this little guy, and he probably had no idea what was even going on.
Needless to say, my friend and his wife were inconsolable and beyond devastated – she especially so. This puppy was her baby, and the thought of his suffering put her in such a grief that she could hardly leave her bed. A couple of weeks later, my friend visited us at the office, and in recounting the story, with tears in his eyes, said that he believed his wife would have rathered it had been one of them. I was shocked and (silently) outraged that a person could make someone she loved feel that way. It was sad, but, it was just a dog. Get a grip, lady. Years later, now knowing and truly loving my own dog, I shudder that I could have ever let my heart go to such an uncaring and callous place.
I forgot your name, now ex-wife of my old friend, but I am so sorry that I could dismiss your pain, even for a moment.
If you know me, you know that my dog is the most important relationship I have, and all I can hope for him is that I provide him a good life, he grows to be very old and many many many years from now, he goes to sleep with me by his side, and he peacefully crosses over The Rainbow Bridge. I can say with absolute certainty that I would rather be stuck in a boiling hot room, impervious to how much pain that would cause my own parents, just to make sure that my dog never felt tortured, scared, confused and alone in his last moments. I love my dog more than anything, and when I see this mutual connection between people and their animal family, I am moved to tears.
Yesterday, my friend and I were killing time before going to dinner, and we walked by a homeless man, no more than 22 years old, and his beautiful dog. I am not uncharitable, but I am, by no means, a model of endless giving. I often walk by people who are in need and are simply asking for a small amount help. That said, it’s really impossible for me to walk away from someone with a dog. The innocence of the dog sitting lovingly next to his or her companion, no matter that they sleep outside and may only get to eat scraps…if you can’t be moved by that image of true friendship, then I just don’t understand. I bent down to place a dollar in this man’s paper cup, and I saw that his dog was a beautiful tan mutt, with not one single rib poking thru his or her skin. This dog was well-fed and cared for. An hour later, after chatting in the local park and receiving our call from the restaurant that our table was ready, we walked by the man and his dog again. This time, the pup wasn’t on the sidewalk, but instead, cradled in the man’s arms, with its eyes tightly closed. The man leaned over the dog in his arms, and buried his face in its fur. The man wasn’t sleeping, but maybe the dog was – whatever the case, the dog seemed peaceful, not on guard and totally at ease. I don’t care if I had a rare steak and a promise of shelter, toys and a warm doggie bed at home, this dog was where it wanted to be – in the arms of its most loving owner. In spite of being in such desperate circumstances, this homeless man had a dog who was free of obvious health conditions and a spirit which seemed relaxed and at peace – a spirit that could be so, because there was deep love between the two of them. That isn’t the case for many dogs, even those who have well-to-do owners, and so this image left me in tears and will remain in my mind for years to come.
After dinner, I wanted to see this man and offer to buy him dinner and a bag of food for his dog. My friend immediately pointed out a pizza place across the street and so we set off. Sadly, he and his dog were gone, and I noticed that they had left a bully stick behind. Those things aren’t cheap, but somehow this man treated his dog to something my own pet never gets. LOVE. My friend suggested we walk down several blocks to look for them, and I was touched by her desire to help these two – she isn’t a dog parent, but is a dog aunt to my little guy, and it is clear that dogs (or at least my dog) live in her heart in a deep way. We never found this man and his dog, but I will always keep an eye out for them.
When I came home, I cried a bunch (my Dad thinks I am too sensitive and maybe I am), and then I found a website called Pets of the Homeless. It’s a charity that helps provide health care and support for the beloved pets of owners who have so little. I read stories of people who made sure their dogs ate before they did, some whose dogs were the reason they got clean and sober, some who would rather live on the streets, than give up their dogs because homeless shelters don’t allow pets, some who sold the little they owned just to make sure they didn’t lose their canine best friends…and unlike years ago when my heart was so closed to the experience of the love and pain which comes with a truly connected relationship, I now totally get it. I would sell everything for my little Bajji. I would eat less than or not at all, if it meant he had food in his belly. I know that I could find comfort in his fur, no matter how hard things got. I would sit on the street and beg for money and if no one can by, I would walk away with him in tow and set off to somewhere else, just as long as we could be together. I heard from someone once that dogs will always break your heart – that when they go, they will leave an empty space inside of you. I know that’s true, and I fear the day when I have to say goodbye to my best friend. Still, without him, I am not sure my heart would be so open and available to see beyond my own nose. Loving him helps me feel love for others around me, and if feeling the pain at the end of this is what I have to do to feel this much love, then that makes it all worth the trip.