Trying to forget she wouldn’t be there when I got home, I sat drinking beer in Hungarian Joe’s bar. Six months have passed since Sherry, my wife died, and every time I open the door, I expect her to be standing there to greet me as she had done for fifteen years.
After a half-dozen beers the feeling of loneliness and desolation wasn’t so bad when I opened that door. I guess my face showed my feelings because Jay, the bartender asked, “Raphael, have you ever been married?”
“Twice now, and they both died,” I said, and I felt a wet spot beneath my eye thinking of them. “Sherry passed just six months ago,” I barely held the tears back when I said her name.
“Third time’s the charm,” he said, not noticing how emotional I was over the subject.
“Hell I’ve been married three times, and the third one was the worst ever,” Hank butted in from the end of the bar.
We sat watching TV in silence, and after a short time, a program came on about hunting dogs, showing how smart and loyal they were.
“If I ever get married again, I’m going to marry a dog, and I don’t mean no ugly woman, I mean a real dog. Dogs got qualities none of my wives ever had. If one of my wives had been as smart or as loyal as one of those their dogs,” he pointed to the TV, “I’d still be married,” Hank said.
“Got something there, ain’t no woman as loyal as a dog, or nearly as smart,” Jay said, and reached up to turn the volume up so we could hear what they were saying about the dogs.
An advertisement came on announcing a special this week at the local animal shelter. For a total of fifty bucks a guy could have any dog in the place, shots included. The ad showed several happy dogs running around a fenced in exercise area.
“See them dogs?” Hank asked. “In a few days they’ll all be euthanized— that’s the word used in all the shelters— a politically correct word. Euthanize means to kill to stop suffering from an incurable disease. Ain’t none of them dogs suffering enough to justify killing them. Why don’t they say this animal’s going to be killed, slaughtered, murdered or something closer to the truth?”
“Do they have public executions so the taxpayers can see what they’re paying for?” Jay asked.
“No, they stick em with a needle when their time expires and send the bodies to medical labs for dissection,” Hank said and swallowed the rest of his beer stood up and said. “They at least give murderers a last meal. Why not innocent animals condemned to death for being homeless? But wait, did you guys ever think that maybe this is an investigational program. Don’t they always use animals experimentally before trying the procedure on humans? Maybe pretty soon they’re going to round up homeless humans and treat them to the same procedure? Ever think about that?” Hank slammed his glass down and staggered out the door.
I didn’t think they’d be doing that anytime soon, but it was food for thought. Maybe having a dog waiting for me to come home was a good idea, and fifty bucks was less than the usual cost of rabbi shots and spaying. I drank my beer and headed for the animal shelter.
Once there, I saw so many friendly beautiful animals and everyone under a death sentence that I was unable to choose. How could I choose to save only one life? I wanted to save everyone of them. I desperately wanted to open the cages and let them run free, but I knew they’d be hunted down.
All the dogs in the place jumped and barked, acting like I was their long-lost master and friend. I wondered if they knew the executioner waited for them if they weren’t adopted soon. The way they behaved, trying to impress every visitor to take them home, indicated they knew what fate awaited them. The attendant told me all I needed to do was pay the fifty dollars for spaying and licensing, and then any dog there could be mine.
I came to the first cage with a white mongrel bitch that had just dropped a litter of pups, absolutely the cutest little dogs I’d ever seen. Not wanting to break up a family I went to the next cage with a picture in my mind of Czar Nicholas and his family being murdered. An image I’ve always found extremely sad. I didn’t think the murder of this animal family would be any less sad.
In the next cage, there was a Pit bull that had recently given birth. Whoever used her as a puppy machine dropped her off to be killed as soon as the puppies were weaned. Owners sell or trade the pups for drugs and didn’t want to be bothered taking care of a dog they couldn’t fight. I’d love to save this dog, but I knew I couldn’t handle a dog as strong as her. I pictured her being executed with the family in the next cage, and my heart felt like it broke into a million little pieces.
I moved on to the next cage and saw a Boxer pup about six months old, and instantly fell in love with this strong, pretty dog. I was about to choose this dog above all the others. I was reminded of Sophie’s Choice. How could I choose one above the others? Would I regret it?
Before I could make a decision, I noticed a little skinny wisp of what looked like a Greyhound in the next cage. She lay on the floor, her white fur and few brown spots looked drab in the dim light. She didn’t have the strength to greet me, but she turned her head, and her soft brown eyes said it all. When I looked into those round brown eyes, I saw so much love my knees got weak. I read her nametag on the door, “Molly.” She made an effort to come to me but didn’t have the strength. That was it. I was able to make a choice after all. This was the dog I would save from being murdered. I carried her to my car and wrapped a blanket around her for the drive home. I stopped to get her some food; instead of dog food I got ground round, and a few soup bones, and I found some doggie vitamins for her too.
I fed and bathed her as soon as I got home. Then I built a fire in the fireplace, so she wouldn’t get chilled as she dried. She sat on my lap wrapped in a blanket like a helpless baby. I gazed at the painting hanging above the fireplace, “Calm Seas by Monet,” and she looked in the same direction. I wondered if she saw what I did in that painting.
Molly grew fast, and it turned out she wasn’t a greyhound at all, but a Lab. She got strong, and I took her jogging by the river every day. Once we got close to the river, there was no keeping her out. She loved to swim, anytime, anyplace. Temperature was no barrier to her, and often it was so cold her fur would be coated with frost by the time we got home. Anytime we got close to a fountain she’d jump into it and go for a swim.
As time went on, whenever I gazed at Monet’s painting, Molly’s eyes would be glued to it too. It seemed whenever she was home, she would lie in front of that picture, staring at it. I surprised Molly when I took her to Northern California to a stretch of ocean front that looked just like the painting. Molly spent days swimming in the ocean; she obviously didn’t want to leave when it was time to go. I guess that was one of the reasons a dog is a good companion, it can’t complain when it doesn’t get what it wants.
When we returned home, Molly spent more time than ever in front of that picture. I guessed she was having doggie daydreams and reminiscing about our vacation.
The years flew by; Molly is 15 years old now. Old for a dog — I could see when she moved it was painful for her. I thought about bringing her to the vet, for a shot to end her pain by ending her life, but I couldn’t do that to my best friend. I’d rather do it to myself. If I could trade places with her, I would.
I had to lower the picture to Molly’s eye level so she could see it when she lay by the fire. She would stare at that painting for hours and hours just dreaming her doggie dreams.
One day her ears stood up, and she ran to the door. That meant she had to go out. I opened the door and was surprised to see her take off at full speed, heading for the river. I ran after her but couldn’t keep up. The river was only a few blocks from our house. She reached the river and jumped in and furiously swam toward the middle. I saw a crowd on the opposite bank, all looking in Molly’s direction, and by the time I got to the river’s edge, Molly was coming out of the water, dragging a two-year-old boy who had fallen in trying to catch a duck. Somehow, Molly knew what happened and rushed over to save the baby. She was a heroine. The crowd that witnessed what she did came over and patted and thanked her for being such a good dog. Sitting by the fire that night I got up and moved the painting closer for Molly to see. She looked at the painting, then toward me, let out a long sigh, and died. I glanced at our favorite painting, and there she was in the painting, soaking wet and happy like she had just had a swim and lay down in the grass to dry herself. Her appearing in the painting is impossible, I thought. But there she was, the look on her face comforted me — Mollie was in doggie heaven.
I buried her in the yard; then went to Hungarian Joe’s, same as I did when Sherry died. Jay was tending bar and Hank sat on his usual stool.
“What’s the matter Raphael? You look like you just lost your best friend.”
“I did,” I said.
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