Last year, after helping 14-year-old Kody Connick publish his book, Wild Hearts, I received 2,676 hits on my website in one day. The Dogmen, who actually fight dogs, wanted to ban the book and burn my site as they were angry that a kid put them in their place. Animal Control Officers and Rescue Workers wrote in to support the book. The story revolved around a young delinquent named Charlie, who befriends a Pitbull named King. The book about anti-dogfighting traveled as far as South Korea and Japan, and we sold copies in 19 different states. Kody’s book struck a nerve.
Shortly thereafter, I read a tragic story about 500,000 dogs who were shot and killed over in Iraq. They were feral dogs and the military leaders from the US determined they were a nuisance and had to be put down. Two days after reading this story I had a dream where I saw the ghostly souls of all 500,000 dogs seated on a shoreline, gazing out to sea. When I followed their steady gazes, I saw a large ship sailing toward them to pick them. Once all the dogs were aboard, the ship sailed away on a river of stars. The next day, I began work on a sequel to Wild Hearts, entitled, Do Dogs have Souls?
I guess it begs the question, do they? Think of all the dogs who have passed through your life, and perhaps the dog in your life currently, and you decide.
My first dog, Sandy, was a Shepherd/Collie, and she and I landed on the front page of the Journal and Star when I was five years old with Sandy pulling me across the snow-covered front lawn in my snow boat. She was a part of my life until I turned 14. I was not there to see her off as I had run away from home and was soon to be locked up in the detention center. But all through those troubled times, I thought of her and how much she was going to be missed. It was a crossroads for both Sandy and I, for I went on to climb my way up out of the juvenile justice system while she went on to the beyond.
Two years later, I ended up with a St. Bernard puppy named Angel, who became notorious for boxing the neighbor’s German shepherd and sending him rolling with each strike. But for all her rough and tumble ways, she was a gentle dog who readily adopted the small, black and white terrier I brought home one day from my work as a teacher’s assistant at Havelock Elementary school.
I had spotted the small, furry-faced terrier seated on the edge of the playground watching my students play with his one good eye. His other eye was matted shut, and although he looked like a forlorn little guy, there was not much I could do for him. When I went to leave school that day, I discovered that three of my students had scooped up the ratty little terrier and placed him inside my 59 Step-van. When I opened the sliding door, there sat the one-eyed dog, peering up at me and wagging his tail.
I took him home, and Angel immediately adopted him. I named him Christian. Those two dogs, one big and massive, the other small and scrawny, were inseparable. In the winter time, Christian would climb up on Angel’s broad back when she was laying in the snow. There, he would curl up, staying warm until I let them both inside. Once inside, Christian would resume his place when Angel planted herself at her favorite location near the front door.
Then came Misty, a sleek, fox-like Collie/Terrier. She was a beautiful rich brown dog with pointed ears. Misty, unlike the big moose Angel and the short-legged Christian, went along with me on camping trips. She was more rugged than the pampered and spoiled Angel and Christian, and she loved romping in the woods.
My most memorable time with Misty was the time my foster son, Chad, and I skied deep into Indian Caves in the middle of the winter. We pulled a sled with our gear stashed on it, and Misty rode on this most of the trip into the park. We camped in an Adirondack shelter, nailing blankets over the opening in the front, and warmed the shelter with a propane space heater. Misty kept me warm that night by curling up inside my sleeping bag. She was a great dog.
Those three dogs were inseparable up until Angel passed at 14, Misty at 15, and Christian lived until he was 17. A long time for most dogs.
My parents then adopted, Brandy, a wet-mouth St. Bernard. Brandy would latch onto the cuff of your pants and drag you anywhere she wanted you to go. The night that the drug-crazed Terry Reynold’s broke into my parents’ motel, Brandy high-tailed it to the back room, while my dad used a gun to scare the crazed psycho out of their kitchen window. When the cops showed up to investigate the mess that Reynold’s had made, only then did Brandy come out of the bedroom to give the officers a friendly greeting as if to say, “Gosh, sure glad you guys showed up.”
I was there at my parents’ place when Brandy breathed her last breath, and I remember it was a peaceful passing, no vets involved, no needles, just a sprawl on her side and some labored breathing, and then she was gone.
By then, I had discovered the Pet Cemetery out east of town and I began burying my dogs there. I made trade-offs with Patricia, the owner, as I wrote two universal poems regarding both dogs and cats, where the poem could be printed with the name of the animal at the top and therefore apply to anyone’s pet. You can read it at the end of this post.
At 26, a year after my first book, Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball, was published, I bought a house in Havelock and started my work in foster care. Over the next few years I took in nine different troubled kids and five different affectionate dogs.
Bummer, my Dobie/Shepherd, was the biggest baby of all of my dogs. Doberman’s have poor circulation, and in the winter time when Bummer wasn’t curled up beside either of my two woodstoves, she was burrowed beneath the covers in someone’s bed. And when she went outside, she looked like a damned chimpanzee as my one kid used to dress her up in a sweatshirt and a pair of colored underwear with Bummer’s stubby tail sticking up through the pee hole.
Bummer once swallowed a baby possum, and while I was outside cutting wood, she vomited the dead thing up in front of Henry, my very startled new foster placement. Henry came running outside of the house, screaming, “Your damned dog just had a baby out of her damned mouth!”
Sam, my Keeshond, was by far the most intelligent dog I’d ever had. She was one dog that I didn’t even have to leash as she would walk twenty feet in front of me, glance back to make sure I was coming, then trot back if I patted my side. She was magically bonded, and I took Sam out to Wilderness Park quite often to walk her. Sam also was great in a canoe and would remain perfectly still while cruising down through Wilderness or the Platte River.
Smoky, my German shepherd, was a misfit, and although I had a six foot high stockade fence around my backyard, she could leap it like a frog. She was an escape artist. So I used to chain her up to a concrete block in the middle of the yard. Fortunately for Smoky, my foster son and I returned home to pick up something we’d forgotten one day, only to find that Smoky had drug her block across the backyard and leaped over the fence, where she was dangling by the chain around her neck and her back feet barely touching the ground. I released her and put her inside the house, relieved that she hadn’t died of strangulation.
Tragedy struck Bummer at five years of age, for my neighbor man, a guard at the city jail, had this thing about standing on my front walk and getting Sam to bark at him. He antagonized her, and therefore thought he was justified in throwing a piece of poisoned meat in my yard. Sam did not get to it, but Bummer did.
My foster son, Trent, and I watched her die right there in front of us. I later had an autopsy performed and my vet determined it was strychnine that had passed through her system. I called the police and animal control, but they could do nothing without proof. I then went over and confronted the neighbor moron, but he simply cussed me out and slammed the door in my face.
That was the closest I had ever come to going to prison. But I kept my pistol in my drawer, and buried Bummer out at the Pet Cemetery beside Angel and Christian.
A month later, I adopted a Husky pup, Crystal. She was a pure white, blue-eyed beautiful dog. Unfortunately, she only lived for four months as she had a brain tumor and after spending $2,000 on trying to keep her alive, I finally had to put her to sleep. She was buried next to Bummer.
And then new neighbors moved into the moron’s house, and they had a black Chow/Husky mix named Sheera. One day while coming home with my kid, we witnessed the big, burly biker neighbor beating on the poor dog. I ran over and immediately confronted the surly bear of a man, and in response, he picked up the dog and heaved her over the fence at me, saying, “If you think you can take care of her any better than I did, you can have the damned bitch!”
I caught her and carried her home, without even glancing back at the moron. I kept her for 14 years after that. She was probably the closest dog to me I ever had, bonding with me and empathetic to my every mood. She would come and stand in front of me whenever I was angry or sad. She would curl up beside, placing her head on my chest whenever I laid down in bed.
The bad thing was, Sheera and Sam were both dominant females, and for nearly eight years I had to keep them separated or they would fight to the death. The worst fight they ever had took place one night in the middle of my livingroom. I made the mistake of getting in front of them instead of taking one dog from behind. Sam lunged forward and bit me deeply on my forearm.
Later, once I had both dogs separated in different rooms, I walked into the bathroom to examine my dog bite. It was so deep it appeared there was a white tooth embedded in my arm. I fainted and fell on the bathroom floor.
When I came to, my foster son, Ricky, was leaning over me, concern on his face. He had been outside on his skateboard ramp when the dog fight took place, so he knew nothing of the whirlwind I had waded into earlier. I had just clambered from the floor to the toilet seat, when Ricky took a long look at my bloody wound and gasped, “Oh my God, it’s a tooth!”
I fainted again. When I woke up, Ricky was showing three of his skater buddies my bloody wound and all of them were marveling that I had a dog tooth embedded in my arm. Come to find out, it was a bone in my arm that was visible beneath the three layers Sam had bitten through and not her tooth after all, but it was still totally gross.
The next day I was filming an anti-drug program in combination with kids from Malcolm and kids from Whitehall at NETV. During a lunch break from the interviews these kids were conducting with me, I slipped home to let the dogs out. And Sam and Sheera got into it again. I had to wade into the fray and break them up. While doing so, I tore open the wound that Sam had inflicted the night before, and it bled all over my purple shirt I was wearing. In my haste to get back to the studio to resume filming, I did not notice the blood splatters on my shirt.
Later, while reviewing the taping, one student asked, “What are those bright red spots on your shirt?”
“Good Lord,” I said, “that is blood from a dog fight I had to break up yesterday!”
The producer jokingly said, “Now we are going to have to give this film an R rating for blood and excessive gore!”
Sam passed at 14, Smoky at 10, and Sheera lived until she was 15. After burying Sheera, I vowed I would never take in another dog again.
But then came Kody’s book, and we needed a Pitbull pup to photograph as a model for the back of the book. We drove out to the Human Society and found a tiny Pit/Lab mix. While snapping off pictures of her, Kody began begging me to adopt the female pup, promising me he would walk her, train her, clean up after her, and she would essentially become his dog. Famous last words, right?
Jade came home with me. Her photo traveled all over the country on the back of the Wild Hearts book and she got to be on the front page of the Journal and Star with Kody in a full-color spread. But since that time, I have had to replace seven pillows, one vacuum sweeper cord, one Nintendo cord, two gloves, a dozen socks, and at least three bath towels. My couch looks like it belongs on the front porch of trailer situated in some backwoods setting as two cushions have been gnawed as well as both arms.
When walking down the bike trail, people ask me, “Oh, what kind of dog is that?”
And I reply, “Part Pitbull and all Meth Lab!”
Most get the joke, but one lady went on her way, saying, “Meth Lab? Never heard of that breed before. How odd.”
So as I contemplate whether or not to finish my story, Do Dogs have Souls, I wonder how many people believe they do.
Heaven will not be as I pictured it, if I get there and find that all of my past dogs are not there to greet me as I step through my cottage door. I have pictured that cottage nestled in a pine forest over and over in my mind for a long time now. And each time life here gets really hard, I cope by visualizing each of my dogs sprawled beside a fire inside that cottage. So if I open that door at road’s end and discover my dogs are not there, I am going to march right up to God and ask him why he didn’t allow them in.
Presumptuous? Arrogant? Rude? To bring God to task on the matter regarding my dogs? I don’t think so. He will know I am not stepping out of line, for dogs have been the emotional buffer I have needed to help me with each of the troubled kids who have passed through my life, and God will totally understand when I ask, “Just where are my soul companions?”
And I would hope he’d say, “Ah, I was saving the best for last. You didn’t look out in the field behind your back door, did you? For there you will find all of your dogs chasing crystal rabbits through a field of stars. Just call them back, for they will know your voice.”
And then to show God that there are no hard feelings for causing me concern over the souls of my dogs, I will share with him the joke about all the dyslexic people in the world who actually believe in Dog. He will get a good laugh out of that, I am sure.
So as you, my faithful reader, contemplate whether or not your own dogs ever had souls, I will leave you with this poem, and then I think I will get to work on that book once more.
The Lord looked down from heaven,
a puppy in his hand.
He said, “I’m sending you to earth,
an often troubled land.
“Your presence will bring comfort,
to ones I love so dear.
When you snuggle up beside them,
they’ll know that I am near.
“I know it’s quite a mission,
for a tiny pup to do.
But I’ll be in your heart,
my love will flow through you.
“You’ll whine, bark and sniff,
you’ll cuddle and you’ll play.
You’ll be a ray of sunshine,
on dark and dreary days.
“You’ll share that thought-filled stare,
that dogs are noted for.
You’ll wag your tail and smile,
greeting loved ones at the door.
“You’ll be a most welcome sight,
at the end of weary days.
You’ll grow from pup to dog,
sharing yourself through each phase.
“And when the day draws near,
that I retrieve my precious loan,
you’ll leave the world a better place,
through you, my love will have brightly shone.
“For those who cared so dearly,
and gave you love so free,
will know you were an example,
of the love that comes from Me.”