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Author of this essay:

Yin Cai Shakya
(May 18, 2009)

by Yin Cai Shakya

Remmy Remington
2005 - 2009

It was over the Valentine's Day weekend that our good dog surrendered to the cancer she had fought for many months. It was the first time that she seemed to be in pain. We woke up in the morning and there she was, lying at the foot of our bed with her eyes half closed, unwilling to play or eat or do anything but lie there in a trance-like state.

My wife and I rubbed her head and she lifted it a little and a strange sound came from her throat. We had never heard her make that sound before, but we knew what it meant. I turned to my wife. "It's time," I said. She nodded.

When the Vet had operated on Remmy and saw the extent of her cancer, he gave us the choice of euthanizing her or letting us see how she could handle the problem. She had been so frisky in the Vet's office, her tail wagging to beat a drum only she could hear. We said we'd wait and bring her back for regular check-ups. This decision wasn't as uncomplicated as it seems. Remmy is a full-blooded pit bull and is therefore illegal in the county in which we live. Should the authorities have discovered she was residing there with us, she would have been taken away and destroyed. We had to register her in the nearest county in which pit bulls were still legal. According to her official documents and her records at the Vet's office, she lived at an address that belonged to a friend of ours. If the police did pay us a visit, our story, and our landlord's, was that Remmy was there for a visit, and she'd be going home later that afternoon. So those "regular" trips we agreed to make to the Vet covered many miles.

At first, like most people, we hoped for one of those remission miracles. She seemed normal. I'd take her out for walks early in the morning - when other people who worked took their dogs out. This was her time for socializing. She had been spayed so there was never any scent to arouse aggression. She had dog pals of all kinds and in all sizes; and they all seemed as glad to see her as she was to see them. Any one of those dog owners could have turned us in. They didn't because they didn't have a reason to. Fear and rage give off pheromones; and when a dog senses those pheromones it responds accordingly. But people who care enough about their dogs to take them out at dawn to let them socialize are not the kind of people who instill fear and rage in their pets.

As pit bull owners go, we were lucky. We were grateful that our neighbors -especially those who didn't own or even like dogs - had never complained. Everyone who knew Remmy liked her.

In January we took her to the Vet's to have her abdomen drained. The tumor had discharged enough fluid into her belly to make her look like she was carrying a litter of pups. Two weeks later, we took her again for the same drainage procedure. The Vet palpated her abdomen and warned us that the end was near even though she seemed so frisky in his office. "What a fighter she is," he said.

She had been living with that cancer for over a year, and while she must have felt pain, she never stopped greeting me at the door or bringing the knotted rope to play rope tug with me. She figured it was my game; and pain or no pain, she wouldn't deprive me of the pleasure.

Our veterinarian is a kind man, the sort of man that you might find in great works of fiction, an archetypal "gentle soul", the man who can step forward in a chaotic situation and set everything right again.

It was Sunday morning when we called to let him know Remmy was ready to be euthanized. We left a voicemail message, but he quickly returned the call and went to open his office for us, so that we could go through the procedure in peace, just the four of us - my wife, Remmy, the doctor and me.

We had received so much advice from our friends and families, and so much encouragement. They assured us that although putting a dog to sleep is a difficult thing to do, it is indeed the best thing to do. They assured us that Remmy would go peacefully, glad to be done with suffering. My wife and I both expected this kind of ending when we arrived at the veterinarian's office that morning. What unfolded was not even a reasonable approximation.

Remmy had been lethargic in my wife's lap all the way to the Vet's. But the moment we laid her on the table it was as if she knew what was coming. She thrashed about violently as the doctor searched for a vein adequate enough to serve as an injection site. My wife and I struggled to restrain her. I held her head and forelegs close against my chest. My wife was trying to hold her legs down, but hard as she tried she couldn't keep her legs still enough for him to administer the injection properly. Remmy never once growled or tried to bite. She just didn't want to die.

After several minutes of struggling, each second of which seeming like an hour, the doctor administered the fatal injection and almost instantaneously Remmy went limp in our arms. The doctor left the room, allowing my wife and me to say our farewells in private. My wife was crying, and he assured her that we had done the right thing. Though the procedure had been far from peaceful, we knew that we had, indeed, done the right thing. We just didn't know why it felt so bad to do it.

The Vet was going to have Remmy picked up by a crematory facility that would call us when we could pick up her ashes.

All the way home by wife wept and mumbling, over and over, "Oh, my God, I just killed my dog." I kept saying, "No, you let her lay her burden down. You gave her peace." But she didn't hear a word I said. After awhile I had that feeling in my mouth and throat like I was trying to slake my thirst with water and found that all I was drinking was a glass filled with ashes.

My wife was disconsolate. For more than a month I didn't dare yield to my friends' advice and suggest that we look for a new dog. And then one day I came home from work and found her watching television, wiping her eyes with a tissue and Remmy's urn in her lap. I knew I couldn't wait any longer. I told her the best thing we could do for Remmy was to rescue a dog from the animal shelter.

It was on one such visit that I found the card. "$5,000 REWARD - Report Dogfighting" read the card with the picture of a friendly looking pit bull on it. "DOGFIGHTING IS THE PITS", a "clever" play on words, was printed across the bottom. I flipped the card over and read: "The Humane Society of the United States will PAY YOU UP TO $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a dogfighter. If you suspect dogfighting in your neighborhood, call the police." This was followed by: "YOUR IDENTITY WILLBE PROTECTED" in large, bold print.

I found the card on a table occupied by volunteers from a local dog rescue group. The PETCO in my neighborhood was hosting an adoption event, a "meet-and-greet," on behalf of the organization. The photo of the pit bull on the card was of the latest fad-animal in the fringes of the pit bull world: blue with a white chest; a large squared head; and from what could be seen of his musculature, that stocky "overdone" aesthetic; bright eyes,perked up eyebrows, mouth wide open forming a wide, deep, almost jack-o-lantern-like crevice from which a wide tongue emerged. Still, there he was, smiling with that goofy grin that is so characteristic of the breed:The quintessential "happy, harmless dog."

The sad irony here was that in spite of the laws, in spite of the pit bull witch-hunt that went on in my neighborhood and others, dog fighting was still happening there just as it was happening all over the country. Films like Amores Perros depict dog fighting as an exciting "get rich quick" opportunity for the poor although the most heroic dog in the film was not a pit bull. Most Americans think of dogfighting as a crude exotic pastime,imported and attended by poor, uneducated people who can't afford The Sport of Kings or any other legitimate sporting event.


Nobody is really worried about dogfighting - which, obviously, is why a reward has to be offered to get anyone's attention. The story of Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels shocked us more because he was educated, rich, and an American football hero whose employees committed unspeakably cruelties towards dogs, than because,ultimately, those animals were going to be put in a fighting pit. Occasionally, the emphasis was placed where it belonged. A good example of responsible reporting was writer Jim Gorant's December 2008 article in SI.com magazine's "What Happened to Michael Vick's Dogs?" (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/magazine/12/22/vick.dogs/index.html)

Writes Gorant, "... pit bulls have an image problem. In truth these dogs are among the most people-friendly on the planet." He explains that they have to be people-friendly since in the course of a dogfight the adrenaline crazed animals have to be pulled apart by humans and no humans would want to risk having the animals turn on them. Aggression towards humans have been bred out of them. Gorant quotes, "'Of all dogs,' says Dr. Frank McMillan, the director of well-being studies at Best Friends Animal Society, a 33,000-acre sanctuary in southern Utah, 'pit bulls possess the single greatest ability to bond with people.'"Gorant adds, "Perhaps that's why for decades pit bulls were considered great family dogs and in England were known as "nanny dogs" for their care of children... Most dog experts will attest that a pit bull properly trained and socialized from a young age is a great pet."si.cover.dec29.2008.jpg

The operative word here is "properly trained and socialized." While people don't get overly indignant about dogfighting, every attack by a pit bull on a human being or another animal is sensationalized. What nobody pays attention to is the owner of the dog and the way that owner mistreats, by ignorance or by design, his dog. Dogs have bitten people and other dogs for millennia. If the crusade to eliminate pit bulls succeeded we would not stop aggressive canine actions.

Leaving the store and still holding the anti-pit bull pamphlet, I met a kid of about thirteen standing outside with his dog, a large, approximately 130 pound (59kg), tan animal with a black face and large telling brown eyes. I casually remarked at what a nice looking dog it was. "Thanks!" he said. "His name is Tank. He's a Canary Island dog and Tosa Ken mix."

So Tank was a mutt, a mix of several different mastiff-type dogs, distant relatives of the pit bull. Apparently, one of the kid's cousins had acquired the animal through somewhat dubious channels; and then, when his cousin was sent to jail on drug charges, he promised him he'd look after the dog.

I looked the animal over. His chest bore scar tissue. So did his muzzle. And he wasn't wagging his tail when I took notice of him the way a pit bull does when met by a stranger. No, Tank was eyeballing me, sizing me up. "Do you roll him?" I asked.

"Nah, man, he's done with all that." he said. "We just feed him. Once he could cross the scratch every time, even for two hours, back in the day," he smiled. "Now he just lives with me and my mom. She likes having him around because he guards the house real well." I returned the smile, but I was thinking that people don't breed two dogs to get a product like Tank unless they're trying to engineer a fighting machine. And also, if Tank, the 130 lb. science experiment that was on the other end of the chain the kid was holding wanted to bolt, the kid could never restrain him.

We don't need to ban dogs. We need to ban the people who breed and fight dogs. And we need to educate people who derive a sense of security from treating a living creature as though it were a Glock 9 mm. Feed it for ammunition, then point and shoot.

My wife and I got another dog; an Olde English Bulldogge - more than a puppy but less than full grown. Already my wife is getting attached to it. We named her Lola Ananda Dasa.

I suppose that of all a man's pets, there is only one that ever gets to be"top dog" in his life, the one he always keeps with him in the back of his mind. I don't doubt that Remmy will be mine. And this is why I feel particularly sad to think that for being privileged to have had her as my special friend, I could have been charged with "owning a vicious dog within county limits," and that Remmy would have been destroyed.

Remmy never menaced anyone. The only enemy she was ever pitted against was cancer - and she fought that with all the courage and grace of her breed.

And now that my good dog is gone I will remember how, as Ishmael said, "we'd rub each other's shoulder blades and be content" whenever the Universal Thump was heard.

It was heard often.

Humming Bird