My daughter’s in-laws laid their beloved pet pug, Scooter, to rest last week. Normally, this would not be significant news for me, but I had the pleasure of being around for some of Scooter’s final days.
I am not a dog person. As a matter of fact, all pets kind of freak me out. My grandmother was deathly afraid of dogs, so we never had any while I grew up. In hindsight, it’s a bit odd since my grandfather grew up on a farm and was like the animal whisperer. He could make a kissing noise with his lips, and every animal, wild or tame, would walk up to him serenely.
My wife and I had the pleasure of spending the holidays in Raleigh, NC with our daughter and son-in-law Nat, along with our other two children and their husband and fiancée. Nat’s brother and his fiancée were visiting from Japan, so his parents, Jackie and Earle hosted the entire crowd on Christmas day.
Jackie and Earle have been involved with pug rescue for many years. I was unfamiliar with a program that rescued a particular breed of dog. Quite frankly, it seemed to me to be a bit like whatever the dog equivalent of racism is. Even so, if you were going to rescue a particular breed of dog, would you choose a pug? There are useful dogs, heroic dogs, attractive dogs…and pugs. If I ran into a burning Hollywood studio and could only save George Clooney or Danny Devito…well, you get the idea.
Scooter came to Jackie and Earle about ten years ago. The vet that they work with had a pug that was born basically without the dog equivalent of shoulders or elbows. He kind of shoved himself around with his back legs. The doctor felt that he could correct this problem by doing some sort of surgery that would build cartilage in place of the missing bones. After several surgeries and a lot of time in casts, Scooter was able to live a relatively normal life.
Nat and his brother Zack grew up with Scooter and several other pugs. All of them were, well, pug-ugly, but Scooter pushed the envelope. He looked like some sort of prehistoric sea creature that Godzilla might do battle with. For some reason, the boys liked naming things, and at various times also referred to Scooter as Little Man, Big B, Lewis, Bill, and Lumbermill…Lumbermill?
Recently, Scooter began suffering from several illnesses. He also lost the use of his sight. During our Christmas visit, I watched as Jackie and Earle fed Scooter, carried him outside and back inside to do his business, inject him with medicine, and lay him back down in his bed. It seemed so pointless to me. I certainly have enough heart to feel sorry for the poor pooch, but what kind of life is that?
It made me think back a few weeks to a class I attended at my local Chabad. The Rabbi was kind enough to invite me to attend a six week course on “How Success Thinks”, a discussion of success interpreted through the Torah. It was interesting, but at one point, the Rabbi was trying to explain the difference between humans and animals. While trying to explain that animals lack emotional motivations, he kind of slipped into a rabbit hole.
Several of the other students brought up dozens of stories, experiences and Facebook videos demonstrating emotional humanistic behaviors from animals. This dog walked fifteen hundred miles to blah, blah. Penguins always return to blah, blah. This cat never left the side of blah, blah…that sort of thing. I knew what he was getting at, but these other people were so insistent. I just didn’t get it.
A couple of days after Christmas, Scooter’s test results showed no improvement, and the vet, along with Jackie and Earle made the difficult decision to put Scooter to sleep. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to spend a little time with Scooter at the end. My opinion of dogs didn’t change, but I finally got what was happening at the Chabad. Animals don’t have emotions, but bring out emotions in humans.
Scooter cannot help being loyal. It’s programmed into his DNA and the connections between his food source and his brain. The loyalty that Jackie and Earle showed to their failing fuzzy loved one, however, was amazingly moving. In a world with ever-diminishing civility, it was a breath of fresh air. Some want to believe that it is in the animals themselves, but it’s more powerful than that. The animals give us an opportunity, or at least a hope of being more human.
Jackie and Earle have sadness in their hearts, but their hearts are bigger and stronger because of Scooter. Those are people that I can respect, and more surprisingly, that’s a dog that I can respect.