What I Learned of Dogs & God

by Ted Box

I searched under the bed, in the attic, in every corner of the house, even in the boatyard. My teddy bear was nowhere to be found. My love had emerged before I could make the distinction between animate and inanimate.

The new teddy bear was a thing. I could see it was a thing. It held no attraction for me. I didn’t understand that my parents had switched bears, but there was a glimmer of understanding that would one day reveal that it was my own attention that distinguished between the bears, that attention is the expression of soul.

A few years later, I got a dog. It was black. I wanted to name it midnight, my mother named it snowball. I was too young to form the thought, but it still lay there in an amorphous state: my mother thinks she’s clever and she’s not, she’s obvious. A few weeks went by, it was a Saturday, my father home and we were preparing for a family picnic in the bay, when snowball started running around foaming at the mouth “You kids get in the house. “My father stepped outside. I didn’t see the shotgun, but I heard it, and knew that snowball had crumpled like the ducks of November. It was distemper and not rabies, but my father wasn’t one to take chances with his family.

My mother said, “He’s in heaven with God.”

“Why did God want him dead?”

“We can’t understand God’s actions.”

Well, I could. I was just a boy of six, but there was nothing a puppy could do that would make me want to make it sick and shot dead. God didn’t care about puppies or soldiers whose names I would read every day on the tin sign which was there final roll call, planted on the lawn of the firehouse, and yet I had a clear sense of God, so it was in that moment my desire to understand the rules was born. Call it a spiritual quest.

We got another dog, a female this time, and I named her Wolf. She was a pretty mutt, about as good a dog as anyone could ask. Back in those days when dogs ran free, and only good dogs, at that, because the firemen led by my father, shot the bad ones, there was, it seems a lot of dog humping going on, and wolf became pregnant. The pups were soon old enough to have homes, but there were five kids by now, so my parents decided to limit the progeny, and wolf was spayed. I don’t know what the vet took out, but it didn’t stop her from having another litter “You can keep one of the males.”

There was a beautiful male. I choose him, and named him Striker, after Sergeant Striker who got killed in a movie, and I wasn’t happy about that, so I brought him back to life, sort of. I came back from school one day and was greeted by Striker, but not Wolf. “

Where’s Wolf?”

“We took her to the Bide-a-wee home.”

“When is she coming home.”

“She isn’t.”

Dog number two, and another life lesson. It’s not just God who does hurtful things. I missed Wolf but lived with hope someone adopted her. Meanwhile, I started paying attention in school and in church, as I wanted to unravel the mystery of life. It seemed like the most important thing, and I wasn’t sure where the answers were going to appear.

I heard about reincarnation from my dentist. I immediately knew it was true. It was never a theory to me. I simply believed it, and later, when the concept of the transmigration of souls was presented to me, that based on our actions, when we die, we move up or down the ladder of creation, assuming bodies consistent with our desires, a part of the grand scheme of creation, in essence, that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, extending into the realm of the sentient, gave me hope that my lost dogs where somewhere in some other bodies.

Years went by and I grew into a version of myself that I recognize. I was a prince of the bay, had a pretty girlfriend to feel up, was athletic enough to satisfy my ego, and had what turned out to be the most unreliable dog in all the canine kingdom.

Striker was incorrigible and lovable in equal measure. You could count on him to stick his nose in any crotch, roll in shit, fart in the car, disobey any command, and yet, he was the favorite of the neighborhood, with the possible exception of the Conkin sisters. We spent countless hours roaming the marshes, where he’d spook rabbits or mud hens, and run just as fast as they would, only in the opposite direction. His cowardice was legendary, but it never prevented him from exploring. His flaws only made me love him more.

It was late in the school year, the blue-claw crabs had already left their winter abodes, and the sour cherries were ripening.

“Where’s Striker?”

“Your father said a million times he was going to take him to the shelter, so I obeyed his orders.”

I didn’t punch her in the face. I ran to the phone and called Richie Dedcovitch.

“Your car got gas?”

I told him what was up, and he was at my house in a couple of minutes. “There was a mistake. My mother took my dog here. Striker. I want him back.”

His face told the story. I looked at the man who killed my dog, who killed a thousand dogs. What can you do to a man who’s killed a thousand dogs? My mother never obeyed my father in her life. Striker was sacrificed on the alter of her anger, her bizarre belief that I wouldn’t see through her artifice kicked up rage-filled-grief that I either had to swallow or commit matricide.

How do you swallow an inferno?

When my father got home, he spent a long moment looking down the canal, searching for a life that would come in the form of another woman, a decade later. But me? Something left me that day. Whatever mother love still sticking to me was scraped off. Anything more in that quarter would have to be built fresh, and it would take a half century for that to happen, when it became my turn to nurture her, and In that time I vowed to end the terrible dance I can only guess went on between us in other lives: I bathed her in the best version of my unconditional love and a new chapter was written, water drawn from my unshed tears.

I became stronger that day. Stronger in ways I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and did continue my search for the truth but somewhere in the way back of my being, there’s a little boy who will never find his teddy bear, and a teenager whistling for lost dogs, and what I’ve learned of God, I’ll keep to myself.

Photo by Alejandro on Unsplash

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