The canine curse

My daughter’s dream reveals a sad truth about pet ownership

Our dog is ugly.

Picture a Mexican Hairless. Now make it about 12 times bigger and you'll start to envision what our German Shepherd Libby looks like. She's lovable, but it's safe to say that Libby is part zombie and she makes babies cry out in alarm.

Unfortunately, my daughter is completely in love with her. I say it's unfortunate because she also is old enough to realize that the curse of owning and caring for a pet is that we are destined to outlive it.

Our family decided to foster a pair of German Shepherds from the Manchester Animal Shelter a while back. We ended up with two dogs: One was fairly healthy after a long road back from neglect, and the other was Libby. Poor, ugly, stinky, sweaty, hairless, zombie Libby. Long story short – she was affected by a skin allergy that caused her hair to fall out. She's on medication and doing better, but I still find myself running in the opposite direction when she comes bounding into the room looking for someone to rub up against.

Of course, my wife and daughter fell instantly in love with her. It's hard not to – she's a loving, curious, funny dog who just needs some love and care. And maybe a paper bag to put over her head when we go out in public.

My daughter has very little patience for my barbs at Libby's expense, and I often have to assure her that I'm kidding, and I think Libby is great. And smelly.

We were awakened one morning recently to the sound of our daughter recovering from a nightmare that left her quite upset. She came into our room and started to tell us the disturbing sequence of events that put her in this state.

She explained that in her dream, Roy and Libby were put to sleep. I felt terrible for her. We tried to calm her by telling her it was just a dream and there was nothing real about it. Then she pretty much shot down that argument with a conclusion that was both irrefutable and rather depressing.

“But they are going to die,” she said. “We're all going to die eventually.”

She's a deep thinker. When I was her age, I was more concerned with whether we had any Count Chocula left. This wasn't how I wanted to start the weekend. My still-waking mind raced for a comforting explanation, but since this was pre-caffeine, the best answer I could come up with was an understanding “mhmm,” and a hug. How would I explain to her that this was indeed the truth, and the dogs would very likely go first? It's a very deep topic that probably deserves more than a nod and a hug.

We just continued to assure her that the dogs were OK, and that we wouldn't put them to sleep. As she calmed a bit, she started to reveal more details of her dream. And as she came out of her half-asleep state and told us more about it, the scarier aspects started to come unraveled.

Evidently, Harry Potter villain Dolores Umbridge's giant, floating head was responsible for the dastardly act foisted upon our pets. I guess that could be scary, but as the minutes went by, my alarmed little girl started to see the humor in such an image. It still didn't take away the sorrow of envisioning her beloved Libby and Roy in peril, but it chased the boogie-man away for a little while.

Meanwhile, I spent much of the rest of the day wondering about how to actually deal with the deeper issues she had broached.

I suppose that will come with time. It will have to. But until then I've got a zombie dog that needs some loving, and a little girl who's more than happy to oblige.

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern N.H. with his wife and daughter – both of whom have a soft spot for broken animals.

Categories: Dad on Board