By: Kyle Jacobson
Staring forward, the road oncoming, my father’s memories hold him. I shouldn’t have asked, didn’t realize what I was asking. I thought of the dog I had as a child. A black lab named J.J. I remember crawling into his doghouse, blanketed with hay reeking of wet dog, and lying against his glossy coat. He grew elderly as I neared grade school. I wanted to know what happened.
“Couldn’t afford to have him put down. Those clinics charge so damn much, and I was still getting used to paying child-support every month.” He doesn’t even look at me, just stares off. “He was the best dog I’d ever had. Great hunting dog. The perfect hunting dog. He’d spot a pheasant and hold it as long as I needed him to. Then he stopped hearing me, so I retired him. I’m surprised you remember.”
“Yeah, I remember playing with him outside the garage. I don’t remember when you used him to hunt though.”
“Don’t remember that huh? He really was something. You remember his last years, he didn’t hunt during those. Towards the end, he was getting so sick, he was in so much pain. I took him out back with my rifle.”
My eyes zone in on the dashboard, I swallow a lump, but it doesn’t go down. “Wow… that must’ve been hard.”
“Hardest thing I ever had to do.” I swear I heard his voice tremble a note. “The first bullet, to the back of his head, it didn’t kill him.”
“J.J. looked up at me. It’s as if he was saying ‘thank you.’ The poor guy was in so much pain those final days. The second shot did what the first one couldn’t.”
Floppy was the first dog my wife and I had. A cocker spaniel with rough copper hair, dangling ears, and a cloudy eye. Got him from the shelter after his display of jestered clumsiness with a tennis ball. He’d roll over himself with the ball in his mouth as he’d rush back for us to throw it just one more time, which we did several times. His brother, Teddy, was docile. He enjoyed the petting, and seemed the wiser, but Floppy’s charm was undeniable, and we fell for it. The woman running the shelter made one condition for us on adopting Floppy; that we’d always have tennis balls for him to play with.
We took him to dog parks where he’d play with the other dogs, we took him to relatives where he’d play with cousins and family. Didn’t have a mean bone in his body. That’s what I believed. I can’t help from thinking we did something to him, that it was my fault.
The RV was packed, and we were getting ready to go camping. Floppy loved all the new smells, all the sights and exercise. We’ve had him for three years now, and over the last of those months he’d grown angry. Floppy would lung at other dogs for reasons we didn’t know. For reasons we couldn’t know. Sure we speculated, and we tried getting help, but nothing seemed to work. In the end we thought we’d go on with it, and keep him away from other dogs. On the end of his leash, we’d have to hold him back as his teeth bared toward passing pets. If we saw a dog coming down the way, we’d take Floppy into the ditch or off the path and steal his focus as much as we could. Treats worked well.
From the house to the RV, that’s all. We’ve done it a hundred times. He’d sprint across the yard to the RV and leap in. Things didn’t go that way this time. Around the tall pine at the end of the driveway they came, and Floppy’s attention shifted. When I understood what was happening I ran after him. He was the most loving dog with our family, with dogs he knew. He only wanted to play. Why was it like this with other dogs, or, in this case, with other people? She was a darling little girl. “He’s not friendly!” The little girl reached out to pet the dog. Floppy tangled for only a second before I was on him. I held him down, saw horror in the girl’s eyes, looked down at the red snake creeping from her leg.
I can’t argue with the decision. He’d drawn blood, and, in a respectable society, such an animal is to be put down. He’s my buddy. I love him. We sit on the table at the vet, he’d never snapped at the vet, never growled. I could comfortably argue he enjoyed the vet. Of course, the vet knew how to approach a dog. Would things be different if the child didn’t try to pet my dog? Does it matter? Still can’t help thinking parents should tell their children to always ask permission to pet someone’s dog. The conclusion comes, easy enough, that it doesn’t matter what the girl did or didn’t do. I am responsible for the dog’s actions, and it’s my fault Floppy is on this table.
I place my hand on my dog’s head and he looks up. Looks tired. I put a tennis ball next to his head, and he nudges it off the table. The procedure has gone underway, and its effectiveness is noticeable. I see Floppy’s twinkle, his desire to play and get the ball. I pick it up and place it next to him again, he’s disinterested. His eyes grow heavy. I pinch my lips, suck them between my teeth and bite. His eyes close. I wrap my arms around him and bury myself into his side, kiss his head and bury myself. I’m crying into his fur. His body seems to rise and fall, but only a little, or am I imagining it. When I’m certain it’s stopped. I stop. I want to stay here. I don’t want the next moment to come. It’s my fault, how could it be anyone else’s?
Driving home, I stare off into the road. It’s changing, it’s constant. White lines come at me over and over. I’m reliving a moment indefinitely. I screwed up. I don’t deserve it, but I wish I could’ve heard Floppy say ‘thank you.’ Instead, all I hear is ‘why?’