Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Another Dog Goes to Heaven

"Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies. Quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate."- Sigmund Freud

The thing you have to understand about my dog Annie before you can understand anything else is that we - meaning my mom, sister, and myself - were never allowed to have a dog when I was growing up. For years on end we hounded my dad about adding a canine to the family mix, to which he would invariably reply, "No, damn it! You know what y'all would do with a dog? You'd have fun with it for about a month, and then you'd get bored with it. And you know who'd be stuck having to feed and take care of it? ME!" To further accentuate the point, Dad would make a point of slowing down whenever he drove past someone walking their dog at night so he could turn to us and say, "Yeah, that's exactly what I want to be doing at 8:00 at night. Walking around behind my dog, freezing my ass off, waiting for him to take a dump!"

Thus, we were all a little surprised when 1995 rolled around and my dad said it would be okay for us to adopt the little black dog that had started camping out in front of the house.

We tossed around a lot of names for her before eventually settling on Annie, as in "Little Orphan Annie." (Kind of cheesy, I know, but all dog names are cheesy when you really think about it. But anyway...) Having gone so long without owning a dog, we weren't really sure how to act around one, which is why, as some of you already know, Annie was treated more like a person than any kind of dog. Whenever we left her home alone, for example, we left the TV on so Annie could watch the Cartoon Network, which my mom and dad swore was "her favorite". And of course it didn't hurt that she acted decidedly human, never once doing any dumb dog stuff like jumping all over people or fetching tennis balls (if you were lucky, Annie MIGHT bring a ball back to you once before sitting down, yawning, and deciding that playing fetch wasn't really her thing.)

Over time she became a fixture within the Wiltz family household, spending most of her time in a certain area of the living room, which we not-very-inventively nicknamed "Annie's Spot". Sometimes when I'd call home from Ole Miss, I'd ask my mom if she'd "managed to get that big black spot out of the carpet yet." "Nope," my mom would reply. "She's still here." And this of course was how we saw her - our lethargic family pet, always resting on the living room floor, never motivated by anything except food or the promise of a car ride. Every so often, though, if we offered her a treat, Annie would entertain us with a well-rehearsed series of tricks: Sit. Lay down. Shake hands. Raise the roof...But far and away everyone's favorite was roll over - that was Annie's cue to collapse onto her side and lay lifeless on the floor. (My dad would always try to cover for her, saying that she had rolled over so fast you couldn't see it, but the truth is that Annie, being a very "healthy" animal, wasn't really designed to roll all the way over.)

Now, I have to admit that it's strange for me to sit and write about all these funny, quirky little things Annie used to do, knowing good and well that that's not at all how most people will remember her. Most people, you see, never got to see Annie do her tricks or lounge around doing nothing for hours on end. Instead, they'll remember the time she tore into Daniel and shredded his pants from the knee down. Or the time she ripped the possum off the tree in the backyard and crushed him between her jaws until we could hear his bones popping. Or the time she nearly fractured her skull against the window of my dad's station wagon, trying to attack a Sonic carhop that got too close. Or the fact that we had to get rid of the other dog we briefly took in (Penny) because the veterinarian assured us that Annie would kill her at the first available opportunity. Or the fact that her reputation was so terrible at one point that my friends and I cast her as the Big Bad Wolf in our high school film, Little Prep Riding Hood. Or, if nothing else, the way no one could casually walk into our house without first waiting for Annie to be locked in her Pet Porter or taken away to another room. Yes, for all practical purposes, my beloved four-legged friend will be remembered for her temper and her willingness to back up her low gutteral growl and bark with a bite that meant business.

But I assure you, dear readers - and I sincerely hope you'll believe me - there WAS another side to that aggressive black dog. True, she was selective with her affection (like everyone else in my family), but I think you'll agree that that's better than showing no affection at all.

In fact, I've done a lot of thinking in the time that's passed since Annie left us during the early hours of October 7, 2005, and I've come to realize what a lot of much wiser men realized long before: a dog's love is truly perfect.

Human relationships, you know, are so sketchy and conditional. Whether it's a romance or a friendship or the bond between parents and their children, it takes work to make things function between people. A dog, on the other hand, is unconditional in its love and its willingness to be loved. As far as Annie was concerned, there were only four or five people in the world that really mattered, and she did everything on four paws to take care of those four or five people. Never once during my time at Ole Miss did I worry that Annie wouldn't be excited to see me when I came home. Never once did she lick my hand when I didn't feel as if she was telling me, Hey, J, I've got your back. And if anyone ever tried to harm you, I'd literally tear them apart.

In that respect, it doesn't really matter to me that most people thought of her as "mean" and insisted that there must be something wrong with her. It also doesn't bother me that so few people got to see her good side. What matters is that I saw it. I know what was soft and furry about her. And I loved her for it.

Ironically, when Annie passed away last month it was my dad who mourned her the hardest. Dad - the one who didn't want a dog to begin with. Even now he gets a little misty-eyed whenever we bring her up in conversation. Ordinarily, I'm afraid I'd have to laugh at the sight of a grown man crying over a dog, but in this case I understand. It's hard to say goodbye to something when you know for a fact that it loves you.

Annie Ashley Wiltz (1994 - 2005)
* those wishing to pay their respects will find Annie's burial plot tastefully tucked away under the swingset in my parents' backyard

Gosh....it makes you want to cry, doesn't it?


Blogger mayaboti said...

I have ALWAYS wanted to have a Dog their unconditional love always amazed me. You were really lucky to have had her in your life.

5:10 PM  
Blogger reddoorjen said...

I am sincerely sorry for your loss--such a travesty deserves a proper mourning. In respect of you, your grief and your beloved dog, I will wear black panties all week.

Stay strong, J....stay strong.


8:22 AM  

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