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Dog Days of August

24 Aug 2015
Stogie Zoro Stogie and Zoro

As the time for my vacation drew near, I became apprehensive. Such a state is not typical for me; I look forward to the interruption of my daily routine, to seeing new people and places. But this time I was fearful, filled with dread. The day before I left for Portland, it was time to put my dog Zoro in a kennel for boarding, and I cried as if I would never see him again. What was wrong? By the time I was on the plane, which I had to force myself to do, it had become pretty clear.

I haven't vacationed for ten months. My vacations rarely last more than a week at a time, so last year I took several to use up some accumulated vacation days. With my new dog Stogie, a one-year-old rescue who enjoyed car travel, my daughter and I visited Mount Charleston in June and the Grand Canyon in July. After Nicole returned to Houston, Stogie and I drove to Boulder, Colorado and the Rocky Mountains together. In October we drove to a writers' conference in Salt Lake City, and that was our last trip together; on the way home he got loose and ended up dead, clipped by a pickup truck, joyfully chasing a pigeon that acted like it was used to luring predators to their untimely deaths.

I realize now that watching my dog die, unable to stop it, was the most traumatic event of my life going back at least 20 years. I feel no shame in admitting that it was far more difficult than the death of my mother, which was neither unexpected nor untimely. The only other sudden death in my entire life was 49 years earlier, when I watched my first dog die on the street with a punctured lung after a street urching kicked its ribs in. But this time was more personal.

Looking back over the past year I realize I let it cripple me in numerous ways: I stayed at home, stayed to myself, I drank more than usual. My training declined. I wrote less. My self-confidence went into hibernation. I was afraid to drive my car. That has't been an entirely bad instinct because my car is almost seven years old now, with 80,000 miles on it, and it has needed work. I'm happy not to have discovered these shortcomings while driving in the middle of the desert, whose vast expanses sneer at AAA's 200-mile free towing radius. But I finally realized that for the first time in more than 20 years, I was depressed.

Depression for me is situational, not chronic. My last depression was more than twenty years ago, related to unhappy work situations; once resolved, the depression went away. This time was much different, because I did not lay awake at night, unable to sleep. It festered beneath the surface, perhaps hidden by the relative seclusion of my current lifestyle. Without a doubt I was unhappy and even though I acquired a new pup six weeks after I lost Stogie, it was not quite the same. Stogie was my dog-boy companion, and Zoro is still a baby, younger than Stogie was when I got him.

As I contemplated leaving Zoro in a kennel I asked my #1 sister, who has owned many more dogs than I and often left them in kennels, if she ever felt guilty about leaving them. "No," she said tonelessly. "But that's because you're heartless," I said. We laughed; she's known me longer than anyone and understands my humor. I am more affected by such things than she is, but it's a foolish kind of guilt: when I picked up Zoro from the boarder, he acted no more anxious than if I had left him for an hour.

To recognize a problem is to solve it; at least that's the mindset I try to live by. To say that depression disappears overnight would be fatuous, but it is safe to say that it is resolved, and I am taking the steps required. That means a return to rigorous training, and a return to my most important writing project. People may fail, circumstances may fail, but training and writing always work for me.

Postscript: While in Portland I visited the world-famous Powell's City of Books. I picked up two books with titles and themes suitably lofty for a city block inhabited by one and a half million books: The Meaning of Human Existence, and Why Does the World Exist? Unless you tend to religious absolutism these are intractable topics, but the second book is an excellent read - the perfect fuel for that long-festering writing project of nine years.

You may also like this related article: Dale's Doggies Die (186)
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