Rocky – March 2002 – January 2, 2014

I don’t know what was the exact day in March when our Aussie cattle dog mix was born. We adopted him from the Skajit Valley Humane Society in Washington in September of 2006 and brought him home. He’d been in the shelter for so long–8 or 9 months–that we got him for a reduced price. The dogs were two to a kennel at that point, and in spite of the wonderful, obviously caring folks who worked there, there was feces in most of the kennels; they just couldn’t keep up with the work load.

I remember bringing him over the border; we were asked to show his rabies-shot update papers, and we did. We were asked his breed. And then the border guard stuck his head through my window, took a long look at the big black-and-white-trimmed dog lying on the back seat, looked at me sharply, and said “Thank you for giving one of our dogs a home,” and waved us through. For $80, Rocky was ours.

At the time, I’d had steady employment with a non-tenure-track teaching position for about 4 years. Income was not large, but relatively stable. I have three sons. I have regular-type payments and cost of living. We’d fostered a friend’s dog for the four previous years until they owned their own home and then she returned to them. And my youngest sons really wanted another dog.

Fast forward almost two years, and my employment changed. I decided to head back to school. Since that time, income has been typical of most artists. I cobble together something from all the bits and pieces I can do as a writer and teacher and editor. It works; I’m not complaining.

But this morning, after a week and a half of various symptoms and ailments, I found Rocky had passed away in the early hours of the morning. I’ve never experienced a dog dying naturally. It was shocking. I didn’t feel prepared. Though when I thought about it, I realized he was doing his best to let us know how he was feeling. Not eating; reluctant to return to the house after being outside. The vet says that his dingo side wanted the return to the wild of the outdoors, and yes, I’m inclined to agree, and find that comforting.

My husband’s first comment was that Rocky died as he lived: never wanting to be a bother to anyone. Just content to be around. Have a pat, a scratch. A walk was something to get excited about. The odd snack or pig’s ear to crunch. When my dad came for a visit, Rocky would quickly recruit him for a ball throw. He wasn’t a purse dog–or whatever it is they’re calling those pampered fluff balls. There was nothing fancy. A bed, as his bones aged, yes. And I did always buy good, healthy food, as I do for all in my family. That’s not a luxury to my mind; it’s a living expense that comes before paying for BC Med.

He never was ill. Didn’t require regular vet visits. Loathed going to the groomer for fur or nails. Encountered a skunk a couple of times this past summer–and that required baths–but really…well, here’s the thing about Rocky: he was the ultimate poor-people dog. What a thing to say. But for a couple of self-employed artists, who do not have medical, dental, pension-plans, etc…he was the perfect dog.

Today, he was supposed to have a lengthy vet visit. I’d already manged to get a urine sample from him a few days ago (!), and it had been tested. But today was post-holidays, and the let’s get-this-sorted time. The vet had sent along some idea of what the cost would be, so I could plan. The bill was going to be close to $500. I don’t have it, really, but it was necessary, to know what was wrong and plan accordingly. And I was planning.

And then Rocky decided it was time. Or recognized that it was. And after discussion, the vet reassures us there really was nothing we could do. Had we discovered the illness earlier, he would have gone through all that he hated and feared; the poking and prodding. He would have been miserable. And the outcome would be the same albeit with more pain.

I find myself thinking that we won’t have another pet in our home until I have a settled income, until I know for sure that at any given moment I can walk into the vet’s office and demand top-o-the-line tests and treatment.

And here’s the thing: my youngest son has spent most of his 14 years with a dog in his home. He is compassionate. Partly, I think, because most of his years he’s shared his home with a furry being.

I grew up in the 70s. That was a different time for pets. And I’m not saying we should return to that, but the current time makes me uncomfortable. Or aspects of it. The aspects that say that it’s okay for four-footed folks to prance in 6 sets of rhinestones, while east side kids, and even west side kids, go without breakfast.

Tough questions. Should only financially-comfortable people have pets? What about the enormous number of folks who’ve had to give up animals all over the States, post-recession? The numbers are horrific. But then I found the numbers of shelter animals in Washington State shocking in 2006, when we were looking. Kids who lived with marginal incomes have much to gain from sharing a home with an animal. There’s a kindness in a home with pets. There’s also a sense of protection. In a home where a parent is at work for long hours, a pet can be not just a comfort, but a responsibility that can bring about so many positives.

Maybe there wouldn’t be so many animals in shelters if folks with less-than-steady incomes could take one home, and know that, in an emergency, they can seek out some assistance from the shelter in the future. I think of the homeless folks who have a dog to share their lives. How many times have I heard comments about “I don’t know why THAT person has a dog.” But the companionship is something I do understand.

These are tough questions. And they go further than this, don’t they?

I’m finding it challenging to write about this today. So I’ll stop now. But will welcome your comments and thoughts. Wondering about the possibility of setting up a bit of fundraising for folks to manage to take care of pets.

Rocky, thank you for sharing your undemanding life with us. I’ll keep with me the feel of your deep fur in my fingers, and your simple happiness to be with people, even people who never had a rhinestone for you.