Two Goodbyes

Two Goodbyes



A Beautiful Morning

A break in the heat and humidity made it a gorgeous summer morning, and I was in great spirits because after 13 and a half miserable hours the day before, the power had finally come back on–and was still on. What a storm that was!

I’d gotten to the farmers’ market early enough to claim some of the luscious organic tomatoes and cucumbers I wait for all year, and I was chatting with the farmer, friendly, rather idle conversation, about the nasty storm (his power still wasn’t on), past nasty storms (the time a power line fell across his driveway), organic gardening, and the beautiful weather we were blessed with that morning, my dog, Elika, sitting calmly at my feet, the guitarist playing in the band shell in the middle of the grassy square, the smell of fresh bread and cut flowers.

The conversation took a sad turn when the farmer told me he’d had to put a horse down over the weekend, his daughter’s horse. He told me how much his daughter loved that horse, how they used to go to shows, what pals they were. She’s a college student now, lives out of state, but had been home for the weekend. Her horse’s intestines had burst into his diaphragm; a genetic weakness, the vet said, something he was most likely born with. I said it was a blessing that the horse had waited for his daughter to come home. He looked at me oddly, maybe wondering if I was joking. I told him I was serious. It was a blessing that they got to say goodbye.



We didn’t have to try to change the subject because a woman a few feet away asked me if it was safe to approach the booth. I wasn’t sure what she meant until she pointed to my dog, my sweet Elika, who was calmly sitting, leashed, at my feet.

I assured the woman that Elika was perfectly safe; still the woman hesitated, then told me she used to have a dog just like mine—an American Eskimo mini. Her dog, though, had been very aggressive.

The woman catapulted into a long, frantically told story about this dog, this Eskie, and her two other dogs, Shelties, and how they sometimes got along and sometimes didn’t get along, and how the Eskie, a male, was very aggressive, would bark and bark and bark like a crazy creature when someone came to the door. (I added that my Elika used to be that way, too, just so the woman wasn’t talking to herself. I didn’t say that the behavior was actually territorial, not aggressive, but that’s what I was thinking.)

The woman said her Eskie, when he was barking madly at the door, would sometimes nip at the other dogs if they got in the way. I wanted to ask how she responded to this behavior, but I held my tongue. Then one day, she said, when a delivery person came to the door, the Eskie attacked one of the Shelties, grabbed the side of its face. Well, she said, she took the Eskie to the vet that very day. I thought, she took the Eskie to the vet? What for?

She told that vet she just couldn’t have this behavior in her house, couldn’t abide her Shelties getting hurt.

And I, not quite believing what I was hearing, said, “Wait. You had the dog put down?”

Yes, she said, what else could she do?

I turned and thanked the farmer for his gorgeous tomatoes, promising to come back next week. The woman was still talking about how she had to put the dog down, she couldn’t put up with that behavior. I turned to face her and said the first full sentences I’d managed to utter since she’d begun talking: “This was a training issue. It was your job to train your dog. Excuse me. I have to leave now.”

As Elika and I walked away, the woman launched into an even higher gear, her voice shrill and accusatory (accusing me?) explaining (trying to convince herself?) that the situation was just too dangerous, that the dogs had all lived together for four years, and if he was going to attack a dog that he’d known for four years, well, he just couldn’t be trusted, and it was an awful wound, and blah, blah, blah. Elika and I kept walking. I said a silent prayer for the lost dog. I tried not to think dark thoughts about the woman, who clearly had no clue. I thought about the vet who had carried out this death sentence.


Two goodbyes, one said with love and sorrow, one said with ignorance and fear.



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4 Replies to “Two Goodbyes”

  1. I am sad for the horse and his person, but I do see it as a blessing that they were able to say a final goodbye to each other.

    And also, I am angered and frustrated by the ignorance and often denial of the responsibilities required of people when they choose to have pets live in their home. These ignorant people simply expect that dogs automatically know and will follow the social, “politically correct” protocol that humans are expected to follow. While dogs are amazingly intuitive and can pick up on many things not specifically taught to them, they also have their own psychology and social order that often will override “social graces” and their natural instincts emerge in situations involving issues such as prey, territory, and other things very close to a dog’s survival instincts. It is the job of the human guardians to teach our dogs what the rules are, and then to also be consistent in enforcing the rules. This is the social order that dogs understand. However, the communication gap often occurs when the human is not open to learning the dog’s language and using it to communicate effectively. Everything the dog does is interpreted by an ignorant human from the human psychology point of view, and therefore, interpreted incorrectly. The real reason behind most “disagreeable” dog behaviour is usually much more simple, and most likely based on one of three things: food, territory, or mating. Not necessarily in that order, depending on the dog. Above all, it is the responsibility of human who wish to live in harmony with dogs, or any other species for that matter, to learn that animals language. That is how effective communication can be built, many problems avoided, and harmony produced for all. There is a quote that is an email tag from one of my friends I see it all the time, but can’t remember who exactly said it, but it goes like this: “In training a dog, it is not enough to expect him to become partly human; you must be willing to become partly dog yourself.” Or something to that effect… A simple truth, but ever so meaningful.

    1. Thank you, Michelle, for this thoughtful, eloquent post. Yes, dogs are incredibly intuitive. And they pick up on our emotions and states of mind. My sense of this situation is that the woman had no clue about how to effectively communicate with her animal and that she became afraid of him. The dog then picked up that fear and anxiety . . . and away they went.

      More upsetting to me is that there are veterinarians willing to kill an animal just because a human asks them to.

  2. Hi Pam,

    Wow, what powerful stories and illustrations of how these two individuals’ perceptions of their animal companions and relationships with their animals shaped the context of the goodbyes. The horse showed his love for his human companion through not abandoning her–he gave her the opportunity to say goodbye even though it was heartbreaking to lose an old friend.

    I honestly don’t know what to say about the woman who rashly decided that the answer to the unusual behavior was to put the eskie dog down. I’m wondering how much of the dog’s “issues” were actually a reflection of (read that as reaction to) the person’s energy, her lack of understanding of basic dog psychology, and poor training. I’m surprised that the vet was so quick to put the animal down. Surely there were other options? Maybe the vet could have connected the woman to a person who would help her better understand the Eskie’s nature and correct the training problems?

    My significant other’s cat Puma has a few interesting behaviors (He plays a bit rough and occasionally forgets that a love nip from sharp kitty teeth hurts people.) but we understand that some of it was a lack of proper kitty socialization from his cat mom (He’s a rescued feral kitty who lost his mom) and some of it was a result of him being inadvertently taught that it was okay to play rough. We look at it as a case of “when bad habits happen to good kitties” and focus on retraining the behaviors. It takes a bit of time and patience, and it’s worth it.

  3. Thank you, Sue. I completely agree that the dog was mirroring her energy–and her fear. The woman was afraid of my little one who, as I said, was sitting quietly, leashed, at my feet.

    I don’t know about elsewhere, but in the state of Illinois, domestic animals are classified as “property,” so humans are free to dispose of them as they like, as long as the disposal is done “humanely.”

    So happy to hear that your kitty is getting the benefit of the doubt . . .

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