| HOW COULD YOU?
When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child, and despite
a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was
"bad," you'd shake your finger at me and ask "How could you?" - but then you'd relent, and roll me over for a belly
My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that
together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams,
and I believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides,
stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because "ice cream is bad for dogs," you said), and I took long naps in
the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.
Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human
mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about
bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love.
She, now your wife, is not a "dog person" - still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and
obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and I shared your
excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and
you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh,
how I wanted to love them, but I became a "prisoner of love."
As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs,
poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them
and their touch - because your touch was now so infrequent - and I would have defended them
with my life if need be.
I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound
of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a
photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered "yes" and
changed the subject. I had gone from being
"your dog" to "just a dog,"and you resented every expenditure on my behalf.
Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that
does not allow pets. You've made the right decision for your "family," but there was a time when I was your only
I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of
hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said "I know you will find a good home for her." They shrugged
and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog, even one with "papers."
You had to pry your son's fingers loose from my collar as he screamed "No, Daddy! Please don't let them take my
dog!" And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and
responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a goodbye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and
politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to
meet and now I have one, too.
After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no
attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked "How could you?"
They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost
my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you - that you
had changed your mind - that this was all a bad dream...or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared,
anyone who might save me. When I
realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I
retreated to a far corner and waited.
I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after her to a
separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry.
My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love
had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more
concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew
your every mood.
She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same
way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the
sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured
"How could you?"
Perhaps because she understood my dog speak, she said "I'm so sorry." She hugged me, and hurriedly explained
it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn't be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have
to fend for myself - a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. And with my last bit of
energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my "How could you?" was not directed at her. It was
you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you forever. May everyone in your life
continue to show you so much loyalty.
A note from the author:
If "How Could You?" brought tears to your eyes as you read it, as it did to mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the
composite story of the millions of formerly owned pets who die each year in America's shelters. Anyone is
welcome to distribute the essay for a non-commercial purpose, as long as it is properly attributed with the
copyright notice. Please use it to help
educate, on your websites, in newsletters, on animal shelter and vet office bulletin boards. I appreciate receiving
copies of newsletters which reprint "How Could You?" or "The Animals' Savior," sent to me at the last postal
address below. Tell the public that the decision to add a pet to the family is an important one for life, that animals
deserve our love and sensible care, that finding another appropriate home for your animal is your responsibility
and any local humane society or animal welfare league can offer you good advice, and that all life is precious.
Please do your part to stop the killing, and encourage all spay & neuter campaigns in order to prevent unwanted
Thank you, Jim Willis Director, The Tiergarten Sanctuary Trust, accredited member of The American Sanctuary
Association, and Program Coordinator, International Society for Animal Rights.