I miss his velvet ears. I have some of his hair in a pretty little silver box.
In the neighborhood where my husband and I live, there is a graveyard nearby. Dogs are sometimes abandoned there, victims of the economy, and of owners who considered them expendable. It breaks my heart to see these dogs discarded like last week’s newspaper. I’ve always loved dogs. My childhood years were filled with happy memories of our Beagles - I loved their musical howls. One of our beagles actually slept on top of her doghouse - just like Snoopy.
We had been looking at rescues, thinking of adopting an older beagle, when I started seeing a beautiful dog in the graveyard. Kind neighbors would bring him food, which he would take warily and run away. One day, I saw him drinking from one of the leaky sprinklers on my front lawn. He looked at me warily, but with kind, soulful eyes. He had his drink, and then returned to his vigil at the graveyard, crossing his front legs, sitting like a statue, waiting for an owner who would never return. One day, I brought him out a can of cat food. He let me pet him, and I was smitten. I told my husband how beautiful he was, and he said, “Well, catch him and put him in the garden” - and that’s just what I did.
The vet thought he was a Chow/Lab mix. His hair was short, but thick and luxurious, with a copper-like metallic sheen. He had a teddy bear face, a black tongue and a curly tail. He’d been neutered as an adult, appeared to be 3-4 years old, and had no microchip. I named him Rhett, because he was handsome, and a bit of a rogue, but also because of his beautiful red coat. He was never destructive, didn’t dig in my garden, and was very polite about his bathroom duties; always in the same place, and never when we walked. He was a gentleman, very well behaved. Somebody had obviously trained him well, although from what I understand about Chows, they are naturally polite dogs. He was also a very good watchdog. If he barked, we knew something was up. He knew the difference between the little old ladies that walked by, and the hooligans.
Rhett was very smart, a quick learner. I taught him to sit at a snap of a finger, and lie down with a hand command. He also knew “Give me five”, “Give me ten”, adored having his belly rubbed and would roll over on his back if you said, “Belly time”, he played “patty cake”, and did a “happy dance” when it was supper time. He was very enthusiastic about food. One time, he stole a whole container of Loft house Sugar cookies. He would also “speak” on command. If I threw something, he would grudgingly and dutifully go retrieve it, but if you threw it again, he would give you a look like your were insane…as if to say “Hey, I JUST brought it back to you, silly.” He had a kind of aloof dignity that I just adored, and respected.
Because of Rhett’s shy idiosyncrasies about going potty, I had no luck in getting him to relieve himself on walks. A friend told me about the Dog Park, so I thought I would give it a try. At the dog park, Rhett was minding his own business, investigating the grounds and marking the trees, when a pit bull cornered him and would not let him pass. Then the pit bull grabbed him by the neck. I came over and kicked the pit bull, the pit bull owner came over and the dogs were separated. I remember she said that her pit bull was “correcting” my dog’s behavior. I’m not sure which was more disturbing - the pit bull or it’s owner. Thankful that no blood was shed that day, I put Rhett on a leash, and never returned to the dog park.
About a week later I was walking Rhett and Scarlett, our other Chow mix, when we were attacked by an off-leash pit bull. Another horrible, crazy owner. A couple of weeks later we were attacked by yet another pit bull. Reports were increasing in my neighborhood of people being attacked and injured, of their pets being killed, by pit bulls - a little girl’s Chihuahua mauled right in front of her. A neighbor’s beautiful Chow attacked and seriously injured while on a walk. A neighbor’s home was invaded by a pit bull. A child attacked while sharing Easter Candy. The nephew of another neighbor had his testicles bitten off by a pit bull. One evening when I came home, a loose pit bull chased me from my car to my front door. It was surreal, a war zone.
On Memorial day, around 7:00 in the evening, I was feeding Scarlett, alone in the house, as she was on medication. She began howling and carrying on, and I knew something was wrong I looked out the back French door, and was horrified to see the whip of a tail attached to a giant white pit bull. Rhett had assumed from what I read is a “submissive” posture. He had surrendered to this pit bull which somehow got into my back garden. I ran inside and called the police, then ran to my front door and called for help. Several neighbors ran to our help within seconds. One of the young boys knew that the pit bull belonged to a man across the street, and he ran to get him. Another neighbor asked for my gate key, while two other neighbors went for golf clubs and a shovel, in an attempt to stop the pit bull which was still attacking Rhett.
The owner of the dog arrived to see his pit bull wagging its tail, covered with the blood of my dog, as if everything were fine. As my dog lay wounded, this owner couldn’t stop grinning - was it some twisted sense of pride? He took the pit bull and left without a word. My next door neighbor helped me pick up Rhett, and she drove us to the emergency hospital while I held him and put pressure on the wounds.
Rhett survived the initial attack, but would never again be the same. He was profoundly disabled, his behaviour that of a stroke victim. He walked at an angle, he drooled, and he would fall while going around corners. He had a haunting, defeated, humiliated, and confused look.
I didn’t understand how the pit bull was able to enter my seemingly secure back yard, which is surrounded on all sides by a dense, 10 foot high bottle-brush hedge and a masonry wall, until we noticed that the two bottom rungs of the wrought iron gate had been damaged, so that with enough force, a determined attacker could push through. This pit bull had escaped from its yard to ram himself through a locked wrought iron gate. This beautiful garden, which was meant as a restful oasis of peace, had been violated by this hideous creature, transforming it into a slaughterhouse, a nightmare and a lingering sorrow.
My Rhett, my handsome friend, continued to suffer strokes as his condition deteriorated. I could see that he was barely existing, and so I had to make the heart breaking call to my vet. Choking on the tears, I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and Rhett started to follow me, as he always did. I could see a strange, faraway look in his eyes as he stood there. I ran to him and held him. My handsome boy died in my arms. We’d had a bittersweet, 3 week goodbye. When the vet called back I gave him the news that Rhett had already passed, and he gave me the phone number to the pet crematorium.
I shed a tear for Rhett every day.