I'm writing this on 25 November 2003, two days before Thanksgiving. Yesterday, my Mom did something that was incredibly difficult for her, something really emotionally wrenching but brave and necessary as well: she euthanized our shih-tzu, Alex.
Alex has been with our family a long time, first with me for roughly the first half of his life, and with my Mom for the last half of his life. In that way, he's enriched (and frustrated, at times), two households. He was a special dog in many ways, and I wanted to pay tribute to him on these pages. We'll never forget him.
A New Member of the Family
I got Alex sometime in late 1989, after my graduation from college in St. Louis, Missouri. I was living with my girlfriend Jeanne Berger at the time, and she had a wonderfully sweet-tempered dog named Duchess. Duchess was a medium-sized mutt, and was just a great dog. My family had never had a dog, at least since I came along in 1968—just cats—and I immediately found out that I in fact had been a dog person my whole life without ever realizing it. I took to Duchess immediately, but I wanted my own dog.
During the late summer and early fall of 1989, Jeanne and I were hanging out with a couple with whom we had become friendly: Brian and Kerry. They finally invited us over to their house one night, and we got to meet their dog: a jet-black shih-tzu named Muppet. Muppet was cute as heck, lively, and friendly. I immediately decided that I wanted a shih-tzu.
"How much do shih-tzus cost?" I asked Brian, hoping to hear $100, which at the time would have been quite a stretch for us financially.
"Oh, about four hundred dollars," Brian answered.
Oh. Well, there goes the idea of a shih-tzu. Too bad. Muppet was so cute!
About two weeks or so later, I arrived home to an excited Jeanne. Brian had called with a crazy story. Evidently, his uncle was an alcoholic, and a mean alcoholic at that. They had a shih-tzu, a little guy about nine months old, named Alex. The uncle would get drunk and then beat the little puppy often, often with a belt. After that, his wife would comfort the little guy. Finally, after months of this abuse, Alex had bitten the uncle's daughter in the cheek one night, giving her nine stitches. As a result, he was on doggy death row, awaiting execution. If I agreed to take him, and if the uncle's wife agreed to let him go, then we could rescue him. As Brian told Jeanne, "Once you've got him, though, you're going to work really hard to rehabilitate that dog. You're just gonna have to dump love on that dog."
So Jeanne and I went out to see Alex. We drove a long way, into South St. Louis county, if I remember correctly. I was getting more and more excited. We got to the Pound, and they led us into this little room, separate from the other dogs. This was the room for the bad dogs, the ones doomed to death. They opened the door to the room, and I saw about ten cages, five on the floor, and five right above them. Immediately, all the dogs went crazy, barking and growling and howling at us. One large pit bull kept crashing his head into the door of his cage as he tried to get at us. He was brown, and he had bite marks and scars all over his head, probably from the fights he had been forced to participate in. Jeanne and I were immeditely terrified, and drew back in fear.
Right above the pit bull was a filthy, matted shih-tzu. He didn't bark like the others, he didn't jump up and howl like the others, he didn't try to attack us. Instead, he just sat there silently, quietly, looking more than anything else … sad. He reminded me of a P.O.W., caged and beaten down and depressed. The poor guy was almost catatonic. That was Alex.
"My God!" said Denise, "You don't want that dog! There's something wrong with him!"
But I did want him. I felt so bad for him, sitting there, lost and forlorn and doomed to die, and for a deed that really hadn't been his fault. Something in that filthy little ball of fur called out out to me.
"No, I want him!" I said to Jeanne. "Let's get him!"
Jeanne shook her head, but she agreed. We left, called Brian, Brian called his aunt, the aunt tearfully agreed to meet us at the Pound so she could sign the release, and a few days later we were back at the Pound to spring Alex from jail.
The aunt said a tearful goodbye to Alex, holding him in her arms and crying and telling him how much she loved him. He wagged his little tail and licked her face, overjoyed to see the woman that had taken care of him for as long as he could remember. We promised that we would take good care of him, no, swore that we would take good care of him, and then she handed him to us, and Alex was now my dog. She never saw him again, and I wish sometimes I knew her name or how to contact her, so I could thank her for that supremely difficult act on her part, and let her know that he led a good life.