Yet another (completely avoidable) dead dog story

Was at dinner with wife and some folks from out of town. Talk at one point turned to dogs and the woman beside me told me that her brother’s dog had died and he was feeling guilty about it. Initially I thought, “no, you shouldn’t feel guilty about your dog’s death,” but then she told me the story. Her brother had left the dog on a glassed-in porch and then gone out with his family and thought they would be back soon and then they were gone all day and when they came home they discovered the dog had died.

Sunny day. Glass enclosure. Apparently there were dog paw marks all over the glass wall. They baked their dog to death. No wonder he feels guilty. The reality is, they murdered their dog. How callous can you be? And how stupid? Not to realize that a glass enclosure heats up from the sun’s rays. And the dog doesn’t have the ability to sweat. Why do people not get that dogs cannot regulate their body’s temperature the way humans can. Imagine locking someone in a sauna where the temperature just keeps rising. See what they would do. And I think of that poor dog. It doesn’t know what is happening, just that it’s becoming increasingly heated up and uncomfortable and wondering why its owners have abandoned it and then finally just expiring from heat stroke or whatever happens. Just imagine its confusion and fear and pain. Heartbreaking. And completely avoidable. There will come a time when this will be considered negligent homicide. Because that’s exactly what it is.

The thought of this incident just makes me so upset. That poor animal. And those people. Really. Apparently they’ve gotten a new dog. One only hopes that they care for it better than the last one. How can people be so careless?

And then you wonder how many times this goes on each day. Every day during the summer there are stories about people leaving dogs in locked cars. “But I cracked the window,” they say. Here again, complete stupidity. Even with a window cracked, the interior of a car heats up like an oven on a sunny day.

Walking the dog

FrankieWas returning from my dog walk this morning when I ran into a couple of guys standing near the sidewalk. Plumbers, according to the sign on the van, and as it turned out, waiting for the town inspector to show up to sign off on their work on a house across the street. “What’s your dog’s name?” one man asked as he bent down to pet her. “Frankie,” I said. He told me he used to have a cocker spaniel and wondered if Frankie made a lot of noise at home. “Not much, except when the doorbell rings.”

The conversation quickly turned to how much we love dogs and how important they are and how short of a time they are with us and then one of the guys said (and I did not prompt him) that a friend of his was so torn up by the death of her dog that she just couldn’t function. Then the other guy went on to say that he knew of a woman who had to take a month off from work because of the death of her dog. This kind of intense grieving for a dead dog is news to me.

Though I first heard about this kind of debilitating reaction from Jon Katz, a writer who I interviewed in May. He said, “Our whole idea of animals is changing. They’re considered as essential to our emotional lives. They’re at the center of our homes, we give them human names and of course we’re grieving for them as if they were human. They mean that much to people.”

He also thinks that as people become more and more disconnected from the natural world around them, they find solace in the company of animals, as replacements for that other lost connection.

He did mention this notion of people grieving so deeply that they couldn’t function normally, couldn’t go to work. He’s written a number of books about dogs and one specifically about the death of dogs called Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die. He said in the interview, “At the same time I think we are losing perspective about it. If I lost a dog and couldn’t function, if I couldn’t go to work, and this happens quite a bit, and I was falling apart and I wasn’t able to do the things in life I needed to do, I think I would need to get to a shrink. Because it speaks to something in your own life. One thing I’ve learned in writing a dozen books about dogs is that people are mirroring their own lives in their relationships with dogs.”

Is this an issue that I ought to look into more for this film? Find people who are so devastated by the loss of a pet that they just quit everything for a period of time? It certainly does speak to something in our culture, since clearly this is a behavior that didn’t exist in the past. When I was a kid (in the ’60s) and a dog died, you were sad for a while but then you moved on. It was not a big deal. But now, at least according to Jon Katz, intense grieving has become a public health issue in certain communities. As Jon pointed out, “If we’re living in a culture that’s equating animals and children, we’re heading into a very strange area.”




Cemetery Guy

One of the people I’ve interviewed for the “When Dogs Die” film is Mike Thomas, caretaker at the Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery in Dedham, MA. While working on this project I began taking a class in documentary film making since I quickly learned how much I didn’t know. One of the assignments for the class was to create a video portrait of someone. Since I already had an extensive interview with Mike, and I liked him as a subject, I decided to do my portrait about him. I spoke with him a couple more times while he was at work at the cemetery. This short film then is about Mike and the work he does. It’s not exactly an excerpt of “When Dogs Die,” but portions of this short film will no doubt appear in the longer final film. At one point while interviewing Mike, he said he’d “become the cemetery guy.” I liked that line and so made it the title for this short piece. Unfortunately the line itself didn’t make it into the film.