Lost Dogs, Lost Dads and the Unhesitating Heart


There’s Something About Harry

Before I had heard that this dog had been lost, before I’d heard that his owner was lost without him, I felt a pang myself. That’s the power of an image—or more accurately, the power of an emotion. My sister had sent me this photo, telling me that it was a picture of Harry, her friend’s dog that had gone missing that morning. But I didn’t even get to that point in Harry’s sad story before I felt my own loss.

What looking at the picture did was take me immediately to a memory, one I hadn’t thought of in years, of a German Shepherd that my family had brought home from the pound when I was eight or nine. I think my brother and I were supposed to share responsibility for the dog, but I do remember that I was in the lead in begging to have a dog. Our dog, Champ, was a beautiful shepherd like Harry, and he was friendly and fun, but he had a “flaw”: he could easily jump over the five-foot fence that bound our yard, and he did it regularly. We had to hunt him down, all in a frenzy, over and over.

I don’t recall how deep the discussion and if many other solutions were offered, but my dad decided, perhaps only after a month or so, to return Champ to the pound. I was crushed. I remember driving to the pound with the dog in the back of the station wagon, hating my dad at the wheel, my face burning. It’s strange to still have the salt active in a wound from so long ago, and stranger still the mix of emotions, because it makes me miss my dad, who died a couple of years back.

Emotions Jump Without a Net

But this post isn’t exactly about dogs, nor about losses, as an adult or a child. More so that some emotional grounds, though they might be covered, are never actually buried. People’s emotions can jump from their bodies without any chance for their cerebral side to intervene. And that’s where we as writers, whether of business or essay or tale, should open a gate. Not as manipulators of emotion, but encouragers of it. Post the pictures in readers’ minds of lost dogs, stern parents, the gleam of future dreams.

No matter if you are writing about email marketing programs or the electricity of your first kiss, try to open the gate so the emotion comes through. (Now you might grant me the kiss part, but email marketing? Believe it, there’s a charge and a current in everything—you just have to plug it in.) So yes, the Internet has changed the game—at least on this side of the digital divide—but before the first packet, before the first link, before the first tweet, there was the human heart. It leaps.

Oh, by the way: Harry? Harry made it home. Good dog!

Flesh and Blood Are We

I had a post at Firepole Marketing a short while back that runs its fingers through a few of the things discussed here. Check it out: Flesh and Blood, Meet Flesh and Blood.

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9 thoughts on “Lost Dogs, Lost Dads and the Unhesitating Heart

  1. Thought-provoking essay Tom. It brought back a memory of being about 6 years old. A mentally unbalanced neighbor had shot our much-beloved German shepherd, somehow thinking he was a wolf.

    The vet said our dog would need an expensive surgery and there was no guarantee he would make it. My dad opted to have the dog put to sleep.

    I don’t fault my father for this decision, but I sometimes wonder how he weighed the benefits and costs.

  2. John, your pain must have exceeded mine, because you had your dog longer, and you were much younger, so the emotion undoubtedly cut more deeply. I don’t really fault my father either, though I wish we had all tried to solve the issue together; if I recall with any accuracy (always a question), there wasn’t much shared decision-making on matters like that. Thanks for writing.

  3. John, my dad could be pretty old-school himself, though he was definitely a good guy. The Depression was quite an instructor when it came to a certain way of thinking about money, especially if you didn’t have all that much to begin with.

  4. One of my childhood pals read this post, and tried to comment, but the cyber-gremlins intervened. But this is what she said, and I think they are wise words:

    “I don’t believe time vested in a relationship with a pet, or even a person for that matter, plays a factor in how strong a relationship is, or how deep the sense of loss of that relationship is felt…especially for a kid. The strongest emotional attachment can happen in an instant, with hopes that it will last forever. So, in my mind, whether it’s been with you for a short time or for many years, it is just as hard to lose a pet you truly love. That’s been my experience, anyway.”
    – Dixine

  5. Our childhood dog, Chevy, unfortunately had her own “flaw” of falling asleep under cars on our driveway. One day my oldest brother, not seeing Chevy under his car, reversed down the driveway. Afterwards, the sound of my other brother’s anguished cries filled the house.

    It’s a memory of losing a pet, yes, but even more so it’s a memory of being moved and overwhelmed by the bigness of my brothers’ shared tragedy.

    So that’s how this post made the gates open for me, T. Bentley, and that’s a good thing because my first-kiss story ain’t all that electric.

  6. As a dog rescuer, you had me at “Harry.” I know too many sad stories to tell.
    You’re right about the emotions. Books that make me laugh, make me cry are the ones I remember for a long time.

  7. Annie, just to show you what flavor of morbid wise guy am I, the first thought that came to my mind was: was Chevy run over by a Ford? But forgive me that evil, and know that I understand your brother’s pain at some level, having watched my beloved kitty, Buddha, killed in front of me by a neighbor’s passing car. That was agony.

    Animals get deeply in our heads, and deeper yet in our hearts.

  8. Hi Aimless. Yes, good God, we are surrounded by sad stories, but once in a while there’s an uplift that happens after the sadness. I just hope for a balance of the sad and the glad stories. I’m with you on the core of books that touch us with laughs or tears; when the author can do both, with style and persuasion, I’m taken as well.

    I saw the photo of Hemingway’s bathroom and kitty graveyard on your blog; nice. I took a photo of a nice tribute bust of Hemingway not far from his home at Ketchum, Idaho. Mark Twain loved kitties too.

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