How Could You?

Copyright Jim Willis 2001

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 bellyrub.

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, 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

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.
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

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 or cat, 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

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, 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 dogspeak, 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. 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 meant for 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.

The End

*You are encouraged to publish “How Could You?” in order to help change
public opinion of animals as “disposable,” and to make people realize that
adding an animal to the family means a commitment for the life of the pet!
You can request the essay as a Word document from the author, and we
appreciate receiving a copy of published versions sent to the below address.

Of the many times “HCY?” has been published in the past couple of months, my
favorite use was by a photojournalism student in Florida, who illustrated it
with her own tos taken at a local shelter and then convinced a local
newspaper to publish it. That’s a great idea I hope other shelters/papers
will use as it personalizes it to your community and moves it beyond
reaching to the choir.


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