About a Dog: Part Two

August 7, 2015

The last morning at Wild Uncle Johnny’s, I watched him prepare three strips of bacon and a scrambled egg, which he lovingly scooped into Zillah’s food bowl. Then he made himself a breakfast of a glass of orange juice.

I took a swig of coffee and chuckled a little as Zillah annihilated her breakfast in two huge, drooly bites.

“I know you love that dog but she is a lot of work,” I said. “Didja ever think, ‘Dang, maybe I should have just gotten a cat?'”

“Bah,” uncle Johnny scoffed, wiping bacon grease out of a skillet. “I grew up with cats and they’re all right, but they’re not good company.”

“I like cats,” I said, shifting in my chair to avoid an ardent lick from Zillah’s tongue. “They’re clean and small and quiet.”

“They also only give you the time of day because you feed them,” uncle Johnny snorted. “A dog’s love is unconditional. They don’t care if you’re rich or poor, ugly or handsome, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight. They’ll take you just the way you are and be loyally at your side forever.”

Zillah let loose with another monstrously loud, wet sneeze. Uncle Johnny laughed.

“I’m telling you…the love of a dog…”  He smiled goofily at Zillah. “Well, dogs just love better than any other living thing, even humans.”


A year later, Zillah got cancer and had to be put down. Uncle Johnny was beside himself with grief. He called my mother after that final trip to the vet, sobbing in heavy, agonized spasms.

“I killed my dog,” he cried. “She was the best…dog and…I re…I re…paid…her…by…I killed my dog.”

My mother spoke softly into the phone. “John. This isn’t on you. Okay? She was sick and you couldn’t let her suffer, and she would have suffered, John.”

I had to leave the room then.

Annoying and stinky and slobbery as she was, I knew how much uncle Johnny loved Zillah. I thought of him, alone in that house in the middle of nowhere. I thought of him sitting on that porch at night, listening to the crickets and the crack of the shotgun across the lake, without the comfort of his Zillah girl, chewing a bone at his feet.

“I’m worried about him,” my mother said later. “He’s wrecked about this. He’s not thinking straight. All that business about ‘I killed my dog,’ when there was nothing else to be done. Jesus.”

My mother was right–uncle Johnny wasn’t okay. He fell into a deep depression and began caring less and less about things, even his business. He began showing up to the store only a few hours a day before excusing himself, driving home and retreating to his bed. Sleep was his refuge, and he took it, slumbering away 18 hours of 24.

Five months after Zillah’s death, uncle Johnny brought home Xenus, another behemoth bull mastiff–a male. Uncle Johnny loved Xenus, but it wasn’t the same. The damage was done. He was already broken. Nothing could replace his Zillah girl. Uncle Johnny died a few years later, and while I’m not a huge believer in things like heaven, I’m hoping he’s sitting on a porch up there, enormous, loyal, farty Zillah by his side.


October, 2013

I’m broken, and I have no idea how to fix it, and that scares me.

I’m so broken that I’ve had to go away for a while. I have missed my daughter’s 8th birthday, something I’m afraid I’ll never be able to forgive myself for. I’m home now, but the broken is still there.

I’m waiting for something to kick in–regret, shame, anxiety, relief–even the crushing feeling of despair I had before I had to go away.  Any of those things would be welcome because then I’d know I had something thrumming and alive running through my body.

What I have: a dry, hard husk. Empty.

The empty is way, way scarier than the sad. It’s scary because my mind works–I am cognizant that I have three beautiful kids and a damn good husband and a life that most people would give an arm for. My instinct and my autopilot work, too. I dole out bowls of cereal, spread peanut butter onto bread and put it in a crisp brown sack. I brush hair, smile when someone teases, wave goodbye, but the effort of doing even those basic things crushes and sends me reeling, stumbling into bed once the house is silent.

I sleep. I sleep and sleep and sleep because it’s the only place that doesn’t remind me that I’m empty.

One day, in the middle of the afternoon, I startle awake. I don’t know what I’ve been dreaming and I’m so loopy that my first conscious thought is, “That damn Zillah sneezed in my face again,” because my face is wet. I look at the clock: 2:12. My face is wet with sweat and maybe (?) tears. I don’t know. I’m breathing too fast and I force myself to slow down; I run cold water over a washcloth. I look in the mirror and marvel again that it’s just my face, the same face that I’ve always had, looking back at me.

I walk carefully down the stairs, holding the bannister. I go to the kitchen, power up my laptop and Google: “hypoallergenic dog breeds.” I read for a while and Google more terms: “best dog breeds for kids,” “easygoing dog breeds,” “most affectionate types of dogs.”  I change out of my pajamas, do school pick-up, dole out snacks, and return to the computer.

My husband is on call, so he arrives home late in the evening. I’m still on the laptop. He’s surprised to see me out of bed, but he’s too polite to say so.

Around 11pm, I walk into the study where he’s working.

“Hey,” he says. “I thought you’d gone to bed.”

“I’m going,” I say.

“You okay?”

I shrug. We both know by now it’s a useless question, but I’m not mad at him for asking. I come up behind him and give him a squeeze. “Hey. What do you think about getting a dog?”

He rubbernecks around and looks at me in puzzlement. “A dog.”


“You are fervently anti-dog,” he reminds me.

“I know.”

“Miss D. has been asking for a dog since birth and you always say, ‘Hell no, I’m allergic.'”

“I know. I am allergic.” I say. “But I guess there are some breeds of dogs that don’t cause allergies.”

“Ooookay,” he says, guarded. “But…a dog.”

“Yeah. A dog.” For some reason, my throat gets clogged and I’m fighting tears. “Can we get one?”

He looks at me hard and long, and then something just gives. Or gives up. “Sure, honey. Sure.”

“I’m so glad,” I beam at him. “Because I already bought one.”


*part three coming*

Author’s Note: If anyone is wondering, no, we did not get Mozzy from a shelter. He is not a rescue dog. Rescue dogs are wonderful, and I know that, so please keep any lectures about the benefit of getting a dog from a shelter to yourself. Discussion over. We have a wonderful shelter cat, Aria.



{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie August 7, 2015 at 10:37 am

I’m so glad you found Mozz man. You all are lucky to have each other. A house without a dog is quiet indeed. (Rescue dogs can’t work well for people with allergies anyways because you can’t verify the breeds!) xoxoxo


Jennifer August 7, 2015 at 2:07 pm

I love you and the way you tell a story.


Jody August 8, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Thank God for Zillah, without whom we would now know Mozzy.


Jody August 8, 2015 at 5:55 pm

*NOT* know Mozzy.


Biz August 9, 2015 at 6:54 am

You are such an awesome writer Dana! And when I got to the part about your Uncle saying that his killed his dog, it immediately brought tears down my face because that’s the same thing Tony said when we put our beloved dog down. He was so weak and heavy at 90 pounds and neither one of us could carry him out of the car when we got to the vet to put him down.

At one last attempt Tony bent down and said “come here boy!” and Ed nearly jumped out of the car with more energy than we had seen for months. It haunted him the last years of his life too. :(


elizabeth August 11, 2015 at 6:28 pm

I’d have to respectfully disagree with your Wild Uncle Johnny that cats can’t be affectionate, if only because I’ve seen my brother’s cats follow him around his house single-file and my dear friend’s T’s cat is highly protective as well as affectionate, but dogs seem to take to that role more naturally, I suppose.

I can’t wait to read Ms. D’s reaction to Mozzy’s arrival!


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