I was never a dog person.
Cats are quiet, dignified, graceful. They are above you. They eat your food and when they want to be pet, they come to you. But cats are not yours. They belong to themselves. Raised in a house full of cats, the only domesticated animals I knew were aloof acrobatic roommates.
As a teenager, I described dogs as “the jocks of the domestic animal kingdom”. They were loud, menacing, strong, dangerous. Their interactions with the world was defined by their capacity for menace — just like that athletic kids I knew in middle and high school.
When I married a woman allergic to cats, I knew that my options were limited.
So when I went to the Harlem NYCACC, I was terrified. Large, toothy animals jumped at the bars of every cage, barking a cringe-inducing cacophony that filled the bleachy wet cement facility. Except one.
One dog in the pound was not barking, was curled in the shape of a doggie donut, scared of all the noise. When I knelt down to get a closer look at him, he pushed one limp paw through the bars at me, head down in shame and eyes up pleading for mercy. I held his paw in mine, and knew he was my dog.
I had no idea what I was doing. Like any good nerd, I spent a lot of time reading books and articles about dogs. Dogs are not cats. They look to you for cues, they watch you, they love you. Dogs need you to set a good example because they follow it closely. So I did my best.
Moksi was hostile when we brought him home. He had been beaten and abandoned by his former owner. Every time he attacked me, which was almost every day, I flipped him on to his back and straddled him, pinning him until he stopped struggling. After two months, he stopped attacking me when I came home. But that was only the beginning.
He ate and shit on and pissed on books, shoes, food, clothing, even kitchen utensils. One horrible day we came home and he had dug a hole through the middle of our futon couch, shat in it, danced in the scat and ran laps around the apartment. We tied him to a post in the middle of the room and used clorox wipes to clean up poo prints for hours.
After that day, we tied him to a post with his leash in the middle of our loft whenever we left the apartment.
Once. He chewed through his leash and was off again before we got home.
So we tied him to the post with a metal tether. For a while, we’d come home to a bloody mouth, bloody tether, and blood on the floor. Before too long he figured out he couldn’t chew through the metal, but it didn’t stop him from trying for weeks.
I learned that he needed more exercise, and so I ran with him 9-12 miles a week. That was the missing ingredient to his life, and with that we were able to lose the metal tether and leave him alone with free run of the apartment. He was well behaved with all that exercise.
I had always thought of dogs as hostile assholes, but Moksi opened the neighborhood to me. People who know me may be surprised to learn I’m an introvert, but on his 2-3 half hour walks a day, I saw things I never would have seen, explored the neighborhood I would have avoided or closed myself to, and met so many people I never would have spoken to.
There’s something about dogs, though, that allow even extroverted people an opportunity to talk to people they wouldn’t normally interact with. In daily life, and especially in New York City, people live in a bubble of privacy. We have to; there are so many of us, so close together, it’s a matter of mutual respect to treat all the people around you as if they’re not there.
But if you have a dog with you, something changes. A dog gives the world permission to strike up a conversation with you, even by proxy. People have had whole conversations with me, staring in to my dogs eyes, petting my dog, never once looking at me. And vice versa.
In the three apartments I’ve lived with him, Moksi allowed me entrance to the community and the community, in turn, was allowed access to me. Everything was permitted, sightseeing, exploration, even casual conversation with strangers, when Moksi was by my side.
Dogs are the embodiment of our best selves. They are loud and strong, the things I hated them for, as defensive mechanisms, as protection, but they are loyal and full of unconditional love. With few badly mistreated exceptions, dogs are forgiving. They don’t care about the mistakes you’ve made or the accidents you’ve had, they love you and want to be loved in return. They live in the moment, and encourage you to, too.
When Kaarin and I would hug each other at home, Moksi would run to us and shriek and cry until we asked him to join us. He was a sad dog, chronically depressed and whiny. He was unhappy unless we were touching him, and then he was the happiest dog in the world. So when it came time for him to go, we both held him until his heart stopped.
When the pink fluid that would stop his heart and brain flowed down the long, long crazy straw of his catheter and finally entered his arm I cried so hard that no sound came out. I was in agony. I held him close as the breathing slowed and stopped. And I started sobbing when it was clear that moment had passed and I wasn’t holding my dog any more, only meat.
The photo attached here was the last time we sat together. After we made our intention clear to euthanize Moksi and end his suffering, the vet left with him to install a catheter. When he returned a few mintues later, Moksi reacted as though he hadn’t seen me in a week. Even with all his pain and lethargy, he trotted and wiggled and wagged over to me, straining against his leash to be in my arms as soon as possible. I sat down on the floor and he immediately took his place as he had so many times before.
We snuggled and talked and I wished that it would end the way I had expected it to : with a shot, a round of medication, and an eyeroll at the exorbitant medical bill.
Moksi entered my life as $40 worth of dog on death row at a city pound, and left as a $200 “group” cremation. But the time we spent in between was time I’ll never forget that taught me about love, life, dogs, and myself.
Moksi was a good boy, and he made me a better man.
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