The long day closes

Pub date September 26, 2007

While, over the years, I privately deplored the food-obsessive practice of giving dogs such names as Mocha, Latte, and Basil — even Matzoh — I was hardly in a position to deplore, for we had named one of our dogs after a pizzeria. The pizzeria, Due, was in Chicago, where we once lived, but the dog Due knew nothing of Chicago, having been born near Petaluma in the summer of 1991, nor of pizza, beyond enjoying leftover crust. She preferred the white corn kernels that sometimes fell to the floor when I cut them from cobs. But due means two in Italian, and as Due was our second chow, and then our only chow, after her longtime mate died five years ago, the name seemed to suit.

A dog is an education, and for an omnivore, not all the lessons are easy ones. For a dog, in commanding your love and returning it to you as eager licks and whimpers, in searching your eyes for clues just as you are searching hers, reminds you countless times every day that other animals’ lives may not be all that different from our own. And why would we think otherwise, since we are animals too, peerers into the eyes around us?

Sharing our lives with dogs did not make us give up meat, quite, but as the years passed, we increasingly found occasion to wonder, and to make or order something meatless for dinner. There is probably no way to live on this earth without getting at least a little blood on your hands, but the less blood, the better. To keep the suffering of sentient creatures to a minimum: is this not the basis of a moral life? Do we not begin with these small creatures for whom we are everything — gods, in fact, shapers of the world?

How bitterly ironic that such loving and conscientious gods should find themselves in the position of having to decide when a beloved’s life must end. Due, who had come to her gods as an eight-week-old puppy on the day of the great Oakland hills fire, lived to see her 16th birthday in August, but by then she was stiff and skeletal, and the long light in her eyes had dimmed. A van came to the house on a September afternoon, and the gods wept when she died.

Paul Reidinger