Nancy Cahners

Obituary for a quirky dog


His breeder said the way his lower jaw didn’t align with his upper would not be a problem. Nor should I fret about the way his tongue didn’t fit in his mouth. And I should ignore the way the same names appeared multiple times on his list of progenitors.

The truth was I would have taken him home no matter what. He was the same color as Cody and having him in my arms was the only way I could stop crying after Cody’s death.

So that’s how Zackie came into my life. He was the last one left in a litter at Cody’s breeder. From the get-go he was no Cody, our family’s prince-of-peace, Zen-master pup, whose presence warmed our lives for 8 sweet years.

But Zack looked so much like Cody that I could feel the oxytocin surge just looking at him. My son asked if I planned to replace him if something bad happened, like I had replaced Cody only a month after he died. G-d forbid, I said, which I realized didn’t actually answer his question.

Though small-ish for his breed, Zack had a strong need to pick fights with much larger dogs, the kinds you associate with shocking newspaper reports. And after he had provoked the other dog into a rage, he ran for shelter behind my legs, leaving me to negotiate with the big guy with the bared teeth. That alone should have been distressing enough. But it was the way he pinned down puppies, snarling and holding them by the throat despite their whimpers, that really made me wish I had taken all those repeats in his pedigree seriously. We were pariahs at the dog park. I was always apologizing for him.

He refused to walk on a leash. Once I decided that I was going to simply ignore this and pull him along until he figured out I meant business. When we got to his doggy daycare, he left bloody paw-prints on their floor. I still hate myself for this.

The next time, I decided to just carry him, lugging all 32 dead-weight pounds of him for 4 or so blocks. On our way, a gentleman we passed said, “Now that’s what I call taking a dog for a walk!”

That wasn’t the only way this pooch ruled me. He used to push his toy balls under the couch and whine and bark and dig until I fetched them. And when it thundered, his inconsolable terror caused full-body paroxysms of shivers and rapid-fire farts. My bed jiggled like a massage chair about to explode in a public restroom. He would forget when he was tied to a tree, and over and over again would lunge at passing dogs, each time practically crushing his own larynx.

Not just his mind worked funny; his own little body gave him a hard time. When he got his first shots he went into anaphylactic shock requiring ICU care. That little pink tongue that didn’t fit in his mouth turned white! Repeated infections blossomed in his ears causing him excruciating pain or frantic itching and finally, total deafness. Nothing was easy for this little guy.

But he followed me everywhere I went and curled up under my desk when I worked. He slept alongside my leg every night, every TV show, every night in a tent, every car ride. And that was enough. Feeling the weight of his head on my thigh made his weirdness worth it. I used to wonder why my patting him made me feel so good, but it did.

I’m sorry to say Zackie will be missed by very few of us now that he’s gone. By nature, he didn’t shine his love-light far and wide, but I’m not sure it was all his fault; my kids had already moved out by the time he came along. My husband too. Still, I’ll bet there is a pack of puppies, now full grown, who would have loved the chance to meet him in a dark alley for a final farewell.

I hope Zack will rest in peace, but I suspect it will be in conflict.

Thanks for listening.

About the Author
Nancy Cahners was the Design Director of MIT Technology Review, until one day, the entire staff was fired. Poof! Gone. After a stint at Harvard Divinity School and Medical School, she became a Healthcare Chaplain and Medical Ethicist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, The Jewish Advocate and has been broadcast on NPR’s Morning Stories and Morning Edition and TLV1’s WhyWhyWhy. She lives in Neve Tzedek where she takes the same Ulpan course over and over again, and steals posters. She also helps her daughter’s family keep up with their laundry.
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