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Ally and Me: A Memorial
When we lose someone dear and precious, it is as if all the others who died before are lost to us again. Surely dormant in our memory this most recent death awakens and amplifies the loss of all those that have gone before. They unfurl, stretch, and as they join hands the weight of all that pain and sorrow bends us down until we think we can’t stand or move or breathe again.
There is a hole in my heart shaped like a dog. His name was Ali and he was a Doberman. And if you know about Dobes, you know they’re special – if you’ve ever had the privilege of being loved by a Doberman. you will know they are excellent. Ali was great.
She was only two weeks old when we met. My life was in complete and utter turmoil because I was leaving a place I didn’t want to leave and moving to a place I didn’t want to go. I knew I couldn’t make it on my own, I needed a dog. But not just any dog, a Doberman.
He was born out of the Aeolus pedigree and the breeder who sold him to me said his line had won many awards for best in show, obedience and more. They were champions and he said this was the best litter in over twenty years – he was selling the puppies for $4,000 each.
Noticing my audible gulping, he said he had 2 males and 2 females that he would sell for $1000-$1500 each. She recommended that I drive to her kennel to meet these puppies. The rancher escorted me to a large garage type building and collected 4 tiny bodies, placed them on the concrete floor and left me alone with them. When I sat down on the floor, one of the puppies came out and ran madly at me shaking his whole body. His other 3 companions stayed in their ball and watched me carefully. At that moment, Ally and I began the 10 year journey that ended on the morning of March 26, 2006.
Ali was fearless. Our first “outing” was at a Petco store in Houston – he was about 4 weeks old. He saw a huge Rottweiler, the dog must have weighed 120 or 130 pounds, this tiny puppy “attacked” the Rottweiler – pulling on his leash while barking, growling with all the attendant ferocity of the 80 pound animal he would become within the year. The owner as well as the other 5 or 6 customers in the shop erupted. Throughout his life this fearlessness would remain a dominant feature of his personality.
He was about 3 months old when we left Texas to move to Massachusetts I was so scared. We arrived at Logan Airport in late November 1995. I picked up Ali from the dog pick-up and as we sat on the airport bus I’m not sure who was more scared, him or me. I had found a house to rent with wood for the puppy to run and grow up. I could only hope that this new job and home would work out for us. But I had been in Texas for almost 20 years and moving to Massachusetts felt like moving to another planet.
I was working long hours, too long to be fair with a fast growing, energetic and lonely puppy. But as the days turned into weeks, we settled into a routine that worked pretty well for both of us. My breeder had taught me that crates are best for growing dogs – as they were pack animals, they felt safe and the items in the house would be protected from the exploration of curious puppy teeth. But the times he was allowed out of the cage, everything was fair game. It was harder to keep up during my morning workout and it must have been during one of these moments that the cause of our first crisis occurred.
We have been in our new home for about a month. At 2 or 3 in the morning, Ali suddenly became very ill with vomiting and diarrhea. I called an emergency number for a vet and got through to a man named Dr. Rice. After explaining my situation to this man, he responded by directing me to Tufts University Clinic indicating that the dog’s symptoms sounded like emergency surgery was required and that his office was closed as he was close to retirement. I will never know why this nice man agreed to let me bring Ali to his office at 6am on my way to work. Dr. Rice told me he had no idea what would cause such a violent disease in a dog so young and in his gentle way tried to prepare me for all eventualities. He explained what he was going to do and what his options were and that he would call me in the middle of the morning. I was meeting with my administrative staff about our budget challenges when my secretary interrupted us with a call from Dr. Rice. Taking the call, the listeners in my office heard only one exclamation from me: “what… pantyhose?” And my whole office broke into a fit of laughter.
Ali had found and swallowed a tube of my underwear. Dr. Rice was amazed that the laxatives resulted in the elimination of the pantyhose without complications. He was unable to identify anything on the x-ray and had to rely on restoring the dog’s lost fluids and continuing to induce vomiting in the hope that something would be expelled. He said it took him and his staff to determine what the object was. I picked up my dog later that afternoon with an overflowing gratitude for this man – when I asked if he could recommend a vet to go to Ali, he smiled and replied, you already have one.
Our best moments during those first few months were spent behind the rental house exploring the woods where he could fight with complete abandon during that winter and spring. Or those weekends when we strolled the quiet streets of the city. Many evenings, we would just sit there listening to music and I would talk to him about whatever was on my mind.
When John met Allie and I later that year, it took a while for them to understand each other. John was used to dogs but dogs that were mostly outside and were kind of invisible. Ali liked to be out – if I was there, but he was never invisible. As soon as we got married John bought some books on Dobermans to learn about this dog who was truly the best friend I ever had. When he finished the books he announced that he got it now…that with a Doberman you just had to realize that you were very lucky that they chose to live with you and love you…but that it was their choice.
What is the love between us and a dog? Is it that we envy the integrity of their existence or the purity and simplicity of their nature? Where too much of our lives are often spent battling our various selves – consumed by ambition or greed, an animal is never more or less than an animal. Where love between humans is so often conditional, the love of a dog isthis it just is no matter what. I think it is no coincidence that the dog is God written upside down.
John and I talked for hours about Ali the night he died. John was talking more while I was crying. We talked about his spirit – that heart the size of Texas was filled with an indomitable spirit. John took many walks in the desert alone with Ali and said he would often think about what might happen if they encountered a mountain lion, abundant in the high desert mountains. That night John said he knew exactly what was going to happen. That if necessary, Ali would have placed himself between John and the lion and fought to the death.
Above his grave is a stone that reads:
“Aeolus” Heart and Soul Ally
August 7, 1995 – March 26, 2006
The gift I am sending you is called a dog, and it is in fact the most valuable and valuable possession of mankind.’
When I was a very young college student, I discovered the writings of Kahl Gibran and memorized a few phrases that seemed to explain the turmoil of my life as a young adult. Now, much older, they return…
“…your joy is your sorrow uncovered. And the same well from which your laughter springs many times filled with your tears. And how else could it be?
The deeper this sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can hold back…When you are sad look back into your heart and you will see that you are actually weeping for what was your delight. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “No, sorrow is greater.” But I tell you, they are inseparable.
They come together, and when one sits alone with you on your board, remember that the other sleeps in your bed. Indeed, you are suspended like a scale between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you still and balanced…”
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