Last summer our dog died at a very advanced age. Our faithful Doberman Martyn was fifteen years old – long-lived as dogs of the Doberman breed are. Martyn was a fine dog, loyally protecting us through the long years of perestroika chaos, the total gangsterism of the years of primitive capital accumulation, and the present breakdown of freedoms when it has become unsafe again.
We walked behind him, as though behind a crowd of bodyguards: he adored his own people, he instantly singled out those with bad intentions, and chased them away uncompromisingly, but biting – he never bit anybody. Before Martyn’s eyes we swore, were not always reconciled nicely, came together, parted...
But all the same, he loved us desperately, to distraction, it was like that, he fell down. The only time when Martyn didn’t serve us was the last 45 minutes of his life, when he lay down and lapsed into unconsciousness. That was when we served him: held our hands under his heart until it stopped beating.
Half a year of torment started - life without a dog seemed like life without a regularly functioning love-capsule of love, sewn beneath the skin.
Then the children found a remarkable offer on the Internet. On the one hand, it wasn’t like Martyn - for us that was of cardinal importance. On the other hand, it wasn’t long-haired, which also was important, we had gotten used to that. Third - it was friendly, according to all the collected information. A bloodhound pup. Who knows: a basset hound on long legs, eternally sad eyes, and long ears.
We drove out to the breeder. She never tired of repeating: “Simply a wonder-dog. The best in the litter.” The "best" never stopped pissing. He looked at us, and pissed. But who cares, he made advances: Take me with you, please. That settled everything: it was painful for him to ask. “Four months. He still has the right to piss”, the breeder kept on saying.
At home we named him Van Gogh instead of the silly name Hagard which the breeder had attached to him. And we began to live a new life. It became clear very quickly that Van Gogh didn’t simply “piss all the time”, he was a urination machine. And it happened in a strange way: whenever he just saw a man, there was a puddle.
So we stopped inviting men to our house (except for our own family), supposing that it would pass. And to raise one’s voice half a tone – no-no, not to a shout, God forbid, but just a bit, slightly – it was impossible to talk – there was immediately a river. But as soon as he had made a puddle, at once he began to run around in horror, to hide and, what was even more awful, to lick it up, if only we didn’t notice. Go for a walk? As it turned out, Van Gogh hated the outdoors – everything there was offensive to him. The happiest moment of a stroll came when we were back in the entryway, the lift, the flat. His tail affably shot upwards only when we came back home. Our house obviously had become his fortress, which he would prefer never to leave. In the veterinary clinic we were told, first of all, that he wasn’t 4 months, but 5 whole months old, to be precise, and they suggested that we think about why the breeder understated his age.
“Well, what for?”
“So that you’d take him away. People don’t like to take adult animals – someone has already taught something to the adults, and there’s no guarantee that it was anything good.”
And it turned out to be true. The veterinarians also found gravel in Van Gogh’s bladder. Searching for the gravel cost more than 12,000 rubles. Plus antibiotics for another 2,000, because there was inflammation everywhere. The doctor announced that at such an early age (it happened to both very mature people and animals) it was the result of severe economy in feeding, a practice followed by many breeders today. Precisely when it is necessary to feed growing pups well, they feed them just anything, ruin the metabolism, but what’s most important is to sell the pup, having misled the future owners, and goodbye. They pretend to show love, insisted the doctor, but actually they’re “enemies of the breeds”, they spoil dogs permanently.
Per-ma-nent-ly... That was hint number one. In the meantime it became clear that Van Gogh was directly grasping at us as though clutching at straws. He was increasingly afraid of anyone who came to the house and the terror of strangers increased as he grew up. He grew larger and larger all the time and his effort to hide behind us, his owners, became maniacal. Imagine this scene: someone approaches, walks past along the street, and the dog hides behind me. A large hound with powerful legs. He doesn’t bark, doesn’t howl --simply looks at the stranger with such fear that the person is also seized with alarm. We understood: he’s afraid that someone will take him away. It was men who took him away. And they became enemies. For-ev-er. Again.
Thus the picture becomes steadily clearer: we find ourselves in possession of a dog with serious mental problems. Could anything be worse? He’s not our protector, rather we’re his protectors.
I call the breeder: Who were the dog’s previous owners? I’m not calling to make any demands. I want to know, in order to help both the dog and myself. And the breeder yields: Before we acquired the dog he had been rejected twice. She wasn’t answerable for what happened there where he was taken and quickly rejected. But they beat him there. And it was men who did the beating. They also scared him. And then they threw him out.
It was clear: We had to find zoo-psychologists and trainers who worked not with groups of dogs, but individually. Animal psychologists were on the market at the price of $50 per visit, and those were the least expensive ones. For $50 we could get advice of the following kind: go on holiday, get out into the countryside, have a rest, change your flat, conditions, city, country... This advice wasn’t given all at one time. Each bit of advice cost $50. Oh! The mission was financially impracticable. Absolutely.
We rushed to find personal trainers. Katya, who worked for some company like “Smart Dog” or “Good Friend”, for the price of 500 rubles an hour, informed us that she worked only with “dogs of the elite” (not with elite dogs, but with rich people’s dogs). She was completely booked up, all day. Nevertheless time was found. At 7:00 in the morning, Katya arrived, still almost asleep. She thrust her hands into her trousers and began to order me around: go there -- do that. And nothing elite about it – it was exactly the same thing that’s written in the most primitive manuals for a general training course.
15 minutes prior to the end of the session, Katya, despite her anti-globalist appearance – a black jersey, off-season clumsy boots on her feet, a bandana – demanded altogether globalistically that I give her 500 rubles, scornfully remarking that it was worthless to spend 15 more minutes working with the dog: to show the methods, devices, etc. We didn’t meet again. What for?
The second and third personal trainers were absolutely the same as the first as far as the quality of the sessions was concerned, though the rate was more expensive: 700 and 900 rubles for the same truncated hour.
It was impossible to throw more money to the winds, especially as Van Gogh’s bladder continued to demand thousands of rubles. And life flowed on as before. Van Gogh had a panicky fear of everything. I protected him from everything. From men, unfamiliar objects, the grating sound of the mussel shells in the garage in the courtyard, car brakes, and again from men walking by...
As he grew, the problems increased. In order to reach the dog-walking area in our district, it’s necessary to cross a street with heavy traffic, by way of a crosswalk, without a traffic light. That means dodging around cars which aren’t in the habit of slowing down before zebra crossings. When we approached the crosswalk, Van Gogh fell down in terror, all four legs gave way, and I half-carried him, half-dragged him, like a toboggan – 40-50 kilos of a stubbornly resisting, living mass – between the automobiles. One such walk there and back, via the crosswalk, was guaranteed to make my blood pressure leap upward. But a dog with faulty metabolism, gravel, and problems of socialisation, was simply obliged to go for a walk in the company of those like him!
It ended with me loading Van Gogh into my car and driving him across the street. At the dog’s playground, he timidly ran among other dogs, not playing with them too much, but sometimes, at least. He moved around more, sniffed at them, got used to them. However, his main concern there was to stand at a fence and longingly look at our car. And I had only to open its door for Van Gogh to leap energetically onto the back seat. It turned out that he loved to ride and even simply to sit in the car. The small closed space, where the whole world was separated from him and there were only he and his mistress, was the most comfortable place in the world for Van Gogh. He immediately calms down there, contentedly inspects the world from the windows, his gaze is tranquil, he puts his ears closer to the rear window, and can fall asleep that way, all fears behind him. He bounds out of the car and heads straight for the entrance, runs up to the lift, quick-quick into the flat and... Now everything is fine: my home is my fortress.
Meanwhile my blood pressure was returning to normal. But what to do next?
The veterinarians already express themselves without subtlety: “Put him to sleep”. Friends and acquaintances too: why go to so much trouble? After all, a dog isn’t a person... Give him away somewhere... But that’s only an intellectual figure of speech about the same thing: “put him to sleep". Who else would go around with him, except those who have already become thoroughly attached to this long-eared creature with the sorrowful eyes, not guilty of anything...
No one. The fate of sick dogs in the big city is to be put to sleep if their owners don’t have much money for treatment and maintenance. The world which has become harsh to people who have been deprived somehow (people with disabilities, orphans, sick people), has become equally cruel to animals too. Of course – it couldn’t be otherwise. When you have a sick dog on the lead, you understand very well to what a degree we’ve become brutalised by the smell of big money. I’m not a fanatical dog-lover, a clan which is as numerous as crazy anti-dog haters. Dog-loving fanatics are distinguished from other people by one basic characteristic: they love dogs more than they love people. In any case, I love people more than dogs.
But abandonment is something I haven’t learned. Especially a living creature that wouldn’t survive one more rejection – he’d die, even if I didn’t. He is, after all, completely in my power, up to the last hair on his long silky ear. As he would be in the power of anyone to whom the will of fate might send him. Such a numerous and constantly increasing caste of abandoned dogs -- Van Gogh's brothers -- also was generated by the world of the rich. They acquired dogs like Van Gogh only as playthings – they played with him a while, decided they didn’t like him, kicked him out, if not onto the street, then back to where they bought him.
There’s no price in money, no price for a living soul open to you to its very depths.
I understand that it’s possible to counter the argument: not everyone with money is so bad, not all veterinarians are self-seeking. Naturally. Only why do we have so many abandoned pedigreed dogs running in and out under the gates?
Evening again. I turn the key in the lock and... Van Gogh flies toward me from everywhere and always. No matter how much his stomach might hurt, however soundly he might be sleeping, whatever he might have eaten... The source of a perpetuum mobile of love. Everyone abandons you, everyone sulks about you – one doesn’t stop loving a dog. And I take him and bring him to the car and drive him across the street, and run alongside him, so that he’ll run with the other dogs in the playground. I show how he should play with them, and I climb over the obstacle course with him so that he’ll overcome his fear, and I bring him up to other men, I take someone’s hand and stroke Van Gogh’s ear with it and repeat an incantation – there’s nothing to fear...