By: R.J. Moeller
The Moeller family has not always had the best luck with pets. When I was in grade school, my toddler-age brothers poured milk in the fish tank that housed my new goldfish - Andre Dawson and Kirby Puckett. Over the next few years, my sister Melissa had to give away at least two different cats because her brothers mistook the felines for footballs and played catch with them in such indelicate places as the top and bottom of the basement staircase. There have been hamsters and lizards and turtles, but none have lived to tell about their ordeal as hostages behind enemy lines in Fortress Molleropa. (Note: PETA may already have a warrant out for a citizen's arrest.)
But the creature that has always captured our love, attention, and imagination is the dog.
Katie the Dog, that is.
On Saturday morning, after surviving for more than a year longer with a severe spine injury than any doctors thought she would, the old girl had to be put down and sent off to that big farm in the sky.
Of course any dog owner will attest to the fact that these animals become a very real part of the family, and bonds form that have all the hallmarks of a human-to-human connection. They are loyal and loving and excited to see you when you come home. They bark to protect you and bark to encourage you to exercise (even when you don't feel like putting down the bag of Cheetos and leaving The O'Reilly Factor to watch itself). They are fun, funny, and full of life.
All of this is true in the case of Katie the Dog, but you need to hear a little of the back-story in regards to how we ended up with this particular mini-lab to appreciate just how meaningful her passing is.
In the spring of 2006, when I had just moved home to start graduate school, a girl I used to know asked me if my family would want to take her grandparents' Golden-Lab mixed dogs, Max and Sandy, off their hands. Her parents weren't going to be able to keep them and they had become too much work for her aging relatives. My little sisters and I went to meet Max and Sandy and within minutes we knew that they would be a perfect fit for the Moeller household. They were already house-trained, thoroughly easy-going with humans, but also natural guardians of whatever property they happened to be on for more than a few hours. We brought them home, fell in love with the pair, and thought we had finally found the pets we'd be searching for.
Then...my friend's mom had a nervous breakdown and threatened to come steal "my dogs" back if we didn't return them to her immediately. I won't go into all of the bizarre details, but things didn't end well. Eventually the husband and I spoke on the phone and he pleaded with me to give his insane wife back her dogs so that she'd calm down, stop sobbing uncontrollably and leave him alone. I sympathized with the guy - and also was seeking to avoid a "Deranged Mother Stabs Bearded Blogger Over Canine Swap" headline in the Chicago Tribune that summer - so in exchange for a $400 check to get a new dog I returned Max and Sandy to their backyard when I knew everyone in that family was out of town. I may have also left a note under their front door that read, "My sisters said that they will be praying for the nut-job who took their pets away."
Hey, I never claimed to be a saint, alright!
Less than a week later, with the Max and Sandy fiasco behind us, we were at a local dog shelter looking to find the dog that matched the name my youngest sister Mackenzie had already picked out for it: Katie the Dog. (She said at the time, "I like human names.") An adorable little female Lab-Shepard mix struck our fancy and we returned victorious to the Moeller compound ready to enjoy the best pup money-from-a-crazy-lady's-husband could buy.
Four days later we were back at the same dog shelter sporting bites and scrapes and scratches from the hellish puppy we now scornfully called "Katie the Dog #1." This Lab-Shepard mix was meaner than the note I left the Indian-giving dog-snatcher. She would bite and claw at the face of any person foolish enough to think that they could lay down to watch TV on any surface lower than the top of the refrigerator. She was a miserable animal and we couldn't return her fast enough.
At this point it was beginning to feel like we weren't supposed to have a dog. Nothing seemed to be working out, and it was becoming more of a hassle than anything else.
But before we left the shelter that day, the owner of the place - who by this point thought we might be casing the joint like the bad guys in Beethoven - said he had just received a new litter of Yellow Lab puppies and that if we picked one out we liked and were willing to wait a few days until they got their shots, we could claim one right then and there. In almost no time at all, the few family members who were with me that day all agreed on one pup in particular and Katie the Dog #2 was unveiled to the world.
My dad and brothers and I liked that this one was a lab who would grown big and strong, and could potentially be trained to hunt and fish with us. My sisters loved her because she was a cute little puppy who was quiet and precocious.
Neither party was correct in their assessment of the animal.
Katie the Dog turned out to be part Beagle and never grew past 40lbs. She was a runt who only went hunting once and fishing once. The one hunting excursion she was brought on resulted in a day-long sprint ahead of the other (well-trained) dogs, many-a-prematurely-frightened birds, many-a-frustrated-fellow hunters, and loads of dog puke induced by all the disgusting puddles and ponds of water Katie drank out of. The one fishing expedition she got to go one resulted in her eating an old Portillos hot dog in the back of the family suburban and spewing liquids from every orifice. That night ended in a Wal-Mart parking lot in rural Wisconsin, having to use purchased gallons of water and disinfectant spray to clean her crate and back row of the car.
As far as the notion that she would be a timid and precocious pet went, Katie the Dog also shed that facade in the time it took us to drive home that first day. She was the most emotionally-needy animal you've ever met, including her trademark move: the old "I've noticed you are watching TV instead of paying attention to me so I think I'll stand in front of the screen and whine until you get your priorities straight" number.
What's that? You're not familiar with that one? Bummer! It becomes particularly enjoyable around the 10,000 time a dog does it!
She also enjoyed barking at anything that moved in a square-mile radius of the house, and barked like she had put a trademark on the sound and was being financially reimbursed every time she did. She loved to forget who people were in the ten seconds it took them to get a Kleenex from the other room and barked loudly upon your return from that far-away land known as "the kitchen." She enjoyed sprinting into on-coming traffic with the reckless abandon of a face-eating cannibal hopped up on bath salts in Miami. She apparently had a homing beacon in her brain that was activated only when giant ponds of drainage and/or septic fluids were around. She had a 6th sense for when a human was about to sit down on a particular chair or seat on the couch and would launch herself onto that seat before it was almost too late for you to avoid sitting on her.
And you know what? We loved that dog (pictured below with my brother Brent) more than anything.
I am fond of saying the following: "Something is not worth doing if you can't tell a story about it later." Katie the Dog must have overheard me making this claim during her formative months because that dog was a walking, barking, licking story machine. She was non-stop entertainment. I think that will be what I miss most about her: there was always something going on when Katie the Dog was around.
She wasn't the smartest animal who ever walked God's green earth, but she was loyal. She guarded my parents' house with a courage that a dog 4x her size couldn't match. She loved my family with everything she had, and was the constant companion of both my father (Bob) and 2nd youngest sister (Megan).
And this brings me to my closing point of this memorial (and the reason I wrote it): the news of Katie the Dog's passing was sad to hear about, but not because I personally cared for that mutt all that much. She was a fine dog, but I haven't lived at home for a long time now and have a 100lb Rottweiler named Rudy the Dog who has consumed my attention for the past 4-5 years. (Incidentally, Rudy the Dog wishes at this time to offer his condolences to the Moeller family, and asks that he be given Katie's portion of food from here on out as his way of honoring her memory.)
No, the real reason the news of Katie the Dog being "put down" hurt as bad as it did was entirely due to my intimate knowledge of how much my dad and sister Megan cared for her - of how hard it was for them to see her go. Those two took great care of Katie, and in return, she bathed them with a love and loyalty the rest of us never knew.
I don't care what anyone else might say about it: there is a special connection between a dog and his/her owner. I know dogs are not for everybody, but these creatures do matter to a great many of us, and I think it's right that they should. Not the nutty tree-hugging "animals are the same as humans" stuff, but a normal, healthy emotional response and connection to animals that uniquely bond with human beings.
God created them. We domesticated them. And I think it's appropriate that we miss them when they go.
Katie and two of her brothers, Rudy the Dog and RJ the Human (circa 2008):