Friday, April 26, 2013


I put Loki down this morning. He's been my dog since July 31, 2000 until today, April 26, 2013. He was six months old when Richard, my then partner and now sainted ex, and I picked him from all the other mutts at the San Francisco SPCA. He was so calm and he had those deep soulful brown eyes that penetrated from behind the bars.

Loki and Stephen, saying hello

I was 47 when I got Loki and the photo above is the first photo ever taken of him, in the office where I worked with Chad who took the photo. Loki's calm in the cage belied his nervous nature. When I walked him out of the SPCA to the office where the photo was taken, he just about jumped out of his skin when the first car passed us by. We learned that he had been an apartment dog that had to be turned in by his first owner because dogs were not allowed. Loki was afraid of boxes in his puppyhood, and we figure he was kept in a box before we got him.

His first name was Banjo, but that did not do it for Richard and me. We picked Loki, the mischievous. His full name was Loki da Dawg. He was a doggy type dog. That's how we saw him.

But this blog post is not meant to be a life history or even an obituary. It's meant as a reflection on a dog and a man, and dogs and what they mean to us.

I put Loki down because the malignant tumors in his jaw and throat were threatening a catastrophic event, and his breathing was starting to be labored. I see no point in letting an animal under my care suffer, and the imminent suffering would have been grotesque. Outside of the cancer, Loki was still vigorous, gobbling down his breakfast on his last day, and then, albeit slowly, retracing the steps of our regular Saturday morning walk in Golden Gate Park and through the AIDS Memorial Grove. By the end of the walk, it was slow going indeed, and from there I took him straight to his demise.

Loki and Stephen, saying goodbye

This is the last photo ever taken of Loki, by me by shutter delay today in the big circle in the AIDS Memorial Grove. He would be dead less than an hour after this.

When a dog dies, it is like the loss of a limb. A dog's attention is constant; his work is to observe and, in his canine way, interpret every move his master makes. Part of the need for animal connection, I am convinced, is an inner harmony with being watched by a beast. The conversation between beast and man is not in words or in concepts, but in physicality and presence and response.

It's not like that when a person dies. This has been a bad year in my circle that way. We lost our friend Jim Gaither to a sudden heart attack last July, and we lost our friend Lindi Press to a galloping and cruel cancer on New Year's Eve. When a person dies, it is kaleidoscopic. it touches so many, alters so many paths and connections. It takes years to adjust to human loss, and even years are not enough in so many instances.

People often say that dogs are like children. It's just not true. The death of a child never ends. The death of a dog zeroes in on his few primary persons, and we feel empty and bereft. But we move on soon enough. I will never forget Loki, as I can never forget Laddie, my boyhood dog, nor Den, the husky who immediately preceded Loki. Remembering any of them makes me wistful and nostalgic. It makes me remember their presence as we wandered and cavorted and hung out. It will make me want him by my side again.

Loki on Strawberry Hill

I did some calculations, and I figure that Loki and I walked about 27,000 miles together. The photo above was taken on top of the hills above my alma mater Cal. Walking is my solace, the best way to think. Loki and I came to walk together so natively to each other, unspoken patterns repeated countless times. Loki didn't really like other dogs, especially big ones, and especially golden retrievers and boxers and big labs. So he was always on leash. I preferred it that way anyway because I walk to move along, cover distance. Dogs left top their own devices tend to dawdle or travel in circles.

I was never Loki's care giver or whatever term is preferred now. I was his master, and we had a clear hierarchy. He knew how to read what I wanted, because I taught him how, and by and large he obeyed. By and large only because I, for many years, had to take firm measures to walk past the aforementioned big dogs. But he got it, and we did it. We understood each other; we felt each other's presence.

Loki contemplating

He was a contemplative beast as contemplation goes in beasts. He showed his skepticism when he didn't cotton to an activity or a chain of events. He made his assessments rapidly and he stuck to them. My roommate called him Mr. Grumpipuss because of that long low glower he proffered as his initial position on pretty much anything outside the norm. He'd give it to me when he thought it was time to go to bed, or time for a walk. O, how I already miss that look. I want him to glare at me right now, to command with his eyes, to assent with his swinging reluctant gait in the face of an unwanted order.

O Loki, my sweet sweet dog.

Because a dog is a lot about ego, about the owner's owning. The connection is direct and unmediated and particular. With Loki gone, I am left with myself. I have one less angle, one less buffer. You know, the world is a bloody bleak place, but we hide that with our friends and creativity and actions and brainpower. And with our animals. There is a special pureness in the way that a dog obscures the bleakness, and when he is suddenly gone, by my call, that bleakness presses into my heart and makes me long for his warmth, his presence, walking still beside me as he did for 13 long beautiful years.

So good bye Loki, good bye. Good bye.

Loki snoozing in the sun