It was 12:30 AM on July Fourth when I finally got into bed with the dogs and set the alarm for 3:30, to get up for an early search for a cat. It’s never good when you are only planning on getting 3 hours of sleep, but I had gotten to the point where I was so tired that I felt too tired to fall asleep, which doesn’t make sense, yet happens some times. I was considering just staying up all night. July 3rd had been a very rough day, with too many requests for assistance for me to keep up with, and people understandably impatient and upset. My dad’s health is declining and he has become more difficult to help. All his life, one of his guiding philosophies is that he never wanted to ever be in a position of anyone telling him what to do. These days, due to physical disabilities and dementia, someone literally has to tell him what to do every moment of every day. He is defiant, which is admirable in a way, but it is very hard on his caregivers, and it ends up making things ten times harder for him than they would need to be. I was getting to sleep much later than I wanted to because my father was having a difficult day.
I tried to focus on positive things, something other than the long list of troubles I could lie awake thinking about all night, such as my dad’s health, insufficient funds to afford optimal nursing assistance, the hundreds of dogs and cats that would go missing in the next 24 hours due to illegal fireworks, the yard work I hadn’t gotten around to, the broken windshield that needs replacing, and a hundred other little things. Lying in a comfortable bed with four really great dogs, while Mu was snoring, certainly gave me something positive to think about. I looked on my iPhone at the best pictures of the day, including a great picture of Tino. Then I thought of, “I am the steward of their souls.” It means something different to me than it would probably mean to the average person, but it was just the right thought to fall asleep upon. In fact, it would be a unifying theme for the book about Mu that I have been working on for over a year now. I turned so that my spine was against Valentino’s spine, I had a foot touching Sky, my left hand on Fozzie, and my right hand on Mu, and I fell asleep to the best sound in the world, Mu snoring.
When the alarm went off at 3:30, I thought I got up right away, but I must have turned off the alarm because the next time I looked, it was 3:52, and I was already late. The search was a 40 minute drive away, in Lynnwood, but getting five dogs walked is a complicated problem at our house. We don’t have a fenced yard, so they need to be walked up and down the block. This is accomplished in three walks every morning. First, Mu, Sky, Fozzie, and Tino. Sky will never do her business on the first walk, so then we have to do a second walk with Tino, Fozzie, and Sky. Then the third walk is for Viktor, and Fozzie goes along to keep him company. Everyone has to have just the optimal conditions, without any distractions, and Viktor’s process involves very slow walking over a very specific territory, with about twenty stops to just sit and look out at the world. If I wasn’t in a hurry, I would be happy to spend all morning walking dogs. It’s basically what I do for a living anyway. But it would be nice if they could hurry up the process when necessary. Nope. Viktor won’t be rushed. If you badger him to hurry up, then he slows down. He seems to share my father’s core philosophy of never wanting anyone to tell him what to do. And I don’t want to tell Viktor what to do, but other cats and dogs need me.
Mu and I got to the search site about 7:05, just a little late. I thought we were going to find the cat. I thought we had a really good chance. It was just across the street from where Mu had found the cat in 3 minutes, a week earlier. Given the description of the lost cat’s behavior, and the good conditions, cloudy and damp, it seemed like we had an excellent chance of success. Mu worked hard, and we covered a lot of ground, but we didn’t find the cat. Or, at least, I’m not sure if we may have located the cat. Mu did hit on a particular crawl space. It’s possible the lost cat is in there. By the time we left, though, the cat was still missing. Mu climbed into the car, curled up on the dog bed in the back, and he was out cold for the ride home.
This Fourth of July had more posts for lost pets than any that I can remember. I tried to spend extra time asking people to make sure their pets were safe, to prevent dogs and cats from going missing on the Fourth. I hope it did some good, and someone’s pet was prevented from escaping, but hundreds of others were lost. Tino and I spent an hour driving around in the afternoon, looking for lost pets. Later, when we got home, I read about at least seven dogs that were found in areas that we drove through, but they just weren’t visible at the moment we passed by. Once it was dark, we had to retreat to the basement so Sky could try to stay as calm as possible. It was a war zone, with more booms and bangs than previous years, going on a longer time, and some of them closer than usual. It’s like, “Hi, I’m your friendly neighbor that waves at you when I see you on the street, but today I’m going to scare the crap out of your dog, and if you don’t think that’s wonderful, it just means you’re antisocial.” Whatever.
I caught a great photo of Tino and Sky playing, before the fireworks started. It looks like Tino is killing Sky, but they are playing and she is happy. Once the fireworks started, Sky was subdued, and the other dogs were calm, just being there for her. I didn’t pay extra attention to Sky, even though I was very concerned about her. I was just there, ignoring her, being calm. About 11:30, most of the fireworks seemed to have stopped, so I could try to take the dogs out for the last walk of the night. Of course, while I was out with Sky, more fireworks went off. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t panic, and we got back home safe. Sky was wearing the GPS tracker, just in case.
We got to bed after midnight again. Sky seemed relaxed again as the fireworks seemed to be over. I had all the dogs packed in tight around me. I still had a dozen requests for help that I hadn’t been able to get to yet, but I was able to fall asleep pretty fast, partly because I was exhausted, and partly because I was relieved that the Fourth of July, the worst day of the year, was over, finally.
When I say “I am the steward of their souls,” I need to explain what that means to me, so that it is not misinterpreted. First, the word Steward might have a different meaning to me than it would for most people. It’s not a word you see very often. I wasn’t really familiar with the term until I took the training offered by the Washington Native Plant Society to become a Native Plant Steward for my local park. It means that I’m not the owner of the forest, because it is public land, and because it is nature, not owned by anyone, but I am taking care of the forest, for the benefit of the forest and for the benefit of everyone. I am the steward of my dogs in the sense that they are not my property but I take care of them. When I refer to a dog’s soul, it’s important to note that I absolutely, definitely do not believe in anything supernatural. If a dog has a soul, it is an emergent property of his physical body, his genes, his life experience, and his environment. I have always been annoyed with that Rainbow Bridge nonsense, even though it is offered with good intentions. When my Kelsy died, they made it sound like she was playing on the Rainbow Bridge, having a good time, waiting for me to join her. I don’t know who started the Rainbow Bridge meme, but it is obviously mostly nonsense. If there is any truth to it, it could mean that dogs live on in our memories. If that’s the way people intend it, I think that’s great, but it often sounds like they think their is a magical, supernatural soul that is freed from the body and is now living it’s best life. When you talk about souls, there is so much room for misunderstanding.
When I talk about the souls of my dogs, and in Mu’s book, where I talk about his soul specifically, I definitely do not mean anything supernatural. What I mean by a soul is that, if any human has anything that could be thought of as a soul, then a dog would have one too. Dogs are not less then humans. In many ways, dogs are better than humans. Whatever property an animal, human or canine, might have that could be called a soul, the dog’s soul is not less than the human’s soul. So, whatever a dog’s soul might be, I am the caretaker, the steward of that soul. To me, a soul is the sum total of all the benefit and harm caused by a person or a dog in the course of living his life, and the positive and negative effects that radiate out through time, forever, as a consequence of that person or dog having been alive, making choices, taking actions. When Kelsy died, it was the most difficult thing I had ever been through. Every single day, many times a day, I think of Kelsy, and she is certainly in my thoughts even when I’m not aware of it. I have thousands of pictures of Kelsy, but I have at least twice as many pictures of Mu, and probably ten times as many pictures of Tino. I am aware, acutely aware, that it is statistically likely that I will still be alive at some point when all of my dogs and cats have died. Chena, Gizmo, Heidi, Tanzy, Duck, Charlie, Smookler, Norbert, Porter, Max, Boots, Jinx, Wolfgang, Tess, Bear, Kelsy, Olive, Wakomu, Fozzie, Sky, Viktor, and Valentino. At some point, I will be alive and they will all be absent. If I didn’t have a dog or a cat at that point, I might just kill myself and join them in the earth. One reason I would want to live on a bit longer, even after my baby, Valentino, has left me, would be that I am the Steward of their Souls. Whatever it was that they were, they were as great as any other creature, human or animal, that ever lived, and my continued life, my life beyond them, would allow their souls to live on, at least in my mind. If I could do some good for other dogs and cats and their humans, then I would want to, for the sake of doing good, and to honor the lives that they lived, Mu and all the others, to radiate their positives toward eternity.