Then one day, trudging against the undertow of a relationship’s recent end, I met an eight-week-old Border Collie/Cattledog cross. I took him home, named him Zane!, and things began to shift. Important things. His presence in my life and my commitment to his care set the stage for a series of developments I could not have predicted.
On our second day together, puppy Zane! stepped off a curb and into the street. A non-event, really. But in that instant of imagining the tragic possibilities, I realized my life had changed. I was responsible for someone, and the gravity and expanse of that responsibility humbled me. I also became conscious of the near-certainty that I would outlive my dog. I promised him on the spot that I would be there for him at his life’s end, to ease his crossing.
Zane! spent most of his waking hours anticipating our next trip to the park, a twice-daily ritual in which he gleefully demonstrated his athletic prowess and stamina by running down racquet balls or snatching Frisbees out of the air.
If we had human company at the park, Zane! would take a couple of tosses from me, but on the fourth or fifth throw, he’d bring the Frisbee or ball back and drop it on the feet of the spectator. Zane! thought everyone should play.
On several occasions I watched him launch himself up after a hovering disk, reach what I was certain must be the apex of his jump, and then in response to an updraft that took the Frisbee just out of his reach, stretch up another six inches to snag it. What a sight! Watching him perform was truly one of my greatest joys.
They say that you attract the objects and energy you maintain in your thoughts. If that’s true, then Zane! must have obsessed about tennis balls.
Out for a walk, sometimes he’d stop dead in his tracks, focused on a hedge (or a snow bank or a pile of leaves.) He’d look at me; then he’d look back at the hedge. I’d give his leash a little slack and he’d push his snout in, full force, sometimes diving in almost to his tail. Then he’d emerge, tail wagging, triumphant over the tennis ball in his mouth.
At first I didn’t know how he found them. Then I thought he must have been picking up on the tennis ball scent. I finally conceded that Zane! manifested tennis balls into existence through sheer mental focus and will. In twelve years I never bought a tennis ball, but we had dozens of them, each ball a grubby, green testimony to his powers.
One night when Zane! was twelve and my daughter was three, we got an urgent call from the babysitter. Our daughter was hurt. We rushed home.
Feeling bubbly, our little girl had approached Zane! from behind and offered him a hug. Startled, he gave her a bark and a slap with his snout. He did not bite her, but his canine method of discipline wasn’t suited to the delicate skin of our three-year-old’s face. The wound was small but deep – and significant.
It took me a day or two, but I finally arrived at the gut-wrenching conclusion that I could not be certain an accident like this would not happen again, and that for my daughter’s safety, Zane! would have to go.
I called a friend who had always adored him. She quickly agreed to make Zane! her dog, and within the hour, before I could second guess myself, I was driving Zane! into exile.
Zane! had a better life at my friend’s house. A better deal all around. I honestly believe this, and not just because I have to. Zane! no longer had to commute with me, nor spend his days being shushed and scolded when other dogs came to my studio for portraits. He had a wonderful new canine companion named William. He spent summer days lying in a rose garden, his winters being spoiled indoors.
Then one day, on the first of June, I got a phone call from my friend. Zane! had died. I had lost my dog a second time.
I tell myself that by placing Zane! in the loving care of a friend who adored him, I was there for him at the end. That I kept the promise I had made to him on our second day together. Still, sometimes it’s difficult to convince myself that I did not let him down.
Well into the twenty first year of a rich and varied career (the one I had not meant to have), I can look over the many wonderful developments I could not have predicted and squarely say that it all started with a little black dog.