So you want to determine whether dogs still exist.
First, our association of dogs with obedience. Is obedience dog-like? Or is it to do with horses now, or children, or hamsters. “Hamster-like obedience.” Dogs have retreated into the bodies of hamsters, maybe. They have a real knack for learning, we’re told, and for evolving themselves. There’s no reason they couldn’t take this extra step. Or maybe they don’t exist, dogs have never existed.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Consider our association with the meow. Do we think of the phrase “meow” and picture a dog? Or is it some animal now, possibly a clam, or a variety of bird, or a noisy sort of vegetable. “Meowing like a celery stalk.” If the phrase “meowing like a dog” has vanished from common vocabulary and been replaced with something else, then have dogs been replaced as well? It is hard to be certain. There are other symptoms; diagnose at least six before taking confidence in your conclusion.
A third test is the nature of ears. When you are leaping around the hill in excitement and your ear flips inside out, do you think, “how dog-like of me to have an ear that has flipped inside out from excitement!” Or do you think, “strange, I do not have a single species to compare this phenomenon to,” and thus conclude that an ear flipped inside out is a human institution? It is human ears that flip inside out, you suppose. Not dog ears, because dogs do not exist anymore in our current reality. They’ve never manned the buses, or ran the companies, or built the airships, or colonized the planet’s space stations. The dogs have packed their suitcases and taken their technology with them.
The fourth test is a question of hieroglyphics. Do dog-headed hieroglyphics exist? Then perhaps dogs still exist in your universe. Is the sphinx still a woman with the body of a dog? Has she been displaced? Has her voice and her infamous dogsong been muted? Have her riddles ceased to afflict the commuters on the public transport, or do they still read the franchise-distributed newspapers and work to ignore the dog-riddles coded into the news stories? (Answers are available in the back, in upside-down print.)
The fifth is the cold wet nose. Perhaps there is a memory of hiding in the tornado shelter, and your mother presses her cold wet nose to your shoulder to reassure you. Certainly no other animal has that cold wet nose, most human of noses, which fluff will keep sticking to and keep needing to be licked clean. Or: in your memory, her nose is dry. It is not a tornado shelter, and she presses her cheek, not her nose. The cold wet nose is a dog-nose, because dogs exist. The tornado shelter is not a tornado shelter, because it is not needed for tornados. The distant airships wreathe the buildings on the skyline in a flickering green.
The sixth is burial. How do you bury your dead? A bone dug up: is this a dog-like behavior? The mounds of earth could be from the laying of a sewage pipe, or maybe an archeological excavation. Soil has not been restricted to dog territory. When the dead happen, they can be slid into the earth, secure that their bodies will not be co-opted, because dogs do not exist. There is no reason to quarantine the dead and burn them. Their ashes are not encased in salt and sealed into the trunks of baobab trees. Instead, if ashed, you can scatter your dead on the wind. There are no airships to intercept them. If desired, you can even put your uncle’s ashes into the earth, along with building foundations, and pirate treasure, along with bodies. Burial remains a human institution, a very humanoid endeavor.
The seventh is opposable thumbs. Who has thumbs these days? Have you shaken hands with your pet while telling it, “Good boy, Rex, have a biscuit,” and noted how it clasped your palm with all seven of its opposable thumbs? Have your own thumbs been feeling lively? Have they been whining softly at night, when they think you cannot hear them. Do they ache when you bring them near a flank steak, or whenever you think a disloyal thought. Or, perhaps thumbs are something for humans to enjoy alone. The opposable thumb: what a people-person thing, you think. You might say to yourself, I sure do enjoy holding these bottles and unscrewing these jam jars and thinking whatever thoughts I want! What a Homo sapiens thing it is, to have opposable thumbs!
The eighth is unexpected gifts. Did you open your mailbox this morning and wonder at the rose-patterned box you found inside? Possibly you brought it to your kitchen table, anticipating its contents. “Another thrall-cap!” you might say. “They keep sending me more, and I already have so many!” Or you told the postman, “My apologies, clearly this strange hat was delivered to the wrong address, since I don’t know the sender or even what a thrall-cap is.” There are no dogs to send you overnight post. There’s no reason to be alarmed, perhaps, by the families wearing beeping hats who are marching single-file out of their homes toward the airships in the distance; they are simply pursuing some healthy form of exercise.
The ninth is the flensing of divinity. When the dogs, pouring from their airships, swarmed that titanic body and brought its flayed corpse tumbling from the clouds, did you say, my goodness, who are those four-legged creatures nipping at god’s heels? Or was it no mystery, because dogs exist. As they spread the softening cadaver across the continent, did you think: what is that sound I hear when I mean to be sleeping? Or did you say, there goes that dogsong again, and close the curtains against the afterimage permanently burned into the evening sky, of a flensed corpse tumbling down.
The tenth is the hieronymic engine. They’ve been building it for ages, and now you can see its rays at night like a lighthouse. Your brother begins to pant in the heat. You watch him struggle with holding items, his thumbs not quite operational. Gagging on bread, on all fours. You may note a bristled stubble on his arms, which he’s tried shaving into nonexistence. He fights the engine’s influence; it is not his fault that some are involuntarily susceptible. His speech will choke him till he swallows it, till the tail uncurls from his spine and he throws himself out the screen door, bounding over the hill, straight to the species that has assigned him new loyalties.
Have dogs been banished? Have they been expunged? The anxiety, that you might take your morning coffee and look out the window and see those airships again. Then you will remember, the dogs were no story. There is a migraine-like aura which they bring with them and you recognize it unwillingly. Your grandfather used to tell you about it. He’d say: fighting for what’s right can be hard but you must stick to it like a barnacle. He’d talked about this before. You were certain your generation had evaded these necessities but they’ve followed, universe across, and you begin to understand something your grandfather would not:
A barnacle glues itself to familiar rock from chemical instinct.
Pry it free and who knows what other life it can live. Why cling to familiar humanity? Do dogs exist? Could you yourself demonstrate the answer to that question?
You tell your children, it’s not that you’re selling out. You’re just tired, and you can read the signs of what comes next. You remember your grandfather’s stories. Soon things will not be very pretty, and to be human among dogs will mean pain and dying. It’s an unappealing concept. You have the choice, before it happens, to change your body into the shape of those with power. Why not? Many have done it already, when given the option. Your neighbors howl now. You find yourself amenable to joining them. Let the human race shrink by one more. Your still-human neighbors may fight back, they may resist. They may turn soldier in some war to reclaim their world for humanity. You’ll try not to be impatient with them for it. Certainly your approach to a shifting climate is the more convenient option. In which case: conceal this reference sheet, conceal this guide to diagnosis. Ensure it can be found later, by another person who may need it more than you did. Human survival is not individual. It relies on dependable transmittal of information across the species.
We’ve been here before. Your story is not the only story. What you’re embracing now to maintain a serene existence is not the end of the striving human; not for someone else.
Avi Naftali’s fiction has previously appeared online in Shimmer Magazine. Avi grew up in Los Angeles, and he currently works a nine-to-five in New York, where he shares an apartment with his husband and a very affectionate cat who is currently throwing a tantrum because Avi is late in feeding him his dinner.
In Loving Memory of Violet Steffen Born November 24, 2007 Adopted December 20, 2012 Died April 26, 2022
This is the story of a gentle loving dog who lived a long happy life with her family. This is the story of Violet the lavender merle Pomeranian.
Bringing Her Home
Our papillon Aria passed away in December 2012 (see Aria’s memorial here), while Heather was pregnant with the kid. We wanted to adopt another dog pretty soon after that because we wanted to give a new dog a little time to get used to everything before the kid was born. I attended some local adoption events to see if any particular dog caught my eye. One of the events I attended was a small dog adoption event run by Underdog Rescue. They had big exercise pens full of small dogs. I strolled among the kennels, full of many cute and friendly small dogs. One dog in particular kept catching my eye, though, in part because she was ignoring every other person there and staring directly at me, up on her hind legs against the exercise pen and begging me to pick her up. Also, in some ways she looked similar to Aria, even though they were different breeds and different colors. So I picked her up, and played with her there and got to know her a bit.
Underdog listed her on their site as “Aubrey”. Her official paperwork called her “Chloe Lovelace”. We found out that her coloring was very unusual, called a “lavender merle” which is sort of a faded brown that’s sort of a faded almost-purple. And we decided to call her Violet because of the coloring. She also had really unusual and interesting eye coloration. One eye was brown with a little splotch of blue, the other eye was brown and blue split along a diagonal line across the middle.
We applied, did a followup meet and greet with Mikko and Timmy, and of course ended up adopting her. She needed a little bit of medical TLC, including keeping an eye on her stitches after spay surgery and some eardrops to deal with some ear issues, but overall didn’t have any major health concerns. Which is good because we travelled with her only a couple days after the adoption. Her hair when we first adopted her was very stiff in the undercoat, even prickly–this was probably due to poor diet. After some time for her coat to grow out on a new diet, it grew in much softer.
Violet was very wary of Heather at first–Heather thinks that it’s because she was pregnant at the time. While Heather was pregnant, Violet didn’t like to let her close, and would sometimes growl if she approached. Violet was also very wary of women in general; we think she might have been abused by a woman earlier in her life. Before we adopted her she had spent her whole life in a puppy mill giving birth to puppies for pet stores, and maybe there was a woman there who had treated her poorly.
In the first few weeks that we had her, Violet slipped out the front door when Heather went out and I was at the office. Heather, pregnant at the time and not at her most mobile, chased Violet for a bit and Violet had a grand old time (certainly much more of a grand time than Heather had!). Heather, recognizing that Violet was playing a game, headed home and Violet headed home right after. (Luckily this was a very unusual circumstance, she was not one with a tendency to run)
She was very difficult to potty train. The puppy mill she lived in was in Arkansas, then she went to auction in Missouri, so when she arrived in Minnesota just before the winter solstice she was not excited about going outside in colder temperatures than she had ever experienced. She refused to go potty in the cold. We tried keeping her in a small space in an exercise pen but she quickly figured out how to scale the exercise pen.
When Heather and I went to the hospital for the kid to be born, when Heather’s mom watched the dogs while we were gone, Heather’s pajamas were folded up on her side of the bed and Violet slept on the pajamas every night. Violet was less wary of Heather after that, and in the long-term they became very close as well.
For most of her life, Violet was still wary around other women until she got to know them very well. We would always let Violet have a little extra space if we knew we were going to have a woman houseguest. If she was woken up abruptly, she would also sometimes wake up in a bit of a panic (another side effect of past abuse perhaps), so we always tried to wake her up gently.
Our dogs always have a variety of nicknames. Violet was sometimes: Violet Wiolet, Viletta, Violetta, Viderletta, Wiletta Biletta, Vilosh, Darling, and Peaches.
What Made Her Special
Although she would bark at the door with the best of them, she liked it much quieter than other dogs did. If everyone was else in the living room watching TV she would find a quiet room and go find a cozy spot in a corner.
More than any of the other dogs we’ve had, Violet had a weather sense for storms. Before the sky darkened, she would start acting nervous and we would know there was a storm coming. We think it might’ve been pressure changes that she was able to sense. When there was a thunderstorm, she would always try to find a cozy sheltered place like behind the toilet. She was never a big cuddler, but for some years when I took Timmy downstairs to his storm safe spot on the couch, I would take Violet along too and the three of us would cozy up under a blanket.
She continued to be sensitive to the cold, so that in the dead of winter after her meals we would put booties on her feet or she would have trouble standing long enough to do her business. If you left the booties off she would circle and circle looking for the perfect spot. She would lift one leg and hobble around. She would lift two legs and balance precariously. She would lift three legs and of course would then tip over because she is a dog not a flamingo.
Anticipating Her Needs
More than any other dog we have had, she could anticipate her needs at night and wake us up with enough time to handle it. She did this pretty much throughout her life with us, and even in some rough times near the end she was always very consistent about it. When Violet stood by your head, you knew it meant she needed something, usually to be taken outside for an urgent need, so you needed to take her out right away. Her diligence in anticipating and warning us was much appreciated.
Violet would always be very excited when Heather laid down on the floor because Violet would immediately roll in Heather’s long hair and root around in it with obvious joy. We never knew why that was so exciting for her.
She wouldn’t play with toys. Not really, anyway. But sometimes, when you came home and she was especially excited to see you, she would pick up a squeaky toy and go walk over to you. But if you reached for the toy, she would immediately drop it and would not interact with it again, like “Oh, you want it? Okay, there you go.”
When she was in a goofy playful mood she would sprint around the house in circles with a weird little scooty-butt gallop.
When it was time for bed, she would always want belly rubs, so she would roll over and wait for it. If you rubbed her belly and then stopped, she would wave her paws in the air. The more vigorous the belly rub, the more vigorous the paw-waving.
She had a gentle soul. Other dogs sometimes play-bite where they will nibble on your fingers without hurting you during playtime, but she never put her teeth on people like that. Once, when playing with her in a playful mood and she was pawing frantically in the air and snapping her mouth in the air like she was silently barking, and while we were playing with her someone’s finger accidentally ended up in her mouth (still no actual bite) and she stopped playing immediately and seemed very concerned that someone had been hurt.
She was always aware of the weather before it rolled in. With a clear sky, if she started to look to people for comfort or to hide in nooks by the couch or behind the toilet, you could be sure there was a thunderstorm coming through in a few hours.
Violet really never jumped on the bed, which is pretty far off the ground. For years and years and years she didn’t, and we assumed she couldn’t. And then our friend Becky came over for a visit, and we all happened to walk in our bedroom and randomly Violet made the jump up there to get closer to Becky and didn’t seem to realize what she’d done. She never repeated the performance.
In some ways, Violet reminded us of Aria who came before her. Aria’s head always smelled like strawberries; Violet’s smelled sweet too, but it was more like grape. (Both of their feet smelled like Frito’s corn chips).
With the other dogs she never pushed for dominance. If another dog wanted to be bossy she was content to be a follower, unless another dog tried to take a bone she was chewing on, then she would stand her ground. If another dog was chewing a bone she would sometimes wait until they left it (to bark at a squirrel or something) and then she would grab the sticky gummy bone and go chew it somewhere quiet.
In Mikko’s younger days, they played quite a bit. Violet and Mikko would play-bow and like to chase each other around. As Mikko got older, his arthritis and other conditions meant he got a less playful so Violet had to find her playtime elsewhere, but they got along most of the time. Mikko was always pretty bossy, and Violet was usually happy to be a follower. If Mikko barked at something she was always happy to join in.
Timmy and Violet always got along well. Neither of them were much for picking fights, most of the time they would just happily coexist with each other, or might share a sunbeam or a dog bed. They traveled very well together, often cuddling up in a dog bed together or in a dog car seat together while Mikko had his own space.
Michael didn’t join the family until Violet was already on the older side, so she wasn’t quite as rambunctious as in her younger days with Mikko, but she would still be good for a roughhouse with Michael when the mood hit her just right, and the two of them would play-bow and then spar, rearing up on their hind legs and grappling with each other. Michael, being such an endlessly energetic young’un would generally come out on top (especially with his signature “hip-check” maneuver, where he would look a dog right in the eye and somehow his butt would swing around and bonk the other dog right in the head without him breaking eye contact), but a good time was had by all.
Cooper and Mabel would play sometimes, especially when they were younger. Cooper would try to mount her pretty frequently, and she would stand her ground and not accept that, would scoot away and maybe start sparring with him.
With the Cat-In-Laws
She bothered with the cats less than the other dogs (like Mikko or Michael). She generally left them alone and they left her alone. She was always a little wary, but she wasn’t really scared and didn’t feel the need to hide.
With the Kid
When we came back from the hospital with the kid after being born, we set the car seat carrier on the floor which had the blankets the kid had been covered in. She was very interested in that carrier, and she pulled the blankets from the carrier one by one and laid them out next to each other on the floor.
Because she was always wary of loud noises and intimidating situations, she would take the opportunity to find a quiet place if it got too noisy.
As the kid got older, she was always attuned to wake up time. When the kid woke up and came out for breakfast she would bark and follow him; something she wouldn’t do any other time. If we called the kid’s name she would always bark in the same rhythm: bark-bark, bark, bark.
Medical Adventures On the Way
A few years before the end, she had an… interesting… medical issue when we were on a road trip. Partway through the trip the car filled with a foul fishy odor, despite none of the dogs appearing to have taken the posture to use the bathroom. At first we thought that she had had a poop accident, which would have been very unusual and weird since she hadn’t taken the posture. But after we cleaned her up quick with the supplies we had at hand, it looked like she had an extra orifice on her back end from usual. It turned out that her anal gland had burst, which can happen from time to time. So we learned more than we wanted to learn about dog anatomy at that time.
We fostered a stray cat we named Whiskers for a few weeks while we were waiting for a cat rescue spot to open up. Whiskers generally didn’t have a lot of conflict with the dogs during those few weeks, minding her own business and not provoking the dogs. One day, though, Whiskers and Violet came face to face as they both turned a corner and had a quick and loud squabble. Violet was just trying to get away. We checked over them both and they both seemed to be okay… but then a day or two later one of us touched Violet’s back and she just started oozing all over. Whiskers had bitten her right in the back and left a perfect four-shot of bite marks that we had had trouble finding in her thick hair. By the time the vet was done with her, they had shaved a big rectangle of hair on her back to treat the wounds. It took quite a while to grow back, and while it was gone it look like she was a robot with a maintenance panel left open. After Whiskers moved to a cat adoption agency, whenever someone said the name “Whiskers” Violet would look around in panic.
In her younger years she was a voracious chewer. Of bones, if available. If not, well, many other things would do. She was a rough combination with a toddler in the house. She ate a plastic lemon, a plastic spoon, a plastic shovel handle, many pacifiers (which are extra fun because they are such soft plastic they don’t show up in x-rays), and the worst of which a CD case which broke into terrible jagged shards. Many trips to the ER to sort those out!
The Sad Part
Over most of her life she didn’t have major health problems. Most of the concerning vet visits we had by volume were a direct result of her eating something inappropriate, though thankfully all of those were resolved without having to do any kind of surgery.
Her health problems all started to happen last year. We normally haven’t had to supervise the dogs super closely when they eat, because they all dive into their own food bowls and stay there til their food is gone, if one dog tries to get at another dog’s food we will hear about it quickly. But we abruptly realized that she wasn’t finishing her meals, and that the other dogs were mopping up her bowl before she was done.
She had diarrhea that seemed to happen on a 6 week cycle, sometimes at the same time as our other Pomeranian, Michael, but never with our poodle Mikko–which is odd in itself because Mikko has a more sensitive digestive system generally. When she had one of these episodes, she was fine all day, most of the time, but then would have frequent bouts of it all night sometimes, sometimes needing to go out nearly every forty-five minutes. Thankfully she was very good about anticipating her need, and about waking us up promptly enough that we could have time to grab a coat and get her outside.
We took her to the vet quite a few times over several months, trying to figure out if was parasites, bacteria, some kind of foreign body. Took several rounds, and then she took a really sudden drop in October, where they determined that she was going into acute kidney failure at that part, which resulted in permanent kidney damage. Our regular vet suggested we just say our goodbyes and let her pass, but we managed to get into an internal medicine department at the U of MN vet clinic who helped us make treatment plan. With some fluid treatment, special diet, and a new set of medicines, we were able to get her leveled out.
The next month she had another very bad episode with all-night diarrhea again where her creatinine was up to 4 initially and we got her in for treatment and it got as bad as 6.1, and we thought we were going to have say goodbye to her then. But it evened out again, honestly to the surprise of the vet. Fluid therapy made a big difference with subcutaneous fluids. We even learned to administer it to her ourselves, though her even temperament made that a lot easier.
Throughout all of this, experimenting with different medicines, different fluid frequencies, followup appointments, nutrition consults and even tried some kidney food for cats to try to keep her numbers where we wanted her, and handfeeding her pate for every meal because she wouldn’t eat any other way. She had a bad tooth at this point, but because her kidneys were in such rough shape dental surgery was not an option because she would not be likely to handle the anesthesia.
We were calling her vets on pretty much a daily basis at that point trying to figure out if there was anything else we could try because it was getting harder and harder to get her to eat.
One night she had a particularly rough night where she was very restless. I brought her out to the couch to see if she would settle down out there like she sometimes would. I could sometimes get her to settle down, especially if she was cuddled up in a blanket, and she might settle down for ten minutes, but then she would suddenly startle awake and it would take a long time to get her to settle down again. We decided to try to get her into the vet ER… and they were not taking new patients at the time; one of their vets had been bitten by a cat and so the ER was understaffed.
Heather watched her for the rest of the night, and when we got to our normal wakeup time, the ER was accepting patients again, so I took her in. She was still feeling pretty rough, looking like she was having a real rough time of it. They took her back and immediately found that her body temperature was lower than it should be, and noted some cognitive symptoms, sort of seemed like she was dazed.
They ran some different diagnostic tests and found that her kidneys were fine. But her liver suddenly had some very high enzymes. They tried to put her on some medicine to help manage that, but they also found that ammonia levels in her body were also very high. They said she was experiencing more neurological symptoms, like “head pressing”, where an animal presses their head against some surface and just leaves it there. All this time we hadn’t been able to see her all because of lack of staff to facilitate it.
Heather and the kid were able to join us at the vet, and they were able to let us see Violet, and though they had told us she was having some neurological symptoms, we hadn’t realized how bad she was doing until we saw her in person. She was almost completely unresponsive. The most response she would have was to blink sometimes if something moved near her face, but otherwise nothing. Apart from sometimes blinking from motion she wasn’t even blinking and they were putting lubricating drops in her eyes to keep them moist so they wouldn’t dry out.
We had to go to go to a cub scout meeting, and she seemed to be in a fairly stable (if not good) condition, so we went to the meeting and came back afterward. We were planning to take her home, and figuring that we would give the ammonia-reducing medicine a little more time to work, and decide if we needed to schedule a home visit for euthanasia. But when we came and saw her again, she had gotten even worse if that was possible, and we decided we had to make the difficult choice to let her go. We sat with her there in a private comfortable room for a little while, holding her and talking to her and sharing our favorite memories of her. Finally the time came and we had to say goodbye to our brown- and blue-eyed girl.
We were heartbroken to see her go, but it was her time.
What Came After
The very next day after she passed, Heather noticed that there were several cardinals outside as she was looking at the adoption profile for Mabel (who we ended up adopting and who has mixed-color eyes that are like the reverse of Violet’s). We had not seen any cardinals yet this year when the spring was late in coming, and we rarely see two cardinals together, and had never seen three together. Throughout that whole day, we saw the three cardinals together, chirping and hanging around the house. Some say that cardinals are the spirits of those who have passed away coming to visit you. If you believe in signs, we have had to say goodbye to three dogs together: Aria, Timmy, and Violet, and maybe Violet met up with her the other two and brought them back for a visit.