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    Mine Is a Dog’s Life!

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Sometimes we get all wrapped up in what we do professionally. But, in the end, what we do does not define us. The most important thing in life is not what we do, but who we are. What I do is defined behind a baton or a curtain, or off the podium.

    I have not managed a human relationship that has lasted “til death do us part.” There is one thing that has been, and will be, with me until I cross that rainbow bridge. (I’m so sorry “Anonymous” made that up. “It’s not my very favorite.”) The constant companions in my life, other than music and grandchildren, are dogs! I figure that of my 69 years on this planet, I’ve had the companionship of a dog for at least 59 of them! I paused for college and graduate school. They frowned on dogs in the dorms and first set of tiny apartments.

    In my early years, I grew up with Honey Boy. He was a not-so-bright Cocker Spaniel. I later came to know that is redundant for Cocker Spaniels with the notable exception of the three Cockers who won the Westminster Kennel Club show in 1921, 1940, 1941 (same dog), and 1954. Then there was Schatze, the too smart for her own good Schipperke. She was adorable and hyper. Both of those were outside dogs. After I left home, Mom and Dad got a Schnauzer and never strayed from that breed. They also moved indoors! Not my parents, the dogs.

    As soon as I married and had a place to call home, I started in with making sure they had pets. I always said it was for the kids. In reality, it was as much for me. Of course, we had dogs—most notably, Miss La De Da. In later years, my daughter Corianna would laughingly say they should have known I was gay when I chose that name.

    We had a cat named Kitty who wandered the Southwest Houston neighborhoods. We had obligatory goldfish and bettas. Their final swim was down the toilet upon their demise. I’m embarrassed to say we bought the kids those sad little turtles who had their shells painted. They were not a hearty lot. We “released” them in a local creek. The kids were certain they would thrive there and become Galapagos worthy in no time. There were birds and a lizard or two. It would be much later when Corianna gifted her daughter Clara with a bearded dragon named Princess Shimmer. She went from eating crickets to frozen field mice as she grew 5x her size. But I get ahead of myself.

    Then came the three hamsters: Muffy, Fluffy, and Buffy. Around Easter, one morning, the kids went in to see the trio only to discover that one of them had killed the other two in a scene to rival the Game of Throne’s Red Wedding. They were obviously traumatized.

    We released the survivor near the same creek as the turtle to fend for his murdering self; obviously, a death sentence in itself. Feeling terrible about it, their grandparents, visiting from out of town, decided to replace the hamsters with something completely different, a duck, before leaving to go home.

    “Duckie” began life in the very hamster cage that was the scene of the previous murders. Ducks grow quickly. They basically eat and poop. “Duckie” grew into the laundry basket, the sides of which he soon could look over. He would sit in the front yard while we picked weeds. Then, one sad day, the neighbor dog, apparently having visions of Duck a l’Orange or some other poultry delicacy, ended “Duckie’s” life abruptly.

    Our children were very clear on the circle of life from an early age.

    After our divorce, my ex-wife did not continue the pet menagerie. On the other hand, I did. My first rescue occurred once I settled in Dallas with Louis. It also began the habit of changing the names they were given in the various shelters. She was named “Brittany.” That was not going to work for us. We changed her name to Miss Mona Pearl. Miss Mona for the part Dolly Parton played in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and because her coloring was a little pearlish.

    She easily became my best friend. She was a beautiful fluffy white and gray mutt. When I started work at the Turtle Creek Chorale, we officed at the Sammons Center for the Arts. The executive director, Joanna St. Angelo, was a dog lover and met Mona the day I rescued her. After introducing her, I was about to leave and Joanna asked, “Where are you going?” I told her I was going to take Mona and leave her home. Joanna said, “You just rescued her from the SPCA, you can’t abandon her at home. She’s staying here.”

    And that began the next 17 years of Mona’s “Canine in Residency” program. She was the perfect office dog. She would go to the elevator, wait patiently for someone to come out or in, and ride to other floors—there were only four. She knew other workers had treats in their desks for her. Then, she would work her way back up to my office or someone would call, “Mona’s on the first floor.” Everyone loved her so much.

    When she was finally unable to function any longer due to health issues, she went on a week-long goodbye tour of all the people who loved her. All over Dallas. We had a large number of family and friends gather after hours at the vet to hold her—and each other—as she left us. A friend of mine painted a huge portrait that still hangs to this day in my home.

    No dog could live up to Mona Pearl. Or so I thought. After Mona left us (no, I am still not a fan of the Rainbow Bridge), my then partner Shawn and I went down to the SPCA “just to look.” There she was, in a little round enclosure like a play pen. She was quiet (most likely on drugs) and adorable. She was nothing like Mona. She was short-haired, more like a beagle, but solid blonde.

    We took her into a little room and she jumped up in our lap—it was so special (we are fully aware of rescue dog training—make sure to jump in every potential owner’s lap, look lovingly into their eyes and, if they indicate they would like such a thing, give them a gentle kiss indicating they had made the right choice and should not leave without you).

    Well, she was great, but we didn’t want to take the first dog they had obviously placed at the front door as a “resist this” temptation. We told the volunteer to put her back. We wanted to shop around to see if there might be something better.

    When we returned, she was not in her cage. We literally asked the attendant, “Where is our dog?” We’d spent all of a half hour with her and all of a sudden, she was ours. Well, she was in a room with other people. We were sure she was not in their lap or giving longing looks and kisses. They made a big mistake, they put her back in the cage to go look around at other choices, just as we had done! Whew. We snatched her up and headed for the check-out stand! She was ours. Her shelter name was Carmel. We named her Carmella.

    She made the trip to California with her “brothers” Big Daddy and Little Bear. When Shawn walked the three dogs in San Francisco, people asked for his card, assuming he was a dog walker. We were to learn that few people in San Francisco actually own three dogs.

    Carmella weathered the breakup of Tim and Shawn and left her brothers behind. It was just me and Carmella for almost a year and a half. She was the best partner in every way. When she met Dan, she pulled out her shelter training, and with one jump in his lap and one longing look, had him absolutely wrapped around his finger. He said to me, “Having grown up with cats, I never knew I was a dog person, but I am now.”

    Dan ran to the pet store to do the things he thought would win her over. He purchased one of those plastic stick things that helps you propel a tennis ball across the dog park for your dog to fetch. It was awesome. Dan would fling the ball and then go fetch it himself. Carmella had absolutely no interest in “dog things” or exercise. Chip off this dad’s block. He would also play this game where, knowing she had to go pee, would whisper to her. She would cock her head like the Victrola dog.

    Years later, she had a sudden, virulent onset of pancreatitis. It took a week for the condition to turn dire. There was nothing to be done. We decided on a pet hospice company to come to our home, put her to sleep, and then carry her out—in her favorite blanket. Dan and I simply could not face it. To our rescue came Corianna. We took our beloved Carmella to her house with a favorite blanket, said wailing goodbyes, and left her. Corianna snuggled her as she left this world we know. So brave, that daughter of mine. Pet hospice in home euthanasia is such a warm loving way to say goodbye.

    Dan and I were inconsolable. I felt I needed at least six months to properly grieve before looking for another dog. In reality, that lasted about two weeks before I started perusing the internet sites looking at dogs up for adoption. I would sit at the end of the sofa, trying to hide my searches from Dan, who was doing the same thing at his end. We just didn’t want the other to know. Finally, one day Dan said, “Are you looking at puppy porn again?” I turned my laptop to show row after row of adorable dogs awaiting homes. From that time on, our puppy porn searches were done together in an open relationship.

    Then we took the search out into the various shelters around the Bay Area. Of course, there is always a dog to fall in love with. I’ve been a consistent monthly donor to the SPCA for ages. Corianna and I would cry every single time the television ad came on with Sarah McLachlan singing “In the Arms of an Angel.” At one of the shelters, a volunteer pulled us aside and told us about Copper’s Dream Animal Rescue ( https://www.coppersdream.org/ ). It is a group of people who rescue dogs and put them in foster homes instead of shelters. You get to “interview” the foster parent about how the dog really is rather than the hyper-stressed environment of a shelter.

    Our search didn’t take long. We found the most adorable little girl. We did a meet and greet with her foster mom who interviewed us as potential doggie daddies. We fell in love. We named her Grace because she was such a gift to us after Carmella. She is a 9-pound Chihuahua mix. She never barks. Ever! She is the cuddliest/laziest dog ever. We say we have a stuffed animal that eats and poops.

    We seriously didn’t even notice that she could have been Carmella’s twin. Not only does she not bark, but she also doesn’t fetch. After an initial infection in her first month, she’s been a healthy doggie with one exception. Because she obviously had lived a hard life on the street with illness and malnutrition, our vet recommended a $3,500 procedure of basically painting on faux enamel. It would last one year before needing to repeat. We elected to go with soft food and treats. Happy Grace and happy daddies here.

    Grace is now around six years old. The life expectancy of a mixed breed Chihuahua is between 15 and 20 years. With some luck, Grace will be with Dan and me for the rest of our lives, happily bouncing between homes. What a gift. When I retire, I will absolutely add to my doggy family.

    Much has been written, and movies made, about the relationship between humans and dogs. All I can say to all of them is a big Amen up in there. I have children and grandchildren. They are great, of course. You can’t compare the love for them to the love for a dog. They are just different. I am so lucky to get to have both!

    Hopefully, my travel log through puppydom has reminded you to do the same, remembering how pets have changed your journey.

    Life would not be the same without them. There is no unconditional love like it. I have held on to my dogs through my darkest days. They absolutely have a sixth sense and know when you are sick or hurting emotionally. There is nothing quite like having your dog sense your struggle and simply snuggle up next to you—or even put a paw or a nose on your leg as a reminder that they need nothing other than your love and are there for you.

    There is a National Dog Day, a National Hug Your Dog Day, and a National Spoil Your Dog Day. I’m voting for all of those to happen every day!

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    Published on February 27, 2020