Dogs I Have Known

Below is a heavily abridged version of “Dogs I Have Known,” which I read at the formal launch for QUALITY SNACKS in Detroit on May 21st. This text accompanies the “Dogs I Have Known” video and indicates where that video played in the presentation. Thanks to all who sent me dog photos and video!


Dogs I Have Known

  1. The Dog I Have Never Owned

It is said that dogs are good. People with dogs live longer, are happier, and are less likely to have their homes burglarized.

     I have never owned a dog. This is in part because I am afraid of them, but also because I do not want to take care of an animal. My daughter Amanda would love a dog, but I will never buy her one.

     So I guess you know what kind of person I am.


  1. One Dog’s Neighborhood

The dog has his memories, a street where trees don’t grow very tall. South Milwaukee. Small houses with complicated rooflines: dormers, additions, awnings, and porches. Gutters sag, downspouts dangle, shingles grow moss. Inside are dining rooms with old built-ins, upstairs bedrooms with slanted ceilings, tiny closets shaped like mathematics problems.

     On the corner, stands a tavern, also like a house, with the bar on the first floor and a family–my family–upstairs.

     The dog was a nipper, yet loved by all. At first communions, he was always invited into the picture, sitting on his haunches by the girl in her white dress or the boy in his little suit. I have such a Polaroid of Max, the dog, with Ginnie Lee, my first love.


  1. Mitch and Susan’s Dog

The closest I have come to being mauled and killed by a dog was at a Thanksgiving party thrown by my brother-in-law and his new wife.

It was a strange time for me. I had been experiencing a high level of conflict in the workplace. There was a particular set-to I had in a conference room with a colleague who was advocating, to my view, a manifestly losing legal strategy in a case she and I were on together. The problem occurred when she did not see something I felt was obviously apparent and true–and still think is obviously apparent and true. But she would not see it, and my voice rose and rose, and neither of us could stop. The managing partner personally escorted me to HR, where I was debriefed about my behavior, which was apparently part of a pattern. I was put on a sort of probation, and the decision about whether I would be a partner was postponed.

My wife, Beth, did not appreciate these developments.

“I’m wondering about you,” she said.

“What are you wondering?” I asked.

She never told me, exactly.


  1. Murray, My Favorite Dog


  1. Revenge of the Dog

We all started barking, and our fascinating neighborhood enemy, John Nelson, retreated to his sandbox and methodically dug between his knees. We congregated on the basketball court of Divine Mercy, which was close to his lot line.

     I turned to Ginnie Lee, my first love and next-door neighbor, and tried to kiss her ear, but it was a moving target. “Cut that out,” she said.

     How to go about being Ginnie’s boyfriend was not clear to me. I didn’t like hanging out at her house because of her dog.

     Max, her smallish mutt, had almost been killed by Dozer, John Nelson’s Great Dane. A few months later, Dozer was hit by a car and killed.

     We had been barking at John Nelson to taunt him with the loss of his malicious pooch, andI barked the loudest because I knew my imitation of Dozer’s bark was uncannily close. Still kneeling in the sandbox, John Nelson finally unearthed a coffee can and reached inside. His long bowl haircut swayed as he rose to his feet, holding what I was pretty sure was an M-80. He pulled his prized Zippo lighter from his T-shirt pocket and soon

the long, customized fuse of his M-80 was burning.

     “Eat me!” John yelled, and he hurled his bomb toward the basketball court.

     Mesmerized, I stood and watched while the others scattered.

     The M-80 landed; I calculated ten seconds left on the fuse, enough time to throw it back.Even as I bent to grab it, wild emergency shouting went off in my blood. Nevertheless, very conscious of Ginnie watching me, I picked up the M-80. I realized I was wrong about how much time was left; I spastically shoveled the M-80 into the air. It arced toward Ginnie, who shrieked. I heard the lightning crack, and Ginnie convulsed and reeled.

     I ran to her. She was bleeding from her ear. There were powder burns on the side of her face. She looked at me with her mouth open, but no sound was coming out.


  1. The Dogs of the Dow

Having lost my wife and, eventually, my job, I searched the important aspects of human experience for new terms by which I could judge myself A-OK. I came up with two. One of them was money: I had more money than most other people, and if I could secure another job I would have even more. The other was trying to make myself a better person. It is said that money and soul-improving activities don’t mix, but when I failed at being a better person, I could fall back on having money. This in turn gave me the strength I needed to renew my attempts to be a better person.

     Karen, a law school friend, took pity on me and invited me into her mediation practice.

     “Are you sure?” I asked over lunch at the Hard Rock Café in downtown Chicago.“I tend to create conflict, not resolve it.”

     “But that’s what will make you so good!” she enthused. “You really understand how conflict happens.”

     I really wanted to date her, but she told me, apropos of what, I don’t remember, that her relationship with her boyfriend was “unusually strong.” In fact, when the check came, she added, “My relationship with my boyfriend has recently grown stronger.”

     I am not good at seeing or hearing myself. The thing that helps people know how they’re coming across to other people doesn’t work very well in me. It’s one of the reasons I fear dogs: because they might see what I don’t want to show. To this day, I have no idea what I did to make Karen say those things to me.

     When I was signing for the bill, “All Along the Watchtower” was playing. It happens to be my favorite song. It seemed clear during the trippy guitar solo that I would mediate and have stronger relationships and become a better person. And also make money.


{Play “Dogs I Have Known” video}


    7.  Seldom Known Facts About Dogs

    8. Rufus

Though I was litigating again, I never abandoned my dream of becoming a better person. Even after I jumped ship, Karen sent me some pro bono work for a local hospice, and when the director mentioned a volunteer drive, I said, “Count me in.”

     After training, I was assigned to Wilbur Tesch, a former US marine and hardware store manager who was slowly dying from C.O.P.D. About once a week, I would provide respite for his wife, Caroline, so she could run errands for a few hours.

     Caroline greeted me at the small Tesch home in Cicero and invited me inside. In a cage in the kitchen was a dark brown muscular dog. He barked vigorously. “He’s just a big baby,” Caroline told me. “His name is Rufus.”

     “Hi, Rufus,” I said.

     “I just took him out,” Caroline said. “You don’t have to worry about that.”

     Wilbur was watching The Price Is Right in a brown leather recliner in the family room. He was wearing oxygen tubes. His left arm trembled and was mottled with wine-colored bruises. Still, he rose and shook my hand firmly.


The following week the hospice nurse came and before I knew it she let Rufus out, and the week after that, Caroline came back early. Then one day while Wilbur and I were watching a fishing program, Rufus began to whine intermittently, and by the time a reindeer-hunting program came on, Rufus was whining piteously and continuously to be let out. His whine was high-pitched, loud, coercive; it shredded my consciousness. I rubbed my damp palms on my knees. I thought Wilbur might turn to me at any second and say, “Could you please let him out?” Instead, Wilbur repeatedly tried to shush Rufus, but the dog’s whining found an extra gear, an even sharper pitch.

     “No!” Wilbur shouted, though he was dangerously short of breath. “No!” He rose from his chair, his left arm shaking, his fist curled around a phantom newspaper. He almost toppled as he turned laboriously toward the kitchen. If I were to help him, I would have to open the cage and quickly move my hand past Rufus’s jaws to grasp his collar. I would speak soothingly while I did this and pray that whatever it was that gave me away to people wouldn’t give me away to Rufus. I would let him drag me outside. I would let him go. Wilbur shuffled six feet to the kitchen doorway. It took him a full minute, the dog whining frantically. “No!” Wilbur hoarsely shouted. “No!”

     Wilbur tottered. I sprang from the sofa and dashed to him. He tipped in my direction. I went to one knee, as if fielding a grounder, and took his falling weight against my shoulder. But he was heavier than I thought, and I sprawled backward, and Wilbur collapsed onto me.


  1. Meditative Dog

Dogs circle me in fluorescent moonlight, in some rectangular South Milwaukee backyard. Their unruly loping. Their narrow mouths and oversize teeth. The thing I would never do, the thing I am afraid of, barks at me. I have the ability to hear dogs barking at great distances, in any weather. Every dog confirms for me that I am not near it.

     My daughter is ten now and she calls occasionally to renew her pleas. I tell her, if your mother can handle a dog at her apartment, I won’t stop her, but I can’t have a dog over here.

     “Dad, you hate me,” Amanda says.

     “No, I don’t, sweetie,” I say. “I love you.”

     We hang up with something between us, I’m afraid.

     Wilbur is of course dead now, but how did things turn out with Rufus? Did I ever wrestle with him in the backyard? Did I ever fill his pool with a hose? Did we play fetch? He was purebred Doberman, a beautiful dog, trust me. Once, I simply put the back of my right hand against his cage, and he licked my fingers through the bars.

By amozina

Author of the short story collections THE WOMEN WERE LEAVING THE MEN and QUALITY SNACKS and the novel CONTRARY MOTION.

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