• Harry Jensen

April 29, 2020

Today is the sixth day of Ramadan, and yesterday was my sixth day of fasting (sort of). Bean Curd, T, and I stopped fasting due to a very chill health matter yesterday, but I’m still going with it casually. In other news, there was a Chautauqua tonight during which I tried to tell a fable, but instead told a rambling tale about a manatee with erectile dysfunction talking to his Austrian psychiatrist. Also, I don’t trust Bill Gates anymore. Exciting times!

I watched Bong Joon-ho’s Okja on Netflix this evening, and it just about broke my heart. (Do I have to be a vegetarian now?) The film tells the tale of a little girl named Mija chasing Okja — her friend-pet and artificially sired superpig — from Korea to New Jersey after Okja is shanghaied by his original meatpacking creators. It was rough, and I need a creative pallet cleanser. I want to write a science fiction story about a nice future with the meat industry, preferably its abolition, followed by a happy eon of veganism and slaughterhouses filled with genetically engineered ambulatory mushrooms.

Fun fact: animals endure all kinds of suffering in silence! I was moved by Okja’s trials, tribulations, and, dare I say, her travails, and I thought of my own little friend-pet, Maude. No, she’s not quite a friend-pet, more of a dogpanion. Anyways, I know that Maude has endured her own suffering, and I’ve never heard a word about it.

In the spring of 2014, my father and I picked up Maude from a rented warehouse, where a rescued agency called MARS Dogs, or something, was selling dogs. We were attracted at first to a dark brown dog with large peanut butter patches, as if he had a coat of melted Reese’s cups. Mustafa seemed to be a stringy Labrador mix, tall but alarmingly skinny.

“I don’t want to get a dog that’ll be dead in a week,” my Dad said as he clicked his tongue at Mustafa's protruding ribs.

After leaving Mustafa to his fate, we moved on to a sausagey white dog mottled with a handful of coffee stains. Despite her stumpy legs, she was muscular, and hse had massive erect ears mounted on her head. The ensemble made her resemble an albino bat with a pituitary issue. About the size of a bread loaf, the adorable chihuahua-corgi-nonsense dog was rocking a tutu, and she couldn’t have cared less about me. I was in love.

“She’s very relaxed, but she’s no loaf: I walk her 12 miles one time,” said Maude’s foster mother in her sales pitch for a presumably lovable dog. “And she doesn’t shed.”

I looked at the pile of fur haloing my future ward, and knew at least part of the crisply haired woman’s speech was not true. But I was besotted with her black shark eyes and utter disregard for my looming presence, and soon we took the four-legged vagabond home to rifle through our garbage and shit on the rug.

We guessed our new dog was one, but there was no way to tell unless she told. Maude was a puppy mill dog in Ohio of all places, and we have no idea where she was before she found her way into the gears of the rescue agency. That unknown time was quickly forgotten by me. After weeks together, I had forgotten that I had ever not had Maude in my life, and by a few months into our relationship I would have clubbed a condor to protect my precious dog.

But there was a time before me for her, a time that was bad, and I’ll never knows what that was for her. I don’t exactly feel like she’s straining at the edge of her skull, desperately trying to tell me her woes, but still, I want to know what’s behind her cute and fearful little synchronicities. I wonder, too, if she notices that my father is gone, that there was a day that he never came back. It would have been months before he died, when he first went numb below the belly button. What could she have thought, felt? Unloved, perhaps, scared, vulnerable, much like the rest of us who watch someone fade and coil out of our lives.

Maude is in my care now, but she was my father’s pooch before that, and I have many memories of her sleeping on his chest as he napped on the couch after chemo. The two of them were friends, and I, shuttling myself between my mother’s and my father’s a few times a week, was probably more of a visitor to Maude, a beloved supporting actor. Now that she is with me, and has not seen my father in well over 1000 days, I wonder what my dog remembers of him, even if it’s just a revisited sensation of togetherness; I’d like to know about her own moments and madeleines that bring dad back to her.

One day, while we were sitting outside of a café, Maude lunged for someone. I looked up to see a man in black shoes, gray pants, white dress shirt, and a green tie talking on his Bluetooth and storming down the sidewalk. My heart lurched: the outfit could have been out of my Dad’s wardrobe, and the silver-rimmed glasses and paunch were a perfect match. I watched Maude’s wagging tail slow to a stop as the oblivious man stomped on — it just about broke my heart.

Among the best things about having Maude is knowing that she missed my Dad, even if she doesn’t miss him now. I don’t miss miss him every day either, but I still live with the ramifications of his absence, the presence of his not-ness. Maude’s life changed as much as mine when Dad passed, more even. Because of this, despite her tangerine-sized brain, she is someone with whom I can sympathize. Reflecting on Okja, I know that this is one reason why I love her, this is one reason why she is not a pet but a companion, and this is one of many, many reasons not to eat her. Or take her to New Jersey.

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