(Lauren Cahn is busy applying to grad school this week, so she asked her dog, Lewis, to pinch hit. Lauren asked him to write about "Doga" - partner yoga, where your dog is your partner. But he seems to have come up with his own topic. Stubborn hound that he is).
Dear Mr. Obama,
Lewis the Bagle here. And, no, I didn't misspell that. It's a combination of "beagle" and "basset hound", and even though I don't remember much about my earliest days, I do remember that my mama was a beagle, although I didn't look like the other beagles exactly. My ears were too long, my voice was too low, and I tripped over my feet a lot because they were so big. From as early as I can remember, the beagles in my neighborhood would call me names, like "Mixed Breed", "Mutt" and the worst one of all, "Hybrid", as if I were some sort of fuel-efficient sedan, or worse, some kinda wannabe-designer-doggie mash-up with a breed name that inevitably rhymes with "oodle". You know what I'm talking about, don't you, Mr. Obama?
Anyways, that was bad enough, especially coming from a bunch of beagles, who think they're somehow better than you just because they're, like, you know, full bred, even though the reality of it is that full bred or not, beagles are, well, common. But the worst of it started around my first birthday (in human years). See, that was when I reached physical maturity, and it became pretty clear to everyone around me that I was never going to grow into my extra-long ears or my extra-long body or my extra-big paws.
There was no way to hide what I was anymore. I was a dyed-in-the fur, honest-to-goodness, son of a Basset.
And none of those beagles was going to let me forget it. Now, everywhere I went, it was all "Your mama wears Basset boots," and "Your mama's a Basset's bitch!" and the worst one of all: "Look, here comes that Basset bastard!"
That's when everything changed for me. Sad but true, my own pride and ego is how I ended up on the mean streets of the South Bronx.
So right about now, Mr. Obama, you might be thinking - but what about your human? Wasn't there a human that fed you, that took care of you, that loved you? Why would you ever leave your human and take to the streets? And well, yes, in fact, there was a human. And he was a nice guy too. Always fed me, always gave me a warm place to sleep.
But by the same token, my human didn't have a lot of time to hang out with me. Most days, he kept me outside in the tiny little asphalt courtyard behind his walk-up. Not that I held that against him. He did what he could. But the fact is, I had too much time on my hands. Too much time to think. I was bored. I wanted to see what was out there. I was young. And foolish. And full of dreams -- dreams of leading a hunt, of chasing rabbits in the woods, of running faster than any beagle had ever run. Any FULL-bred beagle, that is.
So one day, when my human opened the back gate, I ran. I didn't even stop to think. I just ran.
And I ran. And I ran. I had never run so fast in my life, and when I finally got tired, I looked around and had no idea where I was. Was I still in the Bronx? Who could know? All I knew was that I was hungry and scared. I missed my human. But before I had a chance to start missing those bitchy beagles too, I suddenly found myself with a rope looped around my neck. And the next thing I know, I'm in the back of a van.
That's how I ended up in the system.
One day, I'm a cocky young beagle of questionable heritage, with dreams of a better life, the next day I'm in...jail. To be exact, it was a maximum security type deal - solitary cages made of metal and cement, rows and rows of them. And in every cage, a dog. Some of them full-bred. Some of them mixed. Some of them just babies. Some of them very very old. But one thing they all had in common: all of them were scared. All of them were barking and howling and begging for their lives. All of them, and me - we all somehow knew. We all somehow knew that this could be the end of the line for any of us, perhaps for all of us.
We were all like, "Dear DOG, why? Why, DOG why?" Sometimes at night I can still hear the screams. What had any of us done wrong? And more to the point, what had I done wrong?
See, notwithstanding what those beagles said about me and my beagle mama and my basset daddy, I knew I was a "good boy". I knew because my human used to tell me that all the time when he'd pat me on the head, or rub me under my chin. And even here, even now, in this DOG-forsaken hell-hole, I was still a "good boy". One of the wardens went so far as to actually WRITE that on a piece of paper and tack it to my cage. I can't read, of course, but after that, there were a lot more humans walking around between the cages, and almost all of them would stop to look at me and read what the paper said: "Beagle Mix with a Mild Disposition: A good boy for any home."
Most of them would say really nice things about my big ears and my "soulful eyes" (whatever!), and almost all of them would get me out of my cage. They'd put a rope around my neck and walk with me around the dark, concrete floors of the jailhouse. Some of them brought human puppies ("huppies") with them. Some of them came alone.
I remember being unable to look any of them in the eye. I don't remember why exactly, except I know that I was just so scared. And ashamed. Ashamed that I had run away from my human. Ashamed that I had gone and landed myself in jail.
Then I met...them. A small human lady with two huppies. All of them had reddish hair and big blue eyes that reminded me of the big sky out there, the sky that I might never see again. When the human lady opened my cage, I leaped into her arms and clung to her. She put her nose right into my neck and sniffed. I sniffed back. The huppies were jumping up and down and clapping with glee. "Can we take him home, Mommy? Mommy please? Please Mommy? Please? Can we call him, Lou, Mommy, like the dog in that movie, Cats and Dogs, Mommy?"
Because I'm kind of a smarty, even by dog standards, I quickly realized that this human lady's name was "Mommy". So, anyway, Mommy set me down on the floor to play with the huppies while she went off to talk to the warden. Was she paying my bail? Or maybe I was getting out for good? Could this really be happening? Was it all a big mistake?
But when Mommy came back, she picked me up and put me back in my cage and took the huppies with her. She did tell me that she'd be back soon for me and not to go home with anyone but her. And she asked the warden to write the name "Lewis" on his cage because that's what she was going to call me.
But late that night, the stories made their way around the cages. Stories of humans promising to get us out and then never coming back. Stories of dogs who just kind of...disappeared. One day they were in the cage, one day they were gone. No one knew if they had gotten out, or if something else had happened...something of which none of us would ever dare to speak. I slept fitfully that night, hopeful but afraid to hope, my mind overflowing with dreams and images - of my old human, of the beagles who lived in my old neighborhood, of my beautiful mama....and of the 7-year old cockapoo in the cage across the hall (the wardens called her "Baby", and she wouldn't tell me what she used to be called...before). Her human had died, leaving her an orphan. That was three months ago. If no one adopted her soon....no, no, I can't go there.
The good news is that Mommy came back the next day. I didn't understand why she didn't just get me out of there right then and there, because she said she wanted to. But since then, I've heard that when you're picked up on the streets without identification, you're in the slammer for 72 hours no matter what, unless your human comes to find you. Which, I've also since learned, almost never happens. I think the idea is that after 72 hours, it's assumed that you're not...wanted. I try not to think about that too much though because it's a different life for me now.
Mommy took me home on the third day after I got thrown in jail. She brought me to a giant building with three elevators and a guy standing at the door who wanted to throw snacks at me and have me catch them in the air. I never did get the hang of that. I really just like to eat. Tricks are so pedestrian. There, I found the huppies waiting for me, and some other dude who doesn't seem to be a big fan of my kind, but I am sure I'll get through to him someday. Things were a bit rocky at first because I had to learn to "do my business" during our thrice-daily walks around the neighborhood, rather than at will, whenever, like I used to do when I lived in the Bronx and stayed outside all day. But it was SO worth it to adapt to Mommy's rules. She loves to feed me, and everything in the "apartment", as she called it, was soft and warm - perfect for my long daytime naps.
Still, there was something missing. A part of me still longed to chase after bunnies. And squirrels. And birds. And mice. And horses. And deer. Sigh. There was nothing really worth chasing in this place where Mommy and the huppies lived. Maybe a pigeon here or there. Maybe another dog . But that was a problem too. So many dogs on leashes everywhere I went. And not everyone wanted to play with me. After a while, I just kind of growled when another dog walked by.
And then a miracle happened. Dear DOG, I don't know how I got so lucky, but one day, maybe a human year or two after that first hellish day out on the streets, Mommy up and moved the entire family out to the country! Now I can stay outside all day if I want, without a leash! I can roll around in piles of autumn leaves. I can bark at turtles and bullfrogs in the pond out front. And there are bunnies, and squirrels, and chipmunks, and possum in the woods out back.
And deer. Oh, deer! Heh. I just love scaring those deer away because Mommy's so proud of me when do - she hates when they eat up her gardens. There are even coyotes, and I love to tease those wretched little nasties at night. They howl, and I howl back. It's like I've died and gone to doggie heaven...except I'm alive...and safe, and warm and the wildlife is just there for the taking.
I stand here today, Mr. Obama, and I am the luckiest dog on the face of the earth.
Well, Mr. Obama, this did get very long, didn't it? But the point I'm trying to make is that I've seen all sides of this crazy dog's life. I was a puppy that was raised by a human. I didn't appreciate what I had, and looking back, I can be honest and say that I wasn't the best pet in the world back then. Then I was a stray. And that sucked. No need to say more than that. And then I was a shelter dog. And that beyond-sucked.
I could have died there, Mr. Obama. I could have, for reals.
And then I was rescued. I became a rescued dog. A shelter rescue. A shelter-dog that was rescued. However you call it. And I am the most grateful, loyal dog that Mommy ever could have dreamed of having. I am the luckiest dog, and I know it, and it translates into my being the best pet. Ever. And it's not like I'm conceited or anything. This is just what I hear Mommy saying to her friends when they ask her, "What kind of dog is that?" and she tells them that I was a stray that she rescued from a shelter.
So, please, Mr. Obama: do a solid by the mutts and strays and shelter-dogs of the world: go to a shelter and find your dream dog there. Hypoallergenic dogs get abandoned too.
Go get one, Mr. O.
Peace out, man.
(Me and Mommy)