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Dog Life

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

I can sometimes hear the downstairs neighbor yell at his dog.

The neighbor is also my co-worker and, like me, works 12-hour shifts sometimes. That was a fun time. Leaving the dog alone at home in a small apartment for 12 hours... Good idea.

When my neighbor returned home, the dog had either left him a very unsurprising surprise in the form of a puddle of urine or a lump of that stuff animals make, or he’d chewed on the furniture.

According to the neighbor, the dog favours chewing on a couple of issues of Le Petit Spirou. A specific two issues, that is; always the same ones.

I took a day off recently to go to the city to meet family. One has to see those from time to time. I got some insight into what the dog feels about getting left behind like that.

It wailed. First the neighbor’s dog, then another dog close by, then I could hear three or four other dogs wail. I suspect this happened every day.

We used to have a dog. Way back. That came to be thus: father saw an ad in the paper for a dog, and sent my uncle to have a look at it.

My uncle doesn’t do “looking at things.” He just bought the dog and sent it over.

So, we had a dog.


My brother took over care for the dog; he’s into such things. It was a purebred Icelandic shepherd, like those critters they have in Greenland to pull sledges.

This one was yellow and uncommonly small. The story goes the dog was on death’s door when the woman who owned it decided to nurse it to life herself by feeding it from her own breast.

That sounded crazy to me, but I didn’t see it, so I can’t say.

Now, of course, having a dog around is fine. You can blame it every time you blow a silent but deadly burst, and it was indeed unsparingly used for that purpose. And people were getting away with it, for the dog did indeed posess volcanic-like reservoirs of noxious fumes, which it would let loose whenever and wherever it pleased.

My brother found that out the hard way, since he kept the dog, and the dog slept in his room. It was particularly bad one night, for the dog must have eaten something strange. The whole night it vented out bursts of diabolical foetor of such awesome aromatic power that my brother believed he might not make it through the night. But he did.

Just before my brother left home, he received a cat with a broken tail. It was a small, hairy thing suspicious of all and devious in ways, but it got along fine with the dog. My brother left the cat there, and the cat still is around.

My brother used to have another cat, back in the day. He gave it to his friend, and shortly afterward the cat disappeared. Not much to say about that cat. Was just a cat. Nothing peculiar about it.

Our neighbors had a cat that would use the toilet. It even flushed when it was finished. And I have video of it opening a window to get in. That was fascinating.

A friend of my brother had a cat, a kitten. He had it in his car and lost it in there when the cat decided to climb into the AC. I hear it was greatly difficult to remove it.

But back to the dog. The dog was less happy with the rabbit that my other brother had. Not sure what happened to the rabbit, but it disappeared one day. I suspect the exterminator ate it; he did such things.

The fate of my sister’s hamster was less mysterious. She got a hamster, for they were like 500 kr a piece. She also got the whole hamster apparatus for whatever that cost, and put that in her room.

She soon found out that hamsters apparently never sleep. They will go on the hamster wheel and run for a while, at any hour of the day or night, whenever they feel like it. That kept her awake at night. So she put the hamster stuff outside.

Once she was out, the hamster got out of the cage, for it was Houdini Hamster. And it disappeared for about a week. We found the body in a puddle of vomit behind some furniture. The dog had found the hamster while having a stroll and swallowed it. Once swallowed, the hamster did not digest well, and the dog had puked it up behind something.

My extended family has a history with animals. A hundred years ago and earlier, my forefathers raised the best breed of horses in the country. Some of my relatives have cows. My aunt and uncle used to breed checkens for a wee bit, until moving to slaughtering chickens.

Another uncle of mine had a strange history with dogs. He liked large dogs. Ferocious dogs. One of his dogs was so mad that chasing his tail one day, he caught up with it and proceeded to eat it. The dog ate the entire tail and whatever else of his rear he could get to with his maw before it passed out from blood loss and died.

Another of his dogs had something against cars. He attacked them. One visitor decided to honk at the dog, which caused the dog great anger, and it bit the car, broke off the grille, and ate it. That dog later got hit by a car.

Another of his dogs got hit by a motorbike. Yet another was jumping over the barbed wire fence, but didn’t quite jump high enough and got disembowelled by the barbs.

Anyway, you must take care of your dog. Feed it, walk it, train it. My brother trained the dog as much as he could be bothered. Once he left, nobody but I could be bothered to walk the dog, and I was only ever around in the summer. Between summers, the dog was out by itself.

That sort of laziness is common among dog owners, I have found. There is a dog area behind the old volcano, where dog owners go in their cars with their dogs. There, they let the dog out and have it run while they drive after it. I am sure that at least a couple dogs are run over every year while doing this, but I’ve never heard of a case. But then, the dogs would not report it.

In Reykjavík there’s an area called “Geirsnefið” (Geir’s Nose), a landfill, so named after a mayor who had it made. That’s the largest dog-toilet in the city. There used to be a road around it, but that got changed, and now people have to leave their car to walk their dogs.

The entire area has a pretty even spread of dog-droppings because, by some quirk, dogs don’t just shit anywere. They have to carefully inspect and select the one and only place right for leaving their excrement.

I do not know why so much care and effort is made in the correct placement of turds, but I have found that you need to just bear with it, and allow the dog time to express themselves artistically. Mother never got that. Which is why the dog always pooped on the floor during the winter.

There is a method for letting the dog out:

You see the dog wanting to go out, and you let it go out, and then you go and have some tea and watch TV until you hear the dog barking outside. That’s when you let the dog in.

Mother had a different style:

She saw the dog begging to go out and openend the door. Then, the dog went out, and she saw it out the kitchen window, and she went to the door again, opened it and called the dog, as the dog was about to begin outlining its plans for defecation.

Of course the dog obeyed this, and came in, and off went mother to work, and the dog left its feces on the floor somewhere.

Walking the dog was always easy. I just went outside, and the dog followed. Eventually. It had to stop here and there to smell something. Every lightpole, random flecks of grass, corners... Lots of things.

But it always came running afterwards. Until the last year, when it began stumbling. The dog developed tumors, which made it walk a little slanting, so to speak. Then arthritis got to it, and it developed a limp on all legs.

The tumors were interesting: one was right behind the left front leg, about the size of a large orange. Behind it was another the size of a baseball, and after that one the size of a golf ball, followed by the fourth, slightly smaller.

In that awful state some movie people spotted the critter, and it got a starring role in a movie. The film is based on a true story, events that happened to a co-worker of mine way back in the eighties. He is in the movie, at the end, appears in some stock footage. The film does deliberately change things: there is an extra, fictional character in it, as well as the dog. My co-worker never had a dog.

I got a job looking after the dog on a movie set. That was new. For some reason that mostly happened in the middle of the night.

The film crew came with its own mascot: a seagull followed them on the ferry, and stayed around, looking at them for a while. They pointed it out to me, and I went and had a look. The seagull was extremely tame, to the point that I could reach out and touch it.

I have seen seagulls eat. They pick up small fish or fish-parts, and swallow them. I have on occasion seen them swallow fish or bits larger than they can handle.

In one case, the fish was longer than the bird, leading to a long episode where the stubborn bird just stood there with the fish half out of its mouth, half inside it, trying to swallow the whole thing, until it finally gave up and vomited it out again.

In another case the bird swallowed a mackerel-tail of such weight that the bird could not take off. That also led to the bird vomiting it out, after which the bird flew away.

In the third case, I saw a gull devour a huge fish, stand and look real proud for a few seconds, and then take off... It barely made it off the ground. It flew about a foot off the ground, but it did fly.

The completely untrained and almost feral dog needed 17 takes for every scene it was in, but they say that’s normal for animals. And children. It went all right, the dog did well, did its own stunts and everything.

Turns out the dog is in the movie quite a bit. A huge role, far greater than I thought or would have imagined, based on how much time I spent doing this.

And the dog walked more slowly every day, as cancer and arthritis took their toll. The dog began complaining, which caused Father to give it some of his contalgin, which he got after he fell down the stairs and broke his neck. The contalgin put the dog out for a long while, but it wore off. And pains began again.

One day my brother and I found that the dog could not stand up. We helped it stand up and took it outside. There it stood then, unable to lie down. We helped the dog to lie, and then it could not stand again. And it shook and it whimpered.

We wondered if we should give it all the contalgin. But we didn’t know where it was, had never really cared, so we scratched that idea. Shooting the dog was out of the question - since we didn’t have the means to take it anywhere convenient at the time, and doing that in the backyard was a bit of a risk.

People may not look upon such doings with understanding. And our parents prohibited it. Their back yard, and all that...

They contacted a doctor and had him come around. Meanwhile, I dug a hole in the back yard, near where a former occupant of the house had buried their own dog in a plastic box some decades earlier.

That grave was marked with a cross when we moved in, and was allowed to stand in peace until the wall behind crumbled and it fell into a hole created when a landslide went under the wall and into the neighbor’s back yard. That’s when we saw the plastic dog-coffin. We wisely left it alone.

We had to carry the dog inside, as it was quite unable to move by itself. The doctor whipped out the largest syringe I’d ever seen. It was maybe 30 cl. It was full of some deadly poison that he injected into the dog.

The dog began leaking, as if it was melting on the inside. Blood began trickling out of every orifice. It seemed like life was the only thing holding it from dissolving. Entropy just goes one way. We rolled the body into a blanket, put it in the basket it used to sleep in, and buried the whole thing in the hole.

Seems to me dogs get a good deal. When they can’t move from arthritis, have huge tumors the size of their own head and can only stay and whimper due to pain, someone comes and kills them. When the same thing happens to a human, they can expect to be kept alive for years. Years of staring into space, unable to think for the pain, unable to take care of themselves...

I’m not getting a dog. I work too much. I don’t relish the idea of leaving an animal at home to chew the furniture and shit on the floor. On the upside, I don’t have any issues of Le Petit Spirou.

And my parents can keep the cat. The cat is at home at their home. It’ll find its way back.

Don’t give people animals. Just don’t.

Copyright © 2015 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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