a good dog

This is Laika. I’m deep in the middle of a novel about Laika, and this week is the 57th anniversary of her journey into space. So it seems wrong to let this pass without some kind of commemoration.

Laika was chosen for the Sputnik mission because she was a good dog. Of all the stray dogs that were brought in off the streets of Moscow, it was Laika who was the most biddable. She was “sweet and charming,” they said. Trusting. She did what she was told without complaint.

Shortly before the November 3rd rocket launch, one of the scientists took Laika home for a night. She played with his children, slept in their bed. She must have thought she had found a home, that she had been taken into a family. Then they took her away. They put her, terrified, inside a tiny metal box, and launched her into space, where she died from overheating hours into the flight. A more cruel and pointless death is hard to imagine.

Sending a dog into space was Kruschev’s whim. It was a gimmick, not useful science.

The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We didn’t learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog (Oleg Gazenko, 1998).

And all Laika wanted was to be good.

If you really want to have your heart broken by Laika, I can thoroughly recommend Laika, by Nick Abadzis. My novel-in-progress takes a more tangential (not to say abstract) look at Laika’s life and death.



the beautiful ones

I haven’t written for a while. I haven’t done much at all. I get up in the morning, when it’s just about still the morning, and sit for a while. My head hurts and I feel so tired, like I could sleep for a thousand years. After a while, maybe an hour or so, I decide I could make breakfast. So I make breakfast, and I eat breakfast, and I cry. I cry because it is awful to be able to eat breakfast without my dog sitting by my side, looking up at me with hopeful eyes, drooling onto my knee. I don’t know how to get through the days without him.

He wasn’t ever my dog, really, but he needed me. I wasn’t his owner, but his owner wouldn’t walk him, play with him, fuss him, love him – and I would. I did. We had so many games together. I taught him to leap up six feet in the air. He could do backflips and long jumps. We would play hide and seek – I’d hide in the kitchen, and he’d come looking for me, then I’d leap out and chase him. We would walk five or six miles a day in the woods or the park. He liked to walk in the long grass, gently nosing his way through. He was a little nervous, very greedy, a bit too keen on muddy puddles. He was a good dog.

Over the years, we grew more and more attached to one another. He became my dog, and I became his person. It fell to me to decide the hour of his death. That was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I’m pretty sure I got it wrong. It was too soon. It was traumatic.

I don’t think I really understood how much we belonged to each other until I had to let him go. I am bereft, I’m grieving. I’m angry, because I didn’t choose to have a dog at all – I felt I had no choice. His owner should have been the one to love him, care for him, in the end to make the decision to let him go. They should have the responsibility, the pain and guilt, not me. But I am the one who loved him – so it had to be me. He was mine, not because I bought him, rescued him, owned him, but because I loved him. I don’t think I ever experienced unconditional love in my whole life, except with a dog. He didn’t care what I looked like, if I could write, if I had holes in my shoes, or a bad attitude. He wanted to hang out with me all the time, play games and have fun. It was simple. (It was love.)

After he died, I went for a walk to our usual places. It was pouring with rain. I was crying so hard that I couldn’t get my breath. I pretended he was with me, walking next to me. I spoke to him, how I had always spoken to him, calling him back to me, telling him I was there next to him. (“It’s all right, I’ve got you.”) My heart was breaking, splintering into pieces. It was all an accident, me and my dog – we weren’t meant to belong to one another at all. This should have been somebody else’s story. But I’m glad it was me. It hurts, and I am so lonely, but only because I loved him so. For all my heart is broken, I’m glad it was me.