Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dog Torture at 30,000 Feet

(Over the next several days, I'll be telling a more sustained story than I normally do. My goal for this site has always been to have every story stand on its own, independent of anything previously published. The chronology of the next four or five days entries will be sequential, comprising a larger narrative, though at the same time I hope they will each stand on their own merits, apart from the larger arc.)

It was late spring of 1984, and it turned out that Big Brother wasn't in charge after all. Ronald Reagan was. To a couple flaming liberals freshly graduated from college, this wasn't necessarily preferable.

Karen and I were living in Bloomington, IL, the town we'd gone to college in, with Karen's first Seeing Eye dog, Lyric, and Holden, a generally worthless cur whom we nonetheless adored irrationally.

For reasons too convoluted and stupid to go into here, we decided that it would be a good idea to move to Los Angeles to begin our adult lives together. We didn't have jobs, didn't know a soul there, but with Randy Newman's, "I Love L.A.," echoing in our obviously hollow heads, we knew without doubt that it was going to be the Promised Land for us.

We just had to get there. We were working on a tight budget, so we had to get there as efficiently and economically as possible. It was decided that I would drive from Illinois, in a Chevy Malibu stuffed with our belongings, and find us a place to live, and then Karen, Lyric, and Holden, would fly out.

Because this is a web site of dog stories, I'm going to skip my nightmare solo trek across the continent, involving major engine trouble in Denver. Bad as my trip might have been, it was nothing compared to poor Holden's.

Karen and I always considered the dogs to be ours, jointly. But Lyric was Karen's first Seeing Eye dog, so there was a special bond, and Holden was my special boy, because…well, because Holden needed to be someone's special boy, didn't he? Not every dog can be a Seeing Eye dog, or handsome, or smart, or consistently housebroken. I won't argue that Holden had any intrinsic or objective worth, just that every dog, A.K.C. champ or lowly cur, deserves to be someone's special boy or girl.

Initially, we considered me driving to L.A. with Holden. The difficulty there was Holden was a terrible traveler. He was alternately carsick and disruptively buoyant, with a hound's howl that he could keep up for hours when he was unhappy, and at that stage of his life, car rides made Holden unhappy. Obviously we knew he wouldn't like the experience of flying more than driving, but at least it would be over for him much more quickly.

We had used acepromazine successfully on Holden before. Acepromazine is best described as knock-out drops for dogs. If you wanted to date-rape a dog, acepromazine is what you might want to slip it. I know now that acepromazine is not absolutely safe for all dogs, but our vet at the time said it was, and none of our dogs has ever had an adverse reaction to it. One little white pill, and Holden would sleep peacefully for a two-hour car trip. Two pills, and we had the bio-equivalent of a dead dog on our hands. For his cross-country voyage, it was decided that Holden would have four acepromazine tablets.

As a Seeing Eye dog, Lyric was, of course, entitled to not only fly in the plane's cabin, but to board first with Karen. As a worthless mongrel, Holden was lucky the airline let him fly as a piece of luggage. A special crate had been purchased for Holden, and furnished with his blanket and Myron, a pink, stuffed, pig that was Holden's favorite toy. He had been given one acepromazine for the two hour drive to the airport, and slept like a contented baby for the entire ride.

Upon arrival at O'Hare, Holden's sweater was put on him, he was placed in his crate, and given the rest of his tranquilizers. Karen reported that he was doped up to the gills. Then Karen brought the crate to the guys who would load Holden onto the plane, and extracted promises from them to be extra careful with him.

The second Holden was transferred to the custody of the airport crew, he woke up and began to scream. His screaming got louder as he was carried away from Karen and taken to the plane.

I wasn't there, so I'm not sure how Karen did this, but after she and Lyric boarded, she had a chance to ask a crew member how Holden was doing.

"He's making an awful lot of noise," she was told.

Five or six hours later, the plane arrived in L.A. Karen and Lyric were the first to disembark (ah, the perks of being sightless!), and we hurried to the area where we were to pick up Holden. We were there waiting as the crew member carried Holden in his crate out of the baggage area. We knew it was Holden because we heard the screaming as soon as the door to the luggage area opened.

The crate was set down in front of us, and Holden grew quiet. I was on the floor, opening the crate to let my poor boy free.

Holden half crawled, half staggered, out of his crate. His eyes remained on the floor.

"Holden, my good boy!" I exclaimed, petting and hugging him. He continued to look at the floor, and turned away. He didn't seem to have any idea who I was, or Karen and Lyric, for that matter. Never a bright bulb, the light behind Holden's eyes was completely out.

Holden ultimately recovered, mostly, but he was never quite the same dog again. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, his innocence was gone. Before his flight, he still had a puppy's outlook on life as an invariably joyful place. Then he'd been drugged, put in a box, taken away from his mom, and put in a small, cold, noisy place, alone, for hours. The dog that got off the plane in L.A. wasn't a puppy anymore. His flight had been a rite of passage, a journey into the existential void from which one can never fully return.

Meanwhile, the whole family had entered an existential void from which we were lucky to ultimately escape; we were the four newest citizens of America's Wasteland, Los Angeles.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands


The Accessory Lady said...

That is heartbreaking. I didn't realize the experience of flying or travel could cause long term trauma to a dog. Hopefully your story will help other pet owners to evaluate what is best for their dog when relocating or traveling. Thank you for sharing it.

tashabud said...

Oh, poor Holden. This is one of the reasons that I don't own pets. Just the thought of putting my pet to sleep, for example, traumatizes me more than it does a dog in a cold cabin of an aircraft. So, is Holden still around? Hope that time has diminished the effect of his traumatic experience on him.

Rich Sands said...

Oh no, Holden's long gone. This all took place 25 years ago! And he did get BETTER, he was just never quite the same dog again. There should be "The Wonder Years" narrator saying something like, "I stopped being a puppy and became a dog that day. Who knew a six hour flight could do such a thing?" And then maybe "Leaving on a Jet Plane" could play in the background.

tashabud said...

Hehe, I feel better now, knowing that he got better. Your comments made me smile.

"I stopped being a puppy and became a dog that day. Who knew a six hour flight could do such a thing?" And then maybe "Leaving on a Jet Plane" could play in the background

Rich, I think you should try to get one of those Hollywood folks convinced that there's room in their weekly TV shows for your dog stories.

Your dog stories are excellently written, are very entertaining, poignant, and funny. And when you become successful, then give me a mention during one of your awards acceptances. LOL. The last part is a joke, but seriously, there are no weekly dog shows now that I know. I have a strong feeling that your materials would make into a TV series or a movie.

Take the plunge, Rich, and go where no dogman has ever gone before.

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