R.I.P. to a Good Boy
On March 2, 2021, my sister’s beloved dog Toulouse Day was put down. He passed on from this world peacefully, next to his loving owner. He was part of our family for 2.5 years, and was a joy and a blessing for all of it. He will be extremely missed, and I hope he departed this world knowing how loved he is.
Toulouse the dog
Toulouse was a dog who was an absolute joy to be around. He was an unbearably cute Jack Russell/Dachshund mix with short hair, long ears, a whippet-thin tail and eyes that were deep, soulful and inviting. He was also extremely athletic — in a full sprint, he would extend his entire body like a slinky, fully galloping across the field with his feet barely touching the ground, bouncing around in a manner that was both hysterical and profoundly impressive.
His personality was also hilarious — Toulouse was almost solely motivated by food. His past life as a rescue had probably included extended periods of hunger, because his obsession with food exceeded any passion I’ve ever seen from any animal. He was deeply intelligent, learning quickly how to dismantle any toy that held anything resembling food, or any drawer/bag/container that once had or possibly would contain food. He was also deeply uninterested in anything that did not have any connection to food — he could sniff out a discarded hot dog wrapper from four blocks away, but would blithely ignore actual people who passed by him.
Toulouse was a deeply photogenic dog, which is almost entirely due to the fact that his eyes tracked any piece of food held in the air. It may look like he’s staring soulfully into the camera, but rest assured — he’s staring hungrily at the treat that is just behind the camera.
Here is my favorite picture of Toulouse, from this past Thanksgiving. From one angle it looks as though he is staring at me with rapt attention, fully locked on to me. However, from the opposite angle it is very clear that he is staring not at me, but at the massive pot of mac and cheese that I am making from scratch. I spent four hours making the cheese sauce, and I swear this dog never moved from that position.
This immortalizes maybe my favorite image of how Toulouse viewed me — as Human Who Is Likely To Give Me Treats. I know there are few compliments that are higher.
Unfortunately, Toulouse also had some issues. Broadly, he was an absolute joy to hang out with — he was charming, cute and ignored other people but in a fashion that was extremely winning. But unfortunately, there was a flip side of the coin as well. As great as Toulouse was, he could be a very reactive dog. And unfortunately, his reactivity meant that despite everyone’s best efforts, he couldn’t fully integrate into human society.
Behavior and Dogs
It’s a peculiarity of dog lovers that we anthropomorphize everything good about our dogs , but anything bad a dog does is the product of its environment/owner. If a dog is cheerful and obedient, it’s a good dog. If a dog is loving, it’s a sweet dog. But if a dog snaps at people that’s the product of past trauma. If a dog is overly reactive its owner hasn’t trained it well. If a dog bites someone it’s because that person wasn’t sensitive and approached the dog the wrong way. “There are no bad dogs, just bad owners,” is so ingrained in dog lovers that sometimes its hard to see things with any nuances.
We took wolves and made them into creatures in our own image, so they have some of our greatest strengths but also some of our greatest weaknesses. Just like us, dogs can express beautiful unconditional love. But they can also be weighted down by past traumas. They are capable of unwavering loyalty, but also deeply self-destructive acts. They can heal and move on from anything, but that doesn’t mean they will.
My first dog, Blaze, was without a doubt a difficult dog. A 65 pound gorgeous German shepherd mix, Blaze was a gleeful, charismatic, intelligent thunderbolt of destruction. She had previously come from an abusive household, so she was terrified of anything resembling violence (she panicked any time my father picked up a newspaper) while disdaining any command that came from anyone besides my father. She ran away from the house frequently, leading the entire neighborhood on elaborate chases before coming back home when she was bored. She slipped the back fence and swam across a raging river multiple times, just for fun. She had a careless disregard for anyone holding her leash and dragged my sister across the sidewalk in furious pursuit of a squirrel.
Oh, and she bit people. In our first year of ownership, Blaze bit the following people:
- Our mailman
- Our neighborhood paper boy
- Some random kid in the park
By any standard my parents should have seriously considered rehoming/euthanizing Blaze, and I think they only didn’t because I waged a relentless psychological warfare campaign threatening emotional hellfire if they touched my dog (at 11-years-old I was young enough to be cute but old enough to recognize my parent’s weaknesses, and I shamelessly recruited my 8-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother into my ongoing campaign of emotional terrorism).
But after one year…things started to turn around! Blaze went to obedience school, and became somewhat responsive to our commands. She mellowed out as she aged.
Why did Blaze turn around, and Toulouse never turn the corner? I have no idea. There are some answers that spring to mind, but none of them hold the whole truth and all are to some degree unsatisfying.
I suspect Blaze was able to handle her issues and Toulouse wasn’t for the same reason that I’m able to enjoy a few drinks and other people have to swear off alcohol entirely. Part environment, part support system, and part mysterious brain chemistry/luck of the gods we’ll never understand.
Endings are always hard, even under the best of circumstances. And my ending with Toulouse definitely didn’t come under the best of circumstances. I wish I’d had more time with him. I wish I could’ve done something to help. I wish all kinds of things.
But what I keep coming back to is how lucky I am to have had Toulouse in my life for 2.5 years. He made my life better in so many ways, big and small. Whether he was keeping me company while I was grading Firms & Markets homework:
Or being unwillingly shepherded around the NYC subway system:
Toulouse was a joy and a pleasure to be around. For all his faults, and for all the annoyances he caused, he was a beautiful, positive presence in my life. I miss him a ton, and it hurts to know I’ll never see him again, but my life is better because he was in it.
Rest in peace, little buddy. Hope you have lots of treats and no people approaching you on the other side.