Back in 2002, a year after we launched K9 Magazine I read a piece of writing that made me cry. Damn it, it made me actually cry and I’m not a crier. Reading words on a page, within a few minutes I had to try and compose myself. I contacted the author of those words that had affected me so much and asked if he’d be kind enough to give us permission to re-publish his work as it is a message that needs to go far and wide. Jim Willis was that author and he, more than most, knew the message needed to be seen and heard, that’s why he wrote; How Could You?
Today, in 2016 the message still needs to be heard, if not more so – with the rise of online classifieds websites, the ever increasing plague of the puppy farmer and the growth of the throw-away society that has lead to over 100,000 dogs currently spending their days without a home to call their own. Jim’s piece is important. Please read it and spread its message wherever you can.
How Could You?
by Jim Willis
When I was a puppy I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was “bad,” you’d shake your finger at me and ask, “How could you?” – but then you’d relent and roll me over for a bellyrub.
My housetraining took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed, listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because “ice cream is bad for dogs,” you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.
Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love.
She, now your wife, is not a “dog person” – still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a “prisoner of love.”
As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch – because your touch was now so infrequent – and I would have defended them with my life if need be.
I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams. Together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered “yes” and changed the subject. I had gone from being “your dog” to “just a dog,” and you resented every expenditure on my behalf.
Now you have a new carer opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You’ve made the right decision for your “family,” but there was a time when I was your only family.
I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said, “I know you will find a good home for her.” They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog or cat, even one with “papers.” You had to pry your son’s fingers loose from my collar, as he screamed “No, Daddy Please don’t let them take my dog!” And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a goodbye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too.
After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked, “How could you?”
They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you – that you had changed your mind – that this was all a bad dream…or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me. When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited.
I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table, rubbed my ears and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden, which she bears, weighs heavily on her and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood.
She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured, “How could you?”
Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said, “I’m so sorry.” She hugged me and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn’t be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself – a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. With my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my “How could you?” was not meant for her. It was you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you forever.
May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.
How Could You, Copyright Jim Willis 2001
“How Could You?” is included in a book of collected writings of Jim Willis entitled, “Pieces of My Heart – Writings Inspired by My Life with Animals,” published March 2002 in both the UK and USA.
It was written by Jim as his attempt to change some minds among the general public and their perception of animals as disposable items.
“How Could You” has been translated and published in twenty foreign languages.
A real dog, a dog with a happy ending though, inspired it. Although Jim has been frustrated for three decades by the mass dumping of animals and how often they are regarded, it was a nine-year-old Basset Hound called “Holly Golightly” that inspired Jim to write it. Jim rescued Holly on her last day from a “shelter”. Her last day in the shelter was also going to be her last day alive.
Jim Willis: 20 Questions With K9 Magazine (Published 2002)
1) Hello Jim, many thanks for taking the time out to talk to us…Right from the off, tell us what you are currently up to and what you’ve got coming up that we should all be looking forward to. Here’s your chance to plug whatever you’ve got going on right now before we get stuck into the questions.
Beside caring for and placing rescued animals, I continue writing and may eventually have enough pieces for a second book, and I continue my animal advocacy efforts, especially for a federal humane euthanasia of animals law.
2) Tell us about your pets. Names, breeds and ages.
Currently 13 dogs of various breeds or mixed breeds, although several of those are foster dogs, and three cats, and my horse. The number changes literally weekly. As far as breeds of dogs, I’ve usually had a predominance of Basset Hounds and Dalmatians.
3) When did your interest in pets/animals begin and how long have you been a pet owner?
I was interested in animals since I was a small boy and started volunteering with an animal shelter when I was 14, although I didn’t acquire my first cats until 16 and then my first dog when I was 18.
4) Your are well known for writing a piece entitled ‘How Could You?’, may I ask what gave you the inspiration and motivation to write such a thought provoking piece?
As I explain in the intro to the essay, downloadable from: www.crean.com/jimwillis –
The story was inspired by an elderly Basset Hound who I adopted on her last day at a kill shelter and named “Holly Golightly.” She was with me for three years. I couldn’t understand how anyone could part with such a loyal, loving dog. “Her” story has now been translated into 32 foreign languages.
5) Your piece has inspired so many people; can you tell me of any stories that you have heard that came about from ‘How Could You’?
Of course it has the reputation of making people cry, so when it was broadcast by several radio stations across the US and Canada, it actually stopped traffic. Of the messages I’ve received about HCY?, my most favourite have been a couple who said it changed their minds about giving up an animal, and some others who said the essay inspired them to go to an animal shelter and adopt an animal.
6) There’s an old adage, never work with animals or children. Can you recall any times when you wished you’d taken heed of this advice?
Never! I love children, too, but I can’t imagine anything more pleasurable than working with animals.
7) If you could be an animal or breed, what would it be and why?
It would be a difficult choice between being a horse or being a wolf, because I’m enthralled by both of them. However, it would be much safer from a longevity perspective to be a horse in most instances.
8) Describe your average day at home with your pets
I’m not sure I ever have an average day, but it starts early, about 6 a.m. The dogs have their first romp in the yards, then breakfast, then usually a nap. That’s a good time for me to deal with all the mail or any writing projects I’m working on. Then there’s usually another animal-care break in my schedule and somebody always needs groomed, or a bath. I’m very strict about their feeding schedule because they depend on the routine, and since I make my own homemade diet with real meat for them, dinner preps usually start about 4 and dinner is at 5. I alternate the dogs I take to the stable in the evening and then we usually have a long walk. I live far out in the country with a large fenced property, so they are never without the opportunity to exercise (also, I’ve always only ever home-raised and would never kennel a dog), but they enjoy their walks and car-rides, too. The day usually ends around midnight; although most of them are usually asleep by the time I make it to bed.
9) Word association game – match the following people’s personality to a breed of dog
George Bush – A “hot dog”
Eminem – An American Pit Bull Terrier
Steve Irwin (the crocodile hunter) – A Golden Retriever
Ronald Reagan – An Airedale Terrier
Ozzy Osbourne – A Bloodhound
Jim Willis – A Weimeraner
10) Which do you prefer and why?
Big dogs or little dogs
– I was always a big dog person until a couple of little dogs also stole my heart.
Pedigree dogs or x breeds
– For me, a dog is a dog; it’s all about the personality and temperament and not about the look.
Days off or days at work
– I haven’t had a day off in years, I wouldn’t know what one felt like.
The quickest route or the scenic route
– The scenic route.
Lead and collar or dog running free
– That depends on the circumstances. I love to let dogs run free when it’s completely safe out here in the country, but certainly in public they should be on a lead.
11) What is the best thing about being a pet owner over not being one?
The unconditional love and the companionship they give us.
12) Time to be controversial. If an establishment, say a hotel, had a blanket ban on pets do you?
a) refuse to give them your custom with the theory of ‘if you don’t want my pet then you don’t want me’
b) drop the ‘do you know who I am’ bomb and see if they will make an exception
c) accept the decision but make a note to find a more pet friendly hotel in the future
I always try to reason with and educate people. I’m sure I’d end up finding a different hotel to stay in with my pet, while still hoping the first hotel would change their policy.
13) Describe the last time you…
Had to shout at your pet
– I might give a stern oral reprimand on occasion, but I don’t shout.
Had to go to the vet
– Especially with some senior and special needs animals, and all the rescued foster animals, that’s usually a weekly occurrence.
Didn’t get t e job you wanted
– I’ve been self-employed for several years now, so I guess it must have been the last US Presidential election.
Thought about getting another animal (besides what you have already).
– Each time I lose one to old age or illness, I usually end up adopting one of the harder to place foster animals.
Trained your pet to do something new.
– I think I most try to train them to not do anything “new,” especially any new destructive habit!
14) Losing a dog is one of the hardest things that I have ever gone through, have you ever had to cope and how did you cope if you have lost any of your pets?
I’ve been through it far too many times and have several pieces in my book on that topic – probably the best known has become a popular memorial piece for pet-loss, “I Loved You Best,” which I also have on the book’s website.
15) Going back to ‘How Could You’, did you ever think that it would be read by so many people and touch the hearts of millions of people?
The thought never crossed my mind. I distributed it by e-mail to my personal address book the day after I wrote it and by the next week had already received a couple thousand e-mails.
16) On a scale of 1 to 10 – How do you rate yourself with a Poop Scoop?
Since I am the Number 1 Poop Scooper around here, I’m not sure what that indicates.
17) Have you ever been to the Crufts dog show?
No, I haven’t, but I have seen it on television.
18) What is the most extravagant item that you have bought for your dog(s)?
I once had a shallow swimming pool constructed for the dogs. If I could afford it, I would create an entire playground for them.
19) If your dog(s) had the ability to answer one question and one question only, what would you ask them and what do you think that they would say?
I suppose I would ask them what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong where they are concerned. To the first, I suspect they’d tell me that my great love for them has always been evident. To the second, they’d probably tell me that I’m still not quite a dog in their eyes, but I’ve made progress over the years.
20) And finally … would you be interested in giving a framed and signed copy of ‘How Could You?’ to one of our lucky readers?
I’d be happy to do something (although my computer printer is broken, but I can have a friend print out something for me), but “HCY?” is actually too long to fit on one page. Perhaps something like “The Animals’ Saviour” would be a better alternative.
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Many Thanks Jim.