THE TURNING: A Jerry & Ruth Story

Jerry sat in the big leather armchair in the front window on a sunny November day. He gazed out at the yard. A bud had appeared on the old rose bush that put out fragrant apricot colored blossoms when it was in the mood. Nice. Very nice.

Still, he was distracted and uncertain. The people in his life had suffered a heartbreaking loss that he didn’t entirely understand. He did know one thing though: anything that hurt them hurt him. A crazy mixture of chaos and fear, anger and outrage had been slicing through the air for weeks, piercing his heart even as it pierced theirs. The wound was deep and they seemed paralyzed. Would the people he cared for ever get over it? He had no idea, none at all.

These dark thoughts began to get him down, his ears drooped, his skin sagged, but no dog worth his salt will mope for long. He looked around for something to take his mind off all the head-shouting, and that’s when he spied something interesting. He perked up.

A delivery van had pulled up on the other side of the street. Whoa, he thought. I wonder who’s getting something? Maybe it’s me. Could be, and why the hell not? What if it is a gift from some, oh I don’t know, some benefactor who, when they finally step forth will turn out to be a really wonderful person and I will gasp in delight when I see who it is. And what if this gift is so amazing that it changes my life forever? Stranger things have happened, though none come to mind at the moment.

This gift, he told himself with increasing pleasure, would be his to have forever for an obvious reason and he almost blushed when he thought about it. He had earned it by being such a good dog. That had to be it! He was a caring dog. Forgiving and affectionate. This package would be his long-overdue reward. His tail began to wag. In fact he – wait, but no. The delivery man didn’t come to his door, never seemed to give it a thought. The bell failed to ring and a package with enormous promise was not delivered to him. It had gone to someone else. Of course it had. Of course it had. Dammit, dammit, dammit!

He knew this big fat NO was the way the world worked. Life doesn’t have to bring us wonderful, life-altering packages, and it usually doesn’t bother. It just wasn’t going to happen for him. And the more he thought about it the more it hurt, because if he ever did get that gift he would know how to make it really hum with enchantment. He could change the world with it. A pang of disappointment and a touch of resentment shimmered through him and disappeared into the air. He sighed and put his head down on his paws. Why do I bother, he wondered.

People say dogs don’t worry about things much because they have such limited minds. This sort of drivel causes dogs to laugh, sometimes pretty hard, when they meet up at the park or hang out in the yard together. You should see them. Hah, he thought. Hah! And it was then that Jerry saw the light – he is a philosopher after all.

Its the voices in our heads. They keep us angry and frightened. Rip us up. They just tricked me into wanting something I can’t have. They snuck up on me, disguised as happy thoughts. They took advantage of my longing, my dreams. We are all so vulnerable. We just want to be patted and appreciated, he thought. Is there anything wrong with that? Don’t we all suffer when we are sick, bleed when we are bitten, he asked the air. Well then? How do we protect ourselves from life’s dirty tricks?

He snapped out of it. And that, right there, is the difference between a person and a dog. Lots of people are waiting for the same magic package Jerry is, but they think it is theirs by right. They are convinced that only something evil and personal could be keeping it out of their paws. These people are doomed to be unhappy. They let themselves believe that other people, people who don’t deserve it, are taking delivery every day. These voices will really mess you up. 

Jerry had a dog’s way of letting life be what it insisted on being. It wasn’t asking for his opinion anyway. Without this hard knowledge, not many dogs would survive. Even whiney, snuffling, lap clingers have that inner toughness. Have you ever seen a dog, at least one that didn’t have rabies, go numb in his head the way people do, or froth at the mouth the way people do? Oh sure, Jerry knew how hard life can be; he had been through hell. Well o.k., he had been through heck. Actually he had had it soft and he would like it to stay that way, but it wasn’t going to, was it? Already the turning point had come, shocking, absurd and cruel. By the time Jerry’s people saw it coming it was right on them and they went down hard. But not Jerry, he knew how to shitcan the voices and make a mind-shift as soon as he figured it out. He didn’t pout, didn’t hold his breath or deny that his life was real because of it. This dog’s life was his life. Good for it! 

Ruth will be home before long and we will have dinner and sit around together and everything will feel right. And maybe her boyfriend Rusty will come over and I will not only be patted and patted but played with too. Then I will go off to bed and sleep the sleep of the well loved dog.  

Jerry laid his head back down on his paws and waited. How long will I wait, he wondered? I may have acknowledged that the turning point is real, but I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to go all limp. I can bark and bite if I want to. “Let dogs delight to bark and bite” goes the old poem. I mean, if this pain is natural, so is standing up on your hind legs and barking at it, and that’s just for starters. No more Mr Good Dog! I need to howl. I really need to howl. Will I ever just do it? Those head voices start in again; they still hope the delivery man is going to come to the door with a package and it will be magic, but I am wondering now if something else is on its way. Damn those voices. I need a treat.

Tony Smith

November 2016



  1. One time on our walk, years ago, Kylie saw a cat under a bush. She was delighted! Now, she looks under that bush every single time we walk by. Never sees the cat. But does she mope? Nope. She trots on. I’m still wondering where that damn cat is…

  2. Joe Zaniker says:

    Oh boy do I identify with this…the whole idea that someone else being responsible for my happiness or not. Thank you Tony – as always you make me think and then feel better about just being in this life just as it is…package or not…scratches or not….playing or not.

  3. Lift your head up and HOWL!

    I heartily recommend it. Jake and I have occasionally shared a therapeutic round of howling, and there is nothing like it.

    • Tony Smith says:

      I would love to hear you and Jake howling! It must be a clarion call.

      • It’s definitely noisy. Surprisingly, it happened again last night. Jake was fretful, couldn’t settle down for the night. I couldn’t figure out that there was something ‘really’ wrong, but he seemed uncomfortable. After about 30 minutes of trying to sooth him I settled back on my pillow and let out a howl. He lifted his head and with my second he joined in with much fervor and random yapping. I “accompanied” him on his howling event, but let him lead. Finally, after about 5 minutes he stopped. I yipped out another howl and he ripped through 3 more, and then he was done. Shortly afterwards, he was asleep. It’s been 2-3 years since our last session, this isn’t our normal behavior, but when the urge is there, it seems to let him release a LOT of pent up agitation relatively quickly.

        I’ve tried a couple of times to get him to howl just because it’s funny – he’s not interested. He’s willing to let me howl, but doesn’t join in. But when he’s dealing with stress, it really seems to help. Maybe it’s like having a good cry……..

        • Tony Smith says:

          And doesn’t it make sense? Rousseau once wrote “If you want to be a wolf you have to learn to howl.” He might have added that if you want to release tension you have to learn to howl. This reminder you have offered us is timely.

          • Ah, Tony, I do love you! Who but you could respond to that bizarre bit with a Rousseau quote – and perfectly appropriately, too!

  4. Boy…do *I* need a treat!
    This Jerry…he knows a thing or three.

Leave a Reply to Joe Zaniker Cancel reply