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Friends sitting around the room, Rocky lying on his bed at my feet. He's coughing. It's a cough that is a part of him now. I know it won't go away, a signal that his time here is nearly done. As the coughing fits become more frequent, at some point I'll have to make the decision.

The cough could be the cancer spread to his lungs. It could be his heart giving up. It could be something else. After tests and x-rays and examinations, the vets don't really know and at this point, it's almost not worth knowing. He's on prednisone again, giving it a last hurrah, as there's not much else that can be done anymore except more open ended, uncertain tests and I don't want to put him through that.

Friends sitting around the room last night and, though I don't exactly remember who said what and what exactly was said, part of the conversation goes something like this:

"It's strange, with Rocky getting old, his heart failing, his lungs failing, the cancer in his lymph nodes, his legs ... arthritis ... I wonder what "Rocky" is. It's not his body. That's not "Rocky". So what is he?"

"We'll be able to replace body parts soon."

"Did you know we are completely new people every 7 years? Yeah, our cells completely replace themselves every 7 years."

"Does that mean we are a different person than we were 7 years ago?"

"That's the question: what is the soul?"

"Does everything alive have a soul?"

"There was a doctor who weighed people just before they died and just after and he said the difference was about 21 grams less after death and that's the weight of the soul."

"Amoebas don't have souls."

"I think raccoons have souls."


"Then, why not amoeba?"

"There's this scientist who is pretty sure we'll be able to upload our consciousness onto computers in the future. He says we'll lose our individuality and merge into a collective consciousness."

"The soul is the part of life which is not the body."

"You mean we'll all be uploading our souls onto Facebook?"

Later, as I lay in the dark trying to sleep, I think about duplicating myself online. I can see the technical ability to do something like that becoming available but whatever thing would be online would not be me, at least not the original me. It would be like when you upload a photo online. The uploaded version is not the original even though it is an exact duplicate. But is it as good as the original? Yes, it's the exact same. So would the uploaded version of myself be as good as the original? Could it ever be the same? Would the online version be considered alive? Would it have a soul? Would it be a duplicate of my soul, whatever that is? And then what if someone else takes the uploaded version and manipulates it into something else, maybe something better than the original? You know, like with Photoshop. Would I be able to delete that newer version of me because I don't want a better me out there, outsmarting me, meeting cooler people than me, doing who knows what else to make the real me look outdated?

And on and on and on. Stupid thought games. Really, as I lie there in the dark, all I'm trying to do is think about something else, absurd and abstract, and not think about Rocky in his bed, coughing and settling, coughing and settling.

If I could replace Rocky's heart, he would still be Rocky. If I could replace his lungs, he would still be Rocky. If I could replace his cloudy eyes, his insensitive eardrums, his shattered knees, he would still be my Rocky. His body will fail him but his body is not who he is. His body is an old vehicle, running down. If I could just open the door, take the passenger out, keep him safe.

8 Comments to “Passenger”

  1. Despite the advances, despite humanity's longing, I don't think we will ever conquer death. It terrifies us because we, perhaps alone among animals, have developed such sophisticated intellectual reflexiveness that we have begun -- just begun -- to comprehend what it means, from this side, to be no more.

    About the other side, we do not know, and cannot know. There are lots of theories, but no one has ever been able to confirm any of them.

    Personally, I am not sure it matters. Whether there is nothing, or something, regardless of what that something might be, what matters is here, and now, and what we do in life. Death and after will take care of itself, whether we like it or not. We don't like it.

    I wish we could reach in and save the passenger, too. If we could, I'd still have my Sappho by my side, in my lap, telling me when it was time to get up, to feed the cat, to stop talking on the phone, stop punching the keyboard and PAY ATTENTION TO THE CAT!

    But, if I had Sappho still, I would never have adopted The Midnight Posey, Gus-Gus, Mamzelle Gigi, Magic or Jimmers. I would never have felt the need to get involved in animal welfare, to fill the terrible gap she left in me. And if I had not done that, I would never have cried for the dead, nor rejoiced for the living who found homes.

    Perhaps the living would have died.

    You have done all you can do. All that is left is to make that terrible choice, and hold him when the time comes, telling him over and over that he is a good dog. It's his death, and that's what he needs from you.

    Maybe it isn't what we could wish, but it is all there is. Here, and now, you have given a life where there might have been none. Rocky, and Stella, knew love, security, and joy.

    Would that every dog could be so fortunate as they.

    Wish I could be there for you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I had a brother who had a cognitive disability. He passed away last year quite suddenly. I'll miss him forever. I learned from we are not our minds, we are not our bodies, and we are not our brains. The passenger inside Rocky is and always will be Rocky. He IS safe. But that does not make the voyage any easier. You're both in my prayers.

  3. Biscuit says:

    Thank you both for saying what I was trying to articulate. I'm sorry for everyone's losses and pain, and echo Cathrine's wish all dogs (and cats, too) could have the wonderful lives Rocky and Stella have had.

  4. There's a really interesting (and exciting and terrifying) article in last week's Time magazine (it's on the cover, actually) about the Singularity movement (when technology becomes so advanced it forever changes us as a species- estimated to happen in 2043). In the article they also talk about life-extension science. Your post made me think of that, and you might enjoy the article.
    Sending good karma to you and Rocky during this difficult time

  5. Lynda says:

    Paul said he ran into you and almost didn't recognize you. I told him about Rocky and he wanted me to pass on his regards. It's a terrible thing, getting old.

    "If I could just open the door, take the passenger out, keep him safe." - That is unbelievably beautiful, Fred. xoxo

  6. Fred says:

    Hi Anne, yes that's exactly what my friend was calling it. I'll go check out the article. Thanks for the link.

    Hi Lynda, nice running into Paul and your two giants. I'd almost forgotten how big they are. Glad to see they're doing so well.

  7. Elaine says:

    I was 'fishing' through blogs listed on 'Raised By Wolves' when I found your post. How very sad about Rocky! It made me think of Allie; my Irish Setter gone a year now. It made me think of Charlotte; my Irish Setter gone so many years I've lost count. And it made me cry all over again for them both.
    They are all so precious and I am sorry for your pain! Please give Rocky a kiss from me...just a stranger that doesn't know him but loves him just the same.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I'm so sorry about's so hard to watch a being, human or otherwise, move slowly towards the abyss and we are powerless to stop it. Your phrasing was beautiful..."If I could just open the door, take the passenger out, keep him safe." Would that we could. All we can do is love them as much as we can while they're with us. Rocky is truly, deeply loved; I like to think that animals with that privilege know that and take comfort in that, in the belonging. They always belong with us and the love survives, long after the vehicle is gone.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.