Solomon was the first significant dog in my life. We have no pictures of him, probably because he was never stationary long enough to be caught on film. He was a Doberman Pinscher with clipped ears and tail, and he was mythological in personality. He was a puppy when I was still in diapers, and he used to grab the used cloth diapers away from my mother before she could clean them.
It was odd, looking back, for my Jewish father to be drawn to a pure bred, German dog. He came from a generation of Jewish people who refused to even buy a German car. But he liked the idea of a guard dog to protect his house, or his castle.
As Solomon got older, he was a very handsome dog, but not kid friendly. He was eighty pounds of muscle and he only did what he wanted to do. He didn’t like cuddles or playing catch. He certainly didn’t want to play dress up with me. He had a habit of escaping from the backyard and leading a parade of cars trying to catch him as he ran down the street.
One time, he ran away and took over someone’s lawn. He wouldn’t let the family into or out of their house for a whole day, until they were able to get to his name tag and call my parents to come get him. That’s probably when my parents called a trainer to help them manage him better. But the trainer said that my father’s aggressive response, jerking Solomon’s chain and yelling at him, and my mother’s very opposite submissive response, were the problem. And my parents knew they couldn’t change each other any more than they could change Solomon, so that was the last of the trainer.
When Solomon was four years old, and I was five, he was diagnosed with Parvo. I looked up the parvovirus online recently, and the symptoms didn’t sound good: bloody diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia, lethargy, fever, and severe weight loss. He stayed overnight at the vet and they sent him home with medication and an uncertain prognosis.
A few days later he was stretched out on our kitchen floor, listless. Our kitchen was very seventies, with orange and yellow wallpaper and a lot of light coming through the windows and the open back door. I sat on the floor with him. He was still alive but this vigorous, aggressive creature was wiped out by his disease. He was still and silent and he watched me solemnly as if he was finally seeing me. I don’t know what he was trying to communicate. Maybe he was asking me why he had to be so sick. Maybe he hoped I could make him better. Maybe he was just relieved to have someone with him while he died.
My mother covered him with a yellow knitted blanket, and stayed with us in the kitchen. I don’t remember if she was cleaning the kitchen or making dinner but it seemed like she was keeping busy because she was too sad to look at him. I sat there next to him and patted his head and looked into his eyes and I felt like we were together in this.
People underestimate what children can feel and understand, because children don’t have the words yet to tell you what they know. But I felt his grief and I stayed with him until he was gone, because that’s what I would have wanted him to do for me.