Inspired by: “Thank You For Breaking My Heart” (2012), from the Ben Folds Five album The Sound of the Life of the Mind

For the first entry in this series, I’m going to dig a bit into my own archives and revisit something from many years ago. You can follow that link to read the post I wrote way back in 2011 (almost to the day), but most of the following is (hopefully) going to be a condensed version of the same story, because that monstrosity is over 1,800 words (and I want to keep these things much shorter).

So, let’s talk about Hooka.

While growing up, I always seemed to be surrounded by pets. It’s hard to
identify a period of my childhood when we didn’t have at least one animal
underfoot. But I didn’t get a pet “of my own” until I had moved away
to Connecticut and set out on my own.

The actual timeline is fuzzy, though I can place Hooka sometime before 2005 because that’s when I bought my condo, and also before I started working for the Army in 2004, so let’s place him in my life circa 2003-2004. We found him at the pet store at Buckland Hills Mall (which may also help place him historically because the pet store closed at a certain point), and it was improbably love at first sight. A little fluff ball, full of energy and little
sharp  teeth.

There was hesitancy of course. Chow chows are notoriously difficult dogs to raise and living in an apartment was probably not ideal for such a breed, but we committed to ensuring that Hooka would be trained well and a loyal companion. And for the most part, he was. He went to puppy training, was generally good with the other dogs, and enjoyed people – if he was in control.

One thing to know about Chow Chows is that they are very territorial and
form a close bond to their people. If their people are present, they tend to be a little better at interacting with folks, especially people that they knew and recognized. Any change to this environment, which we learned in heartbreaking ways, can have terrible consequences.

There are three days in Hooka’s life that built up to one of the most
heartbreaking days in my life. The first was some random night at the
apartment. Hooka’s people – me and my ex – were out at work. My ex’s sister, who was living with us at the time, stopped by with a friend to grab something. She ran up the stairs without greeting Hooka, which caused him to view said friend as an intruder. This friend, who he had met on a handful of occasions, tried to pet him and he attacked, protecting himself from this apparent stranger. 

Strike one.

The second night was another when I was away doing Army stuff. My ex was
upstairs doing something while our roommate (who Hooka obviously knew) was in the kitchen making tacos. Hooka had been to the groomers that day, and as such, was coming down off the sedatives that were required by the groomers for them to work on him. In this altered state, he didn’t recognize our friend and began growling at him, which prompted the friend to reach down to let Hooka smell him. This led to Hooka attacking this stranger again, leading to a trip to the ER and first thoughts that Hooka might be too dangerous. But we justified it as him being in an altered state, so we tried to chalk that up as the main reason.

Strike two.

The final day again featured an altered dog who had been to the groomers
earlier that day but involved one of the people closest to Hooka. We were
preparing for a trip to visit my ex’s family in Pennsylvania and she was trying to trim his nails so he wouldn’t scratch whoever would be coming to take care of him while we were gone. He did not like this, and he was getting increasingly angry with her, but she persisted. This resulted in two gruesome bite marks on her forearms and another trip to the ER, but also final reckoning that Hooka was dangerous. We decided that night that he would be put down as soon as we could.

Strike three.

For the first (and only) time in my life, I would be putting down a generally healthy dog, though we were unsure if it was truly the altered states from the sedatives that led Hooka to attack or if it was some other underlying
reason. Despite my experience with Hooka, I believe that dog breeds do not
inherently make dogs “bad,” though he didn’t really help the reputation of his breed. But if was going to attack one of “his” people, we couldn’t risk that another attack could be much worse.

The truly heartbreaking part of the whole ordeal was the following morning at the vet. Hooka didn’t want to be there, and he fought them the entire  time. Once they were able to get him sedated, however, we knew the end was near. As he was fighting sedation and walking around the room, he came over and curled up at my feet, giving me one last chance to say goodbye. It almost felt like an apology, that he knew why we were making that heart wrenching choice that day. Seventeen years later, the memory still lingers, and if I think hard enough about it, I can feel his weight on my feet.

To this day, I wish I had more mementos of Hooka, even photos would be nice. This was an era before cell phones with good cameras or a way to maintain digital copies if pictures were taken. I had some photos of him taken with an actual camera, but those have been lost to my numerous moves. But his memory lingers, and I still remember his face, though admittedly it’s fading. But losing him also helped prepare me for other loss that I would experience over the coming years, so for that I am grateful.

I still miss him. And I hope that I’ll be able to find another dog to fill the
Hooka-sized hole that has been in my heart since 2004 someday, but it’s also not something I’m rushing out to do.


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