Remembering the Goddess of Love, Not War

This writing is offered freely to readers as an explanation of the love I have for my dog. It was written the day after the events described herein, and, at the time, I attempted to grade papers and prepare lessons so I could get back to work the next day:

I can’t focus. Focus is necessary for writing, so I am choosing to write about what my mind is forcing me to remember. One of the reasons I started writing long ago was catharsis, or a need to find it through the written word. I respect my discipline because of what it has provided for my own stability…the ability to understand my inner monologue, my rampant emotions, by writing them down. This might be an explanation. This might be a lesson. I’m not sure yet what my intentions are.

I went to bed Sunday night, thinking about how I was going to deliver my fallacies lesson the next day. Around 3 a.m., my human love, Vesna, woke me up with the words, “There’s something wrong with Ares.” She was bloated and having trouble breathing. I curled up next to my girl—my red, 11-year-old, 90-some pound Doberman Pinscher, Ares—and I petted her behind the ears while Vesna prepared to take her to the emergency clinic at Purdue North Central in Westville, IN. Ares looked into my eyes, and I saw pain. I cried, and I kissed her three times on her head, each in a different spot on top. I told my dog that I loved her because I knew she was dying.

This expression of love was valuable to her, to my dog, to my Ares. I could see it in her eyes. My dog taught me important lessons about love. I am glad I had a moment to communicate exactly how precious she was to me, but I am most happy that it was understood.

I am divorced, so I do not get to see my kids every day. This is most damaging to my psyche. I find myself somewhat jealous of my parental peers, even students. At points, I want to ask how they might like it if they could only see their sons or daughters on Saturdays and Sundays. Most times, I internalize it and remind myself that it was a decision I made. No need to blame anybody other than the source. Admittedly, this takes a large personal toll, specifically not having your children at home to greet you every day.

Ares has been my salvation in this regard. I could rely on her to make me feel welcome every single time I entered the front door and peered through the window through the interior door…and what a greeting. She would grab her “poss-ay” (a Macedonian word for squirrel or possum…in this case, her toy versions) at first recognition of me or Vesna. Then she would make a very loud, pronounced whine. I will never forget this sound as long as I live. It was unique from Ares, and it conveyed such joy and exuberance from knowing we were home from work.

Then, she would start her dance. She was a “herder,” meaning she would move tightly through a designed choreography, by which she would end up circling the greeted into a controlled area. For Ares, it meant winding and looping her way through the narrow pathways about our furniture collection, which admittedly takes up most of our small house. I would walk into the house, and she would leap forward, prancing and bolting, clenching her “poss-ay” in her jaws. She wouldn’t stop for petting, though, until she made sure I had seen every moment of the routine that she had no doubt dreamed about that afternoon while napping. Ares was an artist with her dance. She would leap and bound back and forth, through and over, every obstacle, every knick-knack. I knocked over more lamps than she did in our tenure at the house. I would stand there, amused and smiling like an oversized goofball, watching her run to and fro. Eventually, she would tighten her loops, and I would move to the center of the living room (our designated spot of being “herded”). Then, she would lean against me, and I would pet her. She did this every single time I came home, and I valued every single time she did this. I will likely miss this routine the most. Honestly, I will fear its absence when I come home from work.

On the night of Ares’ sickness, last night, Vesna took Ares to the clinic, and I remained at home, attempting to sleep for the next day’s classes. There was no chance of that…I ended up thinking about our family, and how our family was probably going to change that morning:

No matter how close I feel to her, Ares was most in love with her mommy, Vesna. I was gifted with Ares’ friendship when I met Vesna. I fell in love with both ladies. Vesna visited my tiny apartment space, and in bounded this enormous animal and planted her giant paws right in front of me. I said, “hi,” and she went nuts (see the above choreographed dance). Eventually, she ended up trying to eat my socks, then my carpet, and then snuggled between Vesna and me on the couch while watching movies. We were a family ever since that first meeting.

Vesna loves Ares, and Ares loves Vesna. I am blessed from seeing this relationship on a daily basis. I cannot fully describe the nuances of this connection, but I recognize how powerful it is. It is a fascinating study of love. These two ladies’ acceptance of me as part of their private family has helped me personally learn about love of others and love of myself. As a freshly-divorced man, I learned to love again by watching the unadulterated love this woman and her precious, over-sized dog had for each other. I was delighted that this large, menacing, imposing figure of a dog accepted my two daughters as friends, allowing them to touch and pet and bounce about her without so much as a growl. She was truly an extraordinarily gentle “beast.” Ares might not have been able to talk, but Vesna and I communicated daily with her through the language of subjectivity and recognition of emotion that only a dog can emit. Ares only wanted to be able to love, and Ares wanted to be loved….a simple motivation, one I sense most human beings want also. I learned more about the human condition from Ares, and I thrived on the love she exuded.

As a sidenote for the teaching profession, I weary from having to discount the importance of emotions in my lessons. I pronounce the company line of “refrain from using emotional appeals in academic and professional writing” as part of my duties, but I don’t really believe in it, as I recognize writing for one’s self as an important part of personal development. If we look coldly and calculatingly at “objectivity” as the salvation of our society, we run the danger of ignoring the importance of subjectively understanding human animals. As teachers, we are told to “engage” more with our students…objectively, logically, we need to produce better retention and success rates, but how exactly will “engaging” produce better statistics? “Engaging with students” is a highly subjective concept: we must struggle emotionally with students in addition to delivering lectures and grading assignments in order to properly engage. Teachers must get to know students, in order to engage, a most difficult task considering the quantity and volume of human beings involved. In a sense of finding the correct way to teach, I realize that I must find subjective emotions for my students, like love and respect, in order to properly “engage.” Objectively, we cannot define engagement; there is no instruction manual for engaging, as teachers or parents, brothers and sisters, friends or family. That’s not to say people haven’t tried, but emotional subjectivity must be, at minimum, acknowledged in order to do so.

I think it was somewhere around the point where I was considering the next day’s lesson that I briefly drifted into sleep again. I tried to falsely deny the idea of my dog dying in my thoughts; I hadn’t even considered it when I had gone to sleep earlier the previous evening. I woke up to the sound of voices, around 6:30 a.m., with Vesna back and receiving a call from the clinic. I put together phrases from the conversation, like “reconstructive surgery,” “50% of the stomach removed,” and “25% chance of survival, at best.” My dog was dying, and I needed to see her one last time. We quickly drove to the clinic together.

I don’t want to recount the details of my last visit with Ares at the time of this writing. We were there when Ares died around 8:15 am on February 28th, 2011. I will reserve that moment for myself, as a reminder of the power of emotion, and I will share it with Vesna as representative of our grief and sorrow from losing an integral part of our family. I am not concerned with recording the exact details of the moment in writing, as it is indelibly etched in the memory of my mind, where it must remain.

Once we returned from the clinic, I had an hour and a half to get to my first class of the day. I hadn’t had an opportunity to send e-mail notice or find a substitute for my 11:30 a.m. class, and to be frank, I hadn’t really even considered cancelling my classes. I threw on some clean clothes and ran out the door to campus, simultaneously trying to find an opportunity to think about anything other than my recent loss and abandoning Vesna in her greatest time of need. After a numb, unremembered drive to work, I headed to my office, head down so I wouldn’t have to engage in conversation with anyone else while walking the halls.

I arrived in my office, and I contemplated my lecture. I thought I needed to do my duties that day, and I could conceivably push my way through my grief and successfully get through my fallacies lesson twice. Then, I could go home, hold Vesna, and grieve properly for the rest of the evening. I was wrong. I couldn’t even get to the first line of my lecture notes. I stammered my way through a short explanation of my dog’s death occurring not three hours earlier, trying not to openly weep in front of my students, and then I ran, scared of human contact, but more scared of betraying my emotional stance, especially in a profession that values logical, objective, emotionless demeanor. I shouldn’t have been scared; I could tell my students recognized the severity of the incident, and they wanted to share in my grief.

I had a moment of remembrance in my office that made it impossible for me to continue successfully, reminded me of my own fallibility, and created a need to return home to Vesna, post haste, to grieve as we both needed. I remembered a moment from my youth, at a party, when I was trying to muster the skill and courage necessary to “engage” with others, friends and acquaintances from the “older crowd.” Within this gathering, it was revealed that a married couple had lost their dog recently. I remember thinking as a teen, “Well, at least it wasn’t a child…it was just a dog.”

I will tell you honestly, as a person who is committed to non-violence, that if a younger version of myself time-travelled to this moment and told me, “it was just a dog,” then I would invariably punch myself square in the face. However, I realized something in that moment of reflection before my 11:30 class started: exactly what I need to do is convince people around me that I am devastated by the loss of my family dog. My supervisors, my students, my friends, and even members of my family…how could I stress the significance?…and honestly, should I even have to try? I was stymied by the idea of a younger version of myself challenging the validity of my emotions as a more-experienced adult. I was utterly useless as a professional lecturer after this difficulty. I needed to get home to help Vesna. I also needed to get home to help myself, to express myself, to address my loss….Honestly, I needed to cry.

Crying is a purely subjective experience. We can objectively analyze how the body produces such an activity, but there is small scientific proof for examination of the emotions that cause us to cry, but our minds, souls, or spirits demand it of our bodies regardless. When we are in a situation of grief, we shouldn’t be ashamed by our need to cry…objectively, logically, there really is no need to cry, but inherently, subjectively, emotionally, we know that we must. It seems that we place so much value on objective data and statistics, quantitative understanding, and strict regimen and policy—especially in the corporate environment that is fast overriding community colleges—while de-valuing the emotional, subjective aspects of the human condition. Professionally, this writing is a call to consider emotional appeals as a vital component of study and education in our academies; personally, it’s an honest representation of yesterday’s memory that is valuably helping me understand the importance of my dog.

Professionally, this subjective piece of creative memoir might be considered a distorted emotional appeal, a fallacy of persuasive tactic. It is not my intention of distortion, but of honesty. If we use honest emotional appeal in our argumentation, then we do not run the risk of distortion or fallacy, and we might progress forward as scientists and academics, examining the validity of humanity on our college campuses, engaging with students and learners as people, capable of subjective emotion, in addition to objective memory and process.

Personally, I write about my dog to share my experience. I write about Ares to hold onto the pleasant memories and recognize the void that is currently missing from my life. I write about her memory to help me understand my emotions. I write to preserve her, and I write to express my understanding of love, as learned by the most gentle of creatures, one who was well-schooled in communicating emotionally with this writer.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
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  1. “I pronounce … “refrain from using emotional appeals in academic and professional writing” as part of my duties, but I don’t really believe in it, as I recognize writing for one’s self as an important part of personal development. ”

    I remember we spoke about this issue some two years back, with me supporting a more objective approach to most academic writings. However, depending on the medium and purpose, there certainly is a place for pathos. Hell, even academics who write about dry scientific matters are often moved by passion to continue laboring in their fields (ooh, accidental metaphor!).

    This post was passionate, scathing even the heart of a detached philosopher type. Sorry about the loss of your sleek, chocolate doberman. Animals can most certainly become cherished family members whose absence is highly missed. Thanks for sharing :]

    1. Thanks for the appreciative comments. I might suggest that academics become too objective with their argumentation, to the point where they cannot effectively oppose largely subjective argumentation. Climate change is a good example; there’s plenty of objective facts and data to indicate there is a warming trend, yet climatologists seem to lose the argument every time in the public sphere.

      Not saying that we should abandon objectivity in favor of solely being subjective, but I might state that much of what we don’t understand about the human condition cannot be fully explained through objective means.

      (It’s good to hear from you again, Ryan. I learned quite a bit about loving wisdom…and students…from you specifically.)

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