The late-night June sky was exceptionally clear, rabid with wild stars. As I walked home from a Silverlake bar, I witnessed the usual constellations—Orion, Ursa Major. In addition, I spotted new, undiscovered formations. I named them all: Zardoz, Love Bullet, Moonlight’s Motel.
An elderly Hispanic man approached me. Rumpled white shirt, black Dickies. His face: a complex map of worry lines. There was a dog at his feet—a mish-mash of sheltie, collie, and pure innocence. The collarless canine trotted happily alongside the old man.
“Beautiful dog,” I said, as we met eye-to-eye.
The old man grunted, “Damn dog’s not mine. She’s been following me.” He kept walking. Never once looked at the animal. Just stared straight ahead, into the flash and burn of liquid diamond headlights streaming down Sunset Boulevard.
The dog remained by his side.
That dog was screwed, I realized. It was obvious the old man didn’t care for her. As soon as he reached his destination, he’d slam the door in her face, leaving her to wander the streets. She’d be roadkill before sunrise.
I called out to her. She glanced back. I got down on one knee, called again. She bolted for me, jumped into my arms. I carried her back to my place. The whole way there she was a furry bundle of tail wags, whimpers, shivers, and happy licks.
* * *
When I was four, I received my first dog: a part-collie, part German Shepard that my brother and I named Bandit. I loved that dog intensely. Not knowing how to fully express that love, I’d squeeze Bandit tight, as if all my love could be transferred through brute force. Those love sessions generally ended with Bandit biting me, and my parents rushing me to the doctor. But I didn’t care. I always went back for more. That’s how much I loved that dog. That’s how much I wanted that dog to love me.
As I grew older, I learned how to better express that love: fetch, long walks, feeding Bandit turkey straight from the Thanksgiving bird. Eventually, the dog died. My family had him cremated. That’s how much we loved Bandit. To this day, my father still has the dog’s ashes, and insists on being buried with them when he goes.
After graduating college, I left that loving, secure, pet-friendly environment to live in California. It was now fast-paced city life all the way: Playing in bands, partying till all hours, working lousy paying jobs, living in crappy apartments.
But once I found that dog on Sunset, I wanted to do whatever possible to become a stable pet owner. First off, I named the dog Venus, for the Goddess of Love.
I took her to the vet. Got her all her shots. The doctor gave her a clean bill of health. She was so adorable we couldn’t figure out why she’d been abandoned. Maybe she’d gotten lost. Maybe her owners were worried sick, trying to find her.
Over the next couple weeks, I posted flyers in dog parks, dog shelters, vet offices.
Even had a friend take this picture of the two of us.
I posted it on numerous pet-related Internet sites.
I didn’t receive one call from anyone claiming to own her. But I did receive tons of calls from people wanting to adopt her.
So I gave myself a goal.
For a month I’d work my ass off, either trying to find a place suitable for the two of us, or I’d offer Venus to the best home possible.
I poured through rental ads. Made tons of calls to the places I could afford. Landlords chatted up homes and apartments as if they were palatial estates, but in person amounted to little more than busted-up, beer-breathed accommodations, with weed-ravaged dirt yards.
I soon realized I didn’t have my shit together enough in the financial department to properly care for Venus. It broke my heart. Broke it into pieces tinier than those stars I’d witnessed in the late-night sky when I first discovered her.
Around that time, I received a call from a man in La Cañada—a suburban community at the base of the Angeles National Forest. The man said he’d seen an Internet ad for Venus. Said he had a family. A beautiful home and yard. Told me he’d like to adopt the dog.
I relayed the whole story. How I’d tried to find her master. How I’d even tried to make a home for her myself, all to no avail.
Listening to my sadness and frustration, the man said it was obvious that I loved Venus very much, and that if I’d allow his family to care for her, they’d do everything possible to honor that love.
The next day I packed Venus into my clunker Toyota, and headed up to La Cañada. The family, their home: Norman Rockwell updated. Made more posh, and heartwarming. Venus immediately took to the kids—a young boy and girl. They ran with Venus throughout the huge fenced-in backyard.
It was all so much. So much love. If Venus couldn’t stay with me, I realized, this was exactly where she needed to be.
The man handed over a wad of neatly folded bills. “Here. I’d like to pay you for what you’ve spent on vet bills.”
“That’s okay,” I said.
“Really,” he said. “It’s the least I can do.”
My love and pride didn’t want to take the cash. But the truth was I’d spent a good portion of rent money to care for Venus. I had no idea how to make up the difference. “Alright,” I said. “Thanks.” Then I added: “Mind if I say goodbye to her?”
“Not at all,” he said.
I gathered Venus into my arms, gave her a big hug. It wasn’t as huge and hurting as the hugs I used to give my childhood dog, Bandit. But the hug was enough to let her know that I loved her very much. And that I’d miss her dearly.