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Would you die for your dog? June 1, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Would you die for your dog? In my case, the answer is absolutely. If I came home from running errands in town to discover that fiends had broken into my home and were hurting my beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special, I would grab the pepper spray, I would grab a baseball bat, I would grab whatever came to hand and spring into the fray, doing whatever I could to protect an innocent soul I loved. I would rather die than think I had run off or stayed my hand while someone hurt my Shiloh. Would I do the same if robbers broke in and tried to harm me instead? I honestly have no idea.

What if I came home to find the house on fire? Every few years, there’s a story in our paper about someone who succumbs to smoke inhalation in a heartfelt but doomed attempt to save a beloved pet from a house fire. Would they be better off just throwing the door open and calling their dog, as proved so effective in “Independence Day”? Or is this the stuff of fiction, not of fact?

These are the sorts of moral issues I wrestle with at night while our friend Ben snores peacefully by my side. (So far, I’ve refrained from taking it out on him that his conscience is apparently untroubled by such issues.) But why am I bringing this up now? It’s because of a tragedy that happened last week here in the generally peaceful Lehigh Valley.

Let’s just say we’ve had a tremendously rainy spring so far here in scenic PA. The ground has been repeatedly saturated, planting has been seriously set back, farmers are hurting. Though not as dramatic as the tornadoes in, say, Joplin, nearby Carbon County has been hit with twisters and baseball-sized hail. All of which is to say that the local rivers, including our major river, the Lehigh River, have been running very high and wild.

Such was the case this past Wednesday when Pamela Boyko was babysitting her granddaughter. Pamela, 53, lived her life with a gusto Jimmy Buffett might have envied, despite the crippling effects of pulmonary disease and fibromyalgia.  A hippie to the end, she wore flowing skirts and tons of jewelry. Generous to a fault, she was growing her hair very long so she could cut it off to donate to a friend about to lose her own hair to chemotherapy. She adored her four children, her partner, and her grandchildren. And she adored her dogs.

Pamela was watching her granddaughter when the kid slipped away and let her two dogs out of their fenced enclosure. The dogs made for the Lehigh River, swollen with recent rains. Convinced that, without her intervention, they would drown, Pamela Boyko raced for a flimsy canoe and took off after them. Tragically, some pigs had stolen the family’s heavier craft a few weeks before, so the fragile canoe was the only conveyance left. Pamela Boyko never thought twice. Her dogs returned, but she didn’t. A fisherman found her body in the river on Sunday and called the authorities.

How likely is it that someone would willingly give their life for their dogs? Very, in my own experience. My father’s beloved Springer spaniel Rufus developed epilepsy as he got older. One bitterly cold March night, Rufus had an epileptic fit, distressing my father, who loved him as I love Shiloh, no end. After apparently recovering from the fit, Rufus asked to go outside. My father opened the back door, only to see, to his horror, the still disoriented Rufus lurch over to the 8-foot-deep swimming pool—my mother had rejected the idea of a “shallow end” when the pool was built , much less a ladder, in favor of a “natural look”—and fall in.

Without even thinking, my father (by now a widower who lived alone) rushed to the pool and plunged in, ultimately managing to push the 75-pound, struggling Rufus up and over the side. But unfortunately, the pool was only filled to about 5 feet, leaving the edge far above the water level. And at that point, my father realized that he had exhausted his strength after the half-hour struggle to get Rufus up and over in the bitter cold, and there was no way he could haul himself out of the freezing water and over the edge onto dry ground. Contemplating his abbreviated future, he understood that he could only remain upright in the freezing pool for so long before losing consciousness and going under.

Using the wits God gave him, my father started calling for help. And despite the late hour and isolated surroundings, God answered him, in the form of two German shepherds who heard his cries and started barking, causing their owner to step outside and then race to the rescue. In his case, there was a happy ending.

Pamela Boyko wasn’t so lucky. The happy hippie who loved her family, partner, friends, and pets, who looked on the bright side and generously gave of herself, transcending her physical infirmities, drowned as she tried to prevent that fate from overcoming her beloved dogs. None of us will be able to enjoy or appreciate her joyful nature now. Thank God her dogs will never know what they caused, but I hope the guys who stole the family boat have a few second thoughts about the consequences of their actions.

Thinking it all through, would you let your dogs run off if you were in Pamela Boyko’s place, hoping that they’d survive the swollen river and come back? Or, like her, would you die for your dog? I know I would; I guess it runs in the family.

           ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

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