“Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, and all the virtues of Man, without his vices. This praise, which would be unmeaning flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the memory of…a dog.”
-Lord Byron, 1808
When we adopt a pet, we all know the bargain that comes along with it. We hope the new addition to the family will bring us years of joy and companionship, but we understand that given their short life span, we will have to face a moment where our friend leaves us.
But recognition of this bargain doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. On Friday afternoon, our beloved dog Winston suddenly died of a heart attack, without any indication he was sick. One second, he was jumping around, happy I had given him a small piece of bacon. Minutes later, he was out on a walk, his legs gave way, and he was gone from our lives. He was only seven years old.
To say that he changed our family is an understatement. We adopted him in June, 2018 - he was originally a stray picked up in San Antonio, Texas, and shipped north. Clearly he had been in some scrapes while wandering the mean streets of Texas - he was missing a bit of fur on his neck, and the woman at the adoption center said a mark on his rear end looked like he had been bitten by a snake.
We never could really figure out what breed of dog he was. At one point we gave him a DNA test and it said he was mostly rottweiler, with a hint of Siberian husky and a touch of black lab.
But from the second he set foot in our home, he was kind, gentle, and obedient. He couldn’t get enough of all the attention he got. He lived like a king. (Social media followers of mine will think he was named because of my fondness for Winston Churchill, but my kids picked the name. Seriously.)
Most importantly, he brought us all together as a family. Everyone with teenagers understands the awkward family dinners where nobody has anything to say and everyone quietly stares at their plates. But with Winston around, we all suddenly had something to talk about. We could spend hours laughing at some mundane thing the dog did that day, or teasing him about how lazy he was. He was a bond that made us all closer.
He was, of course, happiest at the dog park, where he got along famously with other dogs. He would never retrieve any thrown object, but he would chase other dogs that were chasing balls. If two dogs got in a scrape, he would always jump in between them and try to mediate the situation. He was a peacemaker.
He had all the traits of a dog that make us adore them so much. When you think you’re not deserving of love, he’d give it to you anyway. Every time you walked in the door, it was as if Justin Timberlake had just made an appearance. It was impossible to be in a bad mood when he gave you affection (and, of course, demanded it in return in the form of belly rubs.)
As his body lay under a blanket at the animal hospital, the veterinarian on call told us that he had succumbed to an enlarged heart. I’d like to think the opposite is true: He gave so much of his own heart to us, he didn’t have any more left to give.
ALSO: This week I wrote two pieces for The Dispatch and ArcDigi, both of which are unfortunately behind paywalls. But here’s a taste of what they are about.
At The Dispatch, I wrote a lengthy piece about what happens when news goes completely digital. Are we doing enough to archive digital news stories for future generations? What happens when digital stories can be retroactively changed to fit modern times? How will we have an accurate account of how humans lived in 2022?
The overwhelming majority of what we know about the past comes from people writing things down on media that lasted centuries, from cave walls to wood carvings, to sheep skin. And a lot of people took the time to write things down. Read William Manchester’s volumes on the life of Winston Churchill, and you’ll see that much of what we know about the 20th century’s greatest leader is derived from journals kept by the mistresses of men in his government. (One cheer for infidelity!)
But like information shared on Twitter, the overwhelming majority of news in modern times is made and reported in digital formats. This presents a host of potentially dangerous problems for future Americans trying to understand how we lived in 2022.
Among the digital-only outlets we currently peruse, which will keep their data archived? Will that data be accessible in spite of future technological advances? Will the text remain untouched by future editors who may want to erase past content? How will we know the full context of what we are seeing?
When the present becomes the past, the past exists only in the manner in which it is preserved. Right now, the present is being saved only in shoddy and haphazard ways, as publishers try to adjust to ever-changing technologies. Further, that same technology allows previously published content to be changed in ways that reflect current trends and sensibilities. Combined, it spells doom for future generations.
Over at ArcDigi, I waded into the current controversy over “cancel culture,” in which people either claim it doesn’t exist or it exists everywhere. In the piece, I argue that cancel culture certainly does exist, but that it has everything to do with power dynamics. If you are a wealthy celebrity or, say, President of Russia, chances are you haven’t been “canceled” when you face criticism. But there are the powerless out there who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by internet mobs.
I provided a few examples:
Every day, powerless people are canceled because they don’t have the benefit of millions of followers or $100 million podcast contracts.
For instance, in 2020, activists targeted a Minneapolis Mediterranean grocery when they found out the daughter of the owner had posted racially insensitive tweets as a teenager a decade ago. Soon, businesses around the Twin Cities refused to carry the store’s products.
In 2017, two Portland women started their own burrito truck based on recipes they had learned on a trip to Mexico. Activists accused them of cultural appropriation, and soon the truck was closed.
In 2020, two leaders at the Poetry Foundation resigned after over 1,800 people signed a letter claiming the foundation’s statement in support of Black Lives Matter was insufficient. The letter’s signers believed the foundation’s four-sentence letter denouncing injustice and systemic racism simply wasn’t long enough.
“We find this statement to be worse than the bare minimum,” the response read. Soon, the foundation’s president and its board chair were gone.
Just last year, a professor at Fordham University was fired after he innocently confused two female African-American students for one another. The two students complained, and he was given the boot. (The students later said they weren’t that offended by the initial mix-up, but took exception to his apology email in which he listed all the good things he has done for black students—they accused him of displaying a “white savior complex.”)
ALSO: Last week, I bought some $19.99 scotch from Trader Joe’s. I then sampled it in a video, which people seemed to enjoy. You can watch it here:
Pets often don’t deserve us. While we merrily go about our business, they wait at home for us to return and then they lavish their love on us. Your Winston story made me sad.
I am so sorry! This line encapsulates pure doggy goodness: “Every time you walked in the door, it was as if Justin Timberlake had just made an appearance.” As much as human family members claim to love you, the greetings from the K9 variety are usually superior.