Posted by: patenttranslator | December 25, 2012

An Homage To All Invisible Dogs In My Life

This post has nothing to do with translation. But it is the end of the year, after all, so I should be allowed to write about other topics too provided that they are equally important.

This post is an homage to all invisible dogs in my life, whose presence I can still feel every now and then, and who have been faithfully following me, the way dogs have been faithfully following humans for millennia, even long after they have gone away for good.

It is so unfair that one human year equals seven dog years. This means that a 20-year-old dog would be in fact 140 years old in human years, which is why there are very few 20-year-old dogs, just like there are very few 140-year-old humans.

The first dog whose image I sometime see in my mind was called Bobík. I used to sneak into his doghouse in the backyard and eat his food I am told, when I was about 4 or 5. I don’t remember it, but I do remember an old black-and-white photo where a little boy is smiling next to a doghouse and a blurry image of a big black dog.

There were no dogs in my life after Bobík for a very long time, but one day when I came home from work about 30 years later, there was a little brown dachshund lying on the bed in my apartment, looking at me inquisitively. My wife told me that she just brought the dog from the pound in San Francisco. She said that her name was Muffin, and that she had to take her home because Muffin was looking at her so sweetly, imploring her “貰ってちょうだい!” (moratte chodai! = please, take me home!). Muffin was dumped by her previous owner because she “had issues”. In particular, she was chewing furniture when she got angry in order to show her displeasure at being left home alone for a long time. There was a strict no-dog policy in the apartment on Seventh Avenue near California where we lived, and our Chinese landlord promptly threw us out for breaking the lease because of Muffin.

But thanks to Muffin, I quickly found a bigger and much better apartment for only about fifty dollars more on Fifth Avenue on the other side of Geary Street. It even had a backyard.

Oh, and Muffin also repaid us for our generosity toward her by saving our lives.

It happened one Saturday morning when we were going to check out a new restaurant in Berkeley. I forgot what kind of cuisine it was, but it was something exotic, Ethiopian, or Brazilian, or something like that. Although it was drizzling that morning, as my wife was a new driver, she stepped on the brakes too hard, the car turned around 180 degrees and we were facing oncoming traffic. It all happened within about 2 seconds. But because there were not too many cars that morning near the entrance to the Bay Bridge as most San Franciscans were still sleeping that Saturday morning, she was able to turn the car in the right direction again before it was too late and we got out of there alive.

We were both so shaken by the experience that we decided not to go to that restaurant. When we got back to our apartment, we found out that Muffin has dragged pieces of garbage from the garbage container under the kitchen sink all over the kitchen floor, which was her way of telling us not to take her for granted and leave her alone like that. She switched from chewing furniture to dragging garbage all over the place, which probably meant that she learned her lesson.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, silent and lost in thoughts, when my wife suddenly said:”Do you know why we survived today?”. “No, why did we survive today?”, I answered. “Because of Muffin”, said my wife, and in that moment I understood that indeed we were saved because Muffin must have been somehow protecting our lives with the magical power that some dogs have. She must have been the reason why we did not become just another traffic statistic that gray Saturday morning, because what else could it have been?

There were 4 more dogs in my life after Muffin died about seven years after she saved our lives, and only 2 of them are still alive. We owned 2 dachshunds named Molly and Buddy, or rather they owned us. They both died about 2 years ago, but because I still have Buddy’s picture on my computer’s desktop, I feel the presence of this invisible dog all the time. Molly was my wife’s dog more than mine. I don’t really feel her presence that much, but she does, and every dachshund she sees on Animal Planet or in a book reminds her of Molly.

Another dog who has been sharing our lives along with Molly and Buddy, a German shepherd/something else (maybe beagle) mix called Lena, also rescued from the San Francisco dog pound, is now 14 or 15 years old. Although she can barely walk, she walks around the living room and the kitchen as much as she can every day. If she slips on the hardwood floor, she start yapping because she can’t get up by herself, which is hardly audible, especially when I translate something while listening to music. But I usually hear her after a while and go downstairs and help her so that she could continue her Alzheimer’s promenade through the house.

So Lena is still visible, although just barely, as she will be soon slipping into the realm where dogs become invisible while there presence is still felt by some humans many times a day.

I think I must have paid well over 2 thousand dollars to transport Lena, Molly and Buddy by plane from San Francisco to Virginia, but it was worth it. We also had a bearded dragon lizard named Spikey, and when we established how complicated it would be to arrange for his transport as well, my wife simply smuggled Spikey onto the plane under her jacket. She got away with it because this was before 9/11. After we changed planes in Atlanta and the lights were turned off, Spikey was allowed to come up for air for a while and check out his fellow passengers.

Spikey is dead now too, of course, and I don’t really feel his presence because he was not a dog, although I think about him just about every time when I pass his grave in the backyard.


We’ve also had another dog with us for over a year who is very much alive. She is about 4 years old, her name is Lucy and she is a scary looking pitbull with the sweetest disposition of any dog I have ever known. Pitbulls have such a bad reputation because they are so strong and look so mean, but compared to Muffin, this one is an angel, if there is such a thing as angel dogs or dog angels while they are still alive. Probably not.

But we are only temporary custodians of Lucy, she is my son’s dog, who left her with us because he has been traveling a lot during the past year, working in San Diego, San Francisco, and some place in North Dakota, and also going on a long trip to Europe. He said that he would take Lucy with him once he is ready to settle down somewhere.

I have to say, a visible dog is better in most respects than an invisible dog, with or without magical dog powers. Fortunately, it looks like my son is not about to settle down any time soon.


  1. I’m the first to comment your Christmas day post, and I second your homage to our four-legged furry friends who are no longer with us, but not forgotten. My first dog was a dalmation called Thor, then there was my cocker spaniel called Bill, then we had a maremanna named Ombra and as an adult I had two yorkshire terriers named Mouche and Papillon, who lived long and pampered existences. I remember all of them more clearly (and fondly) than some of the humans who have shared my life.


  2. Zdravím, tak to jsem se zase jednou dobře početl…pěkné 🙂


  3. Thanks for your emotive writing. We never wanted to adopt animals, because we were most time out working. But suddenly one day we become “owners” of a beautiful French bulldog, which proved to be the best dog in the world. My son found her abandoned and lost in the middle of a motorway and took her to the next veterinarian, where he was informed whom she belonged. After talked to the owner, who didn’t want to know about her and who told my son that she was given away to a friend of him, my son visited this other person, who didn’t want de dog back anymore. So we took care of her, loved her and helped her not to fear whatever crossed her way. She was mistreated and therefore deaf, but the most wonderful was, that she always understood and knew when somebody of the family was sad or in trouble and was always near to give comfort and joy. My walks after work and late in the evenings gave me the opportunity to calm down after a busy day. For the boys she was the best playmate and my husband, who didn’t like animals, felt in love with her. This was a bilateral sense over years. Our Trufa (Truffle) left us but I’m sure she waits for us in Heaven and there is no day we don’t remember her and her antics ☺ Merry Christmas ☺


  4. But Steve, there are dogs over twenty. One I knew, a small mix of God-knows-what, made it to 23 or 24 after his predecessor, a Basset Hound, had nearly managed 20. The problem is that once one has known dogs like this, it’s hard to avoid the vain hope that other, larger dogs will be one’s visible companions for an equal span of years.

    One of the finest teachers I’ve ever known was the German Shepherd Colin vom Distelfeld who came with me to Germany 13 years and eleven days ago. Six years after we parted tactile company when the consequences of a stroke took the last of his life’s quality, he continues to instruct me about patience, loyalty and forgiveness and guide my tutelage of the current generation of dogs.

    You say that this post has nothing to do with translation, but is that true? My dogs have accompanied me through nearly every stage of my translation career. A desire to spend more time with Colin was a main factor in my decision to refuse offers of various staff consulting and development positions and spend quiet days at home with the dog warming my feet while I work. The dogs have always seen to my health, ensuring that I take needed breaks and exercise. On days when I find an intruding black dog has me by the throat, mine send him off quickly and bring my mind to order with a good game of fetch-the-stuffed-rat or a nice frolic in the fields. For me, the dogs have very much to do with good translation and much else that is good.


  5. 1. “But Steve, there are dogs over twenty.”

    I did not know that.

    I think I read somewhere that somebody lived to more than 140, I think in one of the former Asian republics of the former USSR. But these would be exceptions that more or less confirm the rule.

    2. If dogs can be such a big help with translating as well, maybe machine translation will finely start making sense once the people who are trying to make it make sense figure out how to combine machine translation with indomitable canine spirits that human translators need to do good work.

    Wonder how that would work.


  6. I suppose, Steve, that it might be possible to convince my German Wire-haired Pointer to work patiently at some silly MT task, but the younger dog is Hungarian and much too smart for such things. Actually, when I see the sensitivity and playfulness with which both take on life, I think that if asked to post-edit, both would probably just lift their legs and move on.


  7. My mother had a dog named Kuro (Blacky), a mixed breed of many different races like me and my brothers and sisters. Kuro lived 21 years. When he died, we kids were very sad. Yes, there must be some gracefully aging dogs.

    Nice read, Steve, this post of yours. In South America, we had 3 dogs. We had a dog named Lucky, another one Chino and the last one was Peque. All of them did not make it over 16 years. Pity that I am not allowed to keep a dog in my apartment in Taiwan.


  8. Thanks for sharing. A nice way to say goodbye to the old year – remembering that ‘things’ stay with us even if they are no longer around.


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