I once plotted a murder. I never went through with it, but I spent months painstakingly imagining every detail, every eventuality. Every part of the plan had a contingency, and the contingencies had contingencies. I was certain that if I ever set the plan in motion, I could go through with it, and just as certain that I’d get away with it, if everything went to plan. But I never did it. As sure as I was that it was the best thing for both of us, I just couldn’t bring myself to kill my roommate’s dog.
The dog’s name was Thurston — actually Thurston Howl III — and he had been with my roommate for many years before we went in on a 3-bedroom house in Glen Park, the (at the time) great undiscovered neighborhood at the south edge of San Francisco. My roommate and I had worked together at a restaurant, and both found ourselves in need of housing: He was being evicted from a warehouse he had helped turn into a live/work performance space/disaster area, and I was growing weary of my studio apartment in the Tenderloin, which despite many positive qualities still insisted on being in the Tenderloin.
So we joined forces, and the house we found was a bit run down but architecturally typical (garage on the bottom, three-bedroom flat on top) and an absolute palace to the 23-year-old I was at the time. My new roommate, over the five years we both lived there, would prove to be unusually flinchy about tenant-landlord relations, preferring to either fix things himself or leave them alone rather than bother her, for fear that she’d suddenly raise the rent or kick us out or something — let’s just say that the San Francisco rental market changes people in ways I did not fully understand at the time. This tendency first revealed itself in relation to Thurston: The rental application asked if we had any pets, and the ad we’d replied to said “cats ok,” so he wrote a little essay in the margins, in a supplicating handwriting, in hopes that his dog would not prove to be a dealbreaker: “I have an old hound dog who sleeps a lot.”
This would prove to be true. What my new roommate left out was that the dog also shed a lot (and by a lot I mean enough to change the color of the carpet), suffered from severe arthritis and hip dysplasia, and smelled like a microwaved hot dog rolled in a marathon-worn sweat sock. He whined all the time, unprompted. He would lay in the front living room all day, moving only to stay in the sunny spot on the carpet, and where that lifestyle would have suited any of the other dogs I’ve known just fine, Thurston would let out a sustained, impossibly quiet, incredibly high-pitched whine, all day long. (ALL. DAY. LONG.) He could not be bothered to move at any time, seemed to be completely deaf (or at least totally immune to being yelled at by his owner), and let out the most pained, miserable sound I have ever heard any other living thing make if he was in any way pushed, pulled, lifted, or otherwise manhandled. The best way I can think to describe it is as a combination of a wounded seal and a coyote being struck with a crossbow bolt. Read More