The men from airport Customs signaled me to stop, then asked a volley of questions. Where I was flying in from? What was I going to do in Liverpool? What was the conference about? How long was the meeting going to be?
Then they asked me to open my suitcase. They looked through it, then asked if I had a laptop. When I said yes, they had me turn it on.
This was way back at the turn of the century: Can’t remember when exactly, maybe 2002, 2003. I don’t think there was the term “profiling” then, but that was what was happening to me. I did feel, at that time, that I had been singled out. If I had flown in from Asia I’d just be part of a herd, all looking alike, but the flight from Amsterdam into Liverpool had few Asians. I stood out, and probably fit into a profile of suspicious creatures.
So I turned on my laptop and the Customs officers looked at the screen. There were desktop icons on it and one of the officers moved closer to the screen. He had discovered something suspicious: an icon labeled “Fritz.” It dawned on me they were looking for child porn, which had been on the news for several months. The twist now wasn’t live trafficking of kids but photographs of the children, usually from poor countries. Possession of child porn photos and videos was now considered a serious crime, with the Interpol involved.
The Customs guards were expecting that once I’d click on the icon, an X-rated photograph of some young boy would appear. Instead they got a photograph of a long-haired brown dachshund.
I laughed. The Customs officers didn’t, but they waved me on.
I thought of Fritz again the other day when my brother-in-law in Canada sent me a photo of the dog, through e-mail, with a short note: Here’s Fritz, he’s 18 now, old enough to drink.
I laughed because 18 dog-years is all of 88 human-years. (The common myth is that you multiply the dog-years by seven to convert, but dogs mature very quickly during their first two years, with variations across breeds. Pedigree.com has a good calculator to do this, which I quickly checked to convert Fritz’s age.)
Oh, I thought, Fritzi Boy’s now an old man. It’s very rare that dogs get to be 18, and I thought of what he and I had gone through, including that profiling incident in Liverpool. I’ve been profiled several times without getting to have to click on Fritz on my laptop, and I can sympathize with the thousands more people who will go through profiling as western countries, the United States in particular, become more and more paranoid about anyone who lives different. I have to admit when I think of child porn, I think of a middle-aged Caucasian man with a beer belly, because that was what so many pedophiles looked like, openly walking around with their child victims in our streets many years ago, but now invisibly plying the internet for cybersex sites operating out of our slums.
But let’s not get into details with this unpleasant topic, and get back to Fritz.
I accidentally ended up with Fritz some 88 dog-years back when I stopped at a store to get dog food. As I was waiting for the store clerk to get the dog food, I heard a puppy whining. I walked toward the back of the store and saw a dachshund puppy in a pen. “Pick me up, play with me,” he invited, and I did.
That was it. (Okay, okay, so I was slightly depressed that day. Never shop when you’re down and out.)
I asked if the puppy was for sale. The storekeeper shrugged his shoulder, “He’s the last of the litter. Kulit (persistent), maybe that’s why no one wants him.” That was all I needed. Tell me no one wants something or someone and I end up taking them.
As I drove back home, I told the nameless kulit dog: “You know, I don’t really need a dog. But you can stay until I find you a home.”
When I got home my mother protested, “We don’t need a dog right now. You’re never home, and I’m too old for this.”
She was right, but I got a reprieve, a few more days. Which, of course, stretched out as I asked around and realized my friends were already raising children, and dogs and cats.
Until one day my sister called from Canada and I mentioned in passing that I was stuck with a refugee dog. He was a refugee because my mother and I kept him hidden from my father, who always complained about the dogs we kept. He had been with us so long that when he would hear my father’s car, he’d scamper into a room, the refugee center.
My sister didn’t hesitate: Ship him over. She and her husband figured it was time to have a dog in the house since the children were older and ready to take on responsibilities. The kids decided he would be called Fritz because he was German.
I had never shipped a dog overseas and learned it involved some effort: no passport but vaccinations, health certificate. A large kennel, food, water. Then the day came, early morning, when I had to bring him to the airport. I cried a bit while his yaya, who loves dogs, wailed: “Bye bye Fritz, bye bye Fritz.”
And off he flew to Ottawa. A day later I got a call from my sister; he had landed and everyone loved him. There were frequent phone calls to update me: his first visit to the park, his first dog friend about 10 times his size.
The first time we were reunited in Canada he was ecstatic, and when I had to leave, seeing him standing on two legs, nose pressed against the living room’s glass window, broke my heart.
Through the years there were milestones and crises, mainly back injuries as dachshunds go. Try Chinese medicine and acupuncture, my mother would advise.
And now he’s 18, old enough to drink, and drive.
I asked if Fritz was dementing, and my brother-in-law said oh yes, in a major way. He’s also practically blind, and hard of hearing, and they have to put him in a baby carriage when they go out to the park, so different from when he was young and he’d dash off to meet his friends.
These days his best friend is another senior citizen, a 15-year-old cat at home. He hated her when she first came, but now they’re inseparable.
He’s a dog with good karma (and persistence, I guess) to have reached 88 dog-years, and to have ended up in Canada with a comfortable home, and loving humans. Oh, but if people could be so lucky. Yes, I sometimes think of the kids whose photos end up in someone’s computer, or posted on the internet. I think, too, of kids who don’t have a fighting chance of reaching 18 people-years.