As most animal lovers know, Dr. Edmund G. Rawff wrote a biweekly syndicated pet-advice column. He dealt with the myriad questions from readers with authoritative, concise, well-composed answers—putting at ease owners who had written him in despair about their pets’ problems. If you wanted to find out how to deal with your dog’s mange or a goldfish that insisted on floating upside down, Dr. Rawff was the one to write.
Two years ago, Dr. Rawff wrote his last column and vanished from his modest house in Meridien, Connecticut. He left a note on a hall table that said simply, “I am moving on.” In a legal document, he left the house and its furnishings (there were no animals in his care at the time) to the local ASPCA. There was no evidence of foul play. Dr. Rawff had a neighbor who told authorities that he had informed her he was considering giving up his practice, as well as the pet-advice column, pulling up stakes to try something else. Dr. Rawff worked in a small, windowless room in the basement. It was the only room in the house that, upon inspection, seemed in surprising disorder—papers strewn about, a bottle of wine overturned on the desk, an upturned wastepaper basket, broken pencils, crumpled stationery. His framed veterinarian certificate was cracked, as if the doctor had thrown an object at it. One of the ASPCA officials who visited the basement room had the feeling, looking at the disarray, that the doctor had stopped in mid-work and run for the hills as if gas had seeped in from a broken pipe.
The letters strewn about the room included some of those printed here. The crumpled papers turned out to be attempts on Dr. Rawff’s part to answer his readers—introductory sentences stating, “I’m not quite sure what to say in reply to yours of . . .” or “I am frankly puzzled by your cat’s odd behavior” or “I hardly know what to suggest . . .”
Upon inspection of the readers’ letters, more than one ASPCA authority felt that they were written by a single person, composed and sent under different signatures: perhaps with a view to drive the doctor nuts, or at least out of the profession. Similarities of style were pointed out—the repetition of such phrases as “The question is this.” Most of the ASPCA officials scorned this notion, remarking that there was no end to the odd behavior of people’s pets, and nothing they read surprised them very much. The order in which the letters appear is arbitrary; none of the letters were dated and the envelopes (surprisingly) were nowhere to be found . . . leading to one further hypothesis—that Dr. Rawff himself might have written he letters for amusement, or perhaps to confuse investigators. Which of these opinions is justified is left entirely to the reader.
Dear Dr. Rawff:
I have purchased an attack dog who has been trained to attack at the command “Wisconsin!” Since we live in Wisconsin, the word comes up quite often, especially during the football season. Someone will say, “Next weekend we’re going to the Wisconsin-Purdue game,” and the dog goes into a frenzy and attacks. Do you know of any way we can deactivate Wisconsin from this dog’s neural code, or should we move to Alabama?
Dear Dr. Rawff:
I have a dog, a Labrador who doesn’t really seem to want to be a dog. He sits down at the piano and plays what sounds to me like one of the motifs from Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. He takes books out of the library and for all I know is giving himself a liberal arts education. He wears bowler hats and I have seen him settle his paws into my husband’s loafers. I think he smokes. The other day I discovered him using the bathroom facilities the way humans do. That was perhaps the last straw—seeing him sitting there. What I want to know is this. Do I have a dog here, or do I have a person who looks like a dog? Please reply.
Dear Dr. Rawff:
I have a dog who I have come to believe contains The Word. My reasoning is this: one hot day in August, I happened to notice that when he ran his tongue out to pant, there seemed to be some writing on it, tiny hieroglyphics they seemed to be. I looked closely, and the characters on his tongue looked Chinese. It was my strong conviction that the words, if I could only decipher them, would tell me the secret of life, of the world, of the universe. Alas, I do not speak Chinese. I rushed for a piece of paper and a pencil in order to copy down what I could. What made it difficult was that from time to time he hauled in his tongue to swallow and when he hung it out again, it had a different set of Chinese characters. Finally, he stopped panting and the writing, The Word if you will, was gone. By some sort of sixth sense, I am utterly convinced my dog has something very big to tell us. I was wondering if any of your other correspondents have had a similar experience, especially those who can read Chinese.
Dear Dr. Rawff:
I have had an unsettling experience with my bloodhound, Fred. We play this game. After giving him a pair of my old socks as a scent, I hide somewhere around the house and eventually, following my trail, he finds me. It is kind of fun . . . hearing his snuffling getting closer and closer. Wow!
One night not long ago I went out for a long walk in the woods. After a couple of hours, I heard Fred behind me. But then a lot of other dogs’ voices joined in. I realized that, led by Fred, they were coming after me. I gave them quite a chase, trying to circle back to my house. On the way, they caught me and put me up a tree. I am writing this from jail. I am here until I can prove I’m not Chuck (One-Thumb) Jackson, a man who held up a bank here a few days ago and fled into the woods. I have two thumbs, but that’s of no consequence: I was the one the dogs had treed. Do you think Fred got that posse of fellow-bloodhounds to come after me because he thought it was funny? Or do you have a more pessimistic view?
—At a loss.
Dear Dr. Rawff:
I have a mournful elkhound. I thought his melancholy frame of mind—sleeping all day long and moaning from time to time in the most awful way—was because he is unable to practice what he is bred to do: chase elks. Because of the elkhound, I moved away to a farm near Elmira and I bought an elk. It lives out back in an enclosure. The elkhound has taken no notice of the elk. He continued to moon around the house. The elk doesn’t look any happier. To compound matters, my cousin Alex, who is going away to Europe, just sent me Tombo, a wolfhound who is even more morose than the elkhound, much less the elk. I fully appreciate that if I get a wolf for the enclosure back there, it may well improve Tombo’s sense of well-being, but hardly the elk’s. What I’m really asking is, How do you make unhappy animals happy?