The movie poster for "The Stray." Below, Pat and Addie.
Every family has lots of rules. We have one big one. Never see a movie where the dog dies.
Our rule has a special motivation. We have a developmentally disabled son who loves dogs and is overwhelmed by death. That includes the obvious: deaths of relatives and family friends. Even more so, it includes the less-than-obvious: death of dogs.
Patrick's reaction to these things isn't immediate. He is stoic in the immediate aftermath. But a week or so later, we will get a call from his workplace, or a call from the group home where he lives, that he is sobbing and they don't know why. We always do. Uncle Doug died (two years ago). Or his yellow lab Lilly died (four years ago). Or Michael Jackson (No time limit on the grief there). These sobbing outbreaks will continue for months, more often years. The bottom lip quivers and the tears pour.
We made our no-movie-where-a-dog-dies rule quite easily after taking him to see "Marley and Me." After that, we were able to console ourselves with the rationalization that we weren't bad parents, just stupid ones.
Now, my wife dissects the movie advance stories and reviews for any hint of dog trauma. Never again will we make that mistake.
Except we did, on a recent Saturday.
Jill had read a review of the movie "The Stray." It was about a dog and a family. We love to take Patrick to movies, because he loves to go. But the hunt for the right kind gets tougher and tougher. Hollywood seems locked into a series of movies that have the world almost coming to end before being rescued--after long scenes of violence and crashing cars and aliens in spaceships and tumbling buildings and cities being swallowed up in tsunamis--by superheroes who have just begun to shave that week.
So, when we see a movie about a dog and a family, we feel blessed, especially since the review on "The Stray" seemed to go out of its way to make it clear that that the dog doesn't die in this one. That means it was either a slick or misleading review, or we just missed some clues.
So, when Pluto was struck by lightning in "The Stray," we were confident that his temporary state of no movement was just part of the story. That he would, like the children and adult also struck by lightning and recovering, rise up and give us the happy ending we wanted. Or, in our case, badly needed.
We even held out hope, as they were holding the burial ceremony and shoveling dirt on Pluto's graves. Couldn't Pluto rise up out of the hole in the ground, shake off the dirt and run around licking everybody graveside? Please...PLEASE!!!
Sadly, Pluto stayed buried.
We now will review our assessment of our parenting. Maybe stupidity ISN'T a good answer. Maybe we aren't so good at this, after all.
In the meantime, as we assess the need to turn ourselves into some childhood protection agency, we will brace for the phone calls. Yes, we will say, we understand why Pat is sobbing and it will pass.
We will tell them, just don't use the word "Pluto" around him for a while. Like maybe for five years.
Bill Dwyre is the former sports editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times