My wife and I are watching the AMC series Mad Men on DVDs from Netflix, so we're behind the actual run of the show: we've reached about the middle of season 2. It's a tribute to the excellent writing and plotting that little moments can lodge in one's thoughts for long after each episode.
One tidbit that struck me of late was Duck Phillips' abandoning his dog, Chauncey. His act spoke volumes. The moment of abandonment resulted in audible shock from both my wife and me. Why did he do it? There is the practical reason: he had learned that his ex-wife was marrying a man who was allergic to dogs, so Duck would have to keep Chauncey (who had previously stayed with the ex and the kids). Perhaps as a single man in Manhattan he could not have kept a dog.
But this does not explain why he would not have given Chauncey away, instead of just abandoning him to his fate. Duck earlier had treated the dog like a valued member of the family - more so, in fact, than his own children. My wife and I had actually agreed about that earlier in the episode.
A clear turning point in Duck's mind appeared to have been reached when he - a recovering alcoholic - nearly took a drink after a stressful day. With Chauncey at his side, he was unable to do it, haunted, evidently, by guilt sparked by the dog's trusting gaze. After abandoning Chauncey outside the building, did Duck return to the office to have his drink unburdened? We don't know.
Another clue comes from the exchange between Duck and Pete Campbell just prior to Duck's near drink. Pete shows affection for Chauncey and indicates an interest in having a dog, but only around the office. Duck rebukes him. If he had wanted to escape the responsibility of keeping a dog, that was his opportunity. But clearly he wants no part of Chauncey.
Chauncey represents the last vestige of Duck's past. His kids are teenagers and live with their mother, who is remarrying. He wants to forget his alcoholic, failed life in a London ad agency. He is trying to start a new life with Sterling Cooper in New York. He feels obvious love for the dog, but he is able to harden his heart and cruelly abandon him for the sake of "moving on."
In this way Duck is not unlike Don Draper, who is also capable of taking extraordinary measures to escape his past. It remains to be seen how the already strained relationship between these two similar men will develop.