The final details…

I can’t say enough good things about the people who helped facilitate the post mortem “care and feeding” for my boy over the last few weeks. From the staff at VCA Glasgow to the Delaware Pet Crematorium, the were absolutely professionals who went above and beyond to treat a simple dog like the entirely beloved member of the family that he was.

I’ve never intended to have human children. I still don’t. Despite enormous societal pressure to the contrary, these furry creatures who share my home are in many ways the family I’ve selected for myself. In life, and in death, I begrudge them nothing.

I was able to bring Winston’s ashes almost two weeks ago. They were returned in a cloth covered box that for most things would have been entirely fitting. After living with it for a few days, though, I knew there needed to be something more substantial – something more in keeping with Winston’s room sized personality. This good and loyal dog needed a more fitting monument.

Although I couldn’t raise a Lincoln-sized memorial, I was able to find what I feel like is a fitting final vessel. This past Friday evening I made the transfer from one to the other, adding in a few small tokens that rather laughingly made me feel like I was interring a pharaoh rather than “just a dog.” That, too, felt fitting.

So now, Winston’s earthly remains rest in the only place I could think of as fitting for him – among and alongside my most treasured possessions, my books. We’re all slowly getting use to the new normal here, but it’s been awfully nice to have this final detail sorted and in place to help mark that change.

A final gift…

For most of last week I wasn’t fit for service. Sure, I managed to feed and bathe myself and tend to the life, health, and safety requirements for Maggie, Hershel, and George, but otherwise I was lost in the tall grass. If I had needed to submit a readiness report, it would have read “not mission capable.” Anything that wasn’t essential just got left on the side of the road.

I don’t handle grief well. I don’t suppose most people do. My approach is almost universally to put my head down and grind through whatever the situation is in low gear. I doubt that my psychologist friends would call it a particularly healthy coping strategy, but it’s what I do. Drawing inward, circling the wagons, defending the keep – call it what you will, but history tells me that it’s what works to get me through to the other side of any individual crisis of the moment. 

Consequently to all that, most of the administrative minutia of life stayed on the wayside until I was better able to get and keep my head “in the game” as it were. That means this week I’m just now starting to pick back up with the business of keeping the household running smoothly – groceries, laundry, and cleaning. It was also time to check in on the administrator’s panel for the blog and pay some fees, and tend to the minor details that keep my small part of the internet up and running.

It was in checking the back office side of the blog that I discovered one last gift that Winston gave me. Without me knowing it, my tribute post to a good and faithful dog rocketed into first place as the single most viewed post in the nine year history of this blog. In fact it didn’t quite double the previous “most viewed” record, but it came awfully close. It turns out the internet isn’t always the dumpster fire we make it out to be. Every now and then its collective users can find a way to leave even the most jaded among us more than a little bit surprised with their generous spirit and kind support.

Winston raised the bar on me while I wasn’t paying attention. If I never write another thing to exceed that mark, I’ll be more than happy with the result.

With my thanks…

Under any normal circumstance, Thursdays are sacrosanct and reserved exclusively for What Annoys Jeff this Week. This week, of course, has been filled with what I can only charitably describe as abnormal circumstances that cast any of the usual annoyances far into the shadows.

Instead of phoning something in, I want to use this generally largest audience of the week to say thank you to everyone who has called, emailed, sent a text, a tweet, or Facebook message over the last few days. I know I haven’t gotten back to many of you personally – the truth is, I haven’t even read the bulk of the messages yet. The last couple of days all my mental energy has been flowing deep into the reptilian section of my brain and focused on self preservation and generating emotional scar tissue. I promise I’m going to read every one of them just as soon as they don’t threaten to send me off the rails into ugly crying territory.

Winston was one of the very few creatures on earth that I loved without reservation. Based on your responses, you noticed . Please know that I was and continue to be touched beyond words by your kindness. You all helped lighten the burden of an incredibly hard day and I’ll always be grateful for that.

On the day after…

Yesterday was darkness, overcast and dreary. Then, as if the universe has some semblance of a sense of humor, just as dusk was coming on, it snowed for a while. Winston hated the snow. Given the arthritis and metric ton of metal in his leg, a natural aversion to the cold isn’t exactly shocking.

This morning, on the day after, was as bright and sunny a winter morning as you could hope to see. I won’t pretend that everything is ok or that I’ve even started adjusting to the new reality. There are still moments when loss is a deep, yawning chasm. Even with the rest of us in it, the house feels unnaturally empty for his absence. In the sunshine today, though, there were also moments of glimpsing what’s beyond all that. At least the big, manly, ugly cry sobbing has given way to a more manageable leaking about the eyes.

There’s not one second of the day I haven’t missed Winston’s slobbering, or the ponderous thump of his steps coming down the hall. Hell, I even started making breakfast for him today before catching myself and very nearly coming unglued.

Today I am immensely thankful for the long Anglo-Saxon tradition of quashing all the bad feelings and getting on with it – stiff upper lip and all that. The rest of my now diminished pack needs the best of me and the gods know that just now I need them more than ever.

The very best good boy…

Where do I even start?

One day a living, breathing bundle of floof comes into your life, helpless, with his puppy breath and needle teeth and need to pee every 37 seconds. If you’re doing it right, you end up hopelessly enmeshed in each other’s lives – which seems patently unfair given that you know going in to it that theirs is likely to be so much shorter than yours. Still, if you’re very lucky you get to have a decade’s worth of good years – of way more good days than bad ones.

The good ones are the days you mostly remember. That’s the way it should be. The bad days, though, those can be brutal even if they are less individually memorable. They’re filled with self doubt and unanswerable questions about what a dog thinks or feels or needs you to do that they can’t do for themselves. The worst are the moments when you’re tempted to heroic measures – the phrase people like to use to justify prolonging a pet’s pain to spare their own. God knows I was tempted and tempted badly to buy another few weeks, but not with full knowledge of the price that he’d pay for my momentary cowardice.

The last few weeks have been a lot of raw skin, itching, limping, falling, yelps, and crying as he couldn’t command his body to move as it should have – as he knew it was supposed to. Even at the end, his eyes lit up just from my laying there with him on the vet’s floor, rubbing that spot just between his ears that always got the best reaction. I got one last lick on the back of the hand and I got to bury my face nose to nose with him and remind him one more time that he was the very best good boy. I was lucky to have been able to share a part of my life with such a dog. My last living memory of him will be of soft snoring and a few last sonorous bulldog snorts before his mighty heart finally went quiet.

If it were an option I’d have gladly slashed years off my own life to have one more good day with Winston. The best I can manage just know is acknowledging the mercy that he’s no longer in pain and struggling with every step just to please me. The truth is, all he ever had to do to make me happy was be there when I got home.

Today wasn’t one of the good days, but it was the price paid for so many that were.

Irrational reaction…

There’s a 5 week old bulldog puppy in Georgia I desperately want to put a deposit on and roadtrip south to pick up next month. To the social media friends I’ve spammed with pictures over the last five weeks, hey, sorry about that… but I mean have y’all seen her?!

The thing is, intellectually I know that adding another dog to the mix right now is stupid. Winston is going on eleven now, which for a Bulldog is ultra-geriatric. He already has enough trouble getting around without a pup nipping at his heels. After adding a cat to the mix last year, I feel like he’s probably endured enough new and different in the household. Then there are the inevitable geriatric bulldog expenses to consider. Still, all intellectual assessments aside, I’m having a profound irrational reaction to the litter this particular breeder is showing.

The $4000 price tag of a bulldog from a well-regarded breeder is also enough to give any sane person pause. Is GoFundMe a thing people can do when they want an adorable, but stupendously expensive dog? I mean I’m my own favorite charity already so holding a donation drive doesn’t feel too far fetched, right?

Yes, before someone brings it up, the ethically correct thing to do is wander over to the local animal shelter to find the next addition to the menagerie. I can’t argue that point… but there is something undeniably special about bulldog puppies. Ask anyone who’s been around one. I have absolutely no doubt they’ll back me up.

Worse than hot takes…

I was thrilled today to see much of the North Korea hot takes that filled my newsfeed over the last few days giving way to the funny animal posts and random memes that I’ve come to rely on social media to deliver.

Unfortunately, my feed was equally crammed with a third category of post that I could have really done without. Instead of making me laugh or teaching me something new, apparently the internet decided that today I needed to learn about every dog available for adoption between New Jersey and central Virginia. Believe me when I say it was 100% information I’d have been happy doing without.

On a typical day I wander through life with a generic sense of wanting all the animals. When the internet uses its communicative powers to give each of those animals form and substance, though, all rational arguments like, vet bills, food, training, and not turning into an animal hoarder flow directly out the window.

So it turns out I’m going to need a break from the internet because not because the news of the day is so upsetting, but because animals are just so damned amazing and I want to bring all of them home.