I’m not a towering example of modern, overly emotional masculinity. I’m good at anger and its derivatives. I can even pull of contented without much trouble. The various subtile shades separating those two poles, though, mostly fall into the category of things that must be jammed down and best left unobserved by the outside world.
I had Maggie and Jorah out during my lunch break this morning. They were mostly out lazing around the yard – occasionally ginning up enough interest to chase off an intrusive bird or butterfly. Mostly they were content to lay around. I just happened to be looking in the right direction when Jorah plopped his chin down on Maggie’s back as they laid there in the sun. For the briefest of moments, it wasn’t Jorah I was seeing, but my dear old Winston. They’d laid in the same position for hours in the yard, looking out the sliding door, or piled together on the living room floor. It was the kind fo thing I’d seen a thousand time over the last ten years – but not once in the last six months.
It took my breath away.
At least it did before some dust or grit happened to blow into my eye and I had to struggle mightily not to make a spectacle of myself to any of the retired neighbors who happened to be nosy enough to wonder what I was doing home on a Monday. Even so, there may have been a little bit of emoting.
Winston’s been gone now almost seven months. The days are busy. The herd demands my attention. But there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of the snorting, shuffling bulldog who use to be with us. Most days now, it’s with a smile… though it turns out it can still be with big wet manly tears, too.
We were back to the vet this past Friday with Maggie. She has to stick around with them for a few hours for a bit of follow-up testing for her Cushing’s. There’s no remission or recovering from it, but symptoms are treatable, so finding the best course of treatment for her is important to me.
This last test shows that we have the meds dialed in to the point of “optimal control” for her ACTH levels – meaning we’re able to hold her cortisol levels more or less where they need to be to reduce the laundry list of Cushing’s symptoms. Under the circumstances, it’s just about the best possible outcome available.
It was a long six months in getting here – with three or four visits to the regular vet for testing, schlepping across Pennsylvania for an ultrasound, and several variations on the medication of choice to get things under control. It hasn’t been an inexpensive proposition, though I refuse to do the math on either the amount of time or money expended. I know I’m incredibly fortunate that neither one of those factors drive the train when deciding what’s best for my sweet, lazy chocolate lab.
The fact is, Maggie is an old dog. She’s coming up on her 11th birthday in October. I’m under no delusions about how this ends – for her, for me, or for any of us. For now I’ll appreciate that I, through the marvel of modern veterinary medicine, was able to buy her some more quality time. Beyond that, everything else is background noise.
So, Jorah has been part of the family now for a little shy of two months. Best estimates place him at just about eight months old. The shy, quiet little guy I met at the SPCA is now a ball of energy prepared to spring into a dead run at the first hint of an opportunity.
Blogs and Facebook posts are filled with tales of shelter dogs who fit seamlessly into the family – of the ones who seemed to have been there all along with the perfect manners and behavior. Jorah, isn’t one of those. He can be quite sweet when he wants to be. Lord knows he’s photogenic. But the fact remains, my new dog is kind of an asshole.
He enjoys laying on the cat and steamrolling over Maggie out in the yard. He likes to gnaw on any hand that gets close to his mouth. He’ll chew drawer pulls and insists on licking every single surface he can reach. About every third or fourth day he decides peeing in the house is just easier – which is why we are all still more or less living in two rooms with easily cleanable floors.
On good days, he’s a charmer and it’s really good. On bad days, I find myself frustrated that this is the first animal I’ve had who doesn’t just seem to naturally “get it” after a few months of persistence. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by a remarkably easy to get along with series of dogs in the past, but this one is putting me through my paces. It leaves me wondering if it’s just his nature, something about the six months before I got him, something I’ve changed, or if there’s another intangible at work.
We’ll get the job done. I have no doubt that I’m every bit and more stubborn than this little dog… but the envisioned quiet nights with two of them curled up snoozing in the living room feel as far off as they were on day one. And if I’m honest, that makes me just a little bit sad.
People will spend a lot of time telling you about the trials and tribulations of life with a new puppy. Poke around Google and the internet is littered with Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to the foibles of puppy ownership.
You’ve got to dig a little deeper to find the blogs and message boards that talk about what it’s like to live with an elderly or ailing dog. It’s not the wide-eyed adorableness and puppy breath side of having pets. It’s the astronomical vet bills, fists full of medications, and a body slowly wearing out even when the spirit is still more than willing.
Old pets are heartbreaking not just because we can sense that our time together is growing short, but also because their compressed life cycle points us inexorably towards our own fate at some point in the future. It’s one of the reasons I’m always a little bit perplexed by people who give up and give away their old pets. They have no sense of the broader context of life.
My dear sweet Maggie had a bad morning today. After years of perfect behavior, I knew she was embarrassed and upset. I could read it all over her face – and especially in her eyes. Climbing out of bed to scrub the bedroom carpet wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do today, but looking at those cloudy brown eyes I couldn’t even bring myself to scold her. Going on 11 years together she’s earned the benefit of a few hundred doubts.
Maybe this morning was a one off. Maybe it’s a warning sign of things to come. I’m trying not to let the first thoughts of my sleep addled brain read too much into it. I hope beyond measure this isn’t something that will become the new normal… but if it does, we’ll cope. Maggie is the grand dame of the family I got to pick for myself. She’s entitled to expect that level of effort in her golden years.
I wrote most of this before seeing the bloody urine this evening that set my alarm bells clanging – and before I took off to the local emergency vet to have my girl checked over. Maybe I’m paranoid or at least a bit too cautious. I’ve also seen how fast things can go bad and when warning signs start stacking up, it’s not the moment to prioritize time or money.
I’ve known for a while now that being a one dog household wasn’t going to suit me in the long run. I wanted to give some of the raw nerves time to settle, to adjust to life without Winston, and understand Maggie’s new health issues before charging off to fill that particular void. That was the right decision, of course. Bringing home a new dog in these few weeks of the year when work is at its most exhausting and when I’ve been a lot more emotionally fragile than I’d like to admit was a recipe for nothing good. For a moment in my life I’m exercising a rare modicum of patience.
I’m watching, though. Researching. Finding rescue organizations that sound like they won’t be too overbearing and intrusive to deal with. Weighing the pros and cons of puppies versus older dogs and trying to determine what might be the right fit when the time comes. I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t also admit to seeking out the bulldog breeders, too – even after swearing long ago that I’d never consider having another one. Despite the litany of known problems, the wrinkly little bastards have an undeniable charm to them.
I’m not quite ready yet. I want to get over the hump with the current Very Big Event so I’m going home closer to my baseline level of aggravated and annoyed rather than at an ampped up, spontaneous nose bleed level of seething rage with which I currently contend. I’m almost there – assuming I avoid having a stroke between now and the first Friday in May.
That’s the objective date I’ve set for myself to start looking in earnest – going beyond flicking through thumbnails on websites. Truth be told, knowing that the search for the next member of the pack is just over the horizon is probably what’s let me keep plugging away the last few weeks without completely slipping off the rails. As it turns out, even dogs that aren’t yours yet, purely notional dogs, are good for the soul.
Over the years I’d grown so accustomed to having one sick dog and one well that last month I even noted my budget had gone wonky from the unusual lack of vet bills. You’d think by now I’d know better than to open my electronic mouth and temp drawing the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing. If you thought that, of course, you would be wrong. My mouth has been, is, and seems likely to continue to be my worst enemy.
After a few incidents and observations over the last week or two, what I seem to have now is just one sick dog. Not falling over, edge of the mortal coil sick, but sufficiently sick that we’ve already run two diagnostic panels in as many days and scheduled the next – which promises to be an all day affair for my sweet brown dog later this week.
It’s one of those times when I’m ill served by having a professional and personal bent towards research and analysis – particularly as there’s absolutely nothing I can do about the situation until we strike on a test that does something more than confirm some of the possibilities. Just now we’re tracking it as potentially a kidney issue or a liver issue or the wildcard diagnosis of Cushings disease.
I’m told by those in a position to know such things that all of these are treatable – at least in the sense that it’s often possible to slow down the degenerative processes involved. Time, however, is a remorseless bitch and treatable does not mean “curative.” That at some point everything that’s alive will eventually be not alive is pretty much just one of the rules of nature. Even the best care simply prolongs the inevitable for all of us.
Maggie isn’t in pain. She’s her normal, happy labrador self. That’s something. Personally I’ll feel better when we have an enemy I can fight on her behalf, but for now I’m trying to be calm and contented in giving her endless chin rubs and maximum attention.
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.