Good for the soul…

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.

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.

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.

Ten…

IMG_0305.jpgWalk up to the average bulldog owner and tell them that you’re thinking about adding one to your pack. I’d be willing to bet that 4 out of every five of them will warn you off the breed. They’re sickly – prone to a list of illnesses as long as your leg. They’re rife with potential genetic abnormalities – their airways are too small, their joints are prone to problems, their skin, God help you, will demand seeming around the clock attention. The most common dog foods are apt to trigger a host of potential allergies for them. Bulldogs, despite their popularity, are a troubled breed and not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet.

Having a bulldog means spending a ridiculous amount of time tending to their needs – with medicated baths, lotions, ointments, sprays, and a cabinet full of medication in addition to their basic care and feeding needs. You will develop a closer relationship to your veterinarian and their staff than you ever imagined possible. If the dog itself is an outsized expense, your medical bills for his care are going to spiral quickly into the five figure range and easily keep climbing from there.

My bulldog turns ten today. He’s been my near constant companion for almost every day of those ten years and he’s been a burning hot mess for almost the entire time. I’d hate to calculate the dollar cost of our time together or the number of trips to the vet for everything from noshing an Atavair inhaler weeping skin sores that erupted overnight without warning to months long recuperation from leg surgery.

I know though, that Fortress Jeff wouldn’t be what it is without Winston’s inquisitive eyes, slobbering IMG_0304.jpgjowls, smiling under bite, and undiluted obstinacy. Reaching his tenth birthday today, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got far fewer days left with him than I’ve had with him already. It’s one of life’s great inequities that the time we get with these animals is so incredibly short.

Any conversation I have about bulldogs invariably starts with “I love Winston more than nearly any living creature on the planet, but there will never be another bulldog…” The truth is, I’d be hard pressed to think of what this house would be like without a bulldog in it. The thought itself feels unnatural. There may well be other bulldogs in the future, but Winston will always be my first and the yardstick against which any other would be measured.

Today, of course, isn’t a day to ponder the costs or the future. It’s a day to give him a few extra ear rubs and chin scratches and marvel at the fact I’ve had so long to enjoy the companionship of this incredible dog.

An update on the herd…

Editorial Note: I stumbled on a few “Ask Me Anything” questions I got a few months ago and had completely forgotten about. Over the next week or two, I’ll do my best to work them in to the schedule.

Tonight’s AMA question comes from someone I’ll Identify as LS. LS asks, “Update on the pet situation, please! Now that the intro period is over, how are Maggie and Winston and Hershel getting along? How have you and the dogs had to adjust your routines for the cat? Is there a pecking order? How can you tell?”

Maggie, although the youngest of the two dogs, is generally the pace setter. She’s the one who most often engages the cat – although it’s not so much an effort to play as an ongoing uncertainty and fascination with the creature that has access not just to the horizontal space in the house, but also operates on the vertical axis. Her main role seems to be one of investigating all the things that go “bump” when Hershel is up and moving. By contrast, Winston is his truly ambivalent self in their interactions.

I should say that Winston is ambivalent up to a point. He’s the grand old man of the house – with arthritic joints and plates and pins holding him together, he doesn’t generally appreciate the rough and tumble moments. That hasn’t stopped Hershel from wanting to pounce and play, but his efforts are usually met with a growl or with Winston’s best impression of a charging bull. I don’t expect that’s surprising from a very senior bulldog.

For all of his innate cat tendencies, Hershel has very much assumed the role of “third dog” in the household and is often found following along behind the other two. The best example probably comes each morning when I’m leaving for work. Maggie and Winston have always gotten a treat – a peanut butter Kong or other tasty morsel – when I leave. It became such a fixture of the schedule that they sit patiently at the laundry room door until it’s disbursed. It took a few months for Hershel to catch on to the program, but now he’s sitting right along with them waiting for his. I didn’t set out to turn him doggo, but at least in some respects that’s what’s become of him.

At best, they get along like all three have been together all their lives. At worst, they tolerate each other. Generally I’ve come to the conclusion that they’ve all more or less decided that they’re part of the same pack. Mercifully, there’s been minimal adjustment to the household routine – the only exception being the baby gate that keeps the litter box from becoming an open buffet for a particularly ill-disciplined chocolate lab. The gate is a nuisance, but what it prevents is undoubtedly worth the effort.

Is there a moral to the story? Hard to say, really. Dogs and cats can apparently live together just fine. I’m sure that has as much to do with the temperament of the individual animals as it does with anything else so I won’t take any credit there. The whole lot of them are badly trained and entirely spoiled – which is 100% my fault, of course. I find, though, that each one of them is completely endearing for their own particular set of reasons and take absolutely no steps to correct their behavior in any way.