It’s been a long time coming, but over the weekend I finally broke down Maggie’s crate and rejiggered the laundry room / animal services resources center over the weekend. The room, oddly large for just a laundry room, was built to spec by the original owner to use as a place to do watercolor painting. Not being a watercolorist, I pressed it into service as home base for crats, food, litter boxes, and all manner of pet supplies. For a year now, I’d been looking at Maggie’s empty crate taking up a not insignificant bit of the room’s floor space and simply didn’t have the heart to do anything with it.
I was a two dog household for a long time and expected I would be again – sooner or later. Part of my reluctance thus far, has been never expecting to find a dog with as good a temperament and personality of my chocolate lab. Another part is the undeniable fact that Jorah can be a bit temperamental and selective about the dogs he meets. Alighting on the wrong one would throw this fortress of domestic peace and tranquility into abject chaos… and that doesn’t really feel like any way to live. If I’m entirely honest, the simple fact that everything from dinner time, to vet care, to taking them on the road, is simply easier when contending with just one dog also has something to do with my continuing hesitance.
Crates and bowls are tucked safely away ready to be called back into service on short notice, because I’m absolutely not ruling out another dog. It was time, though, to not have the house rigged for something that might not happen for months or years yet. Since the rhythm of the household was clearly in turmoil over the last week, it felt like a good opportunity to get all the “newness” out of the way in one go, so I can drag the world inside these four walls back towards business as usual.
Well, the initial shock has mostly worn off and the enormity of how big a change a missing 17 pounds can be has begun setting in.
I’ve moved on from one yawning pit of generalized loss to noticing the small changes – like closing my bedroom door all the way instead of using the contraption that keeps it propped open enough for a slightly chunky cat to enter and exit at will through the night. Remembering not to set out fresh breakfast and dinner or clean out the litter box has also presented a challenge.
The house is still strewn, of course, with toys, climbing towers, scratching posts, and all manner of other items now sitting idle. I haven’t had the heart to do anything at all with those. Since Maggie’s crate is still fully assembled in the laundry room, I don’t imagine clearing out any of this will be something I get after any time soon. File that under “too hard / do not want.”
Maybe the more challenging idea to get my head wrapped around is that Hershel was the living link back to Maggie and Winston – the youngster of the house while they grew into old age. Just by being, he connected me back to long ago days with my first pack when we were all so much younger.
Intellectually, I know each tomorrow will look just a bit better than the preceding day. Time will round over the jagged edges. Just now, though, those edges remain awfully raw… and if I’m honest, I’m in no way prepared for them to be smoothed.
About once every six weeks or so I start thinking that hey, maybe it’s time I add another dog to the menagerie. Two always felt like the right number of dogs in my mind, though I’m not sure if that was a function or Winston and Maggie being so well paired, or if there’s any actual data to back up my wild assertions.
It doesn’t take long between having that thought and finding myself scouring Petfinder, local Facebook groups, and checking in on some reputable breeder’s pages. Before you know it, I’m hours down a rabbit hole looking at available dogs 300 miles away.
After a bit of that, though, I remember the times when there were puppies in the house. Young Winston gnawed through the rails of my kitchen chairs like a psychotic beaver. I’d arrive home from a day’s work to find young Maggie covered from tip to tail in poo that she seemed to take great pleasure in rolling in. Jorah, though not really a pup when he came along, relegated us all to six months of living in the easy-to-bleach confines of the kitchen because of his determined inability to grasp the basics of going outside to pee.
The fact is, life is significantly easier (and less expensive) with one dog instead of two. Even if it weren’t easier, I’m not in any way sure Jorah will be particularly welcoming to a new canine friend. His track record with meeting and interacting with unfamiliar animals isn’t great. When confronted with a new dog, he swings between attempting to hide under the nearest piece of furniture or growling like he’s been training to go to the fighting pits.
Every time the idea of bringing home another one takes hold, I seem to come up with a bunch of perfectly valid reasons why that’s a perfectly dumb idea. I haven’t ruled anything out, of course. Over the years I seem to have come by most of my animals some kind of accidentally, so at this point I’m just letting nature take its course and expecting the next fuzzball to show up more or less unexpectedly.
1. I’ve seen recently about 37 iterations of the phrase “If you see someone shoplifting, no you didn’t” floating around social media. I’m forced to wonder, what the actual fuck is wrong with people? But, they say, it’s just stealing from some big faceless corporation. Maybe that’s so, maybe it’s not, but I know that once you make an excuse for some kind of bad behavior, it gets a whole lot easier to do it – and it doesn’t feel like a very long slide between “it’s just Walmart” to “It’s just someone with a big house” or “It’s just someone with a nice car” or “it’s some random person who has something I want.” Your mama raised you better. Or at least she should have. Cloak it in whatever sophistry makes you feel better about yourselves, I guess, but don’t expect me to think a common thief is anything other than what they are.
2. Still waiting. Here we are 8 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published eight weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.
3. For a hot minute there in early September, I really considered hopping a flight to London to join the queue. My long since expired passport left that an unfulfillable pipe dream. I’ve since retrieved my passport from its hidey hole and at least looked at the process for getting a fresh new one issued. I like the idea of getting back to traveling on something like a regular basis – mostly to exotic places with proper castles and good beer. The catch, of course, is even with all the other ducks in a line, I’m not in any way sure I would be able to find someone I 100% trust to take care of my neurotic dog while I was away. The cat and tortoise have proven resilient under someone else’s watchful eye for a few days at a time… but since he came home with me, I haven’t so much as left him in a different room overnight. The separation anxiety is probably as much mine as his. I’m sure I’ll spend the money and get my fancy new document, but whether I’ll ever convince myself to use it is another issue altogether.
If I’m painfully honest, the first six months with Jorah was touch and go. There was a while there where I didn’t like him all that much. Housebreaking and cleaning up puppy accidents is one thing – doing it with a full-sized dog and the proportionally larger volume of liquid they hold is something altogether different. Mercifully somewhere around the five-month mark, everything started to click and he finally seemed to “get it.” Once we were over that hump, he has been a remarkably good dog – particularly considering I have no idea what his circumstances were until he was already half a year old.
The only thing I haven’t managed to get under control is the barking. Things in the back yard mostly get a pass, but if it’s something moving out front, he’s a shrill and persistent alarm until it has passed fully out of his line of sight. It’s a habit that ranges from annoying to near-rage inducing depending on the time and duration.
He sounds absolutely vicious and I don’t necessarily want to break him from being alert or alerting me to comings and goings along the frontal approaches. As far as that goes, I’m mostly happy for anyone who comes near to think he’s an absolute terror who will surely lunge for the throat. Still, though, I’d dearly like for him to tone it down just a little bit – or maybe give it a few barks and then go into standby mode for run of the mill things like the neighborhood joggers.
In reality, I’m well aware of my own limitations as a dog trainer. I’m a pushover and generally subscribe to a mostly benign philosophy of letting dogs be dogs and do their own thing (as long as their thing doesn’t include destroying the house or its contents). So, feel free to consider this one of those things I’ll bitch and complain about, but ultimately do little or nothing to change.
1. Random IT issues. I was issued a perfectly decent laptop a month or two ago. When I shut it down Friday evening and tucked it away for the weekend it was running just fine. For some reason, when I booted it up on Monday morning, I found it had turned into an underpowered and sclerotic piece of shit for no obvious reason. Opening files or programs took minutes. Some, like VPN never did work. I managed to limp along using webmail for a while, but eventually that too stopped working. After some begging and pleading to pull my helpdesk ticket forward in the queue and making an unplanned trip in to the office for our IT types to poke and prod at it a bit, the issue “seems to have resolved itself.” Look, I’m thrilled and happy to be able to function again, but I have no confidence at all that this has been a one-off incident and won’t now start happening at the most inconvenient possible moments.
2. Jorah. Before anyone gets up in arms, let me explain… I love my sweet, slightly neurotic boy, but the least little unanticipated sound sends him rushing the front window in a fit of barking rage. That’s fine enough, if not something to be outright encouraged most of the time. Where this tendency of his gets us into trouble is when the people across the street are in the middle of a major project to re-landscape their front yard. Then, it’s constant noise and movement that draws his loud and undivided attention. This, of course, does not bode well to how he’s going to respond when all the banging and foot traffic is coming from inside his own house. Yeah. That’s gonna be some good times.
3. Erdogan. Turkey’s president is threatening to torpedo the application of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. He’s accused them both as being “home to terrorists.” I’m not an expert on Turkish terror, but since it’s Erdogan doing the talking, I can only assume what we’re seeing is a good old-fashioned shakedown. Now that Turkey’s president has planted his flag, I’m expecting that way below the radar, someone from the State Department will swoop in with a big bag of cash or a novelty-sized check, and for reasons that aren’t discussed in front of the media, Turkey will quietly reverse its position. Failing that, there’s always the option of going with a stick – where the U.S. will have to threaten to withhold something that Erdogan wants in order to get his capitulation. Maybe it’ll be a combination of the two, but letting the tin pot dictator of Turkey dictate terms to the rest of NATO just feels like bad policy overall.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been spending a bit more time in the office than I have been since the outbreak of the Great Plague. What I’ve observed in that time is that Jorah, my wonderfully loyal, if slightly neurotic dog, has unexpectedly developed an ability to tell the difference between my go to work khaki pants and my stay home jeans.
On mornings when I’m working from home, Jorah joins me in the kitchen while I’m having my coffee and puttering around. He’ll stay put there until we head back to the sunroom to get the telework day properly started. For days I’m scheduled to schlep over to the office, instead of hanging out with me and making himself comfortable on his bed in the kitchen, he detours back the hall and sprawls out on my bed. He’ll stay there until it’s time for me to leave… When I’ll usually have to lure him out with a peanut butter stuffed Kong before I head out for the day.
The only real difference between home days and office days is the pants I wear. If I pull on a pair of jeans, all is well. If I pull on my khakis, the fuzzy little bastard pouts… as if spending all day in cubicle hell is somehow my idea of a good time. I think the implication here is pretty clear. I’m going to have to declare myself his emotional support human and just start toting him along wherever I go and can avoid having him abandon me on what are already the worst days of the week.
I’m going to a few weeks of physical therapy in an effort to resolve some lower back issues. I don’t love it. Being laid out flat on my back (or front) in an open bay storefront getting worked over by a perfect stranger just isn’t my idea of high jinks. That’s not the worst part, though.
The worst part is the five pages of “homework” that I’m supposed to lay down on the floor and do three times a day. Firstly, have you ever tried laying down on the floor in a home occupied by a young dog who lives for attention? Yeah. Then thrown in a cat who thinks he’s a dog and insists he should also be part of the program. Something that’s supposed to be 30 seconds and three repetitions takes approximately nine minutes to get through. Then there’s four more pages of things to do, each more ingeniously designed to provoke more attention from the resident canine who’s determined it all means uninterrupted playtime.
I’m pretty sure I dislocated my shoulder trying to keep the dog from licking my eyeball this afternoon. I guess that’s something I can bring up with my new PT guru next week. Maybe there’s some other kind of supine bend-twist-arch-single-elbow-tuck I can try out to get after that one.
I can’t believe we’re living here in the 21st century and this can’t all be solved with a pill or a shot. This isn’t the future we were promised and I want my damned money back.
1. Rabbit holes. I’ve lived these last 43 years without ever needing much more than my regular checkups and copays. Despite that, I recently went down an internet rabbit hole reading about my insurance plan’s catastrophic health coverage and how to avoid out-of-network charges. I mean it’s nice to know and surely will come in useful someday, but there’s an hour or two of my week I’ll never get back.
2. Normal. Turn to any news provider and you’re bound to hear stories about “getting back to normal” or “the new normal” or “life after COIVD” or “life with COVID.” Most of those stories turn on the same general theme of wanting something analogous to pre-pandemic life to return as close to immediately as possible. Personally, I’m in no rush… although that could be because most of what I’ve enjoyed during the Great Plague are the same things I enjoyed doing back in the Before Times. The only significant change I’ll notice in getting to whatever “normal” looks like in the future will be inevitably spending more time commuting and sitting in a cubicle. If you’re waiting on me to do handsprings about that kind of normal, it’s like you don’t even know me.
3. Mud. I plant grass seed in the back yard every spring and fall. Jorah, on the other hand, spends all four seasons doing his best to turn everything inside the fence line into a sodden morass. It’s not entirely his fault. The soil is thin and surprisingly bad – mostly clay and rocky – so what grows there doesn’t grow thick. Being a deeply shaded area, at least a third of the green is moss rather than grass. The minute it’s disturbed, it opens a gash and mud ensues. I only bring it up because his favorite thing to do on rainy days is go every outside at full speed kicking up mud like some kind of teenaged bubba with a lifted F-150. That’s fine outside, I suppose, but it’s current on him, the floors, a couple of walls, and a bit of the ceiling from when he had a good shake.
Three years ago tonight, I knew I had a very sick dog. I knew we’d run out of room to maneuver. Through surgeries, skin infections, ear infections, bad joints, and most of the other expected bulldog maladies, there was always the likelihood of a bit of improved quality of life on the other side of the visit to the vet’s office.
Three years ago, I knew that wasn’t the case any longer. Standing up under his own power required a herculean effort and the pain of it was written across his face. The one short step down to the porch was entirely beyond his power. I could have filled him with pain meds and hung on grimly for a few more days or maybe even a few more weeks, but nothing seems more cruel than forcing a loyal dog to suffer without hope of it gaining him better times ahead.
Instead, I laid awake a lot of the night and listened to the steady rhythm of his snoring. Most good clocks aren’t as well regulated in their timing. We should all be so fortunate to sleep as soundly as a bulldog.
I won’t relive the rest of the story here. After three years, the inevitable “tomorrow” is still raw. Maybe it always will be.
Maybe that’s as it should be. After all, Winston was a very, very good dog and I miss him.