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.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The time of the year. There’s a popular perception that people’s moods tend to improve has we head into the Christmas season. Maybe that’s the case for some, but not so much for me. By this time of year I’m just about worn down to the nub from relentless repeats of leaving home in the dark and returning there many hours later again in the dark. I loath and despise this time of year for the simple reason that for all practical purposes it means living like a mole for two months. If I manage to leave work on time and if it’s not cloudy, I do manage to catch the last few rays of watery sunshine on an occasional weekday. On a good day at mid-winter that lasts for somewhere between 5-15 minutes. So while everyone else is preparing their celebration of the birth of the Christian’s nailed God, I’ll be over here quietly awaiting the solstice and celebrating Sol Invictus.  

2. Thirty minutes. That’s how long it takes my work computer to boot up from a cold start on the average day in the office. Look, I can dick around for the first 30 minutes of the day with the best of them, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly great use of time. But hey, whatever. I can only use the tools and resources I’ve been assigned… Which is why I keep a stack of magazines on my desk.

3. Bulldogs. I love my bulldog. He’s almost eleven now. He’s got a permanent limp, only hears when he wants to hear, and seems happy enough to pass the time between feeding and being let outside lounging comfortably in one of his beds. He’s an old man and I don’t begrudge him any of that. For the last two months, though, we’ve been trying to get on top of what’s become a particularly aggressive skin issue. After two month of antibiotics and medicated baths we don’t seem to be any closer to a solution than we were at the back in late October. The condition itself isn’t something unusual – we’ve been working with bad skin for years – but the amount of time it’s taking to knock this one back is far more than history suggests should be necessary… and don’t get me started on $80 bottles of pills that don’t seem to do a damned thing. I love my bulldog, but if you find yourself ever thinking you want to fall in love with their wrinkly little faces, my advice for you is to take a hard pass. I’d never deny this one anything, but get yourself a dog instead of an eating, breathing, ongoing medical disaster… unless you have a sick desire to take lots of time off for vet visits and would rather not have to worry about disposable income. Then, by all means, bring home that adorable, smushed faced little pup.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The bulldog whine. I don’t know where it came from but for the last few weeks Winston has been a whiner. Whines while I’m fixing his food. Whines when he wants an ear scratch. And whines at four in the morning because he’s bored. It only seems unusual because for most of his life, Winston has been a remarkably quiet dog – aside from the expected bulldog snoring and snorting. If he were doing it to get my attention when he needed to go out that would be one thing, but as far as I can tell it’s mostly just because he’s awake and thinks everyone else should be too.

2. Begging. I’ve had a bitch of a week. I’m getting my ass kicked from pillar to post and it’s not over yet. In the 30 minutes I try to squeeze in a lunch and some time to mentally reset, I’m sorry I don’t want to run the gauntlet of “spare a dollar” panhandlers sitting outside my favorite gas station/sandwich shop. I’m sure they all have very sad stories and they’re all very deserving people, but I’m busting my ass over here in the hopes that it’ll keep the rest of me above water. My observation has been they’re mostly just sitting on theirs looking for someone else to pay the bill. Fuck that noise.

3. Indoor voices. If you work in a relatively confined space with twenty other people, it might be a good idea to go ahead and use your indoor voice. If your indoor voice proves insufficient to carry all the way across the room to your intended recipient, that would be a good time to get up out of your swivel chair and walk over to continue your conversation at an appropriate volume. Or you could just shout at each other. Either way.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Unpredictability. Being a creature of habit, unpredictability makes me nervous. I don’t like it. I can deal with it, but all things considered, I’d rather not. Summer days, and particularly days that end the week are nothing but unpredictable and will send you from running 1000 miles an hour with your hair on fire to a dead stop without so much as a friendly warning. If I were king for life, I’d set them up to have a nice easy flow leading into the weekend. Yeah, that would suit me nicely, thank you.

2. Gay Pride Whopper. Facebook took note this week of a “gay pride” Whopper wrapper. I’m not sure why it’s a thing, but apparently it is. All I can tell you for sure is that the wrapper doesn’t change whats inside. Set a gay pride burger next to a normal burger and I have a sneaking suspicion no one complaining about the wrapper could tell the difference. Maybe I’m an anomaly, but I don’t care about a company’s politics so much. As long as they’re providing me a product or service I want at a price I consider fair, I say God bless and go support whatever cause your heart desires.

3. Winston. I love the little furry bastard, but for the love of all things good and holy it would be nice if he could stay healthy for more than 7-10 days at a time. More trips to the vet, more shorts, more sprays, more pills, ad infinitum. A middle aged bulldog isn’t so much a force of nature as it is a sucking black hole into which you will throw all manner of money. Bulldog people must be different by nature and temperament, because no sane person would willingly subject themselves to the trials and tribulations of life with a smush-nosed beasties.

12 1/2 Weeks…

It’s been a very, very long three months, but I’m pleased to report this evening that Winston has been given a clean bill of health by his orthopedic surgeon. He’s clear to resume normal activities up to and including use of the stairs on a limited basis over the next month. As happy as I am that my boy is good to go, I’m even happier that I can stop making regular monthly donations to the new wing that I’m sure I’ve been financing on the vet’s house.

WinstonWhen we started the TPLO process three months ago, I’m sure the vet was trying to be reassuring when she told me that a decade ago this was the kind of injury that would have been grounds for putting a dog down. The thought would have never occurred to me. Because for the last 50 years Americans have had more money than brains, it seems that just about any kind of surgery you and I can get, our four legged friends can get too. The marvels of medical science have definitely not left our pets out of their unending march of progress. In fact one of the forms I signed this morning was basically an advanced directive for Winston – laying out how heroic I expect their life saving efforts to be if his heart should happen to stop while he was getting his x-rays done. For the record, I was ok with them performing basic CPR and administering electronic defibrillation. That seemed like a reasonable compromise between “do nothing” and “crack open his ribcage and perform emergency open heart surgery.”

I’m told that Winston had a good day of wandering around with some of the techs and generally being the attention whore that he is. What can I say, my boy is a chick magnet. It was obviously hard work, because he’s been snoring in his crate since about three minutes after we got home this afternoon. I’d say he’s earned a rest.

For the moment, all is once again right with the world… but he’s a bulldog and I know that means the next medical disaster is out their just waiting to happen. Although I have no idea what it might be, I hope it hold off long enough to let me finish paying for the one we just got through.

Seven weeks along…

So if the flood of facebook posts, emails, junk mail, and phone calls going on are to be believed, there’s an election happening tomorrow. Another rant here about politics would be the usual go-to for this time of year, but instead, I’m going to bring you up to speed on something important: Winston is (believe it or not), returned from his seven week post-surgical round of poking’s, prodding’s, and x-rays, and has been pronounced approximately 70% healed from his TPLO experience. The pins and plates are holding up well, there’s no infection, and aside from the expected muscle loss from 7 weeks of mostly doing nothing, the surgeon blessed him as “within normal limits.” I learned a long time ago that when it comes to bulldogs and health, within normal limits is pretty much the best report you can hope for, so overall I’m pleased with the current state of things.

The next six weeks look like they should be more of the same. He’ll stay in his expended pen, get three or four 15 minute walks a day, and otherwise be prohibited from doing anything that might approximate having fun. That’s going to make our yearly Thanksgiving trip to the menagerie something of an experience, as running, jumping, and interacting with other animals is going to be frowned upon. The good news is that by Christmas, the worst of the restrictions should be lifted. This is a good thing, because I wasn’t looking forward to toting and hauling his exercise pen, two crates, and gross of baby gates with me to Western Maryland for the holidays.

So yeah, I’m pretty pleased with how things went today… and maybe now I can be slightly less paranoid every time he moves. I’ll always be haunted by the prospect of him doing the same thing to the other leg, but at the moment, I’m all about the good news so let’s just leave that for a separate discussion.

P.S. Yes, there is an election tomorrow… and despite what Facebook tells you, it does matter who you vote for. It does matter that you make informed decisions. And it does matter that you exercise the right that makes all the other rights possible. So please, for the good of the Republic, spend some time tonight boning up on the issues and then get to the polls tomorrow.