Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lessons from a free thinking dog

I'm back!! And I'm back with warm fuzzy feelings because for the first time ever, I'm someone's favorite (not counting Vince, of course); RoaringLionofTwoFistedCool picked yours truly as a favorite blog. :))

Now I'm no sucker for random praise but some folk's opinions matter more than others and since I dig this guy and his ramblings, I'm going to participate in the award's requirements. To wit:
  • Post the award on your blog somewhere
  • Pass the award on to someone else
  • Post a video playing your favorite instrument OR
  • Post a photo of your pets OR
  • Post a long post about your favorite book

Tall order.

As for passing it on, I'm going to pick my girl Julie Jezebel at This Time It's Just Julie. I learn a lot from that chick. In addition to being a fine writer, her perspective on life and love are thoughtful and, from where I'm at right now in my life, incredibly meaningful. I also had the pleasure of spending time with her last week and have been mulling over our conversation. More on that in another post. The HNT photo of me at the piano will do for the instrument though I do play the flute and in high school I played drums. But being the contrarian that I am, I'm going to combine the last two bullets.

I wouldn't say it was a life changing book, but "Merle's Door: Lesson's from a Free-Thinking Dog" by Ted Kerasote was an amazing read. Spoiler alert! Merle dies at the end. Just like all the rest of 'em -- "Tuesday's with Morrie", "Old Yeller", and the entirety of Shakespeare's plays. Okay, maybe not everybody in that last one.

But the gist of it is always the same, you can learn a lot if you pay attention and open your mind to the idea that maybe, just maybe, you don't know everything and you're not right all the fuckin' time.

Which brings me to my babies.

This photo is actually about 10 years old and both of my beloved pups are gone now. The Lassie looking guy was Percy and the mutt was Stinger.

NOTE -- for those of you who roll your eyes with disdain at the fact that I refer to my dogs as children or babies STFU. At best you are ignorantly unkind; at worst you are a mean-spirited jack-ass. Either way, if it's just too much for you to accept the idea that a person could actually be emotionally attached to dog then we wouldn't hang out in real life, so there's no need for you to hang out here. Oh, and if you actually have children of your own and still begrudge me my love for my pets, well then, fuck you.

These two dogs were different as night and day. Sting's nickname was Visa 'cause he was "everywhere you want to be." Underfoot constantly. I work from home and he was always either under my desk or at my feet. He was demanding in that he knew the food and walking schedule and you didn't deviate from it one second without him reminding you of your responsibilities. All the toys in the house were "his" and if other people or dogs came over he'd wander around, gather them all up, and put them under the coffee table. He was the defender, and I don't doubt for a second that dog would bite anyone who he thought was harming me.

Percy, on the other hand, was like a good looking movie star -- aloof, pretty, playful to the point of being reckless, and definitely the follower of the two. Being a pure-bred his herding instinct was pretty strong and he loved it when my parent's baby-sat them when we were away -- lots of cows to bark at, cats to chase, etc. And for such a beautiful dog he was all boy-boy; he wanted to be outside, the dirtier the better. He'd stand his ground with another dog, but he was shy and timid around people; only when he was backing up Sting would he bark at a person.

Stinger's favorite thing to do was ride in a car. If you happened to leave the door open, he'd jump in and not get out until you either dragged him out our drove him around the block. Percy puked every time he got in the car unless you gave him dramamine half an hour before you went anywhere, and then he'd be dopey. Stinger didn't like kids; Percy was a kid magnet. Sting's eyes would follow any conversation a group of people were having. Percy would leave the room if people came over.

And while we doted on our pups they weren't "spoiled." They didn't jump on people, nor beg from the table. They slept in dog beds -- Stinger in our room, Percy in his prefered spot downstairs. We had one couch they could get on but Percy never got on the furniture unless it was thundering and lightning and then he'd try to crawl into your lap (all 50 pounds of him) where ever you were and there was nothing you could do about it.

Stinger was definitely a free-thinker. I often watched him make decisions -- this toy or that, lie on the couch today or the floor. One special oddity was that there was a certain piece of kibble mixed up in his dog food that he didn't like and he'd spit just those shapes out. After dinner there would always be a pile of bone-shaped bits next to his empty dog bowl. He didn't eat what he didn't like.

I used to say that it was God's cruel joke that he created man's best companion with only a 10 - 14 year lifespan. Since they were both full-grown dogs when we got them we really had no idea how old they were, but we had Sting for about 12 years and Perce for about 10. Long enough to get hopelessly attached.

Stinger went first. As he aged and slowed down, we took care him. He had hip dysplasia and we gave him all the meds he needed as well as provided aqua-therapy, accupuncture (which he hated and for the second time in his life tried to bite someone, so we quit that shit), and hired a dog massage therapist, which he loved.

His personality was very intense and we decided that as long as he was "him" -- engaged, enthusiastic, demanding -- and whatever pain he was in was managed, then we'd do whatever we could for him. Then one day he stopped being him. He would no longer sleep under my desk but instead started curl up as far from me as he could get. Instead of staring us down if we were late with his food he would act disinterested even if we profered his prefered treat -- cheddar cheese. He stopped raising his head when we petted him and didn't lick our hands at all.

So one Friday night, after a particularly tough day, we made the decision it was time for him to die. The appointment was set for Monday and the vet was coming to our house so our pup could die at home. He always hated the vet's office and I couldn't bear to think he would be afraid in h is last moment on this earth.

So the morning came -- a bright, cool, clear spring day -- and at 11:00 am Vince carried him outside and we laid him on his favorite doggie bed under a shady tree; I laid down beside him and ran my fingers through his fur to calm him. Vince had one hand on me and the other on Sting. We told him goodbye and Vince said to go ahead. Then the woman injected him with the poison that stopped his heart and breathing.

I lay on the ground, sobbing, for what felt like an eternity even after Vince carried his corpse to the vet's car so he could be cremated.

Less than a year later, Percy changed. Our playful, athletic dog who loved nothing more than to chase cats and run around the yard barking at full tilt could no longer stand on his own. This time the vet couldn't come to us, so we placed our delicate and only remaining "child" in the back of the van and drove him to only place on earth, other than the inside of a car, that he hated. He trembled and tried hopelessly to stand so I sat cross legged on the floor and curled him into my lap, just like he'd do when storms came. The same vet came in, and once again, Vince's hands on both of us, he gave the word and my baby died in my arms.

About two months later, I began helping with the care of my grandparents. For a year I drove two hours to spend two days a week in their full time care -- washing, bathing, cooking, cleaning, reading, diapering, massaging, feeding, medicating, etc.

The night before my grandmother died I lay in the bed next to her, stroking her hair, massaging her frail skin. It was the end and I knew it. Sometimes she was afraid, other times expectant, other times resigned. This night, she was aware. The next morning, she died.

Nine month later, for the first time in his ninety-five years, my grandfather couldn't stand, he didn't wake up that morning, didn't get out of bed. I held his hand and watched as his heart could no longer pump his blood and it started to pool in his arms, legs, and face. My mother asked me to go get another tape (he was a huge fan of old country music and gospel and we played it for him constantly) and in the time I was gone from the room, he too left this world.

Like I said earlier, everybody dies at the end -- Merle, Stinger, Percy, Granny, Granddaddy, Old Yeller, Shakespeare. Me and you. Our parents and our children. Who we are when we're here, what we learn, and what we leave behind, matters. Maybe not to a lot of people, hell, maybe only to a few. But loving someone or something, learning from them, caring for them, and sending them on their way is a part of this life.

If you have an interest, read "Merle's Door." You can learn a lot from a free-thinking dog.


  1. The passing of my childhood dog is still one of the saddest moments of my life. Right up there with the passing of my grandmothers. I don't imagine my current dog will have quote the same impact...but I still fear the day.

    Have you read Pablo Neruda's 'A Dog Has Died' poem? It's possibly my favorite poem and one of the few things that can reduce me to tears in moments.

  2. The amount of pain is in direct proportion to the amount of love. Even years and years later those bitter-sweet memories bring tears to the eye.

  3. We consider our dog our first child, I even had a Project365 post featuring her, so I totally understand your perspective on that!

    Congrats on the award! Someone gave it to me as well (still haven't done that post!) and dammit, now I can't pass it on to you, since you already have it!

  4. Can I say this was just a beautiful written post that brought tears to my eyes. We don't have children either but our cats are our babies too.

  5. I'm sure this post was emotional for you to write, but you put your thoughts down beautifully. Very touching.

  6. We had to put one of our dogs down last summer and it truly was losing a member of the family. Still hurts. You captured the pain of it all beautifully...

  7. What a touching post. I remember my Shadow. We only had him a year or two and he fell ill with cancer. A black lab, with a white star on his chest. A beautiful dog. And thank you for honoring me with the award! I'll post something soon!