All Dogs Go To Heaven

January 12, 2010 at 3:21 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
  I took it harder, I thought, that than the rest of the people in the house.  Of course I never know what the sociopath feels, if anything.  But Bonnie was sad, I knew.  Old people like dogs, and the ease of companionship.  She immediately bonded with him, and like a grandchild, it was their little secret that she fed him treats and things.  How, exactly, is it a secret when he follows her to her room all the time?
  Kim is always so quiet with her emotions.  Alex, too, didn’t say much.
  Mac didn’t sleep in our room any more; we couldn’t take it.  I mean, maybe I snore, and I know Kim does, but the dog just lays there and breathes heavily.  Fast and heavy, and loud.  Maybe that was a sign something was wrong.
  He took to sleeping downstairs, often in Alex’s room.  He couldn’t take the noise either, and so Mac slept by himself on the floor in the basement family room.
  I guess I don’t understand dogs.  I understand them better than I understand women.  I’ve was never much of a dog person before Mac came along.  Since childhood, I had a fear of them.  A friend of my dad with some ties to gangsters had a German Sheppard.  I was five, and we were visiting for God knows why.  I don’t remember a thing, actually.  Not one bit.  But I have a scar on my cheek from where I was bit.
  My brother was always good with dogs, and we had a variety around when I was growing up.  Dad, too, used to trade dogs with other hunters.  Most of their names and doggie faces are a blur.
  Like Red, and other typical names of hunting dogs.  And Huge, a big black and tan coon hound that the neighbor poisoned after their retarded son John tried to play with him, like a dumbass.  Dad’s favorite was Billy Joe, gentle little hound meant for hunting.  In later years, we kept him in the house.  Dad was genuinely sad when he died.
  We even had a poodle in the house at one time.  What the hell was the purpose of that?
  So with all of this knowledge and experience, you’d think I’d know more about dogs.  I actually learned quite a bit from watching the Dog Whisperer.  That almost made me want to be a dog trainer.  But…it’s a lot of work.  
  But here’s why I’m not real good with dogs.  I have a hard time with something that is *that* dependent on me.  I could barely take care of my kids–I sure can’t take care of a dog.  The ex had wanted a dog, and I said no.  Looking back, I can’t believe I actually got my way for once.  Maybe it was a mistake, but I’m glad now.  I didn’t want to have to share a dog with her also.
  Dogs also have this unconditional love/loyalty thing.  That’s a big chunk of responsibility to handle, and one that I am not suited for.  I don’t deserve and certainly don’t need that kind of adulation.  (You’re happy to see me when I get home?  Really?  Why?)
  But dogs are not people.  Caesar has said over and over that is the mistake that most people make with their dogs.  Treat them like people, and they start to act weird–about food, territory, status. 
  When you treat a dog inconsistently, for instance, it loses its program about what to expect.  You can make them crazy.  Consistency is important.  And love.  Dogs like love, affection, and attention.  In that way they are much like people.  But unlike people, they hold no reservations or quirks or baggage about it.  They unashamedly want affection.  They see nothing wrong with it–because really, what is wrong with it?
  Part of Mac’s demeanor, Kim said, was because he was a rescue dog.  She got him from a shelter.  Rescue dogs are just so…happy to be with someone who isn’t abusing them. 
  When it rained, he was okay.  But if there was thunder, he tried to hide.  When we lived in a one-story house he would hide between the toilet and the tub.  Later, at this house we are in now, he would be in the basement, in the utility room.  Behind the furnace.  Under the stairs.
  Mac would come to me when I’m sitting down on the couch.  We don’t…we don’t speak the same language.  Does he want out, or is he hungry?  Or does he just want attention?  It took time, but eventually I learned to read him somewhat.  I’m sure he had just as much trouble reading me.  And I’m a more complex creature.  I think.
  This last year, Mac started having trouble getting around.  He couldn’t see very well, and his hips seemed to really bother him.  He would lay on the hardwood floor, and his legs would scamper like Bambi on ice when he tried to get up.  He was having trouble going up and down the steps to the basement, but still he went.  Some people were upstairs, and some were downstairs, and he wanted to be able to be with all of his people.
  Even for the two steps to the landing to go outside, he paused to consider them, and gather his resolve. 
  Looking back now, I feel I real tear in my gut when I think of every time I yelled at him, or pushed him away because I was busy.  The hell of it is this:  I know he loved me anyway, even when I mistreated him.  To be clear, it was nothing bad.  I didn’t kick him or beat him.  But sometimes I just ignored him, or pushed him away when all he wanted was affection.  You shouldn’t do that to someone who loves you.
  And love is different for dogs than it is for people.  Or, the emotion dogs feel for humans is different.  It is something that there isn’t one English word for, but maybe there’s a German word for it–like Fahrvergnügen–something that means love and loyalty in equal measure, with a bit of worship thrown in, a gladness to see you that causes the past to yield to it, a happy innocent knowledge that they will be fed and cared for, that the simplest thing they can do will make their master happy, and they are anxious to please.
  You want me to go outside and pee?  Terrific!  It’s dog food again?  Fantastic!  You’re going to let me up on the couch?  I’m in heaven!  Can I just lie in at your feet and be near you while you click away on the keyboard?  Thanks!
  Are we going bye-bye?  I’m so happy I could lick myself!  I think I will!  Then I’m going to stick my head out the window, because there isn’t much that’s better than that!

* * * * *
 
  I told my brother recently about the best day Mac ever had.  We loaded up the pickup and went to my brother’s place for his annual pig roast/bbq/party/reunion.  He has about forty acres, and ten of it is like a park, with grass and some trees, and a pond. 
  We took Mac with us, and for him, seeing the pond must have been what it’s like when kids see Disneyland for the first time.  There were all kinds of people around, and many were willing suckers to toss down a tidbit of food.  There were kids to run and play with, and a few other dogs that had the same mindset.  And there was the water.  Glorious water!  This is a great day! 
  There were a few squirrels that needed to be chased, and some rabbits, too.  But like the Call of the Wild, the water beckoned to him.  Mac played all day in the water.   He would come out briefly for a break and a snack, and then go right back in. 
  Often we project our own feelings onto our animals, and anthropomorphize them.  Can you really *know* what a dog feels?  In this case I did know.  I knew Mac was happy.  This was the simplest animal pleasure that a neutered Golden Retriever could have, and as far as he was concerned, this was all a party for him:  To run and play and swim and eat and run and swim some more.  He did it all with an innocent, robust gusto–and with his tongue hanging out.
  Later in the day, Mac was completely worn out.  We sat by the fire in the dark of the country night, with more stars in sky than we had seen under the city sky.  We had hauled Mac out of the water once and dried him off because we thought we were leaving.  But we turned our back on him–
  And he was back in the water.  We gave up and stayed longer.  Mac was now out of the water and dry, and lay on the ground beneath Kim’s chair, sleeping.  Completely out of his control, his tail would wag.  I imagined he was dreaming of the day he had just had.

* * * * *

  I got up and puttered to the kitchen.  It was a Sunday morning, and I didn’t have plans for the day.  What a great feeling.  It was the last day of the New Year’s weekend, and it was cold outside.  Just give me an excuse to not put shoes on.  Kim had gotten up earlier, and she was in the basement doing laundry.  She heard me, and called up to me quietly.  "Bryan, honey, can you come here?"
  Oh, fine.  It’s a little early to tackle the steps, but okay.  As I went down the steps, she was standing at the bottom, waiting for me.  She didn’t look directly at me, but she took my hand.  She turned in Mac’s direction, where he lay on the floor.
  Her words were quiet, and her sentences were short.  She was fighting to hold back tears.  "Mac is gone."  A pause.  "I thought he was sleeping."  A sigh, and a sharp inward breath.  "He’s cold.  He’s not breathing.  He’s not moving."
  I took her and held her, for comfort.  I didn’t cry–not then.  Not yet.  Crying came later.
  First we had to call around for someone to take him.  The ground was frozen and he is a big dog, and I can’t dig that hole.  I just can’t.  I called my friend Kim, and she told me to call an animal hospital.  We found one that was open on a Sunday.
  Alex helped me pick him up, and then I carried him up the steps and through the garage to the back of the truck.  He was heavy, and it was cold.  The things a body does when the spirit is no longer in it are messy.   I laid him on the tailgate, wrapped in an old bed sheet.   Then I turned, away, sick to my stomach.
  Kim and I drove down to the Rock Road, to the animal hospital.  It looked deserted.  Inside, Kim talked to the receptionist while I looked around.  Christmas decorations were still up in the office.  My gaze stopped at a small wooden manger scene.  It was a silly but sweet little thing.  The regular manger scene, but in addition to the Baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and the wise men, there was a row of dogs looking on as well.
  That was my breaking point, I think.  I walked outside briskly.  Inside, Kim made the arrangements.  We weren’t getting any ashes back, which was fine with me.  They took care of him for a small fee.  A week later they sent us a plaster cast of a paw, and a lock of his curly hair.
  I was outside, leaning against the truck, looking but not looking at Mac.  It was cold.  Mac liked the cold.  With snow on the ground he loved to go outside just to sit in the yard, and watch the night sky.  Honestly, what could he be contemplating?  And what was I contemplating?  In these few minutes all the thoughts and regrets I expressed earlier came to me, especially about Mac’s best day.  I hoped–I wished–that when he went, he was dreaming about that day.
  Two attendants of the animal hospital came outside with Kim, pushing a cart.  I helped them load Mac onto it, and they took him away.  Kim studied my face.  "Are you okay to drive?"
  "Yeah.  I can drive."

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