Friday, August 12, 2016

Mixed feelings

My husband has a favorite joke he's been sharing with some frequency over the last couple of years.  It goes like this: A priest, a minister and a rabbi get into a discussion about when life begins. "At conception, of course," says the priest. "Nah," says the minister, "Life begins at birth; everyone knows that."

"Nope," says the rabbi, shaking his head. "You're both wrong. Life begins when the kids move out and the pets die."

He got started telling this joke a while ago, because it became increasingly difficult to find dog-sitters who were willing to inoculate our diabetic dog with insulin twice a day.  But now that the dog is also deaf and blind dog-sitters are really no longer an option; he needs someone to be with him all the time, responsive to his requests to go out, willing to guide him to and from the doors, and willing to clean up whatever mistakes he makes (although those are surprisingly few.) Which means we haven't been able to leave the house together for more than a few hours for several years now.  We got one overnight last fall when one of our daughters was home, but other than that all our travels have been done separately.

But the joke has become particularly poignant this week: he's been off his feed for a while now, and when he started throwing up his meals and refusing his favorite treats we took him to the vet yet again.  The meds they gave him (we're back up to seven pills a day, plus the insulin injections and eyedrops) are slowly returning him to normal, but this is our third time round this particular issue in the last year, so they talked us into doing an ultrasound to uncover the root cause -- which turns out to be two tumors in his liver.

We'll get the results of his biopsy today or Monday, and make whatever decisions we need to make at that point.  But however much we've joked about how frustrating it can be living with him, the reality of imminent loss is still upon us, and I, at least, am forced to realize that however much I've looked forward to the freedom that loss will give us, the loss itself will not be all that easy. And here's why:

He's adorable, he really is: a lovely midsize sheepdog with a very sweet face and a foolish obsession with tennis balls and to-go coffee cups.  But beauty isn't everything: if he were human, I think we'd say he's on the spectrum.  He's incredibly stubborn, and really doesn't bond well with others.  What attachment he has to us springs more from abandonment issues (we gave up trying to leave him in kennels after his first year, as no-one ever wanted him back: apparently he wailed and moaned the entire time we were gone) than from any genuine affection. 

All the doors in our new house have scratches on them because he cannot bear to have a door closed between himself and any of his owners.  Bathroom doors, kitchen doors, studio doors... all of them -- plus, in an attempt to track us down, he'll accidentally close himself in a room and scratch to get out. And at least some of my shoulder issues come from attempts to control him on a leash: he never trusts us to have his own best interests at heart, and so when we pull the leash to keep him from running into something, or falling off a cliff, he either strains forward or digs in his heels.  We took him to three obedience classes and he failed all of them.  And he hates other dogs. And our vet bills over the years have been truly astronomical.

So at some level we will be glad to be free of this burden.  And yet... the truth is, he's been part of our family for 13 years, and we love the guy in spite of it all.  And for all the jokes we make, and all the dreams we have of actually being able to go away together for a change,  I can tell this won't be easy. 

The indicators, the bad behaviors, are all there.  We've been going out to dinner more.  I've been having bowls of chocolate ice cream for dessert.  I ordered a gorgeous pair of boots in the largest size they had, knowing they probably wouldn't be big enough, but hoping anyway; dreaming they might fit, looking forward to their arrival, imagining them on my feet -- and then, of course, when they arrived, they were indeed both beautiful and too small, so I sent them back.  Easier to be sad about that than to face the reality of losing the dog.

Because some part of me -- even though we've done a great job of caring for him all these years -- feels guilty because I've found him so hard to love.  I always was a dog person, loved dogs, dreamed of having one who'd become a loving companion.  But Nemo was never going to be that dog. And though, as he lies here snoring at my feet, I look down at him and smile, I know the truth is that I never loved him enough, and it makes me sad.  Pets, like children, are very good at showing us our weaknesses.

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