Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dog Pain

Winston lived to age 16

Dear George,
So far 2014 has been hazardous for dogs we’re acquainted with.  Marlene, our household helper/cleaning lady, told us that her beloved beagle, Alfie, had gotten out of the yard and run away on New Year’s Day.  Marlene is a dog person, and she’s been sharing stories about Alfie is for a long time.  They drove around their neighborhood for over an hour, but with no luck.  Marlene put an ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer, her daughter did the same on Craig’s list, and they tacked up signs on telephone poles.  No word to date.  Marlene, of course, is in a constant state of distress.

The next day I was bringing our sheepdogs home from a short walk when I heard somebody call out, “Mike and Duffy!”  It was a gray-haired man about my age who came up to us.  He petted both dogs and said he was glad to see them because he and his wife had recently lost Bandit, their family’s Old English Sheepdog.  I suddenly realized who he was.  His name is Peter.  We’d met Bandit with Peter or his daughters out on Ludlow Ave. multiple times over the years.  Bandit was bigger than Mike and Duffy and full of exuberance.  I said I was really sorry to hear that.  Peter said Bandit had become blind, deaf, and incontinent.  All their friends had told them they’d let Bandit go on much too long.  Peter said it was one of the most painful experiences of his life to have Bandit put down.  I recounted how we’d had to do the same thing with our Bedlington, Winston.  We shook hands.  Peter had a tear in his eye, and I did too.  He petted Mike and Duffy one more time, then headed off. 

Later in the week I was walking the dogs on Ludlow Ave. when we met a lady who lives down the street and regularly walks her dog, Edie, past our house.  Edie is a little cream-colored dog who, like lots of small dogs, yaps a lot when she encounters the sheepdogs.  Whenever we run into them, the woman always picks Edie up and tries to soothe her.  This time she took off the sunglasses she was wearing and revealed her black eye.  Not just black, but purple and yellow, extending all around her right eye and halfway down her cheek.  I asked what had happened.  Edie, it turns out, had bit her on the cheek.  She added, “It’s the third time it’s happened.”  She shook her head and frowned, but then gave Edie a hug.  She seemed determined to stick it out.

A couple of days later I was looking at an online website in which members of our neighborhood exchange community news, seek recommendations for  plumbers or hairdressers, sell hide-a-bed sofas, etc.  A member from the Raymond Apartments just down the street from us posted a message saying that a dog named Rufus who belongs to a friend had gotten out of the back door of the apartment house and disappeared.  The woman described the dog and gave a phone number to call in case anyone found it.  I knew Rufus very well, a little yellowish terrier who also barks loudly at Duffy and Mike.  The owner’s name is Ralph, a gentle older man who lives by himself.  We see him walking Rufus all the time, and we always stop to chat about dogs.  He raves about how wonderful Rufus is.  I couldn’t imagine him losing his companion.  I haven’t seen Ralph on the street since the message was posted, and I’m very sad for him.

Katja and I worry too.  Mike and Duffy turn twelve in April, and that’s old age for sheepdogs.  Mike’s had a couple of recent episodes of peeing on the carpet.  They tested his urine at the vet’s office, and there’s no sign of an infection.  The vet said this is a problem with older dogs and that we should take him out more frequently.  She was more concerned about Mike’s muscle loss and shakiness of his back legs, and she began giving him biweekly shots to try to alleviate his severe arthritis.  I don’t think a lot about Katja or I getting older, but the dogs’ aging is constantly on my mind.

Dogs are such a source of joy in our lives, it’s easy to forget that they also sources of pain and distress.  It’s pretty much like human love relationships.  When we invest strong emotions in another party, we open ourselves to the possibility of hurt, loss, and grief.  I remember when we enrolled the dogs for obedience training as puppies, the trainer cautioned us not to become emotionally tied to Mike because of his obvious hip problems.  Of course, we ignored her advice, and we’ve never regretted doing so.  Bad hips or not, Mike has had a happy life and has given pleasure to literally thousands of people.  Affection and bonding always carry risks.  With dogs, as with people, it’s well worth taking the chance.

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