When Only a Dog Will Do

My husband used to be afraid to leave town.  He travelled a lot on business, and he never knew what he might come home to.  That is because when I get stressed, as is often the case, and if chocolate and a good glass of red wine fail to comfort me, I tend to look for something warm and fuzzy.  Most of the time, a new dog is just the thing.  Sometimes a horse, sometimes a cat, occasionally a guinea pig or two, and I daresay there were some fish—but mostly it was a new dog.  At some point, the husband put his foot down.   He decreed, “No animal shall set foot in this home unless another animal leaves!”  He knew that there was only ONE way an animal ever leaves my care—and that is if they die.  Have I mentioned that there are two horses in my backyard who are going to be twenty eight and twenty five respectively this May?  May they live forever—good old Norman and Dash!  Still, I am a good girl.  I try to play by the rules.  But it was time.

I have written my obituaries for my dogs on this blog.  If you are new here, read “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and “A Dog Story.”   I am sentimental.  My dogs, when they go, are irreplaceable.  But that does not mean one should not try.  When we put Jack down in December, I could not actually believe how much I missed my eleven pound Brussels Griffon—the one who made me a caricature of myself—a slightly pudgy middle aged woman with a toy dog who was never adequately housebroken and who yapped constantly to the point where I think he knew his name was “Shut the F-ck Up Jack!”.  I know, it’s horrible, but it was true.  When he went blind and deaf he finally stopped barking, and everyone who came to my house was saddened by the silence.

So I admit that I was vulnerable, when a veterinarian friend up in the Oakland area posted a photo on Facebook, of a little white dog with dark stains under his big brown eyes and oversized ears.  He had been found running in the middle of Fremont Avenue, starving, flea infested and loaded with tapeworm.  Someone had likely tossed him out of a car, and a client of my friend had halted traffic to pick him up.  He weighed five and a half pounds, and you could feel every rib.  My friend and her vet techs named him Yoda, and the name stuck.  I was in the Galapagos on vacation when I happened to sign onto Facebook and see his little face, with a sign hanging around his neck saying, “My name is Yoda.  I need a new home.”

Yoda lives here now.  He is a tiny mixed breed being, likely a terrier-Chihuahua mix. He is loving and kind and does not bark, except when we go out at night and he senses the coyotes lingering just beyond the fence line.  We are working on the housebreaking, and he’s smart enough to get it.  He’s put on a bit of weight, to the point where I’ll have to watch it. Like any creature starved for food and affection, he can’t get enough of either.  The deerhounds are tolerant—I think they missed their little dog too.  The cat is not amused.  Despite the stress of my job, and my concern over my father who will shortly be undergoing aortic valve replacement, this little dog makes me smile.  If you too are worried and stressed, here’s a bit of advice for you:  Get a dog.

My Little Dog Jack

The table was cleared last night and all the leftovers were put away– today they are nearly gone.  Three loads of dishes were done, and the last of the fancy glasses were put back on the shelf, upside down so they won’t collect dust until the next time they are used, next November.  The white linen table cloth and napkins are still on the dining room table—out of sight, out of mind.  I’ll get to those tomorrow, I promise.  Someone fed the cat pumpkin pie, and I awoke this morning to view the results of that indiscretion on my fluffy white bath mat.  All in all, Thanksgiving was business as usual.  Except for one thing—and everyone who came remarked upon this fact—Jack did not bark.  Not even once.

Jack is my little dog, a ten pound Brussels griffon, that I bought as a puppy fourteen years ago on a whim after seeing the Jack Nicholson movie “As Good as It Gets.”  Those of you who have seen the movie know that the misanthropic author protagonist, Melvin Udall, played by Nicholson, gets stuck taking care of a very cute but rather obnoxious little dog after the dog’s gay owner is attacked and hospitalized.  Gradually, Udall learns to love the dog, and to tolerate human beings.  I was smitten by the little movie dog, had to have one, and did NOT do my homework.  As a result I have had fourteen years of a yappy tiny tyrant who rules us, the deerhounds and the cat, and who has never been successfully housebroken. There were years when I am sure that my Jack, like that old Gary Larson comic strip (“my name is No No Bad Dog”) thought his own name was “Shut the F-ck Up Jack!”  But Jack is blind, deaf and crippled by arthritis now, and no longer hearing, he no longer barks.

My eighty seven year old father flew out to spend Thanksgiving with us, since my mother has advanced dementia and no longer speaks or recognizes him from her nursing home bed.  He had not been to California in more than six months, and he was shocked at how much the little dog had aged in that short period of time.  My dad spent most of the day on Wednesday and part of the day yesterday organizing his papers and the stories he calls his “vignettes”, tales from his youth in Chicago, his time in the Navy, his many years as a practicing plastic surgeon.  He read one of his stories at dinner last night—as a child during the Great Depression in Chicago he had thrown his vegetables on the floor in a temper tantrum and his father, my grandfather, had dragged him downtown to see the lines of men waiting outside in back of the cafeteria, to receive the garbage to take home to feed their families.  It was a reminder to us all to be thankful for what we have.

As my father sat working at the kitchen table, my little dog Jack lay silent at his feet, sleeping in a patch of bright sunlight that shone in from the sliding glass doors leading outside.  They’ve both slowed down a bit, and they’ve both lost their hearing, and some of their footing, but there’s life in those two little old men yet. I know one thing for sure, and that is that there will never be another like either of them.