Sunday, February 17, 2013

not alone

I'm a sucker for sob stories and it sometimes helps and sometimes hinders my capacity to be pastoral.  I've had to learn just to let things flow and accept that my subconscious--with a little screening from my superego--knows better what to say and do.

Last night my sister-in-law called after her dogs had been hit by a car.  I say "her dogs" although they are actually my two nephews' dogs, "hers" by dint of loving and caring for them.  She was in tears as I think anyone should be at the sudden and accidental death of someone she loves.  My wife went over immediately to help her get the dogs off the road, keep the older dog who hadn't been able to keep up with the two safe, and comfort both of them.  The dogs, big, dumb, littermate beasts of golden labs who loved nothing better than chasing a tennis ball ("C'mon, uncle Bobby, just 300 more throws!"  "Sorry, kids, 500 is my limit."), had been outside to whiz, heard something by the road (most likely a deer), and ran directly into the path of a passing car.  Both were killed instantly, and in some fashion it's good that they were, since either of them were probably incapable of going on without the other.

My wife got the call and left as soon as she dressed.  She found her sister knelt over their bodies having covered them and dragged them as much away from the road as she could (they are huge dogs).  My brother-in-law, their brother, having been called by their mother, soon joined them and hefted the two bodies into the trunk of his car to deliver them to our vet on Monday for cremation.

Why didn't I go over with her?  Because we have had our own drama and I had to stay home to deal with another dog.  Two days prior my wife had driven nearly to Canada to take in a dog that had been brought from California to be adopted, only to have bitten two people at his foster home.  He had been starved, had numerous food aggression issues, and where any food or anything food-like was involved, the lizard part of his brain kicked in and he would do anything to have it.  He arrived at our place Friday at 1 in the morning.

He's a good dog, by which I mean he's clumsy and playful as a pup, with huge soulful eyes that draw you inside his head where you've got room because there's almost nothing else there except bad memories.  He's malnourished, thin as a rail, and has renal issues.  But he's loving and trusting as only a brainless dog can be.

By 6 that evening he had bitten my wife.  Not hard, but it broke the skin and it causes her pain.  He snapped at her for reaching down to pick up a used tissue.

I had spent the day with my father-in-law--this is a post all about family--who is in hospice care while he suffers from COPD, so his primary caretaker (my mother-in-law) could get out of the house.  I got a message on my phone from my wife with the simple line that the new dog bit her.  We knew what that meant.  Three strikes is more deadly in the animal world than even in American jurisprudence.

Since we are fostering him, it isn't our decision to make.  The agency that "owns" him convened its board and decided that it was best to have him euthanized.  I don't blame them; they operate by volunteer and on a shoestring budget and to knowingly adopt out a dog that bites is worse than bad publicity, it's legally actionable.  But we cried.  Long and loud and hard.  I cried as if I had been given the sentence.  I was angry and bitter:  this dog had been brought all the way from California, where he already faced death for having been a stray, to Minnesota, where he had no clue what was happening.  He'd been placed in one home where he'd been confused and struck out, and now in another where, promised the loving care he'd been denied all his life, it was to be cut short because his lizard brain was controlled by his once-empty belly.

Even in the midst of my tears, I knew I was crying about myself.  It was a selfish feeling, that he had been brought just close enough to touch my heart, and then snapped away.  I hadn't even known him 24 hours and I would miss him.  My crying was all about me.  I knew it and couldn't stop anyway.  But when I did I recognized he had come to us for a reason:  we are to give him the affectionate care he had been denied.  Some people are allowed to be special that way.  We were, to use my wife's phrase, to give him a lifetime of love in a weekend.  This is our blessing.  To be capable of and willing to do that.  My nephews' dogs had had long, loved lives.  This new dog had not.  They died in a moment because of a single act of listening to their lizard brains.  He will die because his lizard brain is all that's kept him going.

Tomorrow we're to take him in.  In my rational state I recognize he has many other issues that keep him from having a painless life:  his renal problems and something involving his spine that causes him to walk with a swinging gait like a sailor suddenly taken off the sea.  He is too weak, despite his youth, to jump on the bed most times, so we help him up.  He rolls on his back like a happy, secure dog.  He plays with toys like a puppy just discovering his teeth.  But his teeth are also dangerous and a child or another animal could easily be the next thing he uses them on.  His death will be necessary not because he's inconvenient or difficult but because he is dangerous and his life could become too painful for him.  But my wife and I will accompany him tomorrow and we'll hold him and tell him he's a good dog.  He will not be alone and he will not be unmourned.

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