Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Delaying the Sunset

I'll bet he was the cutest puppy ever. I squint at him sometimes, trying to imagine a smaller version of my Gideon. Before his smooshy mug turned totally grey, he had these really distinctive eyebrows. I think it was those eyebrows that first made me fall in love with him. They gave him character. I'll bet he was naughty when he was a pup, too. Even now, if I fail to latch his crate door properly, he breaks out while no one's home and gets into trouble. As far as I can tell, his first act of mischief after he escapes is to jump up on the kitchen counter and overturn my fruit basket. I always imagine that after he flips it over and sees apples rolling across the kitchen tile, he must think, "Oh, shit. I forgot. It's just fruit."

Before he came into rescue (back in 2006), Gideon was apparently hit by a car. His left foreleg was shattered but never repaired. He compensates by walking on tiptoe on that side (since the left leg is shorter as a result of the fracture). Many of his teeth were knocked out and he was very, very thin. He was basically a train wreck when he came into rescue. When Giddy came to our home as a foster dog, it was just a couple weeks after Lucy had died. My husband was not ready to think about a new dog at that time. I thought Gideon would be a good candidate because he was nothing like Lucy. I knew there was no way we would look at him and compare him to our beloved brindle girl.

Although I'm sure that my husband has some measure of affection for Giddy, it's always been clear that he's my dog. Life with Giddy has not always been easy. Like many Boxers (a very people-oriented breed), he doesn't particularly like to be alone. Separation anxiety can be a challenge. My current foster dog (Kevin) has it as well. After living with us for the better part of a decade, I guess Giddy finally figured out that we do, in fact, come home from work each day as promised. Or else he just ran out of anxiety, I guess. He doesn't seem as stressed in his crate these days.

Other habits die hard, though. He still jumps vertically into the air (or at least as much as his old bones will allow) at mealtime. He still punches the sliding glass door when he wants to go outside and then, when I finally get up and open the door, he turns and retreats into the house. "Psych!" I imagine him saying. He's a messy eater. His farts make one's eyes water.  Goobers fly out of his jowls and land on my walls. What's not to love?

And yet.

He is my puppy, though we don't know his true age.  We just know that he's old (he sometimes speaks cryptically of his two tours in 'Nam). He lets me kiss his smooshy face, at which time I gently poke his tongue back into his mouth because I'm always afraid it will dry out. Since he really has no teeth to speak of, there's nothing to hold his tongue in his mouth. His vision seems to be getting worse, too. My daughter was giving him the crust of her toast one day and he sort of nicked her finger. "Giddy bit me!" she yelled. I explained to her that his depth perception is basically shot and that she just needs to be more careful.  I think his hearing is going too, although it's hard to tell because he's never really bothered with the whole "coming when called" thing.

A few months ago, I noticed that his left rear foot turned under ever so slightly when he walked. I continued to take him for walks and told myself that he was fine, just fine. Sometime the tops of his toes would start to bleed (from scraping against various surfaces). I started experimenting with different types of booties. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, his condition began to deteriorate further. Before too long, I noticed that his whole back end was losing strength. I took him to the veterinarian, but there wasn't much to be done. It's probably degenerative myelopathy, which is somewhat common in the breed. Either that, or it's just old age. All I know is that my boy is not getting around too well these days. As much as I've often wished that my home was filled with beautiful hardwood floors, suddenly I find myself feeling grateful for the carpeting. We live in a ranch-style home, so there aren't a lot of stairs. He has to negotiate just two steps to get from the deck to the back yard.

Last week, we had our annual cabin-by-the-lake trip. I knew in my heart that this would be Giddy's last trip to the cabin. At the cabin, there are seven steps from the deck to the yard.  I was pretty sure I'd need to carry him up and down. As it turned out, he could sort of amble down the stairs on his own. Coming back up was a no-go, though. After a day or so, he and I worked out a solution. He would put his forelegs on the first step. I would then interlace my fingers and lock them under his belly. Then, he walked up while I carried the back half. He and I are now hoping to be invited to someone's family picnic, because we are going to DOMINATE the wheelbarrow race.

Watching Gideon struggling on the steps and sliding across the wood floors at the cabin really brought his condition into sharp focus for me. A couple of times, I saw him fall over when he was trying to poop. I ran over and helped brace his back end. I kept his snow boots on him the whole time we were at the lake. They frustrate him because then he can't use his back feet to scratch his head/neck/ears. His feet just sort of spin around in mid-air, connecting with nothing. But, watching his feet slide out from under him is even worse.

Because we don't have the luxury of a fenced yard at the lake, I put my dogs on tie-outs when they
need to go potty. I attach a cable to each end of the deck. When I say we were in a remote area, I am not exaggerating. There are black bears, wolves, and other such creatures. I can't have my dogs running off into the woods. Anyway, because he can't feel his back end anymore, Giddy kept tripping over the tie-out cable. I told my husband, "I think I'll stop putting him on the tie-out. I mean, where is he gonna go?" Shortly after I uttered those words, Gideon took off. My elderly, toothless, disabled Helen Keller of a dog decided to seek his fortune, I guess. On a dead-end dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

As soon as I saw that he was making a run for it, I started jogging after him. I knew he wasn't going to make it too far. It was tragi-comic, watching him struggle to run, his rear legs all akimbo.  It was like one of those cartoons where a dog starts running with his front end, which leaves the screen, and then the back end follows a few seconds later. I was sort of chuckling to myself because out of four legs, he's only got one that's in working order. One. And he still made a run for it. That's my boy!

I caught up to him and hooked my finger through his collar. "Where were you going, dummy?" His tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth and he was panting heavily.  He had made it about a city block away from the cabin and I wasn't totally convinced he could make it back. I knew I couldn't carry him that far. It's times like these when I wonder why I didn't fall in love with a smaller breed. Gideon is not a terribly large dog but he's not, you know, a Chihuahua.

We made it back to the cabin, slowly but surely, and the rest of the week was pretty quiet. I took a lot of photos of my Giddy during our vacation because I know our days together are few. I don't know how many we have. I do know that we are on a one-way street now. His condition won't improve. For now, though, he is still showing me that there is joy in his days. I will not need to make a decision until his joie de vivre slows to an imperceptible trickle. When his time comes, I will be with him all the way. I will whisper in his ear that he is the goodest good boy in the whole world. When he crosses over, I hope he finds my Lucy Goose. Maybe she will ask him, "Did the lady tell you about the time I ate all of their Halloween candy while they were at church?" And maybe he will respond, "Yes, but that's nothing. Let me tell you about my great escape . . ."


2 comments:

kdaanen said...

We are still in exactly the same boat. I have a seemingly happy dog who LOVEs to eat and is currently napping at my feet. But walking continues to elude her as time marches on...

Diane Davis said...

I swear, it seems like you just got him not that long ago. Fond thoughts and good wishes for Giddy and his family. When you get to the other side look out for what is sure to be a stampede of all the animals that love you. I'm hoping my pony Prince will be first in line.