Okay, let’s get a couple of things clear at the beginning. First, I am not really an animal-lover. Other than a cat owned by my family fifty-plus years ago, I have passed my life mostly without a pet. Lest you think me a hard-hearted Scrooge, let me say that I have nothing particularly against animals, either. They just seemed to me to be a burden without much of a reward. Let me also admit that I am mostly disdainful of people who post on Facebook every day about what they’ve had for dinner, their children, and most of all, their pets. (I believe this covers about 90 percent of all Facebook posts.)
So, how is it that I have had a dog for the last 10 years or so?
It was a piece of very clever emotional blackmail on the part of my late mother. She owned this little black poodle named Jacques. One day, a decade ago, my then 10-year-old son and I were visiting her. And she chose to say, in front of my son, “I’m getting too old to take care of Jacques, I suppose I will have to take him down to the shelter and have him put to sleep.”
My son immediately turned to me with eyes as big as saucers. “Dad!” he cried. I knew I was screwed.
So, after the obligatory (useless) lectures on responsibility and how it would be his dog, and he would have to take care of everything, etc., we took possession of the dog and all the dog paraphernalia.
For several years, things went okay, although like all parents, I wound up taking care of the dog much more than my original agreement with my son, which was that I would not take care of the dog at all.
After a while, several annoying things began to happen. The first was that the damn dog started following me everywhere. Why, I don’t know, since I mostly said to him: beat it, go away, am-scray. This seemed to have no effect, perhaps because the dog does not speak English or Pig Latin.
When I came home at night, Jacques would leap three feet into the air, do a 360, land at my feet and do it again.
I couldn’t explain it, except to think that, through some sort of dog-radar, he knew who was buying the dog food.
Some years went by and my mother passed away and my son grew into adolescence. My sources of unconditional love were leaving me.
Except for Jacques.
He seemed to think, against all evidence, that I was the greatest thing since Kibbles and Bits.
He preferred to sleep on my bed. When I wouldn’t allow that, he would sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed. When I locked him out, he slept on the floor of the living room, up against the door to my bedroom. When I worked on my computer, he would position himself at my feet, and stay there, content for hours.
I’m sharing all this because if you don’t understand the devotion of this dog, and the effect it had on me, you won’t understand the difficulty of where we are today.
And so the years passed. Then I began to notice that one of his front feet was sort of splayed outward, and it was affecting his gait. He was turning somewhat gray, and no longer jumping in the air. He was getting old, not unlike myself. The legs, they say, are the first to go.
Jacques at the foot of my bed.
A visit to the vet produced the following news: Jacques had some sort of immune disease that was affecting his joints. An operation would cost $4,200 with no assurance that it would fix the problem. The operation would be risky, as well, since Jacques had a heart murmur. A good solution might be splints for his front legs, but the doctor warned that in most cases, the immune disease would spread to his other joints.
The splints seemed to work for a while, although of course, they itched and we had to take them off daily to wash his front legs. Pretty soon, just as the doctor predicted, his back legs started to go.
Now Jacques humps his way down the hall with his four legs splayed out, sort of like a seal on land. Generally, as soon as we see this, we pick him up and carry him to wherever we guess he is headed. That’s usually my room. He has a little bed at the foot of mine. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I hear him dragging himself across the carpet to the head of the bed to be closer to me. I have to be careful not to get out of bed and step on him.
What do we do now? Neither my son nor myself can find it in our hearts to euthanize Jacques. He’s not in any pain. He mostly sleeps all the time. It isn’t much fun carrying him around, cleaning up after him, giving him his meds, and so on, but it’s not intolerable either. It’s mostly inconvenient.
I look at Jacques and I see the future for you and me. What will become of us when we are no longer able to care for ourselves? Will someone we love take care of us? If so, how much of an inconvenience or burden will that be? Or will we end our days in a nursing home or assisted living facility, alone and sleeping all day among strangers?