One Monday, I ask The Child to take the dog for a walk. She complies but returns quickly, after only a few minutes.
He didn’t want to walk? I ask.
She said, He keeps falling down, so I had to bring him home.
He seems a little wobbly, but he lies down next to me and goes to sleep.
Tuesday evening he seems very wobbly. He tries to walk but his back legs slip out from under him, and he can’t decide where to put his front paws down or in which order.
This is odd. He’s had trouble with his back legs before – there are mats all over my wood floors to keep him from slipping and re-injuring himself. But I don’t remember him slipping. I have some painkillers left over from his last injury, so I give him one and it knocks him out and I hope that he will recover as he rests.
At 4am, I am awakened by a loud crash. He’s at the bottom of the stairs, lying there and trying to struggle to his feet, but his legs keep coming out from under him. He cannot walk.
I carry him up the stairs and lie with him on my bedroom floor. He falls back asleep.
I take him to the vet the next day, carrying him to the car, and from there to the office. He’s hurt his legs again but I’m not sure how, I tell her. Maybe the cleaning lady took up the mats and he slipped.
She puts her hands on his head and holds it steady, looking into his eyes. Look at his eyes, she says. Do you see how they are rolling slightly?
She lets go of his head and he rolls it to one side. Did you see him roll his head? she asks.
He’s had a stroke.
She gives me some sedatives for him and says, take him home. The only thing we can do is wait and see.
Wait and see.
The dog can barely walk. He wobbles and falls. When he stands up, he tries to shake as he usually does, and finds himself right back on the floor.
He vomits constantly.
When he manages to walk, his head is tilted at a strange angle – as though his neck were broken.
He lies down, and when his eyes are open, they are constantly twitching and turning, rolling and trying to right his vision, which, from the looks of it, is spinning violently.
He stops eating.
The only slight sign of hope is that he still drinks water.
It is hot, by Seattle standards, so he sleeps outside in the grass until there is no shady spot. He wants to come inside, so I carry him to his water, and he has a drink, and then lies on the floor next to his bowl for many hours.
Saturday morning comes, and I am allowed to sleep late.
I don’t want to sleep late. I want to be pestered awake too early. I want to take him for a walk before I’ve had my coffee.
My neck aches from sleeping on the sofa to be near him. I know I cannot help him; the only thing I can do is reassure him that I am with him. His person: the one he has spent nearly every day of the last five years velcroed to the side of.
The pain is excruciating. I cannot turn my head.
He and I lie still, together.
On Sunday, I sleep late again. In the middle of the night, he wakes and asks to be let out, and he’s still there when I get up and start making my coffee. While it drips, I check on him in the yard.
He accepts the head scratch and belly rub, and follows me inside.
He drinks his water and then looks at me, expectantly. There’s kibble in the dish; it’s been there two days.
I put some in my hand and hold it for him, a few bits at a time. He eats it and then looks at me.
His eyes aren’t rolling. His head still tilts to the side, but his eyes look like they can focus.
Clearly he can focus, because what he wants in more kibble, from my hand.
I sit next to him on the floor and feed him slowly.
An hour later, The Child appears; she wants french toast. When I start cooking, the dog wanders over and lies down in middle of the kitchen. I move around him and he remains there, insistently.
He wants his french toast, too.
I make one for him, and cut it into pieces. I give him one piece, and put the rest in his dish across the room. He walks over to get it.
He’s wobbly, but he finds his way.
When he’s done he sits in the kitchen, content.
We are both content.
We have other pets in the house apart from the dog. Two, to be precise, both cats. It’s fortunate that I found out my city has a legal limit of three pets per household, because we love animals and would rapidly be overrun with them otherwise. One of the cats, The Siamese, is a recent addition (post-Departed); the other, The Striped Cat, I’ve had for about ten years.
When I got Striped, I was looking for a declawed cat to keep my declawed Black Cat company. He was older, and had always had a sister, but she had died and he seemed very lonely.
I still remember the cat I wanted to adopt. She was a declawed grey cat called Blue. I think she was part Russian Blue, and she was so, so sweet. A gentle girl. I found her on Petfinder and fell in love with her picture; I drove to the Woodinville PetSmart to see her and learned that a) she was already claimed, and b) since I was a renter, I needed my landlord’s written approval before they would allow me to adopt.
I said a sad goodbye and good luck to Blue, and then went to my apartment manager with the forms. She happened to notice that I’d never paid the pet deposit for the cat I already had; I explained that it had been waived by the prior manager when I moved in, but she said that was not done and of course, I did not have anything in writing.
As it happened, though, she had a declawed cat of her own that she was trying to find a home for – her boyfriend didn’t like cats, she said. She would waive the pet fee for both cats – if I took her cat. It seemed like an okay deal, but I was really stuck. If I said no, I got to pay the pet deposit for the Black Cat, who would probably remain lonely since she wasn’t likely to sign the form.
So I took the Striped Cat, sight unseen, even though I’ve never been partial to striped cats.
She had pretty eyes.
The Striped Cat and The Black Cat promptly turned up their noses at each other. They did not actually fight; mostly, they just ignored each other. It was disappointing, but not really a problem.
The Black Cat got older, and more passive, and frail. He needed medication. At first, I put the medication in his food, but then I discovered Striped was eating it. It seemed she was eating all his food, so I started letting him eat first, behind a closed door. He was getting very thin and she was, frankly, porky – so she got to wait.
She waited quite a while he was old and a really, really slow eater.
That gave her plenty of time to express her displeasure. Typically, she would pee on the sofa or something similar. On one occasion, she left a big steaming pile of crap on the sofa. I could smell the reek from upstairs when I came down from my shower. The Departed had walked right by it and not even noticed.
Or so he said. I pointed it out to him and he said, “oh.”
I finally solved that problem by simply feeding the two in different rooms, but at the same time – but there were other problems. She chewed apart all sorts of things, but one of her biggest targets was the type of tulle out of which they make fancy doll clothes and little girl dress up clothes, not to mention those expensive fancy dresses that little girls wear one time for pictures or parties while their mothers follow them around imploring them not to stain it.
Striped would sit on the back of the sofa in the evenings, but no one was allowed to pet her: She would bite.
This was all not really working for me, so I contacted a rescue agency and was told in a judgmental tone: We don’t take declawed cats.
I placed a classified ad on Petfinder and found out that many Nigerians long to have such precious cats as this one and would like to arrange to have her shipped around the world.
I gave up. I coped.
Eventually, The Black Cat died of old age. The Striped Cat didn’t get any friendlier, but some of the really egregious behavior stopped.
The Child started begging for a kitten.
The Departed said No More Pets.
Then The Departed left and refused to pay the mortgage or cooperate with the divorce process in any way – except, of course, to demand that I deliver one item of his choosing daily within 24 hours of him deciding he needed it, and by the way, he’d be needing alimony to supplement his income.
At right about that time, I got an email from the Humane Society that said they had a very large quantity of kittens and adoption fees were reduced.
We got a sweet little Siamese boy.
The Child was ecstatic, and named him, and chose toys for him, and carried him around the house perched on her shoulder as though she was a pirate and he was her parrot.
He slept in my bedroom at first, because that’s where she slept after He left. Then she decided that with The Siamese to keep her company, she could move back into her own room. She didn’t want to hurt my feelings, she said, but she and The Siamese “need our space.”
I refrained from saying “me too,” and just smiled at this longed-for turn of events.
Striped, though, was furious at this turn of events, and let everyone know it. She attacked The Siamese whenever she saw him; he quickly learned what his escape routes were and that my lap was a safe place. She peed on everything. Constantly.
I read all the suggestions on the internet and spoke to the Vet repeatedly. I got Striped a collar with pheromones in it that were supposed to mellow her out. She did become sweeter, except when she was peeing on the furniture or she saw The Siamese. She vomited constantly and began to lose weight.
I took her to the vet, who thought she might have cancer.
I scheduled an appointment – that last appointment. You know the one I mean.
I put her in my bedroom, which has a large master bath – plenty of space for her all on her own. I resolved to make her last few days happy and peaceful.
After a couple of days of crying, I realized she had stopped vomiting. The Vet thought perhaps it was just anxiety related to The Siamese. She suggested medication for that. I considered it and decide to just see how Striped did having her own domain.
The appointment was canceled.
She seemed to do okay at first. Maybe it was just the fact that I no longer had to clean up cat vomit daily that made it seem that way.
I started noticing wet spots on my bed. Often, I didn’t discover them until the wee hours of the night, when I’d roll over in my sleep and suddenly feel a clammy dampness. I’m not getting a lot of sleep as it is, and this is obviously not helping.
One night, I put clean sheets on the bed right when I went to sleep. Clean and dry. I went to sleep, with Striped on the pillow next to mine.
At 3am, my feet moved into a spot that was soaking wet.
She was peeing in my bed while I was sleeping in it.
This is why I stay in relationships so long: I make commitments based on what other people offer or strongarm me into accepting. Then I honor those commitments long past the point that is reasonable. I agonize over taking the steps I need to take to resolve the situation – because you know, this last, other thing I haven’t tried yet – that might fix it. And while I’m busy with that, I lose any momentum I might briefly have had to actually resolve the situation in a way that might make me happy.
Is it wrong to be selfish when there is a life at stake?
Is it selfish to say, I want to be happy, and not only do you not make me happy, you contribute to my unhappiness?
Doesn’t everybody deserve love?
If we give love, and show it through our actions and efforts, is it selfish to say we deserve to be loved in return?
Just a little?
I make a second appointment at the vet for Striped.
That night, she does not pee in the bed. She just sleeps quietly next to me.
The next morning, I get up and over my morning coffee, I read on the internet. I google things like “anxiety disorder in cats,” and I read the discussion boards, including one that is devoted to homeopathic medicine for animals. I had no idea there was such a thing so it’s kind of educational, except I can’t really follow the conversation because apparently this sort of thing engenders strong opinions among its adherents, so a lot of posts are removed by moderators, rendering the rest of it incomprehensible to the googler who stumbles on it two years later.
One comment jumps out at me: Cats won’t use their box if they are afraid to, causes of this fear may include another cat, a dog, etc. I roll this thought around in my mind. The dog did sleep in my room that night. Maybe that was the reason? And the next night, he slept downstairs, and there was no problem.
Do I owe her more time while I sort this out?
The vet’s office calls to confirm the appointment, and I go into my bedroom and sit down on the bed. Striped comes out of her hiding spot under the bed and joins me. She lets me pet her. She nuzzles my hand. She does not bite.
We did this last time and that time I said, no, I’m not ready, suddenly she is so sweet; and then I talked to the vet and got some possible explanations; and then I backed out of the appointment to see if things would change.
I look at her and I see she is thinner. Her fur seems a little raggedy – like she’s not grooming at 100%. Something is very wrong, although I may never know what exactly. This is what my gut is telling me – the gut I never listen to, and later, always wish I had.
She and I sit together and she isn’t scared. She accepts.
This isn’t selfish. Neither of us is happy and never has been and there aren’t a lot of alternatives. People will propose alternatives; people always want to believe that things can be fixed or made better, and that they can help you do that by offering you some words to that effect.
But I know her better than anyone and I’ve played all the alternatives out in my mind for this cat and if I thought any of them would actually make her happier, I absolutely would do it.
The next day, I bring the carrying crate into her and she simply walks into it. At the vet’s office, she simply snuggles close to me. The end is peaceful and gentle in a way that her life never seemed to be.
The Dog starts having accidents around the house. They are always in the same place, near the back door, where he is usually let out into the yard to do what he needs to. So far, it has only happened when we were away a bit too long.
I vow to be more careful about making sure he gets out more often, and right before I leave if I’m stepping out for a while.
One day, as I’m getting ready to leave, I realize: I used to take him with me everywhere in the car. At some point, for some reason I don’t quite recall, I stopped, and then it stopped being a habit, and then he stopped expecting to leave with me.
I take a couple days off work to do things before the holidays, and since I’m at my leisure, and I can once again maneuver around my garage, I put The Dog in the back of my car. He can go with me to the hardware store.
He doesn’t like sitting in the passenger seat anymore, he’s very arthritic now and can’t seem to get comfortable. He tries to climb into the back of the car, but needs my help to do it.
I’m in no hurry. When he’s settled in, I drive off. I glance at him in the back, and he’s alert, looking around, feeling the motion of the car. He can’t hear much any more, but his other senses are fine, and he’s happy.
The brief ride exhausts him, and he sleeps for the rest of the day.
We do the same the next day when I go to the post office. I have to lift him into the back of the car – a Mini, not a big jump, but still, too much. Afterward, again, he’s exhausted, but also, very, very happy.
I used to walk with him every morning, a long brisk walk that was my time: My exercise, my head-clearing, my time with The Dog. I find it difficult to take those walks now; The Departed’s main contribution to parenting was driving The Child to school in the morning, which I must now do.
Of course I could walk him at other times, and I do, but it’s difficult. The Dog’s stroke slowed him down considerably, and his arthritis became more severe. The walks mostly consist of taking a few brisk steps and then standing still, in the dark and rain, waiting for The Dog to catch up, watching him meander and sniff things. Lots of leash-tugging and Hurry Up‘s that were mostly for venting frustration, since The Dog cannot hear them.
After seeing his joy in the car, I take him for an evening walk. He’s ecstatic when he sees the leash, though he no longer wags to show his enthusiasm. I miss our long brisk walks and I miss his wagging.
We walk slowly and I can see the effort it takes him and also the joy in his meandering. I don’t pull him or try to speed him. I just watch him sniff at things and look up, happily.
He keeps moving. He knows I want him to keep moving but sometimes it is too much for him. I lean over and adjust his collar and fiddle with the leash, and he waits and rests a bit.
When we get home, he follows me upstairs. It’s a huge effort, the stairs, and one he does not make as often any more. He prefers to be near me, around people, and even that is too hard for him now.
There is only one possible ending to every story.
I’m in no hurry.
I’ve been waiting and preparing myself for what I know is coming with The Dog. He recovered more than I expected from his stroke last year, but he’s still very slow. I miss our long morning walks, I miss his excited wiggling when I walk in the door. I miss my happy boy.
He struggles up the stairs, more and more. He wants to be with me, so he won’t just stay downstairs, but often he only makes it about halfway up, and then I hear him, sliding back down. When I hear it in time, I rush out and help him with a little extra support from behind – just enough to make it to the top. Other times I just carry him up. He’s grateful either way.
Grateful isn’t quite the same as happy, though.
He starts having accidents in the house. The Child and I try to be more attentive about letting him out more often, but sometimes even that doesn’t help.
I can see it bothers him. He knows what he’s supposed to do, and seems a bit confused when it happens.
I mention this idly to the Vet when I take one of the cats in for a checkup.
We haven’t seen him since just after his stroke, she says. Maybe you should bring him in?
I think his heart is going; he has a funny cough that only happens when he’s lying down, and according to the internet, it’s a sign of congestive heart failure.
No, I say. There’s not really much to be done. Old age comes to us all.
That’s true, she says. But maybe we can make it a little easier for him?
I bring him in a few days later. It is as I feared: they want to run all sorts of tests, hundreds of dollars I don’t have. They want to check his blood and do an x-ray to check his heart. I panic a bit, and hesitate.
The Vet sees my worry. Maybe, she says, we can do it this way. Let’s do the blood work on him and see if anything pops up. She’s worried about his heart – the internet is correct about this thing, at least – but rather than do those tests, she says, I should just wait until he falls asleep and then time his breathing.
That night, I have lineage society ladies over for a meeting. The Dog walks into the middle of the room and pees on the carpet as they watch.
The Vet calls the next day. His blood tests are fine – absolutely nothing strange on them. I tell her about the timed breathing test and she says, Well, that’s really excellent. That’s … well, that’s just really, really good.
He is still peeing on the carpet, I say.
She tells me it probably hurts too much for him to move, so he doesn’t get up when he should and then it’s too late. Since we know he can tolerate it, she wants to get him on some medication. This will help a lot with the arthritis, she says.
They’re big horse pills, but The Dog eats them happily enough when I put them on a cracker with peanut butter.
I don’t give it a lot of thought. I guess it can’t hurt him, I think.
The next evening, I go to the butcher to buy a leg of lamb for a pre-Easter dinner, and I pick up a meaty bone for The Dog, who is very pleased to get it. He spends the evening lying next to the fireplace, gnawing contentedly.
The evening after that, The Child and I come home a bit late, loaded up with groceries. We hear The Dog barking as the garage door opens.
When we get into the house, he is bouncing around. He cannot contain his excitement. He races around the kitchen island, back and forth across the living room, then rushes up and looks at me gleefully.
He doesn’t have a tail, so he has nothing to wag; my dog wiggles where other dogs wag.
He wiggles, and he doesn’t stop. He waits eagerly for me to take him for a walk, and so great is his excitement that I forget about the possibility that frozen peas will melt in the grocery bag and ruin the crackers they are surely packed next to. He wants to walk, he wants to romp, and I want to take him.
His pace is brisk for a few minutes, and then he slows down, but his enthusiasm is undimmed.
Things are never what I think they are, and though this usually causes me no end of difficulties, this time, I am pleased.