Stay, Dogs, Stay

Scout in Brooklyn in the old days
Dolly is so small, that when she stands in front of Scout, he doesn’t have to lift his aching head to see her—she’s just there, panting, with her terrible crooked teeth and weepy button eyes. So when the two of them know that I’m about to take them for a walk, Dolly jumps up in Scout’s face, and says to him, in shih tzu language (which spaniel’s understand), “Dude, get with it: we’re leaving!” and Scout smacks her on her head with his paw, and pretends to bite her little head off. This happened today, in fact, even after the email came in from the vet, saying she doesn’t think Scout has canine dementia, after all, but instead something so much worse, that it’s ridiculous and I’m not going to say it.

It’s like that passage from Salinger’s “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter,” when someone asks Buddy why his older brother Seymour threw a rock from his bedroom window at a girl he liked below, scarring her for life, and Buddy says, “He threw it at her because she looked so beautiful sitting there in the middle of the driveway…. Everybody knew that, for God’s sake.” So I guess you can’t have the wonder without the horror, the good without the bad. Tonight, though, I’m not seeing the charm in that.


Old Dog Love

So the apartment—with three dogs, a loud cat, a few rickety houseplants, clothes drying on racks, and funk accumulating everywhere—is so filled with need, at the moment, that I felt my mind, last night, shrinking to the size of a pistashio nut. I would say I was entertaining murderous fantasies, but there was nothing entertaining about it: the balcony, the microwave, the garbage chute—everything was beginning to look like a murder weapon, and my victim? Scout.

Poor Scout. His circling has gotten incessant, and he’s so prone to pee and poop in the hallway or elevator that I have to carry him outside. He won’t eat unless I hold his bowl up to his face for him, and when we go for walks with the other dogs he slips his collar because they’re pulling so far ahead and he’s lagging so far behind. Then he runs in the opposite direction because he can’t see and he’s afraid he’s been left behind. Somehow, by last night, I had convinced myself that I could not go another day like this: without him, I would be free.

Needless to say, I needed some relief from all the feelings that Scout was bringing up. So I talked to myself. I said, “Deitch, they say that if you really want to be happy, help someone out. But, honestly, Deitch, that notion has always been a bit unappealing to me: I really would rather go down to Gitane and have a cafe creme.”

Luckily, I’m just beginning to grok, though, the starring role that selfishness plays in my life.

So I went over to Scout circling, circling, circling, now with his tail between his legs, and I got down on the floor with him and put my arms around him. He leaned in to me. Then he slid, down, down, down, and with each down he relaxed more and more, until he was a soft black puddle, half in my lap. He sighed.

I’ve known this. I know that, starting in the last few weeks, the minute I touch his head, he lays it in my hand and shuts his eyes. I’ve known this. And what’s more, I know that he sometimes forgets how to drink, and stands by the bowl looking at it, but damn if he knows what it’s for. So we made that trip to the kitchen together, and I put water on his lips, and finally, after a few more splashes, he drank.

I didn’t feel better last night. I still felt uptight, and also like a heel. But you know what? I woke up this morning with the honest wish to give Scout a good day: to put an egg in his kibble, and take him for his own damn walk. He has made me happy for thirteen years—has been the source of so much sweet and funny love—and now, simply, he needs me.

Old Boy Scout

Scout, once my tall-grass bounder, my sock-stealing rascal, has developed canine dementia, and circles and circles and circles for no reason. That, in itself, is disturbing—the silence interrupted by the sound of his nails like fat, slow rain on the wooden floor for long stretches of time. But Scout circles, too, before two events which happen periodically throughout the day: a) his naps and b) the occasions of his pooping. So throughout the day, as Scout circles, there’s the added uncertainty about whether or not he’s going to stop, sleep, or take a shit. We can do this sad, or we can do this funny.

Sad would be my boy leaving me without warning—one loss conjuring the others like dominoes toppling through time. Or we could just say that this morning I awoke to not one, but two giant piles of shit on the kitchen floor, and Scout still somehow jumping for joy—my old bounder once again—in anticipation of a walk, which I associate with pressing business, but he clearly associates with tearing down the sidewalk, the gentle morning sun on his back, the wind in his ears, free at last.