My husband has been at home for several weeks recovering from shoulder surgery. This has been, perhaps not surprisingly, very disruptive for my weekly routine. Editing my second novel came to all but a standstill and even work for Game Industry News slowed down. It was difficult to stay focused and even basic household routines fell apart.
That may not sound like a big deal, but when you work at home, a strong weekly schedule is the only thing between you and a complete descent into chaos. My husband is my favorite kind of chaos, but chaos nonetheless.
Today, he went back to light duty. A strange change came over the house and suddenly things snapped back into place. Laundry was finished. Groceries were purchased after the weekly menu was planned. A game review was edited and submitted. Work emails were sent. Critical contacts were established. Gloriously, two chapters were revised.
Considering Colin was recovering from major surgery, we had a good time while he was home, but now it’s time to buckle down and get back to work.
From the time we bought our first house, and for the vast majority of our marriage, we have had a basenji. For those of you unfamiliar with the breed, they are one of the “primitive breeds” that have been with us for 4000 years. Given as gifts to the pharaohs by traveling dignitaries, they are wonderful, complicated, mischievous, difficult little dogs. They are the only breed I know of that has breeders who actively discourage people who have never had one from getting one. They rank second from the bottom in trainability, not because they are stupid, far from it. They are smart and independent, and pleasing you may not be on their agenda every day or even most days.
We just lost our second one a few weeks ago, and I thought I didn’t want another one. I thought, I’d gotten past the desire to deal with the constant push/pull of life with a basenji. I love my miniature pinscher who is every bit as funny and delightful as our basenjis have always been, but she’s too small to open the refrigerator, or the trashcan, or the back door, so she’s easier to deal with. My border terrier has all the energy and drive of a basenji, but she’s obedient to a fault, desperate to please and wouldn’t think of doing anything she’d ever been told not to do. She may, in fact, be the only good dog we’ve ever owned, but since her breeders, Betsy and Cindy, raised her for the first 14 months of her life, we can hardly take credit for that.
And so I thought we were out of the basenji game, but my husband thought differently. He wanted another basenji. After being a good sport and looking at other dogs, he still wanted another basenji, so I started making calls. Basenjis only have one heat cycle a year, and they aren’t exactly thick on the ground. We were lucky, or perhaps fated, to find Judy, an excellent and respected breeder, who had Storm, the only unclaimed puppy of an unplanned litter, the result of a silent heat. Luckily, the two love birds in question were planned to have a litter the following year, so it was a good match. For us, it was a perfect match, because it resulted in Storm who was five months old. Judy was willing to have us come out and meet him.
We brought Hetty, who has picked a lot of good dogs. Hetty is a kind of genius that way. If she likes a dog and the dog likes her, it’s a good dog. So we went out into the middle of a sheep pasture to a lure coursing event to meet Storm. We fretted. We’d never gotten a basenji puppy that old before. What if he was aloof, or uninterested in us? What if Hetty gave him the thumbs down? We’d have to put our names on a list for next year. I was still ambivalent about getting another basenji, but my husband had just lost his dog, I could hardly deny him. He certainly has never denied me bringing any number of animals into the house over the years, so fair is fair.
To make a long story slightly shorter, Hetty liked him. We liked him. He liked us. Judy liked us. We liked Judy. I asked her if he was okay with being picked up and she said he liked it. I picked him up and burst into tears, because he leaned into me and snuggled just right, and at that moment I realized I’d been wanting another one too. We’ve always had one. I guess we always will.
Having pets is an often joyful, frequently frustrating, sometimes painful thing to do. As a species, we were able to pluck a handful of animals out of the wild and domesticate them, just a few, and then we co-evolved with them and we have done this with no other animal to the degree that we have done it with the dog. Our extreme remodeling of the dog now allows for the species to have members of only a pound or two, right up to a couple of hundred pounds. And yet, during all that tinkering, we didn’t manage to extend their lives to match ours, so inevitably we are faced with decline and loss.
We had to put down one of our dogs last week. I say had to, not because anyone told us that or court ordered it, but because, it was the right thing to do. The right thing to do often sucks. One of the problems with an ailing pet is the law of diminishing returns. You spend more and more money to keep less and less pet. That sounds harsh, but the reality is that when we take an elderly, failing pet to the vet, what we want back is the robust animal that we had just a few years or even a few months before. Sometimes, when we are lucky, we get that. And sometimes we don’t. And sometimes we do it anyway. We engage in magical thinking. We tell ourselves any number of untrue things that all boil down to the fact that we don’t want to make the awful decision to kill an animal that has been nothing but loyal and loving to us.
I am lucky to be married to a very loving, very compassionate, very pragmatic man. And so when I could not bring myself to say to him that I thought it was time to end the life of the only dog that has ever loved him best, he said it for me. These are not easy decisions and certainly not decisions to be made lightly, but in the end, if the reasons you continue with treatment are about you and not about the animal, then you need to rethink your decision making. And that’s when we knew.
In my life, I have never regretted having a failing animal euthanized, but I have regretted taking too long to do it. Regret is not the same as sadness. I have never lost an animal without a great deal of sadness. I think back on all our animals (even that damn cat) with fondness and joy, and I don’t regret having a single one of them (not even the cat). They are all so different and so wonderful and they add so much to our lives. If only their lives weren’t so short. But their lives are short. And sometimes so are ours. Everything dies. Even mountains eventually crumble to dust.
And so we muddle through and do the best we can to be good stewards to the creatures in our care.