All the Responsibility, None of the Joy

Dearest Rachel –

You’ve probably noticed by now the fact that the tags “dog” and “complaint” appear to go hand in hand on my letters to you. I know how much you wanted me to appreciate your love of dogs, but you just couldn’t manage; the best you ever managed to get from me was toleration.

And now that you’ve left me this old dog, any of that work you tried to do for me is being undone.

Look, I realize it’s not his fault. Heck, I’m pretty sure his constant whining is as much out of his own frustration at not being able to go where he wants and do what he wants whenever he wants. I’m sure he would prefer to do everything by himself, if that option were available to him. But it isn’t as if he could ever let himself out, or prepare his own meals (and imagine what a chonky boi he would be if he could!) in any event. It’s just that now, although he is able from time to time to cross both the family room and the sunroom given enough motivation, he usually is only able to take a couple of steps before crashing to the carpet, and whining in frustration.

All of which means that I cannot leave him alone for a moment when he’s awake, it seems. You’ve heard me talk about how I can’t take a shower. I can’t sleep in, either: I may get him to bed around midnight, but this morning he had me up by six because he’d pooped himself again. And it wasn’t entirely unexpected, either. Last night, we’d had him out pretty frequently, hoping that he’d get it out of his system before going to bed, but apart from getting in there with a toothpick to get it out, if he isn’t feeling it, it’s not going to happen. He was out several more times last night than usual, but nothing happened. Until, I suppose around a quarter to six. And from then, I’m not allowed to sleep until this is tended to, he’s taken out, and he’s fed – although I refuse to feed him before seven, and reward this kind of behavior. Not the pooping, as he can’t help himself, but the constant whining thereafter. I know what he’s dissatisfied about, but he shouldn’t get everything he wants just because he makes a fuss about it.

And I know what you’re going to tell me: I should ignore him. Let him whine it out; if he really wants what he wants, he can struggle a little and get it for himself. And there are times when I’d be happy to go along with that; I’ve seen times where he’ll actually refuse water if we bring it to him, but if we set it down a ways away from him, he’ll drag himself across the room to get it. That would be fine, and indeed commendable of him. The trouble is, Daniel’s sleeping on the couch in the family room, and if Chompers is barking in the sunroom, that’s likely to wake the boy up. Bad enough I don’t get enough sleep – should both of us humans be sleep-deprived just because the dog is unhappy? Who’s the master in this house, after all?

Actually, don’t answer that. The old boy would deny it, if we were able to ask him, but I’m pretty sure he knows as much as we do who’s running this place.

I have never been one for pets, honey. You know this, and I’ve said as much in previous letters. You have to feed them, walk them, clean up after them, and in an amazingly short time, the cycle starts all over again. In particular, the fact that Chompers’ back right leg constantly folds up underneath him means he’s constantly peeing on it. I might be able to give him a bath (and wouldn’t that be a royal struggle!), or take him to the groomers (and that might be a good idea to arrange, if for no other reason than to get his nails trimmed as well), but literally the next time he’s taken outside, his leg will fold up, and he will pee all over it again. Similarly, I feel the need to wash my hands every time I touch him, but with his need to be picked up off the carpet after every second or third step, this means I am washing my hands five times in any given ten minutes. You should have seen how chapped my hands were back in February and early March, honey. Honestly, I don’t know how you did it.

Even as a kid, I didn’t want the responsibility of dealing with a pet, and thanks to my sister’s allergies, I didn’t need to for a very long time. But my dad had grown up with dogs much of his childhood, and really wanted one. So, when I was a freshman in high school, they researched what kind of dog would be reasonably non-allergenic, and got a standard schnauzer they named Fritz.

I was not a party to this purchase, as I was at school, and later, the marching band was performing at the football game that night (so I can say with reasonable confidence that this was a Friday night). After the game – which I remember nothing about, so I’m going to assume we lost – I came home to a sleeping house, let myself in, and Fritz was waiting up for me. I wasn’t particularly thrilled about this, but I’m pretty sure he was rather quiet. Maybe a little bouncy, as pups are, but otherwise, he didn’t wake the family. I got myself ready for bed, climbed in – and Fritz jumped on my bed, and curled up at my feet.

He knew who he had to sell himself to, and he was going to do what he could to do so.

I won’t say I was ever enthusiastic about Fritz, but I dutifully took up my responsibilities with regard to taking care of him. Aside from cleaning the cage with dish soap and water, I wasn’t required to do much – after all, this hadn’t been my idea, and I had studies and whatnot that took priority – but I tried to keep my complaints to a minimum. After all, he had made it clear that he wanted me to appreciate his presence. And I’ll admit, he made quite the first impression, even if I would have preferred him to have kept his distance.

Fritz didn’t stay with us for very long, though; he developed a rare form of cancer and had to be put down before I was even out of high school. He was only three years old.

The folks did get another dog later, a miniature schnauzer they named Caesar, who lived to be at least twenty. I say ‘at least,’ because when he was in his late teens, they gave him to a little old lady who lived across the street; evidently she and her husband doted on Caesar, and when her husband passed away, she asked if she could have Caesar as a companion, to which the folks agreed.

In contrast to Fritz, Chompers was an old man when we got him. At least, I called him that. And as he was pushing eight years already, I didn’t see myself as wrong.

But my goodness, he just keeps getting older and older. And yes, we all do – well, except you, nowadays. And there is so little he can do on his own. He is such a responsibility, and – to quote Marie Kondo (which I’ve been hearing about so much since starting to clean out this house), he “does not spark joy,” At least Fritz tried to sell himself to me, as resistant as I was to him. Chompers went so far as to bite you the first day you held him. Of course, you were determined to save him from himself, and you did that so very well.

But I wonder if I’m doing him any kindness to continue to spare him from the final sleep. It seems these days he’s only content when he’s asleep, and it takes. so. long. for him to get to juuuuust the right amount of comfort that he can (although once he is asleep, he does stay there pretty well – unless I try to sneak off and take a shower). And worse yet, his frustration leads to my being frustrated – and expressing that frustration at him – which leads to anxiety for him, and more whining and barking on his part, followed by ranting on mine. I’m not proud of my impatience, honey: I don’t want to cause him pain or anxiety.

But I can’t give him what he wants if he can’t tell me what he wants – and particularly when I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know what he wants.

And I’m left with all the responsibility, and none of the joy.

And I wonder if he doesn’t feel the same.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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