The Brains God Gave Gravel

Dearest Rachel –

You may have noticed throughout the course of this these letters that I have written a great deal about Chompers throughout the course of my efforts to adjust to your loss and absence. And considering my general apathy towards him during your lifetime, I’m sure you would find that rather odd. For what it’s worth, I find it every bit as odd as you might. I really expected to be filling you in on all sorts of things that are going on, both in my own life and the wider world at large. And with regard to the wider world, I expected to be speaking to you of various philosophical thoughts and opinions, both on current events (which are both mad and maddening), and human nature and the human condition in general. But no, here I am, filling a ridiculous amount of text space with a discussion of my struggles dealing with an aging dog that I never expected or asked to be taking care of.

There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, there is the fact that when I have him outside for either the last walk of the night or the first of the morning, there is little else to do but to write you. This also includes that interminable amount of time after bringing him in for a morning walk, feeding him, and waiting for him to settle down sufficiently that I can either take a shower or leave the house for the day. And during that spare time, I often find myself preoccupied with the needs of the moment, which is to say, whatever he’s dealing with. Indeed, I would probably write at least half again more about the dog, if it weren’t for the fact that after handling him, I feel the need to wash my hands thoroughly before handling anything like an iPhone, because they smell tremendously of him. I honestly don’t know how you – or any other animal lover – deals with the smell of the animal on your hands.

Which leads me to another reason. I’m fully aware of the odd dynamic between ourselves. I am not an animal lover, and never will be. I have been thrust into the position of taking care of this dog, and well I don’t enjoy the responsibility, and don’t see what others do in pet ownership, I will do my level best to make sure he’s reasonably content and comfortable in his last days. I’m also aware that this dynamic makes for an interesting story; it’s surprising how many clicks and subscriptions I have from readers whose whole raison d’etre on WordPress is that of telling their own story of their relationship with their pet. I suspect that they find the relationship I’ve been thrust into – and my reaction to it – a somewhat fascinating perspective. I’m sure some of them find my reactions as alien as I consider theirs to be.

Which is not to say that I have absolutely no feelings towards Chompers – or any other dog, for that matter. There are times when I am quite impressed with his continued resilience, and while there are times (including tonight, and I will get to that, I promise) in which I am frustrated with his behavior, I know I will miss him terribly when the time comes. I certainly ‘get’ the deep affection between dog and man – I had difficulty maintaining my composure as I was dictating the transcription of your dad’s tribute to Sir Silk, for instance. But it’s not my choice to owner maintain a pet, and I don’t expect that I wish to repeat this experience in future – unless, Lord willing, Megumi should insist, in much the same way you did once upon a time.

But be that as it may, there are times when I just need to write you out of sheer frustration at the old boy’s antics. Or maybe more specifically, the old boy’s lack of antic. Tonight’s situation was really quite simple: he had just woken up, whined such that he woke me up in turn, whereupon I put together his nightly pill and gave it to him, grabbed the wheelchair, and took him outside (I don’t dare put him in the harness before taking him out, as he is developed a Pavlovian reaction to being strapped in, and pees almost upon being laced up – which is to say, he pees even before I can get him into the stirrups), setting the contraption down on the pavement, and carefully lowering his back legs into the stirrups of the harness so that he can walk around and do what he needs to do.

Which he promptly does, while I update you on the ultimate fate of the crow that wound up in our backyard the other day; it seems that the neighbor got wind of it being in our backyard, and came to collect it today.

I barely managed to get that update finished before he’s whining again. He has at this point sunk down to his elbows, and it’s clear that he hasn’t moved from where I set him. I pick him up in order to get him away from the puddle he is just created, only to discover I am far too late. He has essentially been lying in it for the last minute or so, and is rather soaked on his undercarriage.

Look, I know that his lack of proprioception makes it difficult for him to drag his back legs to where he wants to go, but that is the whole purpose to the wheelchair in the first place. If he’s aware that he’s sinking into his own mess – and clearly doesn’t want to – I would think he could use his front paws to step just that little bit forward and out of the worst of it. Maybe I don’t fully grasp the extent of his condition – I’ll be the first to admit it – but there are times when I find myself believing that the old boy simply doesn’t seem to have the brains God gave gravel. Just a few steps forward, and he could lower himself onto dry cement. But no.

I ignore his whines as I head inside, grab the chamois/towel that we would use to wipe his feet after walking about on a wet day, slip it underneath him, and pull both ends back and forth along his undercarriage in an effort to dry the worst of it off of him. He’s still going to be infused with his own scent, but at least the worst of it is off of him… for now.

I just wish he had the sense to avoid these situations, rather than leaving me to clean up after him like this all the time. I’m sure the dog lovers that read this will be horrified at my insensitivity toward him, but I’m not about to sugarcoat my irritation; it’s every bit as instinctive a reaction as his own. It’s not pretty, but neither is what he’s just gotten himself into.

Well, I guess all I can do at this point is to once again ask you to wish me luck, honey. Clearly, I’m going to need it yet.

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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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