Sunday, May 19, 2019

Charles is dead. Long live the deer-dog.



Years ago I went to a writers conference at which the humor columnist for USA Today, Craig Wilson, spoke. Craig said that he got the most reader mail, by far, after he wrote about his beloved dog dying. Knowing we would all love a ton of reader mail ourselves, he said something I have never forgotten: 

"A dead dog is GOLD." 

It was dark, so dark, and so self-aware, and we all laughed and felt guilty, and then laughed some more. It was a moment of unselfconscious truth-telling. Yes, our laughter said, bring on that sweet, sweet reader deluge, whatever the cost.

Three months later our family got a dog. 

Our daughter had been begging us for a dog for a long time, but we made her wait until she was 10 years old. Ten, we apparently thought, was the age at which a child is responsible enough to properly watch her parents do all the work a dog requires. 

Skipper was a delight from the start, a rat terrier, white with big brown spots and a loving personality. Is a delight. Skipper is fine. He's, like, 14 years old. It's Charles the Chihuahua who took the H train to Poochville this week. 

Charles we only had a year. We inherited him last summer when my wife's Aunt Sue passed away; our adoption a final weight off her mind. I've written about him here before, he of the single canine tooth and the wheezing/hairball-hacking cough. He of the fainting spells right in the street or right off the side of the couch. He was probably 16, with a heart which thought pumping was only a part-time job. Many's the day in the last year that my wife went off to work expecting to find him expired on her return. 

But there he would be, yipping excitedly, then keeling over on the carpet because lying still on the couch for hours before a sudden, full-mom-welcoming-happy-dance was not a good call at his age. He would lie on his side on the carpet for about a minute, equalizing his blood pressure, before getting up again. He keeled like that about once a month. Every time we thought he was dead. 

Faker. 

Sunday, though, I was grocery shopping and my wife was out at an art exhibit, when I got a text from my son. He tried to put it gently. "I'm pretty sure Charles might be dead." 

The use of "pretty sure" nicely softening the blow, leaving open at least a chance, and the "might" also keeping possibilities in play. My son should work for the government. 

I called him from the produce aisle. "Try pinching him," I said. "He'll respond if he's still alive." 

"O.K.," he said, and I could tell that the last thing he wanted to do was pinch a dead dog. I still don't know if he pinched him or not. He reported with fair certainty that Charles was not getting back up this time.

I got home 15 minutes later and picked up Charles first thing. He always freaked at being picked up, went completely rigid, as if he was sure I was about to juggle him. This time, limp as a noodle. I shook him, because that has worked for my wife's cousin's dog, has brought him magically back to life several times. 

Nothing. I checked his neck for a pulse. I guess that's where you check. Nothing.

His tongue was lolling out the side of his mouth, no teeth to keep it in. I fitted it back inside; it was one of those weird unconscious impulses, like Jackie crawling onto the back of the limo for that piece of JFK's head. I wanted the little velvety-furred, deerlike pup to have his dignity. 

I put him in his doggie bed, the one he rarely tolerated. Waited for my wife, his "Mom," to get home. She was his queen, pawing at her hand whenever her petting paused. Growling if Skipper even considered jumping in her lap when Charles already was. 

Knowing an ancient pet will die soon does not make it any easier, especially if that pet was a fellow witness to your aunt's and mother's deaths in the last year, a little bony, seven-pound fellow traveler. He was a link to them both, and for my wife, letting him go is hard. 

Charles's ashes will mingle with Aunt Sue's soon. Perhaps in Valhalla she is already feeding him bananas, his favorite. 

Sorry, Craig. A dead dog is not gold. But our memories of him will be, as soon as enough time has passed that we forget how he peed on every possible surface within reach. 

. . .

My three previous columns about the dear little deer dog are here:







No comments:

Post a Comment