Monday, December 12, 2011

The Pooman Problem

The great and mighty Gus
     Gus was not simply a dog, a standard poodle, he was one of those rare breeds of half-poodle, half-human, a “pooman”, a creature that could read your thoughts, intuit your emotions, sense your moods, predict your habits, and make an imprint on your heart that was eternal. With a fierce loyalty that belied his gentle nature, he would guard the house and protect the children, standing resolute and firm between us and the world, never letting a stranger come between him and his beloved family.  He was a steady presence by my side, a loyal friend, a wise old soul, a quiet warrior. Gus was my companion when I walked, the confident I would talk to when worries troubled my soul, my travelling buddy in the car, the one who was always thrilled to see me when I walked in the door. I would have mortgaged our house to save Gus when he was dying; in fact, I practically did, trying any measure to gain the four extra years we expected of our eleven year old canine child. In the end, despite the numerous medical procedures, the multiple days in the hospital, the hours of feeding him droplets of water by mouth, the forcing of teaspoons of baby food into the withering body, the cradling and the crying and the praying, it was all futile. Gus slipped away from us on a brilliant fall morning, bounding into the eternal, leaving a wound in our hearts that has yet to heal.  The good dog, the noble boy, the best friend- gone. He has since been the measure of all creatures on earth, the standard which no other living animal has yet to attain, the ultimate companion, the unsurpassed. 
    Sugar Pie, on the other hand, our scrawny female counterpoint to the mighty Gus, was 100% poodle. Not one speck of human blood coursed beneath her curly coat. We always laughed at her and said, “Well, we didn’t get out money’s worth out of that one.”  She weighed slightly less than 35 pounds, half the weight of our proud, prancing big white boy. “She’s real pretty,” we would explain, “but not the brightest bulb in the lamp.”  Whereas Gus would practically carry on a conversation with us, Sug was mute, a little aloof, standoffish.  The male dogs all loved her, sniffing and chasing and pawing after her, to which she just curled up into a bored ball, ignoring them until they gave up and went away.  Her favorite pastime was to lie in the spray of sunlight that streamed through the French doors in the dining room, a post from which she could survey all the comings and goings of River Road: the mail man, the UPS delivery truck, the bicyclists pumping down the corridor, the meter reader, the deer that ambled across the lawn each evening, the scurrying squirrels searching for nuts, the  robins pecking for worms and grubs. She would sit, and watch, occasionally sending up an agitated alarm, a soprano howl that let us know something unusual was in the yard.
     On an early November morning, the week before Thanksgiving, while Sissey and I were in the final, harried throes of a busy semester, my husband called in a panic and said,  “Something’s wrong with Sug.  She’s foaming at the mouth, her abdomen is rock hard, and she can barely walk. I’m taking her in to see Jimmy.” He rushed her to our vet and soon called back with the grim diagnosis-- a twisted stomach, an emergency situation.  A decision had to be made, quickly, every second critical to the outcome.  There were only two options: surgery, to try to repair the tangled and dying stomach, or euthanization.  I rapidly reviewed the situation, considered the twelve year age of Sug, the cost of the surgery, the upcoming financial demands of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
     “I don’t know, give me a minute to think,” I told him as he pressed me for an answer. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

Alf-our big red alien life form!

Our sweet Auggie

    And I was thinking. Thinking about what we had gone through in a failed attempt to save our Gus. Thinking about how we had just paid a tremendous vet bill in March in a vain effort to save Auggie, our sweet, tennis ball loving, car-chasing curly coated boy, who ultimately died from a complicated autoimmune disease. Thinking about how I had impulsively purchased a big, rare, red male poodle for my husband’s fiftieth birthday in May. Thinking about the expensive laser treatment my husband had opted for when having him neutered, even though I was all for taking him to the free spay neuter clinic at the animal shelter. Thinking about the new computer Sissey wanted for Christmas and the long list of presents I needed to buy. Thinking about how I loved Sug, but she just wasn’t Gus, and bless her heart, I believed it was time to let our pretty little gal bound on to her eternal spot in the sun.
      “I can’t make this decision alone,” he replied. “Tell me what we should do. We have to decide now, Jimmy said every second is critical.”
     “I think the best thing is to put her down, “I finally said, after several moments of running through all the possible scenarios, the post-surgery complications, the pressure on Chris to manage it all by himself while we were still in South Carolina.
     “I just don’t think it’s worth the risk, to put her through surgery, at her age. She’s twelve, Chris, that’s old age for a dog, practically 84 in human years. I don’t think we should put either one of you through such an ordeal. Besides, you still have to deal with Alf’s surgery. Can you really handle two post-surgical dogs?”
        He sadly agreed with my decision and hung up to tell Jimmy the verdict.
        Several minutes passed until my cell phone started ringing. Knowing who it was, I quickly answered.

Sug recuperating

       “I told him to do it, “ Chris began.
      “Well, I know that was hard, but I think it’s for the best.” I said.

       “No, I mean, I told him to do it, to do the surgery,” he said. “I just couldn’t say it. When I talked to Jimmy, I couldn’t tell him to put her down. I just couldn’t say the words. ”

Mr. Big is ready for Christmas

      I should have known it. A natural softy by heart, I wasn’t surprised that he had not been able to say goodbye to Sug without trying to save her first. This was the man who couldn’t hurt a fly. The man who stood outside at two o’clock in the morning with the car running, trying to euthanize a dying gerbil by gently holding the rodent under the exhaust, trying to quietly put her to sleep to end her suffering; the man who buried our dead parakeet in the yard on a cold December midnight, placing her tenderly in a shoebox in a shallow grave in the garden. The man who allowed me to spend thousands of dollars when our five pound teacup poodle broke his neck, who wordlessly paid the bill so a surgeon could implant a steel rod, plates and screws into bones the size of matchsticks.  
  I should have instinctively known that he would not have been able to make the call to put Sug down.
     Sug survived the procedure, her tummy was untangled, tacked to her abdomen, and she suffered loss of only a portion of her stomach. So now,  she lies on one sofa, Alf on the other, both licking their wounds,  recovering, while Mr. Big, happy to be home for the holidays, spends his mornings running back and forth between the two, antagonizing Alf, pampering Sug.  We are back to normal, this peculiar household of rehabilitating canines and bankrupt humans, a family who has a problem separating poodles from people.  Christmas is coming, and the bills are getting fat, so please put a penny in this dog lover’s hat.

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