Friday, March 26, 2010

Semper Fi

Fido is having trouble breathing and going up the stairs and we know that it is time. Other than making the requisite arrangements, I am opting out. It is said that in the course of your life you will have five great dogs. About seven years ago Himself and I sat on the porch stairs on a fine spring day. Bowser, the greatest of great dogs, was administered the pair of injections. Gary was just a kitty then and he pranced and batted at a butterfly in the field of wild flowers next door while the drugs took effect.

Shortly after Bowser’s demise, another great pet, Malcolm the cat was stricken. He was one of those rare cats who loved to ride in the car and he would hop in by himself and ride to work with me every morning. We made copies of him on the Xerox machine. He liked the heat and lay perfectly still as the glass tray moved back and forth. I remembered Bowser’s last minutes and the lifeless body of the dog I loved so much and who loved me back without complication. I could not bring myself to accompany Himself in taking Malcolm to the vet to be euthanized. I know that this is weak and cowardly. Faced with the terminal illness of Fido, another pet that is beginning to suffer, I confess to having failed to cultivate any additional strength of character.

While Bowser was friendly to all, from the moment I adopted her from the animal shelter as a six week old puppy I was the leader of her pack. I wanted to fill the huge vacancy she left with my favorite breed, a standard poodle. Through a poodle rescue organization I found a half breed standard. The mother was a show dog and the father of mysterious provenance, having snuck apparently into the proverbial henhouse. We drove up to Camarillo to fetch six month old Fido from a veterinarian who also bred white toy poodles, thousands of which yapped while we conducted our transaction. Fido was so timid she had to be carried into the car.

Himself was skeptical about my proclamations of poodle as the superior breed and I presumed she’d be my dog. But she belonged to Himself as much as any dog ever has to a human being. When I walk in the door she remains supine on the couch she shouldn’t be on and barely lifts an eyebrow. Yet, she hears Himself’s car from half a mile away and begins to race through the house squealing, knowing that he will either come in through the front door or he will come in through the back door. Because we are remiss with doggie manicures, she has damaged a number of his coats and trousers with her enthusiasm to greet him when he finally enters.

Before Rover (hard on cats) came and forced the segregation of the species, Fido slept in bed with us and patiently let our cats nurse and knead with their claws on her belly. We took her to Santa Cruz and she was able to romp in a stream, all bliss and grace. When Taffy the corgi came as a pup, he immediately glommed onto Fido. When I channel the dogs’ voices, to the kids’ complete mortification, Taffy refers to Fido as “Mommy.” If I had any real voice talent the corgi would speak with a Welsh brogue but I don’t do accents so his voice is more like Tweety Pie. Rover sounds sort of like Deputy Dawg/Joe Lieberman and Fido is feminine and fluttery, kind of Marilyn. I am thankful that we have children to distract/shame us from any further psycho anthropomorphizing of our animal companions. When Fido was taken to the vet several months ago for her sad diagnosis, the corgi became hysterical and barked and whined and thrashed his sturdy body against the door. I realized that except for when Taffy was neutered, they had never been separated.

Himself and I face the loss of yet another of the great dogs we’ve been blessed with. One night we lay in bed and named all the pets we’ve had over the decades and it was a long list. When we met, my feline occupancy rate tottered in the range of social deviance. It is too sad right now to dredge up the names again but what comes to mind is that for over twenty years of my life there has been no loss or sorrow I’ve had to bear alone.

I like Jim Wallis and I read Sojourner Magazine online. I subscribe also to their daily inspirational e-mails. They usually start with a bible passage. Like,
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 2:4-5

I dig it, but ever since my traumatic vacation bible school experience in the second grade, I always substitute “Jesus Christ” with “Whatever.” I hope this isn’t interpreted as disparaging of Jesus because I actually like Jesus although maybe I have a few issues with some of his disciples. For the record, lately the words God, Adonai, Buddha…you name it, get swapped out for “Whatever” too so Jesus shouldn’t take it personally.

After the bible thing, my daily e-mailed Verse and Voice contains a well chosen quote from the likes of Anne Lamott or Thomas Merton or J.M. Coetzee. Finally, there is a prayer which I read the first line of, to make sure it isn’t overly specific, like for World Water Day or uninsured Americans. Maybe I’m a lightweight because my prayers are for the entire universe, (after I plead for my own sorry ass) not special interest groups. These super specific requests sort of deromanticise the concept of prayer for me personally although I envy and admire those who experience so many of life’s sorrows and injustices as prayer opportunities. Plus, it seems that all of the daily imprecations for the uninsured have borne fruit.

I’ve wimped out on going with him to have his dog put down so I am keeping my mouth shut and not gloating about health care legislation being passed. The prohibition on Obama speak at Casamurphy has eased a bit of late because Himself is smug and self satisfied that, AS HE KNEW IT WOULD COME TO PASS, I haven’t had much good to say about the man. I’m glad that for all the attenuate malice of spirit and seeming mass insanity that this watered down bill, a heartening tiny nod towards the creation of a more compassionate, less selfish society, squeaked through. I would never utter it to Himself, but I am glad that Obama is president and I think he proved himself a brilliant strategist in shepherding through some of the most significant legislation of my lifetime.

Spuds and I have been watching a new reality show called Uncover Boss. The premise is that the CEO of a big corporation goes undercover as a low wage employee. Churchill Downs racetrack, 7/11 and White Castle have been featured. It always starts with the big cheese waking up in his big mansion and saying goodbye to his supportive, meticulously coiffed wife and handsome children and then checking into some bargain motel. The austere accommodations are greeted with a stiff upper lip and preparations are made, usually pertinent to facial hair, for the honcho to pass himself off as a bottom-of-the-barrel wage slave. Low level coworkers are told that a documentary is being produced about mid level managers who are displaced and reenter the work force in minimum wage jobs to account for the presence of the camera. The big boss has trouble performing the job. Coffee making is screwed up at the 7/11. Thousands of hamburger buns are trashed at the White Castle. The CCO of Churchill Downs is asked to clean out stalls but it turns out he’s afraid of horses. Think Lucy in the candy factory.

The captains of industry are humbled by their own clumsiness and then moved by salt of the earth employees who struggle to keep afloat economically and emotionally in mind numbing dead end jobs. After his heart is warmed at how earnest and very good the little people are, the big boss goes back to his fancy office, assembles the lowly minions and outs himself. A handful of minimum wage employees are rewarded with scholarships and promotions and everyone weeps and applauds at what a swell guy the big boss is. I admit I that I tear up when $5000.00 is contributed to an employee to assist with his blind son but then I am disgusted with myself for buying into this shameful exploitative public relations boondoggle. Undercover Boss is a thirty minute commercial for corporations whose executives get their hands dirty for a nanosecond in order to discover what they should have known all along.

The ratio of CEO compensation to average worker pay rose from 24:1 in 1965 to 262:1 by 2005. Census Bureau data showed median income rising by only 12 percent since 1979, while that for the top percentile went up nearly 400 percent. At least now some of the people who toil at dirty, soul sucking jobs, so that chief executives can illuminate their tennis courts, will be able to provide their own families with medical insurance.

My murder degree of separation saddens and frightens me and hurdles my reflections on mercy and justice out of the realm of purely philosophical. The apparent murderer of a dear friend of a dear friend was arrested last year based on DNA evidence, 22 years after the crime. The seventeen year old daughter of a neighborhood family was murdered a few months ago while running an errand for her mother. This week the news reports the shooting at a party and subsequent death of an Art Center Professor whose son is a classmate of my own boys.

There is a horrible photo of the victim’s aggrieved wife and mother in the paper. I hope that my sons’ classmate does not see the pictures of his mother and grandma. I am discussing this news with the seventeen year old. Still in the freaked out, “this could be our family” terror mode, I suggest to him that he send the boy a condolence note. But I say it sort of sanctimoniously, and the subtext is “Of course, you won’t think to do this and hence, you suck and are a thoughtless inconsiderate disappointment to your virtuous mother.” I sound like Mrs. Glegg, in Mill on the Floss, one of the best bitches ever written but I am really just scared and flailing wildly to keep our karma squeaky clean. Of course, I am surprised and indignant that he reacts hostilely. He calls me ridiculous. I tell him that I’m ashamed of him.

I hear Fido’s raspy breathing when I wake up on her last morning. She has bald patches, her eyes are rheumy and it is difficult for her to stand. I give her half a dozen of the desiccated chicken treats she favors. It is cold and I get back into bed and try and fail not to wake Himself by crying. I know a sad errand with Fido awaits him and again I feel small and self indulgent for shirking this. He wraps himself around me and rubs my cold hands and I know that none of my inchoate prayers have been wasted.

The seventeen year old drives now most places and I grow less and less fearful. I apologize for being a jerk. He sends the boy who lost his dad a note. I confess to him that I feel lousy about making Himself go alone to the vet with Fido. The seventeen year old pats my shoulder as I weep and says, “Mom, I’m going to go with him.” My perception of sorrow and despair is no more valid, but certainly with time’s burnishing, very different than my teenaged son’s. It is all so very different than I ever imagined it would be when I was seventeen. Sometimes I would like to see the world as a seventeen year old but usually I’m satisfied with my own vantage point because the love thing has panned out so much better than I ever thought possible.

John and Leo took Fido to be put to sleep Friday morning. She was a great dog.
Shabbat Shalom.


Fionnchú said...

I'm mortified at my legs on display and red-eye not to mention grey hair, but these photos do commemorate a very devoted dog and a very devoted wife. Here's my own short tribute in Irish and the English following to Fido: "Dílis go bás: Fido, ár chú/Faithful to death: Fido, our hound" It's hard for me to write much at this moment, but your kind words comfort me now. xxx me

pass said...
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Chris Berry said...

So sad to hear of Fido's passage...She was a great dog and your words are a great tribute to her. The pack at Harper Berry Hollow is thinking good thoughts for all of you at Casa Murphy...

harry said...

Our sympathies. 18 year old porcine Sparky sleeps next to me now and sometimes I think this death thing is a flaw in the design, but tha't incomplete understanding. Indeed Fido had a gentle sweetness and her epic loyalty to John was beautiful to see. If I believed in those ways, I'd say she's running in celestial fields with Bowser. Then again John Wesley said if his horse wasn't in heaven he didn't want to go. Then again what did he know.

Barbara said...

sad to hear of your Great Dog's death. I remember you
back in college with a little poodle and cats at your mom's.

Our pet's are like our 3, 4 5th children. We love them
and they never talk back, no matter what!

May you and family be comforted.

Richard Gould-Saltman said...

A friend (actually, a H.S. girlfriend) said goodbye to her beloved and elderly Spot this last week. NOt normally a sentimental sort, she acknowledged that all limitations on such were off when it came to dogs, and posted this link:

Carolyn said...

My condolences to you all. I have also lost a human friend who was a brilliant MLB player in the 60's. During the past 3 years he has dealt with 3 kinds of cancer, congestive heart disease, bravely with no self pity. However while waiting to regain strength for open heart surgery, he died in his sleep yesterday at home. I'd like to think that both Fido and my friend shed their tired bodies and are now in a place where their activity is returned even though those loved ones lfet behind mourn. Although I doubt Fido would be a catcher in a heavenly baseball game, I know for a fact that my friend isn't running around sniffing anyone's butt, either.