There are some downsides to this job:
1) It’s kind of like working for a congenial and slightly less creepy David Blaine.
2) I’m a captive audience for all these magic tricks that make me SHIT MY MIND.
But there are also some real perks to this job:
1) He feeds me lunch, that sometimes includes cake!
2) He pays me in real dollars, not magicbucks.
3) I get to see one of my favourite things every time I walk into his house.
Oh yeah – it’s the world’s most demented canine tyrant, His Majesty Sporticus. Now EIGHTEEN AND A FREAKIN’ HALF YEARS OLD, Sport refuses to die … probably just to be obstinate. Or, the most likely explanation, is that it’s some kind of magic at work. How else can you explain how Sport, going on 19 years old, still shuffles around this earth making people do his bidding? It’s gotta be magic.
This week, Sport is staying with me and my crew while my boss and his wife have disappeared into the magic box and reappeared in the middle of NYC. Sport rattled and squeaked his way into my living room, collapsed himself into a heap of dusty old bones on a big fluffy pillow and has been making me do his bidding ever since.
Sporty is much as I remember him – serious, sweet and bossy as fuck.
You! Peon! Bring me some food I will eat. Except I WON’T eat ANYTHING that I have eaten before, so be creative. But not too creative, for I won’t like that one bit. In fact, maybe I’m not even hungry at all. You’ll never know, will you? Why are you just standing there?! GET TO WORK!!
This is one OLD dog, my friends. He is on a million medications to keep his heart beating, his joints passably mobile and the grim reaper at bay. Every time I pick him up (which is shockingly often, and usually because he has gotten stuck somewhere) he wheezes and coughs and I’m sure the end is nigh.
He has a very special eating regime that I, apparently, SUCK at, because he completely refused to eat his dinner last night (a dinner, I might add, that involves several steps, about 40 minutes of cooking and a very specific presentation) until I peppered it liberally with slices of ham. And for a dog who gets stuck in corners, he’s remarkably adroit at removing strategically placed ham-bits from the rest of his food.
This morning he woke me up at 6AM by peeing on my carpet.
I love having Sport here because … well, because I love Sport! But I also hate having Sport here because I am nursing this 24-7 dread that he’s going to die on my watch. His owners have assured me many times that if he dies while they are gone they won’t blame me, because he’s EIGHTEEN AND A FREAKIN’ HALF YEARS OLD and he’s bound to pop off eventually. But I’d much rather he waited until they come back from NYC and if he must kick it, he does it in their house and not mine. (Of course, if he doesn’t stop with the refusal to eat anything I make him, I may kill him myself. Perhaps I’ll kick him until … oh never mind.)
A day with Sport goes kind of like this – he wakes me up at an ungodly early hour by pissing in my floor, so I leap out of a dead sleep, hustle him at a snail’s pace to the front door and shove him outside. Then I crawl around cleaning up the trail of pee, crying because 40 seconds ago I was asleep and now I’m the opposite, and I’m confused. He wanders around outside sniffing stuff and trying not to get lost at the pace of .0927 miles per decade, then waits for me to reappear because he can’t get back up on the deck. I lift him up, he coughs and wheezes – I squint my eyes shut and repeat the phrase “don’tdiedon’tdiedon’tdie” until he stops coughing.
Then we sort of propel ourselves through the house until we’re back in the big room, where Sport whines until someone gets off his big fluffy pillow, where he promptly collapses. I make a meal he won’t eat, replace it with something else he won’t eat, lie down on the floor in front of him with a spoon and beg him to eat, kick his bowl across the room and hurl invectives at him for not eating, then I give him several slices of ham and some liver cookies, which he will eat. At least, which he will eat today. Who knows about tomorrow?
I finally sit down with my coffee and Sport decides he needs to pee again so we repeat the shuffle, lift, cough/wheeze, don’tdiedon’tdiedon’tdie, whine, collapse routine. And then it’s time for one of his many medications, delivered sneakily in a liver cookie (I can do magic too, you know!).
Repeat several times daily, go through the whole eating thing at dinner time again, eventually go outside with him for the last pee lest he inadvertently wander into the mouth of a coyote, move his fluffy pillow into the bedroom, go back to the big room to convince him that the pillow CAN, in fact, move rooms and he doesn’t have to stand where it used to be and stare at nothing, eventually lift him up and carry him to the pillow, cough/wheeze, don’tdiedon’tdiedon’tdie, sleep.
Sport is a lot of work!!
But having him here, and working with SAINTS, has really gotten me thinking about when and how our old dogs should die, and how much and for how long should we be keeping them alive? Sport can scarcely move these days, and spends much of his time either asleep or staring blankly at nothing, like a wall. Who knows what’s going on in his little pea brain? Is he thinking “you bastards, let me go?” or is he going ” ow ow ow ow ow” in his head or is he grateful that he’s still here to rule the house from his pillow?
Don’t get me wrong – I am in NO WAY second guessing his owners’ decisions about his well being. I won’t pretend that having him for a week is like having him for my very own, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that they are doing everything for him they can and with his best interests in mind. I’m definitely not suggesting that Sport should not still be with us (and besides, it’s not like he’s actually alive anyway; he’s in a state of suspended semi-animation thanks to MAGIC).
It’s just that I’ve never had a really old dog myself, and having this decrepit old house guest just, I guess, makes me think about this stuff. I try to imagine, say, Piper at EIGHTEEN AND A FREAKIN’ HALF YEARS OLD – she is such an animated, lively, busybody of a dog. What would she be thinking if she were really old, and couldn’t do any of the things she loved to do, and couldn’t really move or walk or make Mad Teeth(tm) at her friends? Would she hate every blessed minute of it or would she just be happy that she was still hanging around being a puny little witch?
And when do they tell us that it’s time for them to go? Do they know? Briggs never told me – my vet told me. But did Briggs want to die? I’ll never know; all I knew was that he was going to die in a matter of days, possibly hours, and I didn’t want him to hurt anymore, and there was nothing else we could do for him. His imminent death was inevitable, and as much as it pained me, I don’t think I let him go too soon at all. But a dog like Sport – who is dying by degrees just because he’s old … when is it too soon? Or too late? How do you KNOW?
Part of me hopes Tweed lives to be as old as Sport, and part of me hopes he doesn’t at all. Mostly because as long as there is breath in his body, he will bark at me, and I cringe at the thought of 9 more years of his incessant barking. Wootie will undoubtedly live to be about 43 years old, just to torment me.
Having Sport here this week is like a living (<-- interpret that liberally) philosophy lesson for me. Also, it gives me a glimpse of Hell ... a Hell where I will be forced to beg dogs I love to eat all day long. He really is an obstinate old goat. He maybe can't move much or even really function, but he can sure still lie down in the worst direction possible for getting a decent photograph.
At SAINTS they make life and death decisions all the time. It must be heartbreaking for them. And sometimes, I imagine, the dogs make the decision themselves about when it’s their time to go, which must also be heartbreaking for them. It’s so easy to get attached to these little lives, isn’t it?
Yesterday I took my dogs for a walk (but not Sport, that’d kill him for sure) and Tweed stepped on a whole branch of thorns – he was wearing a thorn shoe! And he limped right over to me, poked me in the knee with his nose and when I looked down, he held his paw right out to me to remove them for him. Can you imagine? We’ve finally reached that place. He’s my old dog, and he loves me!!