I meant to blog more this week, but I’ve been dealing with Robbie. After two years of thinking any day could be the day, we’re finally nearing the end.
This morning I came this close to texting Furrydoc to ask her to come over. Robbie’s appetite has been decreasing the last month, and this week he’s begun refusing food. Wednesday afternoon I coaxed him into eating rice mixed with a little kibble and he was sick in the night. I was sure Furrydoc’s visit couldn’t be far away. Then, after a cup of plain rice and a truncated morning walk today, he perked up. Took a cube of frozen chicken breast for a treat when we arrived home and seemed fine.
Still, I’ve had to stay with him in case he needs to be let out suddenly. Can’t spend hours on the library’s wifi. So I wrote this at home and am making a quick sit-down on the library steps to post this and something for tomorrow.
I’ll keep Robbie on rice and cottage cheese or rice and hamburger for now. But whether he has only days or still has months, I know he’s not going to last beyond summer. Because no matter what, I’m not going to put his old bones and joints through another winter.
I thought the same last summer, too. Then he finished the summer better than he started it and the mild winter scarcely bothered him. This time for sure, though.
And oh my, the indecision and the guilt!
I’d rather put him down too soon than too late, when he’s tired and worn out but not in a dire crisis. My worst fear is that his last days or hours will be spent in agony. On the other hand, it seems selfish to extinguish his spirit while he’s still enjoying life. Except that you can never actually know. That’s the thing. Dogs can be suffering and never let you know.
And Robbie, of course, is inscrutable. When not happily licking some complete stranger, he’s as self-contained and unreadable as a statue of a dog.
Robbie isn’t my #1 heart dog. That was, and will always be, Jasmine, who died in 2005. (Furrydoc gave her her exit, too, weeping along with me.) But Robbie’s next in my heart, partly because of his inscrutable macho. Although I know deep down he’s as devoted to me as Ava (who wears devotion on her face and in every people-pleasing gesture), he has always made sure not to let me know it. Obedience? Strictly optional. Affection? He prefers strangers. Play? Oh, how dull. I am free to worship and wait upon him. But that is simply his due.
While I am not one of those people who imagines that every dog spends all day conniving ways to dominate its humans, it’s actually true of Robbie and always has been. Not only was he a giant bully to all the other dogs in his youth — the Rulz enforcer, the anti-fun police — he was always pulling some power trip on me.
The only game he ever played in his life (unless destroying indestructable toys counts as a game) was tug-o-war. And he’d play it only with me. He didn’t allow any other dogs to play tug, even with each other. And when I told him tough luck, I’m playing tug with them because they and I thought it was good clean fun, his disgruntlement was clear. That game is a real dominance test.
Before I really knew him, he jumped up and bit my thumb to the bone in his determination to get back a tug rope I’d wrested from him. He wasn’t being vicious; it was an accident. He was just so set on winning. After that, tug-o-war games with him became a rare occurrance, never lasted more than five minutes, and if I got the rope away from him, he had to sit until I gave him permission to catch the loose end of the rope.
Our lives together have been like that. He likes me just fine. But he’s not conceding one paw’s-width of authority to me unless I have something he really wants. Then he lets me know he’s doing it grudgingly.
And for this macho insolence, I have always loved him like mad.
Even now, old, deaf, foggy-brained, half-crippled, he still has his ways of demonstrating his opinion of my position in the pack. At the end of our woods walks, when it’s time to get back in the car, he lumbers along eagerly — to a point. Then 20 feet from the vehicle (where Ava and I already await), he stops, lifts his head, and sniffs at the air as though scenting seagulls miles away at the ocean. And there he stands until I physically herd him to Old Blue.
He’s only done this in the last year or so. Part of me wants to say this is a dying dog taking in every last possible pleasure. And that I would not begrudge him.
It’s just that every time, right before he pulls this wistful-seeming little stunt, he looks me straight in the eye with that vast inscrutability. And when I finally go to him, get behind him, and nudge his backside to set him in motion, I swear, he’s grinning.
The day Robbie dies, Ava and I will drive up to a ridge a few miles from here and take a three-mile round-trip walk whose high point, both geographically and aesthetically, is a view of the Pacific. The spot is miles from the ocean, actually, but sometimes when the day is still, you can hear the roar of the waves.
We used to do this walk often, but Robbie hasn’t been able to manage it recently. He did walk it once last year, but that was because Annabelle, a sleekly beautiful lab-mix who belongs to my friend G., was along. Robbie was suddenly young again in his gorgeous girlfriend’s presence.* Even that’s been a while.
Ava and I will take that walk up the ridge just because we need the exercise after too many recent, shotened treks, thanks to Robbie’s limitations. But also to let the clean air blow away the pall of sickness and death.
A little bit of Jasmine — a handful of her ashes — still lives in that spot (as well as several other favorite places in the woods). Later we’ll walk up there again and leave a bit of Robbie, too.
* He has always liked the long, leggy type, perhaps because of being the short thick type himself. The females in his life, and how he has repeatedly made a fool of himself over them despite being properly neutered, may be a subject for another day.