Messages to My Dog

I love my dog AJ, but I just wish for 5 minutes we could speak the same language so I can give him a piece of my mind. Here is a list of the things I would say:

  • Just because I am entering my kitchen does NOT mean I will be fetching you a dog treat.
  • Aluminum foil is NOT interesting!
  • Our primary reason for going out to a walk is for you to poo and pee, not so you can dig up chicken legs and find poo from other dogs.
  • I wouldn’t come close to stepping on you so often if you didn’t take naps 3 inches from my desk chair.
  • Please don’t lick my ears when I am doing pushups. They ruin my concentration.
  • The main reason I leave the house is 1)to buy food and 2)to earn money to buy food. I don’t like staying away from you any more than I do, but I do it because I have to….think of the extra bones and dog treats!
  • There is no need to drink from puddles outside. I got unlimited supplies of water at home!
  • I wish you’d bark at strangers coming into my house more. That’s the “good kind of barking.”
  • Thank you for not being a prima donna about the bathtub.
  • When we go on a walk, I don’t mind your eagerness to run around. But I do mind when you stubbornly refuse to go anywhere besides the direction you want.
  • If I thought I could hold you in my lap and still get work down on my computer, believe me, I’d let you stay there. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
  • I like meeting new dogs almost as much as you do.
  • Why do you not get excited when you meet other wiener dogs? You know you are a wiener dog …. don’t you?
  • I think about you all the time when I am away or at work.
  • Truthfully, I really enjoy bringing you to the dog sitter and not having to walk you all the time. I need a vacation too. But I’m glad that you don’t get sick of me.
  • I’m happy as hell that I don’t have fleas.
  • Humans won’t let you inside their home  unless they  invite you first!
  • I feel guilty for not taking you to the dog park more often, but frankly, it’s a relief when you are content to take a normal walk around the block.
  • I like surprising you.

Unfortunately, this tongue-in-cheek blog post  has a rather sad ending. Last September or October, my dog AJ hurt his back. I knew that wiener dogs had this tendency, so I took some preventative measures. Unfortunately, I should have taken even stricter measures. Initially the vet was hopeful that AJ could recover through rest and relaxation and limiting of his movement. It definitely worked for a while — even though AJ had his pain points which we had to be extremely careful about. (I was on the second floor and had to carry him up and down the stairs — which was hard for both of us).

After persistent begging to join me on my recliner chair, I finally relented and carried him into my lap, holding him tightly. The problem was not jumping up but jumping down, and after about 15 minutes of lying comfortably,  AJ unexpectedly leapt off the chair and fell in a really bad way. At first he seemed ok, but then his hind legs were utterly paralyzed, pretty much making him incapable of normal life. I ended up bringing  him to the vet on Monday and having him put to sleep. I knew it was for the best, but it was still very sad.

Besides being the perfect companion, AJ also enjoyed sitting on my lap while I watched TV.  It felt perfectly natural to both of us — and regrettably, this probably was a factor in facilitating his fatal injury. I didn’t feed him much people food, but I fairly often fed him leftover sweet potatoes and peas. He loved that, and so did I.

AJ enjoyed many human friends — almost more than other dogs sometimes. One of the great things about walking a dog is that you meet other dog owners and get to see which people are comfortable interacting with dogs. Dogs learn very quickly which humans are the most friendly.  For some reason in the last year or two AJ would cry with excitement whenever a recognizable human appeared. It was both amusing and touching. On Sunday before I put AJ to sleep, my neighbor visited my home to offer comfort. AJ had been suffering all day in silence, but when my neighbor and friend John appeared at the door, AJ started whining uncontrollably. This whining was a combination of things: it was genuine joy that John had come to see him, combined with a desire to make John aware of how much he was suffering and how helpless he felt before everything. At the vet the next day, my vet explained that for evolutionary reasons,  animals hid their pain very well to avoid being easy prey for a predator. But in this case, AJ was vocalizing his pain  to John because he knew John was part of his family.  Inside that apartment, we were three creatures who were joined by a common fear of mortality and a desire to help one another.

I thought back to this blog post and realized that I had an awful lot of things I wanted to say to him during those last 24 hours:

  • Sometimes I have to limit your activity not because I want to but because I have to. This is a burden for any parent or caregiver.
  • I feel your pain almost as much as you do.
  • Sickness and injury always seem incomprehensible and makes you feel helpless. It also makes people around you feel helpless as well.  Humans and money can’t solve all problems.
  • Our time on this planet is very short, and circumstances change more quickly than we ever thought possible.
  • The difference between pets and humans is that pets have to deal only with the here-and-now while humans must plan for the future and understand the long term implications of everything.
  • Even after you are gone, I think about how  the smallest things used to puzzle or frighten you.
  • I still wonder what you must think about normal human devices like the microwave, the telephone, the iPad.

One of AJ’s claim to fame is that in the first year I owned him, I entered him in a wiener dog race in Buda, Texas. I enrolled him as a joke (and as an outing for my nephews), but as luck would have it, AJ raced very fast. He won 3 races in a row, and out of 600+ dogs, he placed in the top 20. My nieces and nephews loved AJ and they loved to do pretend races. They would hold his leash while I walked 50 feet away. At the count of three, one of them would let go of his leash and AJ would rush towards me at the same time that one of my nephews tried to beat him. AJ always won. I’m sorry to say that he had gained a few pounds in his last year or two, but he still managed to win every race.

Here’s a video I took of AJ with his best doggie friend (whom he played with at the babysitter). I was all too aware that pets leave our lives pretty quickly and so tried to take as many pictures and videos as possible.   As a pet owner, you are aware that these memorials mean a lot more to the owner than to anybody else; a dog is just a dog (except to its owner).

Finally, I guess I really haven’t sketched my dog in very much detail. As a human who spent a lot of time with him, I got to notice a lot of his eccentricities, and he got to see mine. So how would I describe his personality?

AJ was very friendly, especially to children. He was a very calming presence at almost any time.  It was very rare that he growled or reacted negatively to anyone. I still can’t figure out why some dogs growl or act overly aggressive towards strangers. Perhaps it has to do with the way they were raised, but from the very beginning, AJ wanted nothing more than to find another friend.  I think it had to do with his small size and the fact that he didn’t bark. AJ was treated very well sometime. In my first apartment, I lived next to a giant park that was ideal for walking dogs. I would let him off his leash frequently, and he had a lot of freedom to roam around and occasionally socialize with other dogs. But he was always very human-focused; it was almost funny how he sometimes paid no attention to the other dog and instead try to get the attention of its owner. I didn’t actively try to train AJ — I just didn’t feel like it, although I saw how quickly AJ picked up some things about what was off limits and what wasn’t. Unfortunately, AJ didn’t like being in a crate — it was torture to him. I tried to use a bike trailer to bring AJ to a park which was a mile away. AJ thought it was bloody murder.4504699026_8a45ac95f1_z

AJ loved taking walks, but you couldn’t get much exercise while walking him. He smelled things carefully and deliberately. He had an amazing memory for smells. In apartment complexes the big danger was chicken bones all over the grounds. I suspect that squirrels and cats had dug them out of the garbage and were dropping them at random places. As a pet owner you were warned about not giving your dog chicken bones, and however much I tried, AJ always managed to find one before I could yank him away.  One night I walked him and steered him away from a chicken bone; the next day I had completely forgotten about the bone, but AJ darted right to it and snatched the bone too quickly for me to stop him.  Perhaps it was less memory than smell; the thing was, immediately when he started on the walk, he knew exactly where to dart — hundreds of feet before he would come close enough to smell anything.086

AJ and I watched a ton of TV together. During that time I was underemployed a lot and addicted to various TV shows coming available on Netflix. I think it was AJ’s definition of bliss to be lying on my lap while we watched TV.  I didn’t feed him human food, but every so often I would give him leftovers from my vegetables — sweet potatoes and peas. Occasionally AJ got into some food he shouldn’t have — for example, he never went into my trashcan, though he could have easily done so, but generally he respected boundaries between my food and his. Anything which fell on the ground was fair play though. When watching TV, I was really careful to avoid shows showing animals getting hurt, but to be honest, I doubt that AJ would have noticed it anyway. Sometimes I would try to direct his attention to a dog on the TV, but most of the time he didn’t notice or show any interest.

It was strange to sleep in a bed with a dog companion. I had some doggie steps which made it easy for him to get onto the bed. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t let him on my bed at all. First, he would scratch himself at strange hours and keep me awake sometimes. Second, when I later learned about the back problems, I realized how hard it would be to take away a privilege I had already given.  That said, sleeping with him wasn’t really a problem — even enjoyable at times. I always found it amusing how he liked to go under the covers. I really wished I could have set up a webcam while at work to see what he did to occupy the day; I’m sure it was nothing unusual, but still I would have liked to know.

AJ was  fussy about bones, preferring the small rawhide bones to the larger meat bones. I think the most recent batch of rawhide must be sprayed with some kind of smell which dogs must love. Whenever I gave him one of these bones, for an hour or so AJ would stop paying attention to everything about the world and just focus on unraveling one of those rawhide bones. I enjoyed watching him when he was just being a dog.

I had a careful route for giving walks. AJ knew it, and yet would put all kinds of pressure to diverge from it. On the other side of the apartment was a fenced apartment community just like ours — there was nothing special about it really, and AJ absolutely wanted to go exploring over there. At first, I just refused, but once or twice I was able to sneak in when the gate was already open. As I said it was nothing special, but for AJ it was one of these forbidden thrills, and I enjoyed indulging him once in a while.  I lived in a dense neighborhood with lots of cars and very few sidewalks.  AJ just loved to go the longer path around the block; I generally avoided doing it because it was out of the way, but sometime I went along. In Houston we have a lot of heat even at night and you had to be very careful not to exert the dog too much. Sometimes he just couldn’t walk any more from exhaustion. Sometimes I would need to carry him or bring a supply of water.  So he could enthusiastically embark on a long trip, but he just lacked the energy to complete the journey.

AJ had doggie friends; I suspect he must have found the thought of  meeting the same dog every few days must have been relaxing and fun.

Dog owners who live in houses may not realize this, but you end up having to be physically present for every poop the dog takes. I couldn’t just open the door and let AJ do his business outside. As a result, my schedule seemed to revolve around his walking schedule. Often it meant not being able to stay late at a social function  or never being to bring home take out food (because I would need to factor in 30 minutes to walk AJ). Even if I had already walked him, being away from home  2 or 3 hours meant that AJ expected a walk immediately; he was restless and not just because of his bodily functions. AJ’s presence definitely calmed me down and distracted me and reminded me to take a nap (somebody once said that dogs functioned to remind their owners to take more naps!)  Naps are wonderful. Unfortunately AJ ruined the exercise regime which I had established pretty firmly in 2008 and 2009. On the other hand I was engaging in more low intensity activity and was out of doors  a lot more often (and soaking in that Vitamin  D). Also I got to know a lot of people, and not just the pet owners around the neighborhood. I was no longer that scary stranger — I was the man with the dog.

I was rather amused at how assiduously AJ avoided rainy weather. What a baby!  Sometimes if he so much as sniffed rain, he would refuse to go any further.

AJ passed away fairly early in his dog life; I still live with the guilt of it. On the other hand, I know I took care of him better than most dogs and certainly gave him lots of attention. I shall remember the days I spent with him as days of joy and amusement. 5212617067_1cec866eb0_z






One response to “Messages to My Dog”

  1. Vakerue Avatar

    I never read long posts like this one, but “Messages to My Dog” was so very, very touching. I couldn’t help but finish it. Hear’s to AJ. Hip, Hip, Hurray.

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