The Back-Up Dog
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14, 2010The Back-Up DogBaxter is sick.
It is probably not his intention to cause me worry and heartache, but I’m worried. I’m heart-ached.
Last week we spent three days in Santa Rosa with my sis, her husband, and the lovely Sabine. Baxter survived the drive – he was eerily quiet in the car, actually; so much so that occasionally Will and I muted the radio to listen for his breathing. He even survived our ill-planned stop in Richmond for sustenance, although he was plainly eager to be on the road again.
While Will and I chatted up my sister and cooed over Sabine, Baxter inspected every inch of their backyard. He burrowed under hedges, rooted through ivy, stared curiously at the goldfish, and then proceeded to drag all of Sabine’s belongings from the deck to the yard. In short, he made a happy fool of himself. It wasn’t until late that night, the adults in bed after laughing ourselves into exhaustion with the New Yorker caption contest game, that he finally relaxed.
Day two included long walks through a hilly Santa Rosa neighborhood, a few sunny hours at Doran Beach and then a lazy afternoon nap. That night I pronounced that Baxter was finally acting like a “real” dog – he wasn’t frantically sniffing or insisting on our attention. He even ignored the allure of Sabine’s diaper and cuddled up, real-dog like, at our feet.
On day three, he wouldn’t eat. This was unusual for Baxter because he’s a beagle, and beagles will eat anything and everything, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Occasionally this means non-edible things like food packaging, but it absolutely means his dog food, served in his doggy dish, at six a.m. sharp. When he finally ate later that day, I chalked it up to the general excitement of new people, the break in routine…
And then on Sunday, back home, he ignored his healthy serving of Beneful. He ate grass instead and threw up, before finally turning to his food. He slept as if were catching up for a lifetime of lost hours. On Monday he seemed fine, if lethargic. On Tuesday, he wouldn’t eat again. “No walk until you eat,” I told him, exhibiting my fine parenting skills. He ate, and once on a leash he went right for the grass again, so he could vomit the food his cruel mother had force fed him.
It was time to call the professionals.
I dropped off Baxter at the vet at nine o’clock, which gave me about forty minutes to make a fifty minute drive in another direction for class. I couldn’t linger for anything more than a “Bye, buddy” – and I was off. I mourned him the whole way. Later that day I was back home with no one to greet me (we have two cats, yes, but for the purpose of this blog there was no one to greet me). I called the vet for a check-up – probably your basic gastroenteritis, but they wanted to keep him over night. I did a load of laundry without worrying that Baxter would snag a sock and run under the bed. There were no toenails clicking on the hardwood, following me from room to room. It was empty-nest syndrome.
“I miss Baxter,” I said, getting in to bed next to Will. I hated to think of him in a cage, too keyed up by the presence of other dogs to get any sleep. I could picture him doped up on anti-nausea medication, pumped full of fluids for his dehydration, letting out the occasional whimper. The evening had assumed a surreal quality – there was no hike through backyard darkness while Baxter gave his last pee of the night. It was too quiet in our room without Baxter settling onto the old quilt and performing his ritual of grunts, moans and snorts. This, then, was what it was like to be dog-less.
Earlier in the week I had been joking about the “heir and a spare” concept – it generally worked for the royals, as it does for most parents today. And apparently it worked for pet-owners – just think of all the happy people who walk more than one dog each night. That’s what I needed just then, a back-up dog.
“You’re not crying, are you?” Will laughed.
“Nnnnhommm,” I mumbled.
“You know he’ll be back tomorrow, right?”
I sighed. It would be a long night until then. “I know.”
1. Poor cell phone etiquette. Perhaps she has not noticed that the room is otherwise quiet, that the rest of us are typing madly and importantly on our keyboards, and she is the lone nattering voice, drowning out even The Bangles’ “Manic Monday”. Because I can’t help but overhear, I must also report that her conversations are not even interesting. As a connoisseur of eavesdropping, I know when something is worth recording (i.e. jotting down in my omnipresent notebook or laptop), and her loud, monotonous conversation bores me.
2. Failure to act in the best interest of others. This woman has no sense of community. For proof I offer the following scenario: It was a mild-weathered Saturday afternoon and those of us who appreciate power sources for our laptops over hiking or cycling were indoors, typing away. Logging on, I found that I couldn’t connect to the Internet. Not a big deal – I should be deeply ensconced in the 27th version of my novel anyway, not checking to see if one of my lit sisters has sent me a witty piece of correspondence. I have also come to the point in my life when a few minutes away from the Equifax alert system doesn’t send me into a cold panic. And yet, perversely, I kept trying to connect. Then a fellow caffeine addict leaned over and said, “Are you connected?” “Nope,” I reported, trying for cheerful. A third patron professed unconnectivity, and voila! We had a problem on our hands. The manager, once alerted, looked doubtfully at the WiFi thingamajig and said, “Is anyone connected?” And SHE, the woman sighing importantly across from me at this very moment, said, “I’m online.” Liar! It was impossible. We – the disenfranchised three – pressed her: “Really? You can refresh your page? You can send and receive email?” She gave us this very annoyed glance and said, “I’m sorry. I’m very busy. I don’t have time to talk right now.” Talk? We didn’t want to talk. We wanted validation that the Internet was down. “Well, as long as one person is online…” the manager said, trailing away to other responsibilities. I wanted to wrestle away the woman’s iMac, forcing her to acknowledge that she was looking at an Excel file and NOT the Internet, but I took a deep breath and let it go. Breathe in: citizen of the world. Breathe out.
3. General selfishness and display of coffeehouse bullying. So this morning, inexplicably, all the tables were taken. I shuffled in with my laptop case and noticed that one table was littered with food wrappers and an untidy stack of newspapers. “Excuse me – do you know if anyone is sitting here?” I ask the man next to me. “There was someone there, but I guess he left. That was maybe ten minutes ago.” Aha. I stacked up the papers, brushed the crumbs onto the plate, and prepared to set myself up, when SHE appeared, swooping out of nowhere. “I’m sorry, I’ve been waiting for that table,” she announced. Waiting where? In the bathroom? At another table on the other side of the house? It’s not like we’re in a gym, signing up for time on a treadmill. It’s every woman for herself here. It’s catch as catch can. It’s snooze or loose. So back off, lady. While you were staring at this empty table for ten minutes, I made my move. I will now proceed to type beautiful prose and get on with my life, thank you very much. Except – I didn’t do that. It was like being in grade school all over again. I caved to the bully. Here’s my lunch money – er, coveted seat near the window. While I was standing there not sure how to respond (be gracious, be eloquent, Paula), a man at the facing table announced, “Hey, I’m leaving now. You can have my spot.” Now we face each other over our laptop screens and she jots important notes on a napkin and I type this, my small form of revenge.
Paula Treick DeBoard