Friday, June 09, 2006

Dogs IV: Bert

Soon after Toby’s demise—far too soon, he thought—his younger son, then 10 or 11, approached him about the possibility of getting another dog. He said no. Then his wife approached him, in league with the younger son, and implored him. It would be the son’s dog. The son would take care of it. He himself would not have to have anything to do with it. Please.

It was all bullshit, of course, but what could he say? He said yes (and later cried and told his wife how much he resented her role in the matter).

He took the younger son to the local SPCA to look at dogs.

In one kennel was an exceedingly wrinkly black dog, a dog so ugly that they both found it cute. And it seemed quite friendly, too. They expressed an interest in adopting it. They were told it was a Shar-Pei and that, because of all its wrinkles, it would need to be bathed every two or three days, lest it develop skin problems (only much later did he find out that this, too, was bullshit). Never mind, he said.

In another kennel was a dog that looked more like a small German shepherd than anything else. It looked, in fact, remarkably like Bob (only with a little less pit bull to it), so that, much later on, the two dogs tended to merge in his memory. Encouraged by the shelter staff, they took this dog for a short walk around the grounds. It was desperately friendly and eager. The younger son liked it. He himself had no objection to it, apart from his general objection, at the time, to getting a dog at all.

They decided to adopt it (him) and call him Dogbert. They had to wait for Dogbert to be neutered (at their expense, of course) and for the SPCA to investigate their fitness as an adoptive family for a dog that would otherwise almost certainly have been dead within the week—this was a step he understood but nevertheless somewhat resented.

In due course, they took Dogbert home, where he very shortly became merely Bert.

He built two short fences, separating the back yard from the front, so that Bert could be given the run of the back yard, rather than be confined to Toby’s old pen. It was a small kindness—he knew he wouldn’t be letting Bert in the house as much as Toby, or walking him as much as Toby. He really didn’t intend to have much to do with Bert, in fact—let the younger son and the wife walk Bert and play with him.

Which, to their credit, they very often did.

In addition to their similar looks, Bert was a lot like Bob in that he was not well socialized and could not really be trusted around strangers, particularly strange men.

If Bert lacked something of Bob’s fearful aggressiveness, he made up for it by being a nuisance barker. He barked incessantly, even when they were home and in his immediate vicinity. If Bert was not asleep, or interacting directly with a family member, Bert was barking.

They tried various remedies recommended by vets and trainers and friends. Nothing stopped Bert from barking. So they had Bert surgically debarked. The vet explained that the procedure would not stop Bert from barking, nor would it render him entirely silent, it would just make his bark very much quieter. And it did.

When people visited who did not visit often, or when tradesmen came and went on various errands, Bert would bark, and the people would remark upon how quiet and hoarse his bark sounded. When told that Bert had been debarked, people almost always seemed horrified, as if something very cruel had been done to the poor dog.

He found it interesting that people, even men, expressed no horror whatsoever upon learning that they had had Bert’s testicles cut off—that, of course, is what you were supposed to do with dogs’ testicles. He suspected, however, that most of the men, like himself, if forced to choose between their voices and their balls, would have chosen their balls—and he was a man to liked to talk. Not, of course, that it was an either-or proposition, or that Bert had been offered any choice in the matter. It was all a matter, he supposed, of what you were used to.

It was never apparent that Bert missed either his balls or his voice. It must be noted, however, that even after surgery, Bert was still able to bark; he just did it less annoyingly. Whereas… But never mind. Enough about Bert’s bark and his balls.

He didn’t dislike Bert. But he never warmed to him, either. He never treated Bert with overt cruelty. But neither did he treat him with much affection. In truth, he had as little to do with Bert as possible.

The younger son played with Bert when he was around and had nothing more pressing to do. The wife saw that Bert was fed. She walked Bert occasionally, and it was she who took Bert to routine vet visits—on one of his first vet visits, Bert earned a red folder; thereafter, she had to drug him and muzzle him before she brought him in.

But mostly, Bert lived uneventfully in the back yard. Bert was not, he supposed, an unhappy dog, as dogs go. Bert was delighted with what attention he got, which was sometimes considerable when the younger son was in high school and had many friends over to hang out in his lair in the garage.

But then the younger son went off to college and was home only during the summer and on holidays. And Bert got less attention. He got some. And he was physically well cared for. And, all and all, you could truthfully say that a lot of dogs got worse out of life. But that is not to say that Bert got what, in retrospect, he was now inclined to think that any dog deserved. He was far from proud of the way he treated (or did not treat) Bert.

Life goes on, though; good, bad, or indifferent.

One day, they noticed that Bert seemed to have a cold: runny nose, rheumy eyes, lack of energy.

When, a few days later, Bert was no better, the wife took him to see the vet. Bert was not very cooperative; the vet was scarcely able to examine him at all (that red file folder didn’t encourage him to try too hard, either). The vet prescribed an antibiotic and sent Bert and the wife home.

They gave Bert the antibiotic until it was all gone, per the vet’s instructions.

Bert showed no improvement at all. They called the vet. The vet said to bring Bert in again; this time they would give him a general anesthetic so that they could take a good look at him and take samples for biopsy.

Later that afternoon, he received a phone call from the vet. Once they had taken a good look at Bert, the vet said, it was immediately apparent that he suffered from lymphatic cancer. The vet told him that the cancer might well respond to chemotherapy. He said he would not put a dog through chemotherapy. At the time, he felt that he was being kind, not callous—it wasn’t a matter of expense; it was a matter of not wanting to see the dog die slowly and miserably as so many human cancer patients did.

And quite possibly, he was right. But in retrospect, he could see that his decision was made much easier by the fact that he was not much attached to Bert. He felt a little guilty about that, later.

The alternative to chemotherapy was to put Bert down. Yes, he said, let’s do that. At the time of the vet’s phone call, Bert had not yet awakened from the general anesthesia they’d given him for the exam. Would it not be kinder, he said, to put Bert down without ever letting him wake up? Unfortunately, said the vet, we can’t put the dog down without your written authorization; by the time you can get here and fill out the forms, he’ll be awake. But not very awake. And the euthanasia is quite painless.

He drove into town and filled out the forms. He did not want to see Bert before it was done. He did not want Bert’s body after it was done. He arranged for Bert’s cremation.

And that was the end of Bert.

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