Facebook reminded me this morning that on this day last year, we brought Sylvie home from an overnight at the vet.
On the Saturday night, she’d had an episode. I heard a fall and woke up to find her on her side. The carpet underneath her was wet. We took her to the regular vet on Sunday, and they suggested we take her to the emergency vet, where she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and sent home with meds that we hoped would work.
They didn’t. After a week of almost normal behavior, she started a slide and after weeks of heartbreak, we said goodbye to her on March 3, 2021. The grief was crushing. I knew it would hurt — indeed back in the good old days I’d joked that when the time finally came, I’d need a full week off of work — but was surprised at the intensity. I almost wished for an office job so that I had somewhere to go other than the house, the house that I’d spent pretty much every single day in with Sylvie and Lucy since moving in. I’d been working from home since before COVID. Now the house was a little quieter.
But I had Lucy to keep me company.
Then her kidneys started to go. We put her on medication. It seemed to help some. But her appetite fluctuated wildly — as did her tastes in food. I think I first really became concerned in July when we brought home a bison bone full of marrow from the local steakhouse just to see what she would do. No interest. She’d have good weeks and bad after that. It never got as bad as it did with Sylvie but toward the end we couldn’t leave her alone in the house because she was blind and deaf and a little disoriented. We said goodbye to her on December 20, 2021.
So that was basically 2021 was full year of dog-related depression. (Fun fact: “the black dog” was used as metaphor for depression as early as 65 B.C.) I couldn’t even tell you if COVID (in general; I’ve yet to catch it) and the other nonsense have had any impact on me because it’s been hard to see beyond what’s immediately in front of me: the prospect of a dog-less house becoming a reality.
I’d say it’s one of the main reasons I haven’t been writing much. But that might be bullshit. I didn’t write much the year before. In fact, I wrote more last year. Granted, pretty much everything I wrote last year was horror and it doesn’t take a shrink to figure that one out. The book I’d promised myself to finish, I couldn’t get my head around. I’ve got the plot — sort of — but I don’t know if I want it to be half-ass funny or just full on gross and disgusting.
Many writers will tell you that they grapple with this sort of stuff and are forced to ponder an age-old question. Am I not writing because I’m depressed or am I depressed because I’m not writing?
After much thought, I can tell you the answer is: probably both!
This isn’t going to became sad dog dad blog on the regular. Hell, I haven’t written here enough for it to be anything on the regular. Maybe I’ll start. Or I’ll start and get bored with it. After all, there’s only so much I can write about staring out the window or editing pieces about programmatic advertising. I guess I could go into every excruciating detail about my runs, especially the ones on the treadmill. “Yesterday, while still staring at the wall, I hit my stride at mile two …”
We said goodbye to Sylvie on Wednesday. It was a beautiful, warm day, and we said goodbye out on the deck.
I knew this was going to hurt. I knew it like I know the sun will come up tomorrow. But still…
I know I’m supposed to talk about a rainbow bridge, a better place, and list all the ways in which Sylvie was the best dog ever. I’ll get to that.
But right now as I type this all I can see is the empty dog bed, think about how when I come home from one last trip to the vet today, she won’t be there to greet me. Our pack is down one. And my heart is broken.
Here’s what you need to know. I’ve been working from home since well before the pandemic. I spend more time with Sylvie and Lucy than I do with anyone else, including Cara. I talk to them, I sing to them, I curse at my coworkers in front of them. They stop me from going full Jack Torrance up here in the mountains. And now my silly little bundle of black poodle is gone.
She won’t be there to beg for treats or to insist on going outside for the third time in an hour. She won’t be there to do her all-terrain butt scooting. Rocks, dirt, tree bark, mud, snow — especially snow — she liked a good butt scooting.
Lucy’s curled up on my lap while I sit here getting snot all over my keyboard, my eyes swollen, my chest aching, my right hand reaching out for a dog that isn’t there, the dog I reached for when I needed to calm myself down.
When Cara and the dogs first moved to Brooklyn back in 2011, the four of us slept in a full-size bed. Lucy slept on or near Cara. Sylvie slept between us. Around the time I was being promoted to Editor of AdAge, I was dealing with a metric ton of anxiety, enough that I marched myself to the doctor and got a prescription for lexapro. And at night, as I lay there staring at the ceiling trying not to worry, I’d calm myself by running my fingers through her curls, over and over again, and try to match my breathing to hers before realizing the respiratory rate for a 16-pound poodle isn’t quite right for an adult male.
I’d almost forgotten about that. So much has changed in the 10 years I knew Sylvie. She moved from Louisiana to live in Brooklyn. Then we moved from Park Slope to Bay Ridge. We also moved into a king size bed, where she was free to sleep as far away from us as possible. Then we moved to Superior, Colorado, then here to Conifer. These last few years, she slept at Cara’s feet. But sometimes she preferred to sleep on the floor. Meanwhile, Lucy switched as well, and now spends most nights curled up between my legs or tucked into my side.
So I’d almost forgotten that I used Sylvie as a stress stone. And lately, Facebook Memories has been reminding me of a host of other things that five-year-old Sylvie did before she turned, somehow, into 15-year-old Sylvie. Other things I’d almost forgotten. She liked to chase and chew on pants legs and shoes when playing in the backyard. She (and Lucy) sometimes nested in a pile of shoes when waiting for us to return. She liked to play in the bed first thing in the morning, which was always a good way to get a human ready for the work day.
Like most dogs, she loved walks. For a dog that grew up in a house in Louisiana, she sure seemed to enjoy taking to the streets of Brooklyn. Or the idea of it at any rate. Because while she would jump and spin, yip and yap the minute she saw her leash come out, she was more than a little problematic when she was on that leash.
Runners? Hated them. Bikes? Hated them even more. When we lived in Bay Ridge and I really wanted to wear her out, I’d walk her down to the promenade, wait for a biker to come along, and off we’d go. I’m not so sure how the cyclists felt about that, but they were never in any danger of her catching up to them.
In fact, right at the start of our grand adventure, Sylvie’s problematic leash behavior almost put an end to our little family.
It was the first time I took Sylvie and Lucy for a walk in Brooklyn without Cara. It was a nice summer day. I’d taken off from work so DirecTV could come by. After the appointment was over, I decided to walk the dogs to Prospect Park. I thought maybe if I’d tire them out with the half mile to the park — a long distance for tiny dogs not used to much walking — and we sat in the grass for a while as bikers and runners did their thing, they’d get acclimated. The walk there went fine, but soon enough it became clear that it hadn’t worn them out. They still wanted to murder every bicycle. So I headed out into the middle of Long Meadow — out of sight of bikes and runners. In the middle of throwing down a blanket, Sylvie started pulling at her leash and then, somehow, slipped right out of her harness and shot across field straight for … a little girl running along with her parents. Everything slowed down at that moment. I could see her biting the girl and being put down. I could see her running beyond and into traffic.
None of that happened, obviously. But had I lost Sylvie, there’s not a doubt in my mind Cara would have left me just two months after moving to Brooklyn. And there’s not a doubt in my mind because she told me as much. Cara made it clear from the start that any attempt to play “it’s me or the dogs” could only end one way — and it wouldn’t be in my favor.
Cara’s was — is — a fierce doggy mommy. She’s a fierce person in general. This has got to be harder on her than it is on me, yet she managed to go to work today while I sit here in my little puddle of sad.
Sylvie, of course, was Cara’s. Both dogs were. Sylvie was five when I met her, so I missed all the real puppy years. But I’ve seen pictures and the cute is enough to lay a man down. When I first met Cara, it was clear she was crazy about her dogs. I thought the whole thing was a little silly.
We know how that turned out — me sharing food, sharing a bed, cooking entire steaks for them. But the bond between Cara and Sylvie was always the primary one. Sylvie made that clear from the start. She took to me easily enough. She took to strangers in general. She’d bark at you a bit but was easily bought off by a treat and some scritches — whereas Lucy would bark at you for the duration of your stay. It’s why people always said Sylvie was the sweet one and offered to take her if something happened to us. (Poor Lucy has mellowed in her old age.)
But even though Sylvie took to me, she would not tolerate any monkey business with her mom. Not while she was watching. Hugging, kissing, dancing. All guaranteed to get her barking at us. She also spent the first couple of years humping my arms, which I assumed had less to do with sex and more to do with domination, letting me know who was really in charge.
And, yes, to be clear, I just said that my female dog humped my arm. Sylvie wasn’t overly concerned with traditional gender roles. She lifted a leg to pee. Every time. I’ve become so used to it that I find it weird when other female dogs don’t lift a leg.
Sylvie looked dashing in her blue and green turtleneck sweater. But put her in a frilly dress and she just looked — well she looked like she wanted to murder you in your sleep. Because Cara’s mom makes custom dog clothes, Sylvie got put into dresses far more often than she would have liked. But she also got a lot of use out of that sweater.
For a dog born and raised in Louisiana, Sylvie sure did like the cold. And she loved the snow. This video is one of their first snowfalls in Brooklyn.
And this one …
This video is here in Colorado just a few weeks after she returned from emergency surgery to have her gallbladder removed.
We almost lost Sylvie at this time last year. We paid a lot of money to try to save her. Not only did it work, but she had a really good year. We had a really good year. Like Cara said, if we had to pay twice what we paid, we would have done it. I’d harbored a little bit of hope that last year’s scare would have prepared me for this, would have toughened me up some. But no.
Some would say it’s unmanly to cry so much over a dog. But I’ve seen enough grown men bawling over dogs to know better. And some would say it’s unseemly getting so distraught over a pet. Especially in a year in which over 500,000 people have died of COVID in America alone.
But there is no shame here. No one loves you like your dog — not your children, not your parents, who, as humans will be disappointed in you from time to time. The only thing you can do to disappoint your dog is not give it more chicken.
And honestly, I don’t know what else to do with all of these feelings other than pour them all out here. Hell, I have a feeling I’m just getting started. I haven’t even touched on what the month since her first episode felt like.
All of which is fine. People like to read memorials to gone dogs. My friend Jim Mitchem even put together a book of them and I help sift through all the entries. It’s not because I’m sadistic.
I think it’s because when we grieve for our pets, it’s something pure. The love our dogs have for us is uncomplicated. The love we have for our dogs is the same. With humans, we sometimes have to try hard not to speak ill of the dead. Human relationships are messy. We say and do things to hurt each other. That doesn’t happen with dogs.
I guess stories we tell about dogs, even the sad ones — especially the sad ones — remind us that our fellow humans are capable of such pure love, and yes, such pure grief. It’s something hopeful.
I’m not feeling so hopeful right now. I just returned from the vet. I dropped off the oxygen tent and oxygen concentrator. Donated all the pills we didn’t give her. When the vet tech came out to take the stuff, I lost it. Again. And when we got home and Lucy spent the first fifteen minutes searching the house. The same.
And that’s okay, too. Nothing will ever love me like Sylvie loved me. And I’ll never love anything else exactly the same way. I know she had a good life. I know she was spoiled rotten. I know we did right by her. I know this, but I feel like she deserved even more. More walks, more hugs, more scritches, more chicken, more steak. More life.
Because Sylvie wasn’t just a good girl. She was the best girl.
Friday afternoon while working from home, the Ring camera alerted me to motion out front.
It was the FedEx guy.
Five minutes later, more motion out front.
It was UPS.
I retrieved both packages. And not four minutes later, more motion out front. Figuring it was USPS, I made my way to the door and peeked out the side window before opening it. It was this guy.
He looked into the window. He licked the deck a bit. He seemed to be waiting for me to open the door. Then he walked down the deck to peek in the other windows.
Maybe he wanted our Christmas presents. Maybe he was hungry. Maybe he wanted to get in the house and slaughter us all. You never know with a deer.
He then walked back to the front door. I was sort of surprised he didn’t shout out “Candygram!”
Our front door has a little hatch in it. You know, in case we ever open a speakeasy and people have to give us a password to get in. I opened this and told the deer to go away. He simply moved closer to hear what I was saying.
Eventually he gave up and wandered off.
Or so I’d thought. Turns out he simply went around to the back of the house to check out the back door situation.
Sneaky bastard. He did leave eventually.
A neighbor told me he had to chase this guy off because the young buck was licking the dogs through the fence!
Oh. And the deer made the news for following people in the park down the hill. I think this person was being overly dramatic with the attack language. But more dog licking was involved!
I’m starting to think it was this guy from earlier this year who followed me around out in the yard.
That one seemed interested in dogs as well
Anyway. It’s cute and all. But don’t feed the deer.
We switched dog-food brands this week. By which I mean we bought a new type of food for the dogs, not that Cara and I eat dog food and switched.
The new brand came highly recommended by the super helpful woman at the store (you know the type, she wouldn’t stop recommending things ten minutes after I’d made up my mind). She said her own dog loved it. It had freeze dried bits of RAW food. That sounded like something a dog would eat. (That and chicken, chocolate, pretzels, corn chips, cheese, peanut butter, Kleenex, ice cream, beef. But thankfully not poop. Or carrots.)
Things seemed promising when I brought the bag home as Lucy practically humped the thing. And if you know anything about our dogs, Sylvie is the one who likes to hump. (Sylvie is also the one who just plows through a bowl of food).
Then we served the food. And last night noticed Lucy making a bit of a mess. Normally, Lucy takes one piece of food out of the bowl and walks to some other apartment to chew up that one morsel. A very frugal and future-thinking dog, sometimes she will hide a morsel in a safe spot–you never know when zombies will strike your parents. You can see how Lucy eats in this video called How Lucy Eats.
But last night, she was making a pile right beside the bowl. And it seemed mostly like a pile of rejects, though every once in a while she’d return to the bits on the floor, give them a sniffing and then maybe eat one of them.
Then it occurred to me: She’s pulling a Lucky Charms!
She’s just going through the bowl and eating up the good stuff and tossing aside the rest. Crazy damn dog.
It’s happened to all of us. You’re out and about, minding your own business and you see or hear someone laughing. For a split second, you think, “That person is laughing at me.” Your mind whisks you back to high school, to a time when you were awkward and in need of validation and so overcome by insecurities that the only thing you were secure in was the knowledge that someone, somewhere was talking about you.
And then your adult self points out the foolishness of such thinking. And the ego. It would take a teenager –or a narcissist–to actually believe that someone was always talking about him, wouldn’t it?
But yesterday, I swear the woman on the bike, wearing sunglasses and standing on the corner of Union and Seventh Ave in Park Slope. I would have bet my life on it. I looked briefly. Then turned away. Then turned back. And yes, she was still laughing. In my general direction. From all the way across the street. “What the hell,” I thought. “She can’t actually be laughing at me.”
When the man sang that some enchanted evening, you will see a stranger across a crowded room, he didn’t mention anything about a couple of yappy lap dogs. But on a July night at Grant Street Dance Hall in Lafayette, Louisiana, I was only in town for two more days and wasn’t exactly thinking about the future consequences of current actions. All I knew was that I was talking to this curly-haired blonde who I’d noticed an hour or so earlier — and I hadn’t lost her attention yet.
I already knew her name was Cara, that we had a couple of mutual acquaintances, that she’d dropped a ton of money to go to the Super Bowl earlier in the year and was also a rabid LSU fan. Those things, along with her — how do the French put this, “smoking hotness” — were more than enough to drown out any alarm bells that might have gone off when she whipped out the iPhone and started showing me photos of her “babies,” a couple of small poodles. Sure they were cute, boy they were fascinating, yeah I love dogs, yadda yadda yadda.
Of course, I paid attention — enough, at least, to notice that there was a black one and a white one and that sometimes they wore clothes. But, like I said, in town for a couple of days. If I was lucky, we’d make out and then we’d never see each other again, so a couple of high-maintenance yipsters were of no great concern. Continue reading “The Poodle Problem”→
Okay. I’m joking. Obviously. It upsets me–yes, now I’m the one upset–that I even have to write that I’m joking about this. My friends and family get this, I’m sure. And people with a sense of humor. But there are some people out there who can somehow decipher these long lists of words we call sentences yet can’t, for the life of them, detect the overall context of a paragraph. One of those idiots might stumble across this post. Of course, it doesn’t help my case that those sorts of idiots are the most easily offended and now I’ve not only set them off by asking for a cat-poisoner, but I’ve insulted them as well.
I may have to reconsider my mostly fond feelings about dogs. Yesterday, while sitting in the Starbucks on the corner of Court and Dean, a fellow patron tied up her Puggle to the bench and came inside to get a coffee. There was a bit of a line, so the little guy had to wait out in the cold longer than expected. He, being the nervous sort, began to yip. When master didn’t come running, he yipped a little more, then — being the nervous sort — deposited about five or six logs on the sidewalk while moving. Then — and here’s where you may want to avert your eyes — he proceeded to gobble up every last bit of it. If that’s not gross enough, consider that the owner was completely unaware of it and that at some point later in the day she probably let that dog lick her face.