The Last Word
Year of the dog.
Given that every facet of American life suddenly seems under construction, you might be surprised to learn that the biggest impact the new president and his family are having upon our immediate family has nothing to do with health care, highway construction or the mortgage crisis. It has to do with the First Family’s first dog.
We’ve stepped very lightly around the subject of a family dog for several years now, but the clamor coming from our children has only grown since the Obamas announced that a Portuguese water dog was to make its new home at the White House.
None of the usual complaints — the cleanup, the teething, the cost — have held us back. In fact, our reluctance has nothing to do with getting a new dog and everything to do with forgetting the old dog.
His name was Rex, and he was a remarkably sweet-tempered Brittany. When we acquired Rex, we lived in a tiny two-bedroom in Los Angeles. For a Brittany, this is a bad mix. When petting him, you could almost feel the energy coursing through his body, his muscles twitching, desperate for exercise, for the opportunity to chase a bird 20 miles through the woods.
Fortunately for us and for Rex, we lived near L.A.’s Griffith Park. It would surprise many to learn that Griffith Park is considered to be the country’s largest urban park (purportedly four times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park) and, as such, provides shelter to even the largest of animals: countless coyotes, some bobcats, a handful of good-sized deer and frequently, one tri-colored Brittany spaniel.
We needed a bike to keep Rex happy: There was no other way to get enough miles on him. But afterward, he was transformed: suddenly possessing a singular attentiveness that I’ve come to think only he possessed.
And then, one afternoon, a burst of noise came from the room where we kept Rex’s kennel and where he had been quietly taking a nap. This was an unpleasant noise: a wild screeching, broken-belt kind of racket. Upon entering the room, it took me sometime to understand that the twitching, the frothing at the mouth and the involuntary crazed-eye snarling were in fact the result of a seizure.
I had never seen one. It was harrowing, lasting several minutes and becoming so violent that, by the time I found him, he had already cut his mouth while repeatedly slamming his head against his kennel wall. That evening, it happened again. We went to the vet, and discussed diet. Had he eaten anything poisonous? During our runs through the park, he often got out-of-sight, never for long, but as I mentioned, the place was the size of a large ranch, hilly and wooded. Certainly, he might have stumbled across something: an old sandwich perhaps, a fungus of some kind; anything was possible.
At length, discussion became pointless. We tried medicines. They would seem to stabilize him for a few days, maybe a week, but the brutal seizures always returned. What was hardest for me, oddly, was not the physical torment (though awful it was) but the terrible reduced look in his eyes, as if he were rabid, cruel, a beast straight out of a Stephen King novel.
In time, we moved to Tulsa and the seizures seemed to decrease in number but increase in ferocity. He was beginning to hurt himself: When the seizures first started happening, he would slump immediately to the ground, but now he was beginning to remain upright and then plunge forward into fences and walls. Our daughter was a toddler and it had become obvious: Enough was enough.
I took him to the vet, stayed while they put him to sleep, left alone. That was seven years ago and still, almost once a week, I wonder what we did wrong, whether we should have kept a closer watch on those marches through the park. Did he really eat the wrong thing? Was he genetically predisposed? Did we feed him the right things, the wrong things, too much, not enough? Did we spoil him? Did we neglect him? For such a sensitive guy, did the weeks when we would board him drive him crazy? Literally? Should we have known this would be the result?
We’ll soon get our new family dog, but it won’t be because of me; it will, thankfully, be because of our son and daughter. They see only the positives. I see only the negatives.
I want to grow up to be just like them. Maybe the new pup will help.