05 May 2008

Life After Zooey

This morning I was not awakened by a wet nose nudging my hand or hot rancid breath in my face. Instead, the harsh beep-beep-beep of my husband's alarm.

I opened the kitchen door to let the cat in, but no shaggy black-and-grey dog went out.

No one kept me company or kept my feet warm while I packed lunches.

There was no one to give the last of my daughter's cereal to. I had to throw it out.

I did not bother locking the pantry door; no one was going to stick his nose in a cereal box.

When I returned from the bus stop, the front door opened freely. There was no hundred pound bulk laying behind it, ensuring that he would be alerted when I returned.

All my routines lie in disarray. I miss my dog. My companion of thirteen years, who knew me before I was a wife and a mother, who loved me without condition and in spite of all my faults, mistakes, shortcomings and fits of pique, who was such a part of my day to day life that every stupid little action feels incomplete somehow.

He was a Good Dog.

He didn't start out that way. He had a talent for sniffing out things that were new, and utterly, completely destroying them. He was especially good at finding things that were expensive, or had emotional value. Once he ate a wallet containing eighty dollars. And no food item was safe unless locked up in an airtight container, six feet off the ground.

We had a screen door that was slow to swing shut, and every time someone entered the house, voices would ring out, "Close the door!!!" but it was too late, a streak of black would have charged through the open opportunity and he would run, run, run, in a straight line, gloriously free, an entourage of huffing teenage smokers in his wake, struggling to catch up.

He would wait until there was only one book of matches left, in a household of chainsmokers after 7-11 had closed for the night, and then steal it with glee; waiting until you were close, so close, then show you the matches between his teeth before running past, up the stairs, down the stairs, loving the chase, basking in the attention...

As a pup, at our old house in the city, he would run up to greet the local kids as they walked home from the bus stop. Then he grew to be a gangly giant of a dog, but not understanding the game had changed, he would continue to run up to the gate, barking joyfully. The new crop of kids, not having known the puppy, instead seeing this black beast hurtling towards them, barking furiously, would scream and run past. Zoo thought it was the best fun.

When his water bowl would run dry, he would pick it up and carry it to where you were, drop it at your feet. If you did not fill it right away, he would think you were being particularly obtuse, picking it up again and throwing it down for emphasis, then dramatically licking the empty bowl. "Look," his raised eyebrows would say, "I'm trying to drink water and nothing's happening. 'Cause it's empty." And as soon as you would get up to fill it, he'd snatch it up and walk off with it, just to be a pain. He did that right up to the end.

As he grew older, his penchant for drama grew as well. If I stayed up later than usual, engrossed in a book or a movie, he would heave himself up with an exaggerated sigh. He would try to nudge me up, and failing to elicit a response, he would walk to the doorway, glancing over his shoulder, and harumph loudly, not willing to retire to bed quietly, letting me know that he was disgusted with my careless and disrespectful ways.

If I stayed out of the house for longer than he was accustomed to, he would trot out to the kitchen and somehow finagle the bread from its "secure" position atop the toaster. He would bring it out to the living room and eat a hole through the plastic bag, but leave the bread untouched. When I opened the front door, pushing hard against his bulk, asleep on the other side, he would get up and look at me reproachfully. "Woman, look what you made me do. I had to find emergency provisions in case you never returned."

As the years passed, he grew slower and slower. No more wild runs for the hills. Stairs were taken carefully and only if no other option was available. Once content to allow the children to ride on his back, he would now only let them sit for a moment or two before gently flicking them off and rolling quickly onto his side to discourage any attempts at remount.

He loved to give hugs and kisses, although in his latest years we accepted these hugs and kisses less, squealing and turning away, for he was stinky and gross.

We loved him in spite of his excema, his dreadlocked lion's mane of hair, his foul breath, his horrible flatulence, his warts and lumps, his grumpy and curmudgeonly demeanor.

He was a Good Dog.

Friday afternoon he tried to get up after a long nap and could not. His legs simply did not want to cooperate. Believing he was stiff from lying on the floor, I helped him out the door, but things did not improve. He managed to stumble downhill, but we had to pull him back uphill and into the house on a sled. A lifetime sufferer of Lyme Disease, he had always resented people touching his legs and feet, but this day he allowed himself to be hoisted up. He understood that he could not manage without our help.

And we were beside ourselves with grief, knowing that this night would be our last with him. How is it that we were so ill-prepared?

The next morning was brutal, the waiting, watching the clock tick his last minutes by, hugging him and telling him how much I would miss him, knowing his deaf ears could not hear me. He reassured us, dropping his chin onto our hands, licking our faces, before sighing and laying his head back down. His heart was weak, his breath was labored, he was tired and he had given up. But his face was still cheerful, and he did not want us to be sad.

Those who did not know Zooey will want to mock me, for feeling such a deep chasm of sadness, for taking the time to type out a eulogy for a dog- and such an unattractive and ill-perfumed dog, at that.


Because just saying good-bye is not enough. I need everyone to know that he was a Good Dog, he had more character and humor and personality than many people I've known, and I miss him, miss him.

There is a dog shaped hole in my heart and I don't know how long it will take to heal. And for that I make no apology.

If anyone has any good Zooey memories, please please share them with me by posting a comment below. Please.

"I believe I essentially remain what I have almost always been- a narrator, but one with extremely pressing personal needs. I want to introduce, I want to describe, I want to distribute momentos, amulets, I want to break out my wallet and pass around snapshots..."

Molly has reminded me that Zooey loved nothing better than knowing he was in the middle of things, and would deliberately stretch out in exactly the worst possible place to be. She has sent me this photo from the beach:

Thanks, Molly.


Anonymous said...

I knew Zoo in the later years of his life... I have a funny memory from last summer when we were all at the beach and Zoo liked to lay right in the middle of the floor where everyone needed to walk in order to get some sustenance from the kitchen. Nanny tripped over him and was fine but in order to alert everyone in the beach house to his presence in the dining room, someone from the Elton family surrounded zooey with orange cones.. It was hilarious! I have a photo that I will send to Robin because I could not post it here...

Kristin said...

That was one of the saddest things I have ever read - Zooey was a Good Dog. One of my favorite memories of Zooey was when you, John and I were playing Twister and Zooey got in on the game too. And then decided to hump John while he was in a compromising position. And then John saying, "Oh, it's ok, just let him finish, dogs have needs too." I will also miss him at the beach house - especially when he wouldn't go to the bathroom for Jeff, so I would take him with my dog(s). Then I could throw it back in Jeff's face that he would go for me. That was fun. Zooey will be missed.

Rob Strong said...

Some of my most fond memories of Zooey include the wrestling matches with Jeff, the group-cleaning with Brak and Foxy, any combination of Jeff and the kids using his midsection as a pillow [at the same time], and Zoe's attempts to court him [and mount him, though she lacked the equipment]. I also remember sharing many laughs with the family when he got excited and would run around the living room and hallway/foyer at the old house, in circles faster and tighter than I previously thought possible by any dog, let alone one of his size. I got a kick out of his jagged-edge walking collar too, as if he needed help looking more intimidating.

I know Zooey became less and less appealing to the senses as time passed, but now I think back to all those times he would approach me--each time fatter, grayer, nappier, and stinkier than the last--looking for affection, as if he still had the appeal of the rambunctious puppy with the face you couldn't stay mad at... no matter how bad you wanted to... because he was always up to no good. Now when I think back, I realize that deep down, that puppy really was there all along.

Zooey had such a unique personality, and we all like to think that we had a part in shaping him into the dog that he was. I think he deserves some credit for shaping us into the people we are, as well.

Kitty UK said...

Robin, I didn't know Zooey but I can feel your pain from reading what you wrote. Isn't it amazing how an animal can make such in indelible impact on your life and really, REALLY touch your soul? Best of luck to you getting through such a sad time in your life- I guess the positive part of this will be the memories of Zooey that your children will recount to you later on in their lives.

Danielle said...

I know your pain and I hate to hear whenever a friend feels the same. I am so sorry. Zooey was a very good dog!

Anonymous said...

Zooey was a great dog and I know you and your family will miss him. Max, if I could explain it to him, would also feel the loss since they were "more than friends".
The way things are going, Zooey will have his buddy to play with again in the not too distant future.

laz said...

I am so very sorry to hear this dire news. Zooey certainly had personality and was a character by every definition of the word. I have a memory that I may or may not have fabricated that comes to mind, so bear with me here. I seem to remember that right around the time you brought Zooey home with you, Chris was set on training him to be a frisbee dog. One frustrating afternoon down at Bancroft parkway established the relationship of power struggles and affection that those two would share for years. Even if I did imagine it, it certainly could have happened...

Thank you for sharing all of your pain and joyful memories. Remember that Zoo is missed by many. Here's to Zooey, a fine dog indeed.


Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Robin, what a gift Zooey was to you ... and what a gift you were to him. Everyone should be as lucky to have such a Good Dog as Zooey in their lives. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful dog, inside and out.