Monday, February 28, 2011

Puppy Love

Tiny Tucker lays curled in the crook betwixt my hips and rib cage.  He has somehow perfectly alined the curve of his spine with the curve of my waist.  I look down at him and watch his pint-sized chest rise and fall.  Puppy love washes over my heart and a smile creeps over my lips, but then it is almost immediately over taken by a tsunami of guilt.  An accusatory voice echos in my head, asking how quickly have I forgotten Carson.  Like a new husband, can teeny Tucker ever replace the colossal Carson shaped hole left in my life?

When I made the cross country move with all my possessions in tow, Carson was my co-pilot.  And why not, he had been beside me for every life change for the past 11 years.  Finally free of my collegiate bonds, the first two major purchase I was determined to make were washer and dryer, and a dog.  Shortly after arriving to my new job in clothes fresh from my own appliances, I went in search of a my canine companion.

Living in a small apartment with an even smaller yard, I had to find a pup who's mass would not make my tiny space a mess.  I visited several shelters but found nothing but the Greatest of Danes, Bloodhounds requiring their own queen mattress, and St. Bernards who could consume a metric ton in a week.  It was not until leaving a Petsmart adoption event empty-handed, and spied a man walking in with nothing more than a wee tuft of hair in his arms, that I found what I was looking for.  After chatting with him, he told me that the breed was a Britney Spaniel and the breeder had one more male he was anxious to find a home for.

A phone call, a short drive, and $150 later I returned home with a perpetual motion machine incarnate of a puppy.  His name was Chris for a few days, but after that didn't seem to fit his sizable personality, I landed on the moniker of Carson.  Carson is lucky he made it out of puppyhood alive.  His antics made the movie "Beethoven" look like a walk in the park.  He was a holy terror.  The day I came home and he dug a hole in the wall, and ate all the insulation, he was so lucky the pound had already closed their doors for the day.  Several weeks of obedience classes, some patience, and the unkindest of snips helped us settle into the routine of everyday life together.

Carson was not the brightest bulb.  In fact, amongst my friends it was the running joke that I had one of the dumbest dogs alive.  He never could quite get the gist of frisbee.  He would allow it to hit him in the face, fall the ground, and then pick it up from there.  I had to finally stop trying for fear of the resulting brain damage.  You could literally knock on the table for eight hours straight and he would still be convinced there was someone at the door.  My favorite illustration of his lack luster mental prowess is one day he was laying on the floor, spies something across the room, gets up, and starts to lick it.  I cannot imagine what is on the floor that he is licking.  I get up to investigate and discover he is licking a spot of light.  Lovable but not solving world hunger in the near future.

It was shortly after the move that I began to notice old age over taking my energetic guy.  He began to put on weight, was less interested in playing fetch and would rather sleep than go for a walk.  Old age happens to all of us.  Since the dog's life is condensed compared to ours, I had the opportunity to see him from infancy to a geriatric.  It had me pondering how our bodies changed, and how none of us can escape it.

One night I came home and found him down in the backyard.  He was so sick he could not even stand.  I had to dead lift my 55 lb dog into the house, where I tried to give him what comfort I could until the vet opened.  The verdict there was ominous.  Carson was suffering from DKA secondary to acute pancreatitis.  After a valiant battle, the call came that it was time to release Carson from the pain.  My dad  came in and together we sat with him while he drew his last breath.  I was a wreck.  I cried so hard that the entire staff, including the vet cried with me.  Suddenly after 12 years of constant companionship, he was gone in the blink of an eye.  All our time together, all our understanding, all of our relationship was suddenly just extinguished like it never existed.  Having never lost anyone close to me, I had just the slightest, tiniest, minute glimpse of what some of my patient's families must feel.  I was devastated.

Coming home to an empty house was the hardest.  The first day I caught myself yelling for him to come greet me at the door.  You don't realize how something so silly like a dog fills your life with happiness and unadulterated joy.  There was a hole in my life that made the loneliness ebb in from the fringe of my consciousness.

It was then that I found myself at the shelter.  I was just going to look, to see how I felt about someday having another dog.  I had no intention of bringing anything home.  That was all before Tucker.  Tucker was found somewhere off Jones, nearly dead, grossly underweight, and considered by the staff to be unadoptable in his condition.  He would need special medication for his infected eyes, a regiment of soft food and high calorie kibble to try to get his weight back up to healthy, a vet visit fairly soon after adoption, and someone to show him not all humans will leave him helpless and alone.  The whole story melted my heart.  Picking him up, I could see him hip bones clearly beneath his taunt skin, but all it took was a flick of his tongue smaller than that of a cats across my cheek to seal the deal.

Bringing Tucker home has already had its associated growing pains.  I have caught myself comparing the two dogs to each other.  I find myself wishing Tucker was as free with his love as Carson was, or loved to be outside like Carson did.  I logically know it is not fair.  Tucker is an individual with his own individual personality.  He cannot forever live in Carson's shadow.  While on the flip side, I cannot let the place Carson will alway have in my heart leave no room for Tucker to make a place.  Like all people in our lives whom leave us, there should be no guilt in finding the ability to love again.  It is a matter of allowing myself to not feel like I am abandoning my love for Carson, while allowing a new one to grow.