March 5, 2007 § 1 Comment
Last week marked the 14th anniversary of the day my family adopted our dog, Bowser. This is a photo of him helping me plant tomatoes in the mid-90s.
By 1993, I’d been spoiling for a dog for years, to no avail. Our house was small, both parents worked all day, Mom and I both had allergies… there were lots of good reasons not to have a dog— and strangely the thing that changed my mom’s mind about the whole thing was my grandfather’s new wife. She heard about a dog that was going up for adoption again, and thought my mom might like to see him. We had a growing menagerie at the time: a parrot my father gave my mother before they were married, a guinea pig for my most recent birthday, a hamster for Seth’s. So apparently my parents’ defenses were at an all-time low.
So off to Bridgton we merrily went one day in February. This was back when Maine got snow, and the banks were taller than I was. Bowser was two years old then, and on his fifth owners. He spent his days tied to a table leg while his owner worked a 10-hour day. This was a half-assed attempt to housebreak him. But he’s just a little dog, and couldn’t hold it that long.
My dad retrieved him the next day, and that was that. He’s never been a super-easy dog. The first day we had him, I was so excited to show him off to the kids at the bus stop, I opened the door, and he tried to bolt. I shoved him back in, but when Ben Mullen suggested that I’d slammed the door so fast, I might have caught his tail. I hadn’t but when I opened up again to check, he zipped right between my snowpantsed legs and— away! Thus began an illustrious and protracted career of following his bliss.
I missed the bus that day.
Bowser has always been perfectly happy to run when the opportunity presented itself, tail streaming out behind him, going much faster than you’d think a dog his size could go. And we’ve always had to chase him, because he’d never return on his own. Twice, he escaped without anyone watching, usually in the evening, and the whole family had to mount a massive search effort. I once found him trapped in a neighbor’s rusty nail repository-cum-workshop, another time barking furiously and play-bowing to a beagle who was apparently unaware he could just hop over the foot-tall mini-fence that surrounded him and either kill or become BFsF with my dog.
More recently, he’s taken to running away in the dead of winter. He’s not spry enough to hop on top of the snowbanks and skitter across them anymore, so he runs in precise routes. Precisely the routes, in fact, that my father snowblows around the house to the compost pile and to the other side of the house for the meter reader. I interpret this to mean that Bowser never really wanted to get away from us, he just wanted to experience the thrill of the chase; explore his world, and trust us to come after him.
When we were kids, he made a great companion. He’d trot down to the end of the driveway with me when I was off to a friend’s house and wait there until I returned. If someone left the bench out, he’d jump from it onto the dining room table and make a nest for himself among the bills and homework, and wait till someone found him. He listened very carefully to my descriptions of where I’d put my guinea pig when she was grazing on the lawn in summer, seek her out, and bark furiously until someone (me) dragged him away. On one memorable occasion, I tied our twenty-pound dog’s leash to the handle of a plastic sled, and let him drag my 65-pound brother 300 yards down the street. I had to run to keep up.
I haven’t been to Maine since last May, and Bowser is one of the things I miss most about home. My family largely ignores him now. They adopted a younger dog in 2005, to keep Bowser company while everyone was working. I advised it, since I’d read lots of anecdotes about a younger dog making an older dog’s life fuller and happier in the final years, but the new fellow seems to have usurped Bowser in everyone’s affections.
I hate that, and I hate that I’m not there to help balance things out for him.
But, of course, he’s old now and maybe he doesn’t notice. He was always an independent fellow, and he’s become more solitary in his old age. He’s lost some hearing and sight, and more of his teeth. He doesn’t like to jump down from my parents’ bed by himself anymore. He needs bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. He spends a lot of time sleeping, and he’s had kennel cough for about six months. His allergies bother him for most of the year. He’s modified his house-training to include relieving himself on the bathroom floor* when his options are limited (i.e. when people don’t come running at his very first summons to the door.)
*But, you know, it’s the bathroom floor. It’s not like he picked an heirloom carpet as his special spot.
Richard’s solution is to put him down, but he can’t possibly understand how cold that is; the only pet his family ever had was a budgie. I know it’s probably just millennia of human-dog co-evolution talking, but Bowser is almost as much a brother to me as Seth. He had opinions and preferences and annoying habits little inside-jokes, just like every other member of our prickly little family, and he can’t be cast aside because he’s not what he once was.
So he doesn’t seek people out to give affection anymore, so what? Would you expect your arthritic octogenarian grandfather to come to you every time he wanted to chat? He’s still happy when someone cuddles up to him to share their warmth, and he always greets people at the door with a wagging tail and a curious nose.
I miss my dog. And it breaks my heart that I probably won’t get to see him again.