Thursday, December 04, 2014

Trying to Catch My Old Dog Luis

Luis is still with me as I write this at the end of November 2014, but dreary weather and his recent bout with vertigo remind me that he's going to get away from me sooner or later.  If I'm to catch him, the physical presence of him, it had better be now.

I say "catch him," because he has challenged me to catch him since he was the pup next door in 2002.  The man's wife didn't want a dog in the house, so poor Luis spent a couple years tethered beside the garage by a wire just long enough to allow him to shelter inside the rear door.  When I'd walk my two dogs, he'd leap up and yelp to call us over.  As we'd approach, he'd whirl and jump, tangling himself.  Regal Cleo ignored him, and stolid Bo was a bit alarmed by this smaller, feisty creature.  When the neighbor wasn't home, I'd take Luis to my enclosed backyard and let him loose.  He always challenged Bo to catch him, tearing around the fence and diving among the trees. 

The day I loaded my belongings in a rental van to move ten miles away, Luis appeared in my driveway, leash dangling, eyes bright, tail wagging, inviting me to run after him.  When I lunged, he darted off into the neighborhood.  I figured that was the last I'd ever see of him.

When Cleo died suddenly some months later, I revisited the old neighborhood to share the bad news with Kathay, who'd been my faithful dog-sitter.  Without hesitation, she told me to take Luis home with me, because he had no life where he was.  The owner took a couple weeks to think it over, then deeded Luis to me.  Luis was hesitant to jump in the car; but after a stop at the pet store to get him a new collar and tag, he put a paw on my shoulder and leaned up from the backseat to give my ear a lick, first of many expressions of gratitude that he has given ever since.  Arriving at his new home, he led Bo on a high speed chase around the property. 

After his first bath, I discovered, under all the red clay, fur the mixed light and dark caramel colors of dulce de leche, softest I've felt on the living side of a mink, thick and smooth.  It's always clean, perhaps because he sheds enough each day for me to make another dog.  He's a lean 36 pounds, with inquisitive round eyes that sometimes close halfway in languid contentment during a tummy rub.  His ears are triangles that flop midway, something I always assumed was just the way he was built.  But during his recent illness, his ears were flat against his skull, something I'd never seen before, and hope never to see again. 

Though he's usually playful, walks are always serious business.   Approaching a bush or clump of high grass, he'd fuss until he was positioned just right, wet, then tug me to the next landmark.  These days, he's too unsteady to lift a leg.  I think he dawdles over those bushes just to slow the pace.  My dog-walking friend Susan indulges him, so that Mia and I have to wait minutes while he rustles leaves.  His favorite thing on a walk is to plunge all four feet in mud, licking gingerly at little black puddles as if sampling caviar.  Even when he sinks up to his elbows, though, his paws are somehow clean by the time we get back to the car.  As recently as last month, he was walking six miles with us on weekends, but yesterday we walked a single forty-minute mile.

One day a few years back, instead of waiting for me to open the hatchback for our ride to the park, Luis took off out of the garage.  I looked up just as he rounded the garage door and I chased, but he was already out of sight!  Heart sinking, I walked Bo through the neighborhood, carrying Luis's leash, calling his name.  Three blocks up, I saw him marking bushes at the bottom of a hill. He galloped to us and let me fasten the leash to him like this was just another fun walk. (By the way:  when he feels the click of the harness buckle, he always bites my nose (lightly) and grins.) 

On a cold day two years ago, dogs in the car, I returned home to find water pouring into my garage from some massive leak in the house above.  I texted my friend Suzanne to come help, then turned just in time to see Luis climb over the back seat and out my driver's side door. Tail up, tongue hanging, ears perky, he seemed to laugh while I chased.  Fortunately, Suzanne's car stopped at the top of our street, she knelt beside the door, and Luis ran into her open arms.  That was the last time I saw him run.

Stairs are a challenge for him, now, but if I sleep even ten minutes past five, he'll plod up, climb the seat at the foot of my bed, and plant his front paws on either side of my neck to lick me awake.  These days, he likes to rest on the sofa in the den, though he remembers he's not supposed to.  He won't get in it when I'm seated there; and, last week, when I caught him napping on the big sofa in the living room, he quickly got down and wagged his tail innocently.

He's deaf, now.  I can't stop talking to him, though.  Unable to hear where I am, he'll search me out, happy to find me, so a day is one happy greeting after another. If I'm seated, he's bound to poke his nose between my elbow and the armrest -- reminding me that his face is there for rubbing.

Just this morning, he was late coming up.  Mia and I padded downstairs.  When he saw light on the stairs, he hauled himself up to attention on the sofa.  Mia got there first, and they touched noses and wagged tails. He has a feeding ritual:  He watches my descent to the basement with Mia and two empty bowls;  when we start up again with food, he takes one step down to greet me, eyes sparkling as he checks out both bowls full, as if each one is more wonderful than the other.

[Photo: Luis, with Bo]
A couple of weeks ago, he lifted himself up at attention when he became aware that I'd come home from work, but toppled over.  At the emergency clinic, they explained dire possibilities, but held out hope that it was just "idiopathic vestibular disease," meaning, something went awry in this inner ear just because he's old.  Before I could leave him overnight for observation, I had to choose a box at the end of a questionnaire: In the event of heart failure, do, or do not, attempt CPR.  I fell apart.

Well, for now, I don't have to make that choice.  Let me treasure him as he is. - December 1, 2014.

(I reflected on Luis and Bo and a couple of religious-tinged books about dogs and humans in a posting called Dogs Are Poetry.  After Luis was blessed at my church's annual St. Francis Day celebration, I reflected further on Blessing of the Animals.)

1 comment:

Susan said...

Luis is a great dog, and I am lucky to know him! But i would never, ever indulge him on walk. It's just that he and I agree: you and Mia need to slow down and smell the bushes a bit more.