Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Home Is Where the Hound Is

Home Is Where the Hound Is
for the American Dachshund magazine, January, 1968

     Judy and I had already watched "Sunday Night at the Movies," the "Eleven o'Clock News," and "Weather."  Television had been turned off, and there came that characteristic slam of the back screen.  Judy looked up from her knitting to see if I was going to go open the back door and let the dog in.  Meri-Meri had a way of pulling the screen open a few inches with her teeth and letting it slam - her signal that she had finished her 'outside' and was ready to be let in.
     I went to the back porch and opened the door.  The little black and tan hound labored diligently, and finally heaved her long length up the final step and into the kitchen.  She paused a minute at her dish, then plodded on into the living room.

     Meri-Meri was now an old Dachshund.  She no longer trotted about the house, leaped upon the furniture, barked furiously at the mailman or leaped like a steel spring when the doorbell rang.  She was deaf, nearly blind, and had long ago learned to recognize hand-claps as commands.  Somehow, she could feel the vibrations of walking, hand-clapping, doors opening and closing, but shouts to her ear produced no response.
     She was getting pickish about her food too, and all too often would eat sparingly, only to spit it up a few minutes later.  Her joy in life was to pull herself near to where Judy was sitting and insert herself where Judy could hardly avoid rubbing her with her foot.  If Judy was busy, or gone, she did it to me.  If she was picked up, she was in dog heaven.  She was characteristic of all Dachshunds - she never got enough affection.
     Tonight she had exhausted Judy with the foot rubbing, and, finding that I was more interested in the paper than in Dachshunds, had settled herself to sleep in the center of the carpet.  There she could keep an eye on both of us, should we suddenly decide we wanted some of that dog-like devotion she was famous for.
     I am never sure that Judy isn't clairvoyant.  Sometimes I think she knows every thought that crosses my mind.  For some strange reason I had been reflecting that Meri-Meri was having more trouble breathing, and was having more difficulty getting up the back steps.
     Judy said, "You know, Honey, sooner or later we have to think about putting Meri-Meri to sleep."
     I tried to register no surprise that she had voiced my thoughts.  I paused, weighed the idea thoughtfully, then answered, "Yes, I've been thinking about that for some time now.  How old is she?"
     "Let's see, she was born when Carl was seven.  He is 22 now - that would make her about 15."
     "That is pretty old for a dog," I said, mentally computing her human equivalent at about seven to one.

     The subject had been spoken, and I hadn't had to bring it up first.  No one knows how a woman will react to something like that.  Meri-Meri was really Judy's dog.  I was definitely Number Two in her point of view.
     We both knew that Meri-Meri was sick.  Sometimes we were sure that she suffered, but Dachshunds don't complain, and it was difficult to tell exactly when she was in pain.  Dr. Tad, who had cared for her all her life, and for her mother before her, had told us the last couple of times Meri had been at the hospital, that sooner or later we would have to face up to putting her to sleep.
     I reflected on the irony of it.  Here was a little dog reaching the end of her days.  When her time came, she would be transitioned from this world to wherever good dogs go, in dignity, and without pain - a special privilege reserved for animals.  I remembered the painful and lingering death of my father a few years before - and a brother long before that.  Humans must drink the last dregs from the cup of life, no matter how bitter the taste.

     Some weeks went by and Meri-Meri was visibly failing.  She now had to be helped up and down the steps when she went to her 'outside.'  She spent most of her time sleeping.
I asked Judy one evening, "Would you like to take her down to Dr. Tad's?"
     "No, I'd rather not," Judy answered quickly.  "I think you could do it better.  She doesn't follow you around like she does me."
     "What will you tell the grand-kids?"
     "Probably, just tell them - afterwards."
     I studied Meri-Meri.  She was sleeping in her usual place in the center of the carpet, where she could watch both of us - only now, if we moved, she hardly noticed.

     This was the little dog who had come to our house as the runt of a litter, 15 years before, when the house was full of sound, boisterousness and kids.  She had not been expected to live - but had gotten extra attention, and the kids had adopted her from the start.  Judy had fed her with an eyedropper when she was too weak to suckle.
     This was the little dog, who, after her aristocratic mother took sick and had to be taken over to Dr. Tad's, took over our household and bossed it from then on.
     She carefully supervised the rearing of the kids, judged the character of the boy and girl friends who cluttered up the place, and reproached Judy or me if either of us had the temerity to speak harshly to one of our own offspring.
     She had been trained to use paper on the back porch during cold weather, but somehow, she never knew her own length.  She would carefully park her head end in the center of the Wall Street Journal, and defecate just off the edge of the market section.  Then she would come bouncing back into the living room, so proud of having been a good dog.
     This was the same hound who seemed so puzzled that we humans could feel for a warm spot on the sofa, and then scold her for getting on the furniture while we were out.  This dog never knew that she wasn't supposed to get on the furniture - she only knew she wasn't supposed to be 'caught' on it.
     There was a rocking chair with deep cushions that was both her and Judy's favorite.  One night when we came home late, here was our little Meri-Meri slowly staggering out of her basket, struggling to greet us through sleepy eyes - and that rocking chair still rocking where she had just jumped out of it.  That dog was a liar!
     This was the dog that met us on the driveway when we brought our daughter home from the hospital with our first grandchild.  She immediately took charge of the newborn, and let all and sundry know it.  A stranger who might have approached that baby's basket without our permission would have gotten a leg torn off - or at least have gotten a run in the stocking.  Her barks meant business!
     This was the dog that romped the grand-kids through their 'puppyhood,' and watched our younger sons go off to war.
     Now the kids are grown, three are married and have kids of their own; and one is sleeping in a foreign field.  For this last one Meri-Meri still watches every time the door bell rings, or a stranger comes up the drive.
     Now it is just Judy and I, who are getting along a little in years ourselves.  Sometimes we, too, puzzle over this strange quiet which has settled over the household.

     It is a Saturday morning.  Judy holds Meri-Meri on her lap a little while and smoothes her pelt.  The breakfast dishes go unwashed.  Meri-Meri is breathing heavily, and coughing a little - if one can call the deep throat clearings "coughs."  Then Judy puts her down and resolutely goes out the door to go grocery shopping.  I try not to notice that her eyes are bothering her.
     I get the baby blanket - one left over from two generations of baby wrapping.  I wrap it carefully around Mer-Meri, for it is a little cold outside.  She is sick, but still responds to the show of affection.  I put her in the car and drive to Dr. Tad's.
     I have pretty good control of myself.  I drive with one hand and, with the other, rub her just behind her ears to keep her quiet.  She always liked that.  It is only a few blocks.
     Inside, I tell Dr. Tad, "I guess the time has come to say goodbye to our little dog."  I'm doing pretty good - like a real tough guy - no scene - no emotion - nothing.
     That is, nothing, until Dr. Tad starts to explain how we owe it to the little creatures whom God has put in our care, to see that when their time has come - when they have lived a full life - they are allowed to go quietly into their long sleep without pain or suffering.  After a minute or two of that, I'm not doing so good.
     Meri-Meri has been to Dr. Tad's before.  She likes him, and always before has greeted him happily.  But now she seems to realize that something is different.  She is quiet.  Her little body is shuddering.  It takes a superhuman effort for me to keep from rushing out of the office - with our little dog in my arms.
     I am assured by Dr. Tad that she will feel no pain - that she will just go quietly to sleep.
     I go home alone.

     Home is still where the heart is - and sometimes the hound.  Judy and I still watch the late-late show, or sometimes she knits and I read.
     Now and then we hear the back screen slam lightly, and we know it is Meri-Meri ready to be let in from her outside.  Once Judy, without thinking, spread out the Wall Street Journal on the back porch.  Another time when, with a bag of groceries on each arm, I was struggling to get the kitchen door open, I swear I heard her "yip" beyond the door.  And both Judy and I have seen the rocking chair in motion when we first enter the living room.


Unrelated early to mid-century photo source unknown.


Anonymous said...

Oh my dog!! This story is so touching, I have tears in my eyes. Thanks Joey and Maggie for posting it.

A MilShelb Mom said...

What a touching story. I cannot imagine writing something when my own Doxies have to go... breaks my heart to think about it, but thank you for posting this. Isn't it amazing how a "hound" can really become such an important part of a family?

impromptublogger said...

Awww - so hard to read since my doxie is now 14 and starting to show his own signs of aging. :-(

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