My wooly bear


AsPuppyAsleepInSantaRosa-93

The MRI had been inconclusive about exactly what had paralyzed his hind legs, but did show 3 separate disks that were in trouble, in addition to the mess in his lumbar region which was totally blocked. We could have opted for surgery on his lumbar region, but the other three were inoperable. This would have put him through a lot of pain, a lot of recovery time but without any guarantee that he’d be the slightest bit improved. The lumbar region basically feeds the spinal nerves into the tail and not the nerves to the legs which feed out of the spine at a much higher region. And while there was a clear indication that deterioration was occurring in the area of the spine that controls the legs, it was not severe enough to explain his sudden paralysis-a moot point since surgery there was out of the question. Barney had run out of time.

This particular veterinary hospital doesn’t use examination tables, the vets get down on the floor with their patients; so that’s where we all were, down on the floor with Barney–Maria, I and Zeke lying with him; the vet sitting cross legged. There we remained for a long time. Barney was in no pain and dozed for a bit and dreamed his doggy dreams, his legs and mouth twitching. When we were ready, as if one could ever be ready, the vet inserted a syringe into the IV tap left over from that morning’s MRI. Barney raised his head, “What? What is it?” We all reassured him that everything was fine, and he laid back down. Finally while Maria fed him peanut M&Ms, the vet sent him on his way.

The vet left us then to let us grieve in private, to give us time to adjust to Barney’s passing, as if one ever could, as if one’s soul could ever adjust to relentless hammering. After a while we got up to leave–no point in lingering–we had lost. As we left the examination room, I turned out the light. I couldn’t bear to leave it burning, as if we would be coming right back, as if there were still a reason to return. I turned to look one last time at the mass of wooly locks piled in the center of the dark room, alive only moments ago, but now lying lifeless in the widening puddle of his own demise. My big dog, my true love, my bear, my wooly one, my one was gone.

Joe took us out to dinner later that night as sort of a distraction, and because we were in no shape to manage cooking–Chinese, and at the end, the cookies: “Absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it.” And a second, “Show your love and your love will be returned.” We all cried of course—how sweet of him to let us know he’d made it across safely and so quickly. And with no life guard on duty either!

Getting Sirius

Sandra Thompson, professionally, was first a lion tamer, then later, a Sirius Puppy Trainer. So she was in charge from the first moments of the first class; the fiercest dog would obey her instantly and every time where no other person would have had the least sway with it.

Well, then there was Barney who was never the stellar student, and never at the top of his class, but who always got his way. She would melt, give him a kiss on the mouth and us a look and say something like, “Well, you’ll have to work on this with him.” She’d move on to help the next student, returning later, ostensibly to see how we were coming along with our “C” student, but actually I think she just needed a hit, a Barney fix. She liked to cradle his head in her cupped hands and gaze into his eyes and tell him how wonderful he was. After an hour or so of feisty Corgis, yappy Chihuahuas and intractable Weimaraners, Barney was that wooly four-legged oasis she needed. Besides she had four springer spaniels at home. She knew perfectly well who she was dealing with.

Food

Barney loved food, any food, all food. If you were eating it, he wanted some, and it didn’t matter much what it was: banana, coffee, grapes, mashed potatoes, zucchini, meat, fish, shrimp, clams, or chocolate, or rather, especially chocolate, and in particular, peanut M&Ms. Dogs aren’t supposed to have chocolate, and he very seldom got any, but in what turned out to be his later years, he would get an occasional M&M plain or peanut. The latter inevitably led to pretty bad gas. Barney was a sensitive dog, and after letting loose vapors resembling those emitted by a blazing, truck tire its rotting carcass stuffed with moldy garlic bread, he’d cast a contemptuous and wounded look our way and get up and leave the room, exiting with a sort of “YOU are stinking up the room; how could you be so rude?” air.
As you ate whatever it was you were eating, Barney would come over to sit in front of you and wait patiently for you to share. After a few seconds of patient waiting,he would move as close to you as he could get, i.e., his rump on your feet and his head and face thrust deep into your lap BarneyLovesParties&Food-12_01, his eyes turned heaven ward in supplication, a pitiful sight, inserting the thought into your mind, “Oh it’s a terrible thing to be witness to the slow starvation of the family dog.” And just to be sure you didn’t get so absorbed in eating whatever it was you had that you forgot he was there and that you hadn’t shared yet, he’d squirm a bit, a sort of side to side shuffle, a shifting of his weight from one front foot to the other, periodically punctuated with him resettling his butt on your feet. You could ignore him for a while; he didn’t seem to mind. He’d become bored and leave off his pushing and jostling, and with heavy lidded eyes, overcome by starvation, he would slump against you and slowly sag to the floor, sliding down your legs with his nose pointing straight up. In the process, all the loose skin from around his neck, face and jowls would then be pulled up around his eyes and muzzle giving him a kind of Shar-Pei appearance as he drifted off into some kind of dream state.
He was kind of hard to ignore, and you did so at your own peril. He had ample jowls, usually wet either because he had had something to drink sometime during the day, or the day before, or last week; actually the wetness didn’t depend on water necessarily, drooling worked just as well or better even. The longer you ignored his reminding the wetter your trousers became.

Everyone knows I suffered with my plumbing for years and were very happy for me when I had the surgery to fix it. Thinking back on it now, I realize that their outpouring of support probably originated in them attributing my wet-his-pants-again appearance to the problem with my plumbing. And all along it had just been Barney reminding me to share my food. I wonder what they thought after it became obvious that the surgery had been a total failure.

When he was still no more than a puppy, from his lookout on the landing he could easily see what everybody in the room had to eat, especially if they were in the recliner just under the landing. This is in a time before he’d perfected foot perching technique. Sometimes, as you sat in the recliner eating and watching TV, distracted as it were by both the food and the scene on the screen, it would have slipped your consciousness that he was right above your head watching you eat. That is, until you became aware of something warm and sticky lolling off your scalp and down your forehead, dribbling into your plate of food. A quick glance upward would put you almost nose to nose with “The Nose” himself. Your amusement would be short lived, however, as it began to dawn on you that you might have consumed a non-trivial amount of dog drool with your hash browns and Aidel Turkey & Apple sausage. Oh well, Barney was a wonderful dog, and what did it matter anyway; the sausages tasted as good as they ever did, and maybe even better.

Beautiful Women

Barney loved beautiful womenwEvaOnCouchSansZekeSansRedEye 2. There’s not a whole lot that can be added to this assertion, but I have eyewitnesses and personal testimonials and many photographs in support of it. Saying it the other way around, the beautiful women all loved Barney, but this is not really saying anything, because, as is well known, they did–everybody did. He acquired his love of beautiful women as a puppy—Maria was always there for him InMaria'sLap~92_93 and loved him, and loved him and loved him. By the time he was no longer a puppy, the pattern had been set, had become a stance taken, had become more than an expectation, had become a conviction, “How could they not love me.” Something like that.

At the very end of his life as we checked him into the hospital the afternoon before his scheduled MRI, he willingly left us to spend the night tottering off with two very lovely veterinary assistants. Poor guy, he could barely move his hind legs, but he went with them, one showing him the way and plying him with all the encouraging words, the other all hunkered down awkwardly straddling his hind quarters enfolding them in a hug, mirroring each step with one of her own, supporting him as much with her spirit as her body, her young face just above his neck where his collar came round, nurturing, murmuring how good he was, and how it was just a little farther, just a little more, as if leading him “into the heart of all the simplicity and peace in the world.”

On The Matter Of Furniture

Some people do not let their dogs get on the furniture—something about loose hair or dirty feet or smelly bodies or something. Now this is ok as long as you’re sure that your dog is really just a dog and agrees with you on this point. However you run the risk otherwise of grievously offending a sentient being that you think is your dog wMaria&Ross-12_01.

In our case, Barney was clearly possibly a bear, or part bear and part boy, or a boy trapped in a dog-bear suit (trapped only in the sense that zipper could never be found). Given that it was difficult to decide just exactly what or who he was, he got to use the couch AsPuppyAsleepInNicksLapWGod just like everyone else in family, some of whom are more uncertain of who they are than they were of who Barney was.

Note: Zeke is actually not a dog but a little man, Irish, I think, maybe a hirsute leprechaun-like being. I think this is clearly the case, and is most obvious when you catch him at watching you from across the yard from deep inside a stand of shrubbery, giving you an earnest and intense look like “I had a hat! It’s somewhere; have you seen it?”

 

Rituals

Paying The Troll

You couldn’t enter the house without paying the troll, a great bear-like being, with droopy eyes, lolling tongue and watery mouth. Not many visitors expected to be greeted by a troll; none were prepared to deal with one; whatever he lacked in the way of terrifying antics and threats he more than made up for with his loudly and unceasingly proclaimed demands for payment. Those visitors foolish enough to ignore him and to attempt entry would soon find the troll passing back and forth between their legs mercilessly hairily.

Fortune Cookie

Whenever we ate out at a Chinese restaurant, we’d always bring home the fortune cookies for the dogs. Maria started me doing this, because she couldn’t eat the cookies herself. “I’ll share mine with the dogs,” she explained. Dogs always know where you’ve been, what you had to eat, and who you were with. Ours were no exception; upon returning home, the dogs would know where we’d been instantly and there was nothing for it except to give them up CookieTimeCBBcupboard~93. But not without them first having to sit and listen to the fortunes. “Sit. Barney, Zeke, Sit!. OK, listen up….Sit!…OK, Molly, ‘your business will increase’ “, and how apropos in her case. They put up with it, after all, there were cookies.

Clean Bean Bowl Bone

I have no idea how this after mealtime reward for finishing their bowls of food (aka beans) got turned into a ritual. Basically it consisted of me passing a cookie under an open cupboard doorCUPCleanBeanBowlBoneCup, me crouching down on one side, Barney and Zeke crouching down on the other, butts in air (theirs, not mine), muzzles under the door (theirs, not mine), and to the announcement from me, “CLEAN BEAN BOWL BONE”, they’d each get a nice sized dog biscuit handed to them through the space under the opened door. Or when we were out of dog cookies, a real cookie, or tortilla chip, or a monkey chow biscuit. or a lump of cheese. Barney, springer to the bone, would prance and whirl and paw at the closed cupboard door. So much energy and for just a cookie!

This Bone Is My Bone

Each morning, as I was about to leave for work, the last thing I would do would be to give the dogs their final instructions for the day and to let them know that when I returned I expected to have exclusive play time with ‘this bone’, in Barney’s case, and ‘the green elephant’ in Zeke’s case. That they were not to have them and not to expect to have them when I came home. That they were going to be mine, and that there was to be no crying or fussing about it.

Sure enough when I came home at night, no matter how late it was, Barney, first thing after being paid his troll tribute, would bound off to find that boneVelveteenTaunting, Zeke, his green elephant (or ball, or my slipper, or whatever he could find quickly) and commence teasing me with them. I’d have to chase them about the house, cursing and crying and screaming. Sooner or later Barney would tire of the chase and proceed to the next phase—he’d plop down with the bone, commence gnawing on it, and just dare me to try and take it. From the sounds of it, it was as much as my life was worth to stick my hand down in that most wonderful of all safe places, the furry crook under his chin and between his forelegs, now tightly crossed clutching the bone. Much growling and vocalizing. I’d have to give up then. After a few minutes of gnawing, he’d get up and with the bone firmly clenched in his teeth stogie style walk a few steps away and then throw it up in the air. It would fall klunking and clattering onto the wooden floor, skittering, to skid a few feet away. He’d give me a look, salt in the wounds of his taunting, goading me into a new pursuit. DC al fine.

Dinner Party

The one thing, if there is one thing, that distinguishes this family is food, specifically preparing it and sharing it with friends and family. That is to say, there were lots of dinner parties, big, small, fancy, simple. Of course, Barney would be in ecstasy. He loved people, he loved parties and he especially loved food—he fit right in. He always knew hours ahead of time that a dinner party was in the offing and would station himself, sentry-like, on the landing. Barney would announce each arrival in his usual way, and after being paid, would resume his post. Later, when the guests had all arrived, he’d mingle and mooch, and who could gaze into his eyes and deny him anything he wanted, anything at all, much less the crumb from an hors d’oeuvre, or the whole thing even. Maria would announce that dinner was served and request that the guests be seated at the table, Barney would include himself in this and also take a place at the table, or rather under it. He’d plunk down some where under the table. You could easily spot the lucky guest by simply looking around the table until you saw the one sitting well back from his place, the spot where his feet would have been being occupied by Barney. At more informal family gatherings, the announcement that dinner was being served produced a mad scramble as everyone tried to find a chair and scoot it up close to the table before Barney beat them to it. This tactic seldom worked and we’d have to resort to tempting him out from under the table with a cookie as people seated themselves.
All during the course of dinner, you could easily figure out where he was as he passed back and forth from guest to guest—“Barney!!!”, “Wooo, this dog is heavy, my feet have gone to sleep.”, “Do I have a nose?” “Whose nose is this in my lap.” “You’ve been drinking water, haven’t you?”, “Is it alright if I give Barney something?”
I expect Zeke will take his place. As Barney grew older he became more tolerant and better able to share being under the table with Zeke.

The Doctor Is In

Being the parents of a teen age boy, and Barney, being the dog in residence, it often happened that Barney included himself in all the comings and goings, and visiting, and was even privy to all the late night conferring in Nick’s room. They shared their pot with him sometimes, re-breathers. Teenage is a hard age, rife with the struggles to break free, conflicts at home, and tears sometimes. Our house was sort of like a safe house for all of Nick’s friends; they always knew they could come here and be themselves, be free from criticism, hassle and recriminations at the hands of their parents or siblings. They received acceptance, validation and emotional support not only from Maria, Nick and I, but from Barney also. One look at their faces as they came in to visit, and he would know, and he would come to them and sit on their feet and gaze into their faces. And then in a little while, if they stayed long enough, if they stayed to visit with Maria, he would lie at their feet, or actually, it was more “on their feet.” He was with them, body and soul. He was on their feet and on their side.

Fun With Cardboard Tubes

Every roll of paper towels has at its core a cardboard tube; every roll of Christmas wrapping paper, one also, but of course much longer. These make simple toys with which a man and his dog can have a great time. The game would begin with me approaching Barney, feigning inattentiveness if he were awake, or stealthily if he were asleep, with the tube firmly gripped at one end as if it were a horn, but kept out of sight. At the last moment, I would sink to my knees, and placing one end of the tube over my mouth and the other end near Barney’s face, begin to whisper to him. “Barney….hey, Barney….wooo, wooo, wooooo……..Barney.” The game was on–butt in the air, pin wheels for eyes, “Uhhh, woof. Uhhhh rolfff,” softly delivered—dog whispers. After several call-response interchanges, he would be unable to contain himself and would lunge for the tube and grasp the end of it in his mouth, but gently as if unsure of himself, as if worried the tube might really be a body part. I would whisper one last “Barney. Barney. Wooo, woooooo, wooooo” directly into his mouth. “Uhhhh wruff. Uhhh raafff.” With that, he would take it away from me, lumber off into another room to settle somewhere with it, and tear it to shreds. Later, when confronted with the debris and carnage, he’d always nonchalantly claim to know nothing about it, and would seem genuinely baffled.

The Landing

The king on the throne, the priest in the pulpit, Barney on the landingOnTheLanding-12_01: from it he could see virtually everything that was happening downstairs in the house as well as outside in front of the house. No one could come or go up or down the stairs, no one could pass by the house, or enter or leave the premises without him knowing it and, in a sense, giving his approval. The alarm, when he felt it was warranted, was loud and bespoke an earnestness and seriousness that was not to be glossed or trivialized. To do so risked his contempt or being dismissed as foolhardy. He clattered down the dozen or so stairs, a clamor of barking and toenails chattering on the oak treads, the tugboat wake of his presence crashing all about him. Invariably this tumult was a person’s introduction to our home, their very first experience, and a lasting one, often repeated with subsequent visits. A cookie or two from the the bowl of cookies, troll tribute, strategically placed on a cabinet in the entry way would smooth the way as they continued on into the rest of the house.

Pirouette

Often he would, as part of his greeting to a family member or a visitor, whether new or familiar, conclude the whole tumultuous thing with a running leap into the air, whirl around, and then land, kaplunk, squarely on all four feet facing in the opposite direction. Of course he almost always managed to conclude these pirouettes as close to the cookie jar as you could possible get without actually climbing up on the counter itself. Where that cookie jar was positioned on that particular counter immediately above that particular cupboard door was undoubtedly the geometrical center of his existence. He would stand there then, almost posing, handsome, exuberant, with a look of expectation in his face, his eyes all pin-wheely, and smack his lips, doggy style–hard to refuse him even though he’d already received tribute at the door. He was the consummate cadge.

He performed pirouettes everyday of his life, never tiring of it. It was we who had to dissuade him from them towards the end, gently trying to convince him that he didn’t need to be so dramatic to get a cookie. So he modified this part of his greeting, concluding it with a whirl-slide maneuver into the pose, the expectant gaze, the smack of the lips.

Swimming The Kitchen

We don’t really know what motivated this behavior, but on occasion Barney liked to go swimming. In the kitchen near the cupboard on which stood the cookie jar. He’d lie on his side on the grey linoleum, and begin to dog paddle using just his front legs. Just a stroke or two to begin with, probably just testing the water, the linoleum. His gaze would drift off to some secret place, remembering a swimming hole often visited as a boy in a previous life perhaps, or some other one in some other time, a great bear fording some roaring torrent in the Northwest somewhere. He’d swim a few more strokes and then rest again. All the jostling would have brought his ample ears around to the front of his face, covering his eyes scuba mask like. We’d speak to him, for we were always both present when it took him to go swimming; he would never go off like that alone, “Barney. Where are you going? Oh, Barney, please don’t go! BARNEY! There’s no life guard on duty.” There was no stopping him then. Furiously paddling, his back arched, his face totally covered with his ears, he’d swim and swim and swim. I’d put my hand on his side then, to plead with him more directly. He would always pause and lift his head to look at me, somewhat startled as if asking, “What? What is it?” Only to lay his head back down and resume swimming while I massaged his back with long sweeping strokes my fingers protruding deep into the fur along his spine, “Oh Barney. Please come back.”. Finally he’d stop all together, and with a great heave of a sigh, sleep. We could never know if he had reached and was now resting on some distant shore or river bank and that what lay asleep before us was but the empty vessel.

Ashes And Images

This is the hard one, this is the last one, the one when it finally becomes clear that he is gone, and that we, that I will never see him again. We brought his ashes home today, in a little cedar box, so ridiculously small, so utterly incapable of holding his great being, his immense presence, or the soul through which so much love had continually flowed back and forth.
Barney was not one of those dogs that thinks it is a person, yet, I don’t think he really thought of himself as a dog either. You see, the devotion to food, the fondness for ritual, and the penchant for being a character were just sort of like his fur—there just to help us see him better. There was in him something that was not dog, that was not man, that belonged to no species, yet that touched me, that touched all who knew him no matter how briefly. Some have suggested it was a kind of serenity, the kind that comes with great wisdom; others, a boundless kindness, the kind that results from having endured and overcome a great hurt. Trying to find the words to describe it is rather like trying to find words to describe a great piece of music or work of art. And about as successful too.
Whatever it was, it was a part or aspect of something so fundamental and so basic that without it no stirrings would ever be heard in fallen leaves in a garden at night, no aromas ever smelled clinging to the ground in the pools of cool air that collect under oak trees on hot summer days, no furtive scurryings ever fleetingly glimpsed at first light as all things asleep awaken, and all awake give over to sleep—in him was an instance of that which is most significant in life and without which everything in the world would have less meaning, or very likely none at all.

wBruceRob'tsCreekReTouchedI’ve been depressed most of my life, it seems, and to be candid there were many times when I thought I couldn’t go on. But, I always managed to tough it out; well, not really very difficult actually, you see, for living has been for me a most incredible experience, and as I’ve aged, increasingly one of a beauty so intense as to border on stupefying. And although he died on the eve his tenth year of life, undeniably cheated out of the many years that should have been his, and although much of the time he did get was compromised by a reduced mobility, his brief life was inseparably a part of that incredible beauty and wonder. But for him, I would surely have missed totally the point of living. And now, for all the rest of my days, I shall wonder at the wonder of it all all the more; the more, the more. And take with me and hold tightly to the memory of the one who showed me the way, whoever he was, whatever he was.

AsPuppyAsleepInSantaRosa-93All his life Barney was as fragrant as a little puppy, a sort of sweet, cow’s milky aroma reminiscent of fresh corn masa. As he lay dying that afternoon in November, it vanished.


Sometimes grief, when new, spawns a soul consuming fire so fierce that the yearned for annihilation of self seems certain; the longed for end to suffering, but a mere stipulation–ahh, promises, the most wretched of promises. Reneging at the last second, it takes a new tack bent on obliterating the lambent flame that is the heart. But then, inexplicably merging with it, it vanishes leaving behind a tempered sorrow, one that will be forever sheathed by the love thus rekindled.

  1. #1 by Penny on September 15, 2013 - 11:38 am

    Beautiful!!!

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