Tuesday, October 18, 2005


I have had schnauzers since I met and moved in with my partner of 14 years, David, back in 1981. He came with an old man of a dog named Porgie and my love for schnauzers was born then. I recall one particular evening with Porgie when I had made a scotch and water and, not really liking scotch, I placed the drink on the floor by my couch. A few minutes later, I heard Porgie slurping the drink up. I looked down and found that he had consumed it all. After another 10 minutes, Porgie was on his back, legs in the air, snoring away.

(Left: Ron with Joshua, ca. 2002.)

Porgie’s presence was enough to convert my brother and sister into schnauzer lovers too. Each of them have had a couple of memorable companions. My sister first had Maggie, then Abbie. I was not exposed to Maggie enough to get to know her, and Abbie was never quite trusting enough to come to me. She almost nearly wanted to, but just couldn’t quite bring herself to do it. My brother adopted Shorty from a breeder who decided to sell him because his teeth weren’t aligned properly. They were together for many years. The first time I rode in a car with my brother and Shorty, I found that he was pissed that I sat in the front seat of the car and then we met an oncoming 18-wheel truck on the highway. I had not been warned that he attacked these trucks, and I suddenly was jolted to see Shorty fling himself into the windshield of the car, snarling and barking at the truck as it went by. Eventually, Shorty passed away and my brother found a West Highland Terrier, but he ended up adding another schnauzer to his home, by the name of Maizie about two years ago.

After Porgie died, David and I went about a month without a dog and the house was just too empty, so we bought Joshua. He proceeded to eat our kitchen, starting with the single square of linoleum that had been replaced in the middle of the floor, and then proceeding to pull up the entire kitchen area floor covering. We decided that he needed a playmate and bought Reggie so that Josh would have companionship while we worked and wouldn’t need to destroy our home any further. Well, Josh taught Reggie how to remove wall-paper from the walls by scratching loose a thin strip that could then be pulled off the wall by holding it in his teeth and backing away from the wall. That is when we discovered the wonder of dog crates.

Josh and Reggie lived with us throughout the remainder of our relationship. Over the years, Josh remained quite healthy, but Reggie began to have a number of problems with cancerous mast-cell tumors. He eventually lost a hind leg to prevent the recurrence of the cancer and he adjusted well to life on three legs. Unfortunately, he then became diabetic and eventually went blind from his diabetes, despite twice daily insulin shots for years and years. That, though, was not the end. He then developed bladder stones with spurs, and one of them lodged in his urethra, so he had to have an emergency "sex-change" operation where my lesbian vet made him a "mangina", as I jokingly referred to it. I also joked that, thank goodness, I never had to pay for the pre-operative adjustment therapy nor hormones, so it wasn’t all that bad.

By the time all of this had happened to Reggie, David and I had ended up adopting three more dogs, and then our relationship ended. David moved away with the three adopted dogs and I continued to live in the woods with Josh and Reggie. When the unforgettable 22 inch snow fell in Orange County, I was awakened in the night by Reggie who needed to go outside. Since he was blind, I had grown accustomed to taking him out and putting him in the grass where he could hobble around and do his business. That night, I didn’t realize the depth of the snow, and as I bent to put him down, he slid from my arms and disappeared into the white stuff, coming up immediately to breathe in a gasp of air at being completely unprepared for having been dunked into a snowbank. Poor fellow. That snow trapped me in the woods for 10 days and I eventually sold my home in the woods and moved to Durham with my two schnauzers. Reggie, despite his blindness, adjusted well to his new surroundings and learned his way around the new house without difficulty. On another night, before I left the woodland home, I left Reggie outside to grab a ringing phone, and returned a minute later to find him swimming in circles in the pool. I plucked him out and dried him off, and he was none the worse for the trouble. After that, I had to add gates all around to make sure he didn’t wander blindly into trouble or worse.

About two years later, after all the different things that had happened to him, Reggie became ill and couldn’t keep down his food anymore. We tried everything to bring him back, but I had to have him put down. This was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I realized later that I had grown to see that dog as a metaphor of myself. As long as he survived, and appeared to be happy, I survived. I was truly afraid that if I had him put down that I would die too. It became apparent that I had totally identified with his illnesses and that my HIV was a common thread of existence, that of being long-term survivors, shared between me and the dog. When I finally came to my senses and realized that he was not going to improve and that his quality of life had waned, I made the decision to have him put down. I had hoped that this country would come to its senses and let us select euthanasia for ourselves for the day when my quality of life is outstripped by its quantity, but it appears that there are too many people who want to deny an individual the right to make decisions over one’s own body for that to happen.

I then worried that Joshua would be depressed to be all alone, but it actually seemed as if he were happier to be alone and to have the attention that had been diverted into Reggie’s medical care heaped upon him. He lived another six months, happily so, until I went away for a weekend and when I went to pick him up at the vet, I was told to come back into the examining room. He had developed symptoms of a brain tumor while I was gone and he was frightened, blind and unable to walk. My vet had kept him alive until I returned so that I could say goodbye. I left the office crying, knowing that he would be put down before I could get back to my home.

(Left: Greta after her first haircut.)

Suddenly, I found myself without either of my buddies. I lasted just about six months before I went with my sister to see a litter of pups and found Greta, a black schnauzer female. She ended up coming to live with me and six months later, I got Gustav, a.k.a. "Goose". Within a year, animals being animals, I found them coupled before I had had the chance to get Goose neutered or Greta spayed and just about on cue, roughly 63 days later, Greta gave birth to four pups.

(Left: Goose as a puppy.)

The first born was Griselda, a.k.a. Zelda, soon followed by Moxie van Gogh, Baxter and Rocco. I sold three of the four and ended up keeping Zelda. This past February, my mom’s dog Boston passed away, and Goose went to live with Mom to keep her company, so now I have Greta and Zelda living with me.

(Left: Greta nurses her litter of pups. Click on image to enlarge.)

These dogs have personalities as distinct as any human I have ever known. When the phone rings, if I don’t catch it right away, the girls start to sing and I have to wait until they are done to call back the person who was ringing me up. Greta does her best to talk, vocalizing extensively in a deep voice and in what I swear is a language. If I imitate her, she carries on a conversation for minutes at a time. She also has her baby, a stuffed toy that she carries around in her mouth when she wants you to chase her. They are also creatures of my habits. When my usual nap time arrives, I am likely to find them in my bed, waiting for me. When 11 PM rolls around, they remind me that it is time for us to share an apple together, and they wait happily around me as I give them pieces of apple while I eat the rest.

(Left: Greta was not happy to have her photo taken from so nearby!)

This summer, I left Greta with my mom and Zelda with my sister and niece. Getting Greta back was not much of an issue, because she is a bit bossy and only I am able to handle her completely. Zelda, on the other hand, had charmed her way into the hearts of my sister and niece and both were so sad to see her return to me that I felt guilty for weeks after picking her back up.

(Left: Zelda at 1 year and 2 weeks.)

Last week, I spoke with my ex-partner and learned that one of the three dogs that we had adopted after Josh and Reggie, Casey, had had to be put down on September 30. He is mourning her now, and I feel sad that she is gone too.

They can be a handful to care for, but these dogs are wonderful companions that make life so much more enjoyable. They draw me out of myself and keep me from becoming a blubbering idiot over the mini-crises in my daily life. The true gift of dogs is their absolutely unconditional love. If only we humans could learn to love the same way, the world would be so much better. On the other hand, meeting strangers would lead to some awkward sniffing, so maybe we should just let the dogs love us and leave it at that.



Blogger Vickie said...

I had trouble finding the dogs in that one picture. Is that a swimming pool?

Wonderful story.

10/19/2005 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Goose's baby pic is so so adorable!

I admit I've never been a dog person, but these are more than mere dogs aren't they? They're all but edible!

It was a great story, but I'm with you about that awkward sniffing bit - I'm thinking I'm just not up to having to sniff anyone's butt!

10/19/2005 11:32:00 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

Thanks for sharing. My mom "stole" my cocker spaniel that I left with her while I was in college, and it sounds like we are finally going to have to put him down. I got him in the eighth grade, and I'm 26 now, so he's limping around, he recently had a stroke that makes him list to the side while he walks, and he can't hear any more. Still, I'm not looking forward to it.

10/23/2005 08:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cute pics especially Greta & oh so funny. haha

10/31/2005 09:35:00 PM  

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