Monday, December 19, 2011

Vicious Dogs and Sweetie Pies

The holidays bend my mind to gifts given and received. One in particular, a gift to Mom and Dad from me with my little sister's name on it, too. My parents had never been without a pet. My sister had a series of rabbits, delicate creatures. She also had a terrarium full of lizards that held them in but did not hold my my cat out. He learned to open the lid, seize an unsuspecting reptile, then present it as his gift to me or my sister, lizard body inside his mouth, held between sharp teeth, a lifeless tail hanging from between his lips like a tired puntuation mark.

We had birds that sang and shat in their cages, fish that lived and died too quickly, ants that labored between panes of glass, cats that came and went, and dog after dog after dog. Dad had a soft heart and brought home every stray he ever found. He’d bring them back to health, then find a home for them, but old Cinderella remained through the years.

She was Heinz 57 with the markings of a rat terrier but much larger. Gentle with us, a real pal, she rode with us for picnics beside the Illinois River and often took car rides to wherever we might be going. She loved to hang her head out the rear window, letting air blow her eyes wide and her tongue back along the side of her head. So enchanted was she with the road that she took a great leap out that window. Dad almost drove on. He just didn’t want to see what had become of her, but he did turn back, of course. She lay lifeless in the ditch, and he was prepared to grieve when he touched her. Instead, she came to life with his touch, stood, shook her head briskly and trotted back to the car, never again to leap from a car window.

One Christmas loomed, and Mother and Dad were without any pet. I didn’t know then, as I do now, that after years of feeding, patting, treating, and protecting pets, adults can be quite content without a furry beast under foot so I persuaded my sister that we would present Mother and Dad with a puppy for Christmas. I read the Classifieds, found a Cocker Spaniel-Poodle mix for a good price, and bought him.

He was not even weaned, I learned too late. He needed bottles and formula, warm lights, and nursing. Nevertheless, he grew strong and stubborn. I guess, as the last of his litter, let go too soon, he was a bit mad at the world. He did not develop a sense of humor about anything, remaining stern and defensive all his days.

He hated Mother with a steely-eyed vigor. She had done him the greatest wrong, in his opinion. She had been standing nearby, reaching into a high cabinet for his bag of food as he leaped beside her, up, down, up down, heedless of what might harm him. We had tried to coax him and teach him not to leap because he had little control over his landings, but his back legs seemed to made of elastic, and the effect was boing left, boing right, boing, boing, boing until whatever he wanted was handed down to him. That tragic day, Mother’s arms still aloft, her body somewhat removed from his, he boinged right down, left leg caught and broken in the narrow space between the washer and dryer.

Convinced that Mother had broken his leg, he despised her from that day forward. She had to wear gloves, heavy-duty work gloves, when she handled him because he tried all his remaining days to break some appendage of hers. Still she cared for him.

After another long bout without a pet, Mother and Dad relented, this time rescuing Suzie dog, a little silver Schnauzer, from life in a cage at a no-kill shelter, and for the first time ever, Dad left a pet entirely to Mother’s care. Every other animal gravitated to him and adored him while allowing Mother to put out food and water, a servant to their needs, but not the master.

I think Dad knew that Mother would need something to cuddle and love once he was gone so he determined to make that dog Mother’s dog. Suzie grew devoted to Mother, and Mother devoted to her. Sadly, Suzie’s age won out before Mother’s so Mother had to face the loss of her, but I never should have doubted Mother’s resolve. She held Suzie as we waited for the veterinarian to administer drugs that would relieve Suzie of the pain she endured after her cancerous growths pressed upon her, causing her to moan and wince, to walk stiffly, and to shun food.

Suzie seemed a puppy in Mother’s arms, so alive under Mother’s touch. She went to her end without fear, my husband holding and speaking to her throughout the ordeal. Then Mother returned to speak softly the last words. Suzie’s ashes now lie at a memorial, Companions Forever. A little plaque tells the world that she lived, that she was loved and by whom. Mother touches the plaque as if she were touching Suzie’s little head. She says, “Poor Suzie” and looks at me.

I can only say “Poor Mother.” How many pets parade in her memory. How many has she loved and let go. How much loneliness abides as the years pass.