Yesterday the topic was “dogging it” in workouts to avoid unnecessary effort and pain.
But one of the ironies of the human languague is that a term like “dogging it” can be so close to a term such as “being dogged” and mean the entirely opposite thing.
When you’re being dogged about something, it means you won’t quit. Our local high school is called the Bulldogs because that animal symbolizes a dogged willingness to win.
I’m here to propose that there’s yet another meaning to the words “dogging it” or being “dogged.” After all, I’ve been dogging it in a dogged way for the past six years. That’s when a little mutt named Chuck first came to live with us.
At first he lived in a frat house on the University of Chicago campus after my son Evan and a friend rescued him off the streets of Chicago. Then while still a pup under a year old, he moved to our house in Batavia. This came about by request of my daughter Emily, who loved the little pup at first sight.
Chuck was a cute and yet anxious pup then. He’s still something of an anxious dog today. When left at the groomer he yips and barks. No harm done, but they do call him a “talker.”
When someone comes home he jumps and leaps in excitement. It’s an annoying habit frankly, especially for women in shorts. His nails can hurt.
Mostly he’s attached to “his people,” and is excited when they arrive back home. For the last six years as my son moved to New York and my daughter moved East in the Chicago suburbs, he’s been living with me.
My job has always been to walk him. Before she passed away from cancer in 2013, my wife did most of the feeding for Chuck and was often around the house. She was his main focus in life.
I assumed that role up upon her passing. But my wife had secretly confided to a close friend that if she were to pass away, Chuck might also die for lack of care. That might have been said in jest, or perhaps not. Some jokes are hard to discern out of context. But in any case, I have taken very good care of Chuck.
He was one of several caregiving responsibilities that came my way the last 10 years. Af first my mother needed help caring for my dad. She passed away from cancer and stroke in 2005. That meant I took over as full time caregiver for my father Stewart, who just passed away in October, 2015. During the eight years of my wife’s cancer treatment in that same timeframe, I was her direct caregiver during treatment and recovery periods. We also had lots of help. And Chuck was one of those helpers too.
It was just him and me left in the house eventually, and it was a joy for the to have him as a companion. But as any dog owner can tell you, being a dog owner also comes with a healthy dose of obligation.
Every trip out of town for cycling or running or a triathlon meant finding someone to care for Chuck. That’s not as easy as it sounds at times. His neediness made a dog kennel an unlikely proposition.
There was a parallel there with my father actually, who was so demanding at times there were very few people who could tolerate his impatience. For that reason, it was not practical to move him to a potentially nice situation in a residential group home in his hometown. He could be a stubborn and forceful man when frustrated. His loss of speech and mobility due to stroke did not make it any easier on him.
But of course, that’s the nature of caregiving. One must accommodate the character of the person, or the dog, involved.
It has been fascinating the last week to see how much of my mind has long been occupied with reminders of Chuck the Dog’s needs. It turns out I’ve been “dogging it” for years and hardly knew that I’d built up a whole system of mental Post-It Notes to plan and take care of that dog.
- When I rise in the morning the first thing that pops into my mind is how to walk him. What’s the weather? Is it raining? Does he need paw gloves? Remember a poop bag?
- Then he needs to be fed. Wet, Dry or Hard Tack?
- He needs a chewie.
- He needs a Greenie for his teeth.
- And so on…
All that stands in front of any plans I might have for the day. Usually I’d walk him before I got out for a run or a ride. Otherwise it can be anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours before he can go. He’s not left me many presents over the years, but once in a while…
That means it’s even harder to get out the door some mornings for a workout. Going to the gym and getting back in time for 8:00 a.m. phone meetings or appointments means rising early. Add in the dog walk and it gets even tighter. When the weather is bad, all that prep with Chuck takes time.
Fact is, the dog often has to come first.
It has been bittersweet however, having Chuck move out. When you’ve lived with any reasonably sentient, loving creature for so long, there is an inevitable feeling of sadness. After carrying Chuck’s gear and crate to my daughter’s car, I stood out in the yard where the dog and I have spent so many mornings together. By my count, that’s been about 2000 mornings taking him out to pee or walk in the early morning light. And again sometimes at noon. Then again at night. So I stood there and cried for a bit. He’s kind of the last connection to all that caregiving and stress and mortality and loss. He’s been a little lamb in a life of wolves. So I’ll admit I cried for myself a little bit. It’s always time to move on. But some moves come harder than others.
There were many longer walks together too. So we’ve probably dogged it together 1000 miles together in all those years. It’s kept him healthy. It’s kept me physically and mentally healthy.Through tough times and good.
There’s a definite attachment that comes with such a presence. I’ve held him in my arms when his paws get too cold on winter mornings. Felt him shiver and realized his small life depends entirely upon my care. Same with hot days. He’s plopped down in the shade more than once. You realize at that moment that summer should not pass you by. So you sit down in the cool grass and let the moment settle on you. He also almost died from a yellow jacket wasp sting four years ago. Those were anxious moments for sure.
On the happy side, we’ve met hundreds of other dogs over those years. I’ve told his story to hundreds of people and hardly a walk goes by where someone does not stop to pet him. I share his happy tale as he wags his short tail. He loves to sit and listen to people talking.
Unless there’s a squirrel.
I’m being careful not to be too sentimental. He’ll come for plenty of visits I know. So it’s not like he’s gone forever. Who knows if he’ll even adapt to living with my daughter in her condo? I rather hope so. She loves him and he’s still in his doggy prime. I want them to have this time together because she is the one who wanted to bring him home in the first place.
I’ll also admit that a part of me selfishly wants to experience life without those caregiving obligations. Being able to travel out of town without all that prep and concern. Staying out late for dinner or an overnight without worrying if he’s okay back home. Getting up to go workout without that routine might be kind of nice for a while. Perhaps I’d even work out enough to lose the extra weight around my middle because, I must admit, I’ve been dogging it a little in the eating versus calorie-burning department.
People told me there would be a hole in my life when he’s gone. And while that’s true, I’m prepared to fill that hole in positive ways. With painting. Writing. Running. Cycling. Swimming.
It’s a tradeoff, a tarsnake of choice, selfish interest and obligation. If he comes back home because he’s too anxious to make it work in a new environment after all these years at my place, I’ll understand. But I truly hope he can be dogged in a good way and learn to love life with Emily because she loves him so. And I love her, and my son, and our whole family loves Chuck. We just want the best for him. Sometimes dogging it can also mean a little tough love. That’s another tarsnake of life. Tough. Love.