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Simple Dog, Complicated Story Part 2

I've generally been a believer in listening to your gut. And the older I get, the more I believe in it. Though my 50 plus gut is certainly smarter and wiser than my gut was in my twenties, so maybe the gift of aging here is playing some part. And everything in my gut, against the rationale of my brain, said we HAD to keep this dog. It was irrational, it was illogical, but deep inside it made sense. Not to mention how happy the idea made my family.

Richard had a renewed sense of everything with Chase now being part of our family. We picked a new vet that was closer to the house - close enough that Richard could "walk" the dog there and back with his powerchair - so it wasn't all on me. The dog created a reason for Richard get out of the house - even for just a roll around the block. And when they'd go, I had some brief and welcome down time - though of course, as any caregiver knows - it's more of an illusion than anything else - as I may have found myself running down the road to find them if Richard's life-alert went off. Or even if it was about having to come and find the dog who may have pulled free of Richard's grasp. I mentioned earlier that the dog had behavioral issues and how strong he was. Though in his prime, Richard was a ridiculously strong guy - he wasn't that way anymore. Among his slate of maladies he dealt with was Dupuyten's Contracture (which is a tightening of the tendons) making holding on to anything, much less a leash a bit tricky. That combined with his advanced neuropathy, Richard really had to pay attention as he had no feeling in his hands. He made his own adjustments to make it work. He was pretty clever at making adaptations to do a lot of things. It was good to see him wanting to do anything new and being intent on making it work.

When the dog walked with Richard, he was much calmer than with anyone else. And though I insisted, more than once, that Richard take one of us with them in case he couldn't control the dog, well...I couldn't control Richard. I was also holding a full-time job outside of the home and with one kid in school and the other working as well - Richard was often left to his own devices in between home care visits. While not a well man, he wasn't unwell enough to warrant full-time care.

Over time, however, the dog, rather than becoming calmer on walks, became more easily agitated, and we employed various methods trying to relieve the stress and anxiety - the simplest being to walk the dog at an off time, when least likely to meet others. Tricky, in such a neighborhood like we live in - even with its miles and miles of ownership is phenomenally high here and Chase isn't the only reactionary one out there. And as Richard's waking hours were erratic and he grew weaker, we simply couldn't risk his safety, much less anyone else's. Do I think Chase would have actually hurt anyone or another dog? My gut says no - he's all bark (scary and intimidating bark for sure) but he will stop when you say his name if he's loose, even when barreling straight at another dog. But I wasn't sure if Richard could shout his name loudly enough if that's the scenario that resulted. And even with that powerchair weighing in around 350 pounds, with its four rugged wheels - the idea of finding him upended one day crossed my mind more than once, as you can imagine.

And so the creep began - as predicted, the care of the dog would eventually fall to me - of course, the kids were available as well - though my son, at the time, didn't handle the stress of the dog situation well, and became more and more reluctant to take that on - though of all of us, he clearly was the strongest and best suited if he himself, would put his anxiety away. But put an anxious dog with an anxious person - and that nervous energy just transmits up and down that leash like electricity.

I found the best solution for the dog was, as I mentioned to walk him either in waaaaay off hours - in the wee hours of night, or I'd load him into the car (which he loves) and drive him somewhere remote (we live close to acres and acres of protected preserves as well as undeveloped land. But then I had a decision to make - pack Richard and his chair up with me - no small feat to lock it securely to the trailer (the chair could be taken off road to some extent) - or go without him and worry constantly that I'd be at the back end of a preserve where my cell service was spotty when I'd get a call. Initially, we started together - and that adds another hour or so to the journey - just getting the chair loaded and unloaded and unloaded again. And when Richard didn't want to do it anymore - he carried an enormous amount of guilt regarding the accommodations we all had to make - combined with the exhaustion - I always made sure he wasn't alone when I would take the dog out. That gave me some modicum of relief and the ability to let my guard down for a moment or two.

I've always loved to walk - whether an urban stroll or a wildland trail - though I don't walk well with others - as for me the experience is about the journey itself. I'm not a fan of padding the same steps over and over, and I will take my time - not because I can't walk faster, I just don't want to. I'll peel off the trail occasionally if something catches my eye, or if I just feel like getting a little lost now and then. I won't get lost - believe me, I've tried. I have an uncanny sense of direction and have yet to get so disoriented that I couldn't find my way home - even if home in this case, just means the parking lot.

Periodically I need what I call a deep walk. I've been doing this since I was a kid. I'll wander deep into some woods so that I can no longer hear the hum of humanity. I'll find a clearing - sometimes along a waterway (though since moving to Florida, not as much, especially if it's late in the afternoon - no need to become a snack for the alligators), usually within an arrangement of trees and I'll just stop for a while and breathe mindfully. I take in the smell of the earth deep into my core, close my eyes and let the leaves whisper to me. It is not unheard of, that if someone were to witness this - that they'd see me literally, hugging a tree. It's my thing. I recharge.

When Chase is with me, it often brings me a different kind of peace - as any apprehension about wildlife is handled. Other than a bear, but maybe even a bear - I'm confident that Chase would do what he needed to do, what his instincts lead him to do - and maybe his presence alone is enough to have those creatures simply move on.

But those deep walks became less frequent, and shorter in scale as Richard's health worsened and the world shut down. This was 2020. Our whole household got sick with an early strain of Covid-19 that really threw us for a loop and vaxxes weren't a thing yet. The kids handled it as well as could be expected - both down for about a week. I was sicker than I'd ever been and was in bed with a virtual elephant on my chest for three solid weeks, and Richard wound up on a ventilator.

The tensions of the pandemic were real and heavy and powerful - even here in "Free Florida" - as opposing factions pointed fingers and severed ties and people were getting sick and people were denying and dying and the wicked carousel just played its haunting melodies spinning round and round. The kids picked up a lot of my end, as I wasn't bouncing back - whether it was long-form Covid, or me just being of a certain age or a mental-state, the brain fog and harsh fatigue had me running on no more than a half-tank, if that, on a good day for months afterward. As odd as it seems to say that I was somewhat relieved that Richard was sick enough to be in the hospital - I was. I couldn't take care of him the way he needed - and though the kids would have done whatever needed to be done, it's hard to put that on your kids - and for Richard - the idea of having to subject himself to some of the situations with children - was simply daunting. Medical professionals - he had no problem with - in fact, I think he often preferred - he could let his own guard down, put his pride away. And they dosed him on painkillers. Life without physical pain, when you're in it constantly, has no linguistic equivalent.

Richard had been in and out of the hospital so many times over the years prior, this felt routine to us. We knew the protocols. We had our favorite meals in different hospital cafeterias. We had our favorite nearby restaurants or parks to escape to. I knew where all the donut shops in proximity to the facilities were so I could bring a bunch to the nurse's stations. This was nothing new.

Chase missed Richard. He would curl up next to his wheelchair, though it was empty. He'd be in all the places that Richard spent time. Richard also missed Chase. When he did come home, seeing Richard's face light up when Chase came bounding up and wagging his tail so hard I had to move furniture pieces I valued, for a few, exquisite moments, everything was right in the weird world that had become our life.

None of us knew then that these moments were not much longer for us all...

More to come...

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