Tag Archives: dogs

Obdud; or, The Story of Maeve the Dog

Many’s the time I have said that marriage is about learning to compromise and accept about 85% of what one wants–and to do so with authentic grace and satisfaction. If you sign on to the deal, but grump about it for the next decade, that’s not authentic grace and satisfaction. If, of course, the deal later hands you large rations of shit that you didn’t bargain for, but you bear up anyway, a certain amount of grumping is not unreasonable provided you don’t recriminate. It’s the difference between “We have the worst dog in the whole world” and “Thanks a lot for making it so we have the worst dog in the whole world”. The first is simply a judgment on the animal (in our case, justified); if true, it might be borne. The second blames the judgment on one’s spouse; whether true or false, it would open and jab at a painful bleeding wound in one’s spouse’s soul. People who do that crap don’t stay married long, nor happily.

Deb, who is a dog person, married me, who am dog-phobic. Not universally, not always, not every dog, not every situation; just mostly. This includes all unfamiliar dogs that bark at me, run at me, or otherwise inflict themselves on me when I am not bothering them. I often shorten it to say that I hate dogs, but that’s lacking in nuance. I should say that I dislike them, would rather never deal with any again, but that there are very few dogs I wish ill, and none that I wish mistreated. My respect for dogs’ abilities and varied talents is profound, and if they practiced them all far away from me, in full health and decent treatment, I would have no issues.

In our marital lifestyle compromise, dogs were what my labor representative wife would call a “mandatory subject of bargaining.” Until we bought a house, I staved off the question on grounds of lack of yard. When a yard came, I had to honor my side of the bargain. We got Fabius, a black Lab puppy. He lived thirteen years, the last of it apart from Deb due to our life circumstances (me holding the fort in Boise while Deb went ahead to get established in Portland, essentially glamping in a studio apartment that did not allow large dogs).

While I didn’t like Fabius (him being a dog, after all), I took care that he received humane treatment and, in his dotage, extra patience. His life had met a couple of my key criteria to earn some sense of respect, insofar as I can have that for a species for which I have no fundamental affinity. When he couldn’t easily process commands to which he once leaped with alacrity, I waited a bit and re-issued them. When his final days arrived, and it was clear he was suffering, I had him hospitalized and made comfortable until Deb could arrive to see him off. She loved that dog. I didn’t, but I owed him consideration and my wife good stewardship as well as respect for her feelings, and that’s as good as I’ll ever get concerning dogs.

As Fabius had aged, we obtained Leonidas the miniature Schnauzer. Fabius was obedient, cooperative, and when not attempting to coat me with nauseating salivas, a bearable klutz. Leo simply didn’t want to cooperate, and didn’t care how anyone felt about it. He was a canine Huck Finn and barn cat rolled into one small package of untrainability, insolence, and inconvenience. I liked Leo even less when he not only developed dogabetes, but due to Deb’s schedule I ended up with much of the duty to administer his dogulin shots. (Weird: his shots were the one and only soul-of-cooperation aspect of that dog’s life. Put another way, he was a complete jerk until you wanted to stab him in the neck with a needle; then he was fine.)

We could ill afford Leo’s illnesses, and we cut the budget in order to compensate. Not brutally, but he was a $200/month dog for the last year of his life, and that was $200 that didn’t get saved, or spent on something more fun (say, colonoscopies). To the very end, I maintained that Leo would have been much happier had he been able to manipulate his front paws such that he could raise a middle claw at us, thus making the physical gesture of his inner canine soul. But Leo’s last days came, and as with Fabius, I went along with Deb to see him off. (For some reason, both dogs had always considered me a reassuring presence. I wonder if they came to associate profanity with a protective figure. They had always run to me during fireworks.)

For the first time in nearly two decades, Leonidas’s passing rendered us (for me, blissfully) dogless. Deb knew that both dog situations had grossly exceeded our original understanding (“Okay, but it’s your dog, you deal with it”), extending me far beyond my comfort zones. Neither was her fault, nor the dogs’ fault; stuff had happened, dog stuff, life stuff. I knew that she understood my actions as motivated by a sense of duty and deep love for her; she’d said so, and she’s so rarely dead serious about emotions that her utterances in that area stay with me for decades. Deb hesitated to rush right out and seek a new dog. Part of it was a reward for me: she felt that I had earned a few blessedly dog-free months before the return of a semi-purgatorial status.

I milked it out as long as I could, and not just for selfish reasons. I wanted to consider dogs, undistracted (thus, currently uninfuriated with any) by them as I had not been for most of my middle age. My lousy relationship with Leo had done nothing to improve my life. I gave some thought to how, while remaining true to myself, I could have more influence over whatever dog Deb might bring home. Would Leonidas have behaved better had I invested a bit more time and energy in him? We’d never know, but here’s what I did know: two dogs we’d had, that were supposed to be my wife’s responsibility and problem, and I’d ended up as their caretaker, barf-cleaner-upper, one-time-late-night-ocean-of-barf-faller-into, and expensive-check-writer. Had I been unable by now to realize that this agreement would never hold in its original form, and that the future held more dogs I’d wind up looking after whether I liked it or not, I’d have been a hopeless boob.

It seemed time for a different approach. No, I would never, at heart, like dogs, want dogs, want to be around dogs, etc. Could I go so far as to at least let the thing be around me when Deb was gone, and accept its desire to pal around with me a bit? Up to a point. No, I would not embrace the dog as “our” dog. No, I would never tolerate dog salivas. Fabius had a tongue like a big wet raw steak, and could leave two acres of saliva on any surface he chose (including, one wretched time, my entire forearm). But would I recognize that on some level, I’d given Leo a reason to wish he could flip me off (unlike Deb, who doted on him, and received as much odious treatment as me)? Yeah. I believe in personal responsibility.

Decision made. If I wound up despising this one also, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort on my part.

When my approximately three-month dogcation came to an end, as it had to, I told Deb how I planned to do it differently this time. You can imagine her delight. Deb knows better than to push such things with me; she took her 85% and smiled. She is well aware that what was once a simple childhood dislike matured into an adult phobia and loathing partly due to smarmy and stupid things said by dog lovers, in part because of misbehaving dogs encouraged by dog owners, and sometimes both. She would do not one thing to push me in her idea of the wrong direction, and would change any practice I might reasonably ask of her.

We made a couple of trips to local humane societies, and we learned that Portland does not have a stray dog problem. Portland in fact imports strays from other states, and most of these land quickly on waiting lists. All those places euthanizing strays should study whatever Portland is doing. While we were there, a big ten-year-old German shepherd mix mourned at full volume for the people who had abandoned him. Before we finished our own adoption, even the mourning howler (too large for us; Portland is basically Tiny House Living) had found a new home.

I insisted that we prioritize chemistry and reactions over website pictures and descriptions. I wanted us to consider the dog who seemed to love Deb on sight, and to tolerate me at least. I also wanted a dog who looked like a correct dog, not an overgrown rat. Deb had a hard time grasping my appearance criteria, but I told her I’d know a correct dog when I saw it. Good enough. It had to be small; Deb is 58, and if young, this dog would likely see her to 70. Manageability mattered. No purebreds (hybrid health, please), none purchased from breeders, no puppies. We intended to adopt a rescued dog that needed a home.

Two visits to the nearest shelter were useless; they had only a couple of dogs. Maybe two dozen empty kennels, two dogs. I mean it when I say it’s hard to find dogs to adopt around here. Off we went to the Portland Humane Society, over in the Gothic wilds of northeast Portland near Ikea and the airport. It’s a beautiful facility that manages not to even smell like dog turds. One surveys the dogs, and may place a brief hold on a given dog for a nominal fee. If the dog already has a hold, and it expires, the next hold gets a phone call. Holds last for one or two days–better not fool around.

We met a tiny, dog-looking Cairn terrier mix called Mavis, a seven-pound yearling California import with a face resembling that of a baby monkey blessed with precocious facial hair growth. Mavis looked stressed, but was friendly. Excited, Deb paid the fee to get in her hold line. By the next day, if the people ahead of us didn’t pick up Mavis, our own clock would start.

There commenced about twenty-four hours of jitters, pins, needles, and anticipation as Deb could barely stand the wait. I assisted by reminding her that it was not a sure thing, and not to be too crushed if someone else got Mavis. Pointless on my part. When around noon the next day the society called to let Deb know we could come get her dog, for a moment there I thought my wife might go full puppy and piddle herself in excitement. Having promised, of course, I had to attend. Little Mavis would ride to her new home in my lap, resting on a towel I hoped would absorb all the bodily substances that an unfamiliar car ride might elicit (joyously, she emanated none; early gold star).

We bandied names. Leonidas and Fabius had received names from antiquity, and in their own ways had deserved them. The sexism of history means that there are fewer well-known historical women than men. Mavis did not really seem like a Cleopatra, Nefertiti, or Messalina. She didn’t really seem like much of anything except a seven-pound wiry-haired terrier mix, black and rusty brown, fairly chill. No ancient woman jumped out of my memory’s throng, very annoying to people with ‘history’ on their I Love Me walls.

Moving afield, I had an inspiration. I like Ireland and visiting Ireland; Deb loves Ireland and would move there next month if feasible. Maeve was an ancient Queen of Connaught, she who launched the Cattle Raid of Cooley (in Irish, Táin Bó Cúailnge), and I could think of far worse spirits with which to imbue this little dog. It sounded enough like Mavis, a pound name to which the creature hadn’t had time to grow attached. I advocated the Irish spelling of Meadhbh (also pronounced to rhyme with “pave”), but Deb rejected this cultural nod; I took my 85% and smiled. And thus was designated little Maeve.

Or Obdud. Longtime blog followers may remember that I’m not known for my embrace of modern telephone technology. I can text, after a laborious fashion and having zero fun while I do it. It was Deb’s first day away at work (Maeve’s second day in our place), and my doting wife was concerned about her new animal. She texted me to ask how it was going. My flip phone has a T9 Word function that offers some predictive text based upon the alpha/numeric keypad, though some words are futile and must be spelled out in the old style. Some of us won’t do that and simply expect our regular contacts to do some deciphering. “Fending” goes through as “demeio” and I expect poor Deb to figure that out by now. “Home” will always return “good” so if she gets a “Headed good” text, she knows to expect me. So I typed M A E V E (6 2 3 8 3). My little screen said: Obdud. You can see where it got those, of course: NMO ABC DEF TUV DEF. I said screw it and kept typing: Obdud is laying on her blanket by my office door.

My wife questioned this. I explained, again, the impact of T9. There’s no way I am going to spell out old-style a dog’s name, so at least in texted status reports, Obdud she is.

Maeve, sometimes called Obdud, is happy and feistier now that she’s away from a kennel full of other, noisy dogs she can smell but not touch. Deb is also happy and feistier.

As for me, well, we have a dog, and I’m trying. We’ll see how that goes. Right now it’s time to take my 85% and do as I agreed.

The dumbness of single-bit binary logic: everything that is not this, is not necessarily that

My bro JT, one of the most unconventional thinkers I know, has long commented upon the problems with single-bit binary logic. I understood this, but I’m embarrassed at my failure to process it until very recently.

In binary notation, everything is a 0 or a 1. They is a this or a that, as the old umpire used to say. This is a base two system, and it is the basis for digital electronics. If you don’t know what base two means, that means there are two numbers before you have to start a new column. We count in base ten, logically since we have ten fingers.

Binary notation works fine as the basis for our electronics. In the world of humanity and issues, where things are rarely so clear and exclusive, it is an indicator of feeble-mindedness. Consider: “If you aren’t for us, you are against us.” “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Stop and think, as I believe in doing any time someone trots out a glib saying repeated so many times that people assume it wise. This is dumb. Just because I am not for you does not mean I am against you. If you’re dumb enough to construe me as your enemy because you can’t bully me into signing onto your cause, that’s your problem and mistake. And just because I am not participating in a solution does not automatically signify that I am part of the problem. I may be neither. I might be a little of both. I might be in the process of using my brain to make up my own mind without consulting you. And this attitude isn’t adding luster to your side, I might add.

The fundamental problem with single-bit binary reasoning: it allows only two categories, choices, alignments, what have you. When applied to a human issue, that’s feeble-minded. It oversimplifies the human condition down to a moronic level. It works only for those who yearn to be spared all nuance. Is Bill Gates an evil man or a good man? He made a fortune by monopolizing our computing environment with increasing mediocrity. Then he decided to retire and use his wealth for such good causes Warren Buffett said “here, take mine, too.” He left behind his company still doing all the same things, growing more mediocre by the year, but no less monopolistic. Hate or love? Respect or disrespect? It is not so easy. It confounds feeble thinking. It makes modern America’s brain hurt, so its members just apply selective amnesia. They derided him back when his software company was strangling every possible competitor, and he was an evil guy, but now that’s old hat and he is a good guy. Nuance is hard. Absolutes provide comfort of the shallowest kind.

Look at the United States’ political system, which embeds and defends single-bit binary logic. If you aren’t one of these, you are one of those. This is idiotic. There are lots of things to be other than those two. Single-bit binary logic works fairly well on life and death (it’s very rare to be neither dead nor alive, I’ll concede), sports events on the field (can’t really play for both teams at once, I’ll go along with that), and other such clear-cut situations. Most matters of opinion are not so.

Thus it is with public demonstrations. Not every failure to join in a public demonstration of homage amounts to disrespect. Only single-bit binary logic can conclude that it does. Suppose that my national anthem is on television before a hockey game. I could choose to stand, interrupt my activities, pay attention, even sing the song: that would be respectful. I could choose not to pay attention, but to avoid doing anything overtly self-indulgent or gross. I could talk with someone about the imminent game, look at a magazine article, or simply sit in silent passivity; that would be somewhere in between. Or I could choose to scratch my groin, flip off the TV, use bad language, drink cheap beer, chomp tortilla chips, and/or make a snide remark; that would be disrespectful. It’s feeble-minded to think that all non-respect is disrespect, just as it is feeble-minded to think that all the different forms of respect can be conflated into one term.

(One of these days I will go into depth on that. There is the respect born of fear (s/he can and might hurt me), that born of affectionate regard (s/he has done great deeds I admire), and that stemming from positive regard without affection (s/he may be a bastard, but in some ways I respect him or her). In some situations, more than one may apply in some proportion. Our error occurs when we fail to qualify what we mean by respect.)

Single-bit binary logic works fine for dogs. If you are a dog, I recommend it without reservation. In most cases, a dog not mistreated either likes you (you are best pal for life) or hates you (you are intruder, competitor for scarce affection, etc.). My friend Jim had a rather ratty little dog named Willie. Willie liked everyone. I mostly don’t like dogs, and I didn’t like Willie. Willie didn’t care; he liked me.

(And lest you think Willie had no importance, let me tell you, Willie was an impact player in one of the funniest pizza-related instances in the history of the faux-Italian menu. I think I’ve told that story on here. If I have not, I must. If I haven’t, you are permitted to rag on me until I do.)

Why are so many issues presented to us in single-bit binary logic? Because it’s easy–and because it makes us easier to manipulate.

Who’s a good boy? Good boy!

Dealing with Liam

I’m going to try and convey something in as balanced a way as I can.

Imagine someone had a child, but not quite a normal child. Let’s name him Liam, since everyone else is.

Imagine Liam, aged about four, did the following:

  • Went about nude most times, urinating and defecating in full view–outdoors if possible, indoors if necessary.
  • Considered it fairly normal to step in his own feces.
  • Cleansed his posterior regions with his bare left hand, without washing afterward.
  • If not restrained, would leap on all adults, wiping his left hand on them with vigor.
  • Made a significant mess while eating or drinking.
  • Was prone to vomit what he ate or drank, with minimal preamble.
  • Stank, and left his odor on everyone and everything he touched, which was everywhere he could arrange.
  • Had a primitive enough understanding of sex that he attempted it with all other children, no matter how public the setting.
  • Had breath that could–if he got close enough–make an adult physically ill.
  • Consumed vomit and feces at times.
  • Carried a small spiked club in his right hand, knew how to use it, and threatened its use when frightened.
  • Demanded constant attention and companionship, acting out when he didn’t get it.
  • Could and would, without apology or thought, pump out astonishing clouds of intestinal gas.
  • At the slightest sense of excitement, began to yell full throat.
  • Spat upon people as a form of affection.
  • Destroyed random pieces of valuable property and considered it a fun game.
  • Was immune to physical discipline, as a child, by anyone but his parents, who would be moved to violence should anyone smack Liam.
  • Would not learn much from being smacked anyway, even if smacking a child weren’t on the ‘stuff we don’t do’ list.

Now, suppose that Liam’s parents:

  • Adored him, thought he was the cutest thing, and did not know what they would do without Liam.
  • Talked baby talk to him, quite frequently, whether he understood it or not, in the middle of otherwise normal conversations with other adults.
  • Considered Liam an excellent judge of character, and disliked anyone who recoiled from him.
  • Told those who recoiled from Liam: “He just wants to love you.”
  • Let him frolic at random in public, heedless of his effect on random strangers.
  • Knew that Liam would never hurt anyone, ever–even when threatening someone with the spiked club.
  • Could not grasp why some people did not adore and embrace their wonderful Liam as they did.
  • Expected these people to adjust their inner feelings and desires to correct this failure to adore and embrace.
  • Carried out almost missionary-like efforts to teach them how they could learn to enjoy Liam, invalidating the true inner feelings of Liam’s non-enthusiasts.
  • Were incapable of grasping, on any level, the reality that the best thing for Liam was that he and anyone who did not enjoy him should not be caused to mingle without urgent need.
  • Without knowing or caring how many Liam-like children an individual had helped or been kind to in the past (in spite of the ick factor), condemned that individual simply for trying to avoid Liam and his smells and secretions.

Liam is a typical dog. The above is how this particular dog-phobe experiences him. Thus:

  • I grasp that you love your dog, and perhaps all dogs.
  • I grasp that s/he is a family member. I do not understand it, but I do not expect you to justify the logic. I accept it without debate, partly because I know it’s how you feel, and partly because I hope you will not reiterate it to me one more time. You do not need to. It is understood, not questioned.
  • I grasp that, to you, your dog is not dangerous, but is loving.
  • I grasp that you find failure to love dogs inconceivable.
  • I grasp that you think your dog is the special exception whose pure love and goodness can convert me.
  • I grasp that you think the cure is for me to change.
  • I grasp that you wish to help me change, so that I too can adore dogs.

Thing is:

  • I do not want to change how I feel.
  • It has gotten more pronounced over my lifetime.
  • I do not ask you to change how you feel, either.
  • The #1 thing that made it worse was uncomprehending dog owners who pushed dogs on me, or treated me unkindly, as if somehow my standpoint were fundamentally wrong and bad.
  • If that had never happened, so many times, who knows what might have happened to my perspective. But it did, over and over, adding conditioning and accumulated frustration to a fundamental aversion. It was cumulative.
  • Yes, my wife has dogs. I treat them humanely and endure them in my home. If you are absorbing this, you probably grasp that this is a supreme manifestation of my adoration for her.
  • I do not want your dog to suffer. If someone were harming your dog for no reason, I would stop them. If your dog got loose, and wandered onto my property, and I recognized it as your dog, I would make sure it was safe, and you got it back safe and sound.
  • I do not blame your dog for being a dog.
  • I am only trying to put distance between me and the dog.
  • I accept that this is not 100% possible.
  • When it is not possible, I try very hard to maintain.
  • Considering how I feel, that requires enormous discipline on my part.
  • If I am visibly uncomfortable, I would be grateful for your understanding and patience.
  • If I can maintain when I feel like most people would feel if someone threw a used diaper at them, I hope that you look on the positive side and see me as trying very, very hard to meet the situation more than halfway.
  • I accept that my aversion does not constitute urgency or requirement on your part.
  • I would value your kindness and understanding.
  • If I can humanely avoid your dog, and you can accept that I wish to without deciding to hate me, then we have a good understanding.

That’s all I want: the right to back away, to gently detour the dog with a foot, to avoid the feeling of being grossed out. And not to be judged a bad person, or someone in need of dog immersion therapy, which is the attitude that got me to this stage.

One dog owner once told me she felt very sorry for me, because there was a wondrous love and joy I’d never know. Fair enough, from her perspective. I love Stilton cheese, but if the fact that it smells like slippers worn too often with bare feet revolts you, also fair enough. I won’t pressure you to eat it.

After all, it smells like slippers worn too often with bare feet.

Making the dog sick

This morning, Deb and I were having a discussion about dogs and logistics. It wandered, much like Fabius’s mind. Fabius is the elder of her two dogs (black Lab). Leonidas, the junior, is a miniature Schnauzer. I’m not a dog person, though I accept my obligation to assure that they have humane conditions and care as needed.

Anyway, the original understanding was that she would take care of all dog needs wherever humanly possible, and with her being laid off from work for some months, clearly this has been humanly possible. Unfortunately, Fabius has settled upon some very inconvenient latrine areas of late. One definition of an inconvenient latrine area is ‘anyplace I [J.K.] like to be in the yard.’

I decided that it was time to bring this issue up, especially after some unfortunate footwear events last week when I happened to be walking around in the yard. In fact, I was drawing something of a line in the grass, complaining about the issue and asking her to stop promising and start picking up. Fabius was farrowing on the floor (his favorite posture looks very much like that of a sow with new piglets, on his side, legs out), while Leonidas sat on a folded blanket, on the ottoman in front of Deb, following this dog-related discussion with interest.

Just as I articulated to her that I would determinedly resist any notion of getting any more dogs if the situation did not improve, Leonidas assumed the vomiting posture. Before I could complete my little rant, he indicated his dissent by throwing up on the blanket. The look on Deb’s face was priceless.

While the issue will not simply vanish in a small pile of slightly used dog food, that at least tabled it for the time being. For one thing, I couldn’t stop laughing.