I've felt that for weeks.
Our 'empty nest' dog is near the end of his life. I wish he would die in his sleep but we will probably have to have him 'put down' (what an awful euphemism} soon.
We left him for a couple of hours yesterday, something we haven't done for several months--always one of us with him in the house--and I dropped Bern off and she found him fallen down in the kitchen and unable to get up for how long, we don't know. He ate dinner laying on the floor, her feeding him and I came home from the grocery to find her in tears.
I've sent a message on email to our vet--Dr. Matz--who is a wonderful woman who loves Bela. I want to talk about what comes next. He stayed upstairs today and will tomorrow though we have to pick up poo and soak up pee, because of the snow and how hard it is to get a 60 pound animal up and down stairs.
I wrote this next thing for Bern for Christmas, among other writings.
Don't tell he I shared it with you. I usually wait a few years to share anything I wrote exclusively for Bern. But Bela's situation makes me want to share it.
Anyone who has loved a pet will understand.
PULI CHRISTMAS DREAMS
He slumbers, feels a pain in his hip, rolls over, his head on the pillow that holds the faint scent of the Man and the Woman and wonders where they are. Then a brighter light comes on and there are noises down the way. ‘Breakfast’, he thinks, waking up a bit, ‘breakfast is coming….’
The girl who smiles, the person he likes best in this place, brings him food.
“Merry Christmas, Bela,” she says, sliding a bowl into his cage. “Christmas breakfast, big boy.”
He pushes himself to all fours. It’s not easy sometimes, but he knows that breakfast will taste like home. The food he gets in this place is just like the food he gets at home. He eats it quickly, suddenly ravenous, and pretends he is home.
There is faint music playing—Christmas carols, the girl told him. “We want you to know it’s Christmas.” The sound is soothing, but it’s not the sound he eats to at home. At home there is seldom music, but always voices are speaking—some concerned, some curious, some outraged, some joyful. Always the voices above his head as he eats at home.
After each morsel is eaten, after he licks the bowl a few times, the Puli thinks. There is no thinking while he eats. Eating is a thing in itself: smelling, chewing, swallowing—no time for thoughts. Eating is All. While he eats there is nothing else.
Still tasting the taste of home, he wonders why he comes to this place from time to time. It’s not unpleasant and the girl is so kind to him, but why does his Man—usually the Man alone, but sometimes the Woman too—bring him to this place. It takes no time getting used to this place, but the sounds of the other dogs give him shivers of fear from time to time. He doesn’t think those sounds always made him afraid. He seems to remember answering the barks with barks of his own—but not the last few times he’s been here.
Why is he here? Why isn’t he at home? Where are the Man and Woman and why isn’t he with them?
The Puli wanders to the back of his cage, sniffing and searching and finally he has a poop. That’s what the Man calls this activity. “Have a poop, Bela,” he says whenever they walk. And when he does, the Man, praises him.
The Woman says it too, but sometimes she says, “Come on, Bela, kai-kai.”
The Man and Woman have names for everything. That’s how he knows what ‘breakfast’ means when he’s here. Names for everything. It must be exhausting to remember all the words. Bela doesn’t know them all—mostly it’s just noise. But he has noticed there seem to be fewer words—less noise—these days. Even the voices above him while he eats at home seem fainter than they once were.
“Office”, that’s a word he knows. It’s where he goes while the Man looks at the big box. The Puli has even figured out that that place is called ‘the cool room’ sometimes and the ‘office’ other times. And though it is the same place it is different too—the door has to be shut, the door to the long, narrow, dim place. When it’s ‘the cool room’ the door is shut and he can’t wander down the long, narrow place to look to see if the Woman is in the room with an even bigger box that never stays the same.
He wishes he were in the office right now. Or even the room where the Man and Woman eat and watch the big bright box. Or anywhere, really, at home. Rather than here, where he lays and thinks.
But thinking about ‘home’ makes him tired and a little sad, but more tired than sad. So, he falls asleep.
In the midst of the distant music and the barks of the other dogs and the sounds of the humans doing what humans do in that place, the Puli sleeps.
And he dreams. He dreams.
He dreams of running through the snow. He dreams of running through the grass. He dreams of running—just that, running. Running.
And in that dream, nothing hurts. His hips and legs move and move and move until the great relief of running becomes the whole dream.
Then he dreams of the place the Man and Woman call ‘the big bed’.
That’s were he spends his night and sometimes a lot of his day. He dreams of the softness there and the scents of the Man and Woman. He dreams of laying in that softness and hearing the water running in the shower. He dreams of the Woman, still moist, coming from the shower to hug him and kiss him. He dreams of the Man laying beside him looking at one of the blocks the man always has with him. He even dreams of leaping up onto the big bed and going over to gaze out the window at everything out there.
He can’t leap on the bed anymore, even with the step he used to use. The Man or the Woman has to help him up. The Woman does it better, more smoothly, but one or the other has to help him now.
But in his dreams, he leaps by himself, without the step, just up and up to the softness there, and the sweet smells. Up he goes, soaring, defying gravity.
In reality, he’s never leapt up on the big bed that is now, the way he did the one that was before. He needed the step and used it until he needed help.
But in his dream, he leaps, he soars, he lands with perfect grace.
Soaring. Always in his dreams.
He wakes from his soaring and sees one of the people has filled his bowl with fresh water. He tries to hoist himself up. It only takes two tries and then he is drinking, drinking, drinking.
Like eating, drinking water takes all his attention, all his effort. It is not so much ‘him’ drinking than it is ‘drinking’ itself. The water goes down and down into his stomach until he backs away and belches softly.
The people have gone now and the brighter light is off. Even the sound of what the girl called Christmas carols is gone. The cage on one side of him is empty but on the other side there is a large dog, sleeping against the fencing. The Puli goes over and sniffs carefully at the dog. It is as dark as he is but has short hair and a ridiculous long, skinny tail. The odor of the dog is not threatening though Bela had been suspicious of him when he first came to his cage. The dog had been trying to be friendly, snorting and wagging his tail. But the Puli ignored him. He has come to ignore other dogs most of the time. He seems to remember he didn’t always do that. It seems he used to study other dogs intently, trying to know if they were a threat to his Man or his Woman—whoever was walking with him. In the recesses of his memory is the memory of going after the other dogs, snarling and barking and biting…whatever was needed to keep his Man and Woman safe.
But now he mostly just ignores other dogs, not even acknowledging their existence.
He wanders around his cage, finally stopping to relief himself of some of the water he had lapped up before. Here in this place, though they take him for a walk each day, he relieves himself in his cage. The first time each time he came to this place, the first time he relieved water or pooped in his cage, he had held it as long as was possible. He has known for most of his life that it is ‘bad’ to do that inside. Only outside for such things. He knows this to the fiber of his being, but sometimes, recently, he has relieved himself even in his ‘home’. He has been ashamed when he did—but it was mostly impossible not to, those few times.
The Puli lays down where he can keep an eye on the big dog sleeping in the next cage, but not too close. He is intent on watching the dog, but the rhythm of the big dog’s breath lulls him.
And he sleeps himself.
He dreams of the time when he wasn’t the only creature in his home. He dreams of all the cats he has known—the ones with short hair and long hair. The big, annoying creature the Man and Woman called ‘Big Fatty’ and sometimes ‘fat fuck’, though the Puli doesn’t know what those things mean. He dreams of the two short-haired cats, the ones that went outside a lot, unlike ‘fat fuck’. They had names too, but in his dream, he doesn’t remember them. ‘Cat’-something was the bigger one. They all went away, even the sweet, gentle one called ‘Lukie’. The Puli never had much use for any of them but the sweet one was okay. And he never chased them, unlike the big dog the Man and Woman’s ‘son’ (whatever that means) started bringing with them when they came. He dreams of that dog and of the one before, the one he would run with in the yard. In his dream, he wonders where those two (‘Lara’ and ‘Su’-something they’re called) were when they weren’t at the Puli’s ‘home’.
But most of all, he dreams of the little things he never really saw, that made sweet sounds above his head, near the voices that were always speaking. The Woman and the Man would talk to those creatures, so they must have been there. When they were there the voices above his head were often music instead. And the creatures would sing along. When little people came to his home, as they sometimes did, big people would hold them up and point to the voices and the sweet sounds. Everyone seemed to like whatever those creatures were, so they must have been there, unseen by the Puli, but heard.
Where are all those creatures now, the Puli wondered. Now he is the only one with the Man and Woman. He likes not sharing attention with the others, but he does miss the sweet sounds he heard when he was eating.
The big dog is awake. He is barking and one of the people in this place is taking him out of his cage. It must be ‘walk’ time, the Puli thinks. And sure enough, as the young girls takes the big dog by Bela’s cage, she says, “Your turn next, Bela.”
In the time that is not now, the Puli could never walk enough. Even though he did not much like the thing around his neck, it was worth it just to be outside and walking, taking in all the smells and sounds of that place. It smelled different from the walks he took with the Man and Woman—different and exciting. “Walk! Walk!” he would think, longing to walk and walk. Longing for that.
But that was in the time that is not now. Now he is reluctant to walk, always happy to head back. Part of it was his hips—the dull ache there—but another part was that like the dogs he was once so alert about, there were things on the walks that gave him pause. Not in this place, but on the walks with the Man and Woman. Huge things whiz by—and the enormous yellow thing that carries children—and people riding on two wheels. All of it, that was once merely innocent, now feels a bit threatening to him. He has learned how to turn back from the way the Man wants him to go in such a way that the man frets and worries about the thing around the Puli’s neck. The woman is not so easy to turn back, but the Puli eventually wears her down.
Turning back is now more important than walking.
The girl comes back and puts a thing around his neck and leads him past a dozen other cages into the outside. He sniffs and looks around for a while, but before they go all the way up the hill and away, he convinces her to turn back. And when she does, he is relieved and pulls to make her go back faster.
“That wasn’t much of a walk,” the young girls says, as she puts him back in his cage and takes off the thing around his neck. “But Merry Christmas anyway….”
Those words again. First the sweet girl and now the young girl have said them. And he thinks he hears the people who work in this place say the same words to each other. The boy, who the Puli doesn’t like as much as the sweet girl and the young girl, or even the man that’s not his Man, says back, “right, Merry-working-on-Christmas to you.”
The Puli does not like the sound of the boy’s voice. It is the sound of his Man’s voice when the Puli doesn’t go down into the yard, or pulls too hard on the thing around his neck, or won’t come in the door from the back porch, or won’t come to be pushed up the long steps to upstairs. He hears that tone in the Woman’s voice from time to time—but not as much as the Man’s. Had he the words to give to that sound, he would call it ‘angry’ or more accurately ‘hurt’. But the Puli does not have words like the people do. He has only feelings, instincts—and those tell him about those words and the way they are spoken.
‘Walk’ thankfully over, the Puli drinks some water and flops down. He intends to watch and wait for dinner, but instead he falls asleep.
He falls asleep and dreams.
Christmas dreams for the Puli.
Not often, but sometimes, his dreams turn hurtful, not that he knows that word, but he knows dreaming of the other places where the Man and Woman used to leave him were not good. He dreams vaguely of the place where they were afraid of him (though ‘afraid’ is not the word but his feeling) and didn’t bathe him or take him out. He dreams vaguely of being taken to another place with the dog named ‘Su-something’ and Su-something not staying but he did. He did not like that place either, not like this place where all but the boy are kind and good and feed him.
Since dinner is near, he dreams of eating. The eating dream is not a dream about eating. The dream is Eating Itself. He dreams and dreams that, unable to stop dreaming.
But then the clatter and talking and dinner comes to him. It tastes, as always, like ‘home’. He clears everything from his mind and, instead of him eating, he becomes Eating Itself.
Sometimes the people in this place give him treats. More often than his Woman does, but not nearly as often as his Man does. He seems to remember his Woman chiding his Man for so many treats. ‘Chiding’ is not a word he would ever know or understand, but he feels the feeling when the Woman talks to the Man about treats.
Too soon, the food is gone. He dozes for a while, without dreams, until he has to drag himself up and wander around the cage until he poops. The people in this place always praise him when they pick up his poop. He’s not sure why, since his poops are inside and therefore ‘bad’. But they do. And they take the poop away to someplace he does not know.
No new dogs have come today, probably, the Puli imagines with clarity beyond his ken, that it is whatever Christmas is since ‘Merry Christmas’ has been the phrase of the day. He is glad there have been no changes. Changes in routine are things that ‘bother’ him, though he doesn’t know that word. He just knows what the people call ‘changes’ make him feel anxious. Habit and ruts are where he dwells most securely. Changes, like coming to this place, cause him distress.
Two meals, a walk, a treat or two from the smiling girl—a good routine, a pleasing rut—are over. The bright lights are off. He and the other dogs live now in an indoor dusk. And they sleep.
The Puli sleeps. And dreams.
Again the running, the leaping on the big bed, the eating/eating/eating, the Woman and Man with him on the big bed, those bodies close to his, the scent of them, the warmth they have, racing up and down stairs, always full of energy, his mind alert to the threats around them, walking and walking and walking, never enough, and treats, sometimes his treats, sometimes food from the Woman’s plate, or the Man’s.
Dreams like that fill up the rest of Christmas day and night. There is even a dream of a place that is nowhere and other dogs like him that he is with before a long journey in what the people call a ‘car’ to the place he’s always known as ‘home’. That dream is vague and distant and the Puli doesn’t quite know what to make of it, of the taste of milk, of the closeness of other creatures like him, of a place that he doesn’t really remember since his home has always, always been with the Man and Woman and the creatures who aren’t there anymore. But something in that short, vague, distant dream rouses him for a moment and he doesn’t know where he is. This isn’t there—the dream place—or ‘home’ or the big bed….In a while he remembers, he’s in this place and this is where he’s been and the dream he had of a place he doesn’t remember being fades away.
He dreams some more. He dreams of the outside thing the Woman brought inside before he came to this place. He thinks the people called it a ‘Christmas tree’—there’s that word, Christmas, again. He dreams of the lights and little things they put on the tree. A tree inside his home. That makes no sense. But he somehow remembers other times when it happened. Most times, he remembers, the Woman brought two trees, but not this time. This time before they brought him to this place.
He slept for hours without dreams. He just slept. He ‘was’ sleeping just as he ‘is’ eating and ‘is’ drinking water. And in his sleep he didn’t need to go up or down stairs, or get on the bed, or ‘do’ anything at all. He simply WAS sleep.
But just before he woke on the day after Christmas—though he had been roused a time or two during the night, sleep not being as certain as it used to be—he had a dream even he would call ‘odd’ if he knew that word or what it meant.
He dreamed he was in a place he’d never been before. It was a place so beautiful he almost forgot the place he’s always know—‘home’—and almost forgot the Man and Woman he shared that place with, first with other creatures and then, for a long time, with only the Man and Woman. In the dream the place he dreamed was enormous. And he ran and ran and ran and ran, like he’d never run before.
And there was food that tasted like ‘home’ only better. And he wasn’t eating it, Eating was him. And water in a bowl, in a creek, in a lake, so cool and pure that he wasn’t drinking it, Drinking was him. And he ran, through snow and rain (which he used to hate but didn’t in his dream) and grass and weeds and trees and he ran and ran and ran and didn’t ever stop running. And it was a perfect Christmas Dream, though he still didn’t know what Christmas was.
Morning came eventually. He dozed without dreams. The loving girl came to feed him what tasted like ‘home’. The other girl took him out and he actually ‘pooped’ or ‘kai-kai-ed’ depending on which of his humans you believed. Then he slept for a while, without dreams, until the girl he liked most came and started putting things he thought of as his into a big bag with dogs—not him—on it.
“Your daddy’s here, Bela,” she said, “you’re going home”.
It took him a moment to realize ‘daddy’ meant his Man.
But immediately, he understood ‘home’.
HOME—that he knew, that he longed for, that he loved.
Always and for whatever ‘forever’ means.