After various failed attempts to play with the dog, my wife Nory patiently explained that it wasn’t that kind of dog. My reaction resembled that of Aunt Voula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when informed that the groom was a vegetarian. “What do you mean not that kind of dog? What kind of a dog doesn’t play?”
As the newcomer to the household, I expected some resistance, but the dog? ‘I got his one,’ I figured. I figured wrong. A stalemate of sorts ensued. Over those first few years we circled each other with respect, but little trust. Then I came across an interesting character in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, What the Dog Saw, which led my wife and I to watch The Dog Whisperer program.
As with most recent converts, my enthusiasm may have had made to make up for my technique, but the results were real. I was on a mission to earn that dog’s trust. I won’t bore you with all the details, suffice to say that our ‘sessions’ typically began with me kneeling prostrate before the suddenly empowered dog, not unlike Spurs fans after game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Laying there face down, I often wondered if he felt embarrassed for me given my obvious lack of pride, not unlike how Iranian negotiators might currently view the Obama White House. But I soldiered on, thinking, ‘what would Cesar do.’
So that’s how the Maltese and I finally entered into the honeymoon phase of our relationship. While clearly moving in the right direction, I kept looking for any other advantages I could bring to bear on the project. Then one day it appeared at my feet. Actually, I dropped a McDonald’s [Magic] bag filled with unmentionably delicious and unhealthy food products and the heretofore lukewarm Maltese was at my side in a heartbeat. So … who’s groveling now my little friend. Part of me almost felt bad for him. He had been so disciplined, and yet one whiff of a freshly cooked McDouble had wiped out years of indifference. The Magic Bag would make many an appearance.
As the photo to the right will attest, he let me know in his own way how much I was appreciated. The Magic bag was not an everyday event, more of a reward on weekends when he also got to snuggle more extensively with his beloved Nory. That became our routine for a while.
Angel’s vision was the first to diminish. He began knocking into walls and furniture with regularity. For some reason, he had put on a little extra weight in the preceding years, but one of the results of the loss of vision was his inherent need to retrace the house to make up for the loss of that sense. So we ended up cordoning off parts of the house that would cause him a problem. But his increased walking paid off in slimming down. Then that became our routine for a while.
Over a long period of time, the vision and hearing went almost completely. The safe area shrunk to just the kitchen. Even snuggling was out, since being off the ground made him fidgety. Regular dog food was also out, but the Magic bag retained its appeal. He was at the age to placate. A seizure and the vet let us know that the inevitable was approaching. The only bright side of the continuing decline was that he could tolerate snuggling again with Nory. A final bad sign was when he whimpered when patted late at night as he wandered about his kitchen square. He had never complained at home.
We euthanized our exactly 15 year old Maltese, Angel, on Tuesday. Having lost a family member so recently, my uncle Ramiro, the difference between the death of a pet with that of a person, let alone a family member, was present and clear in my thoughts. But the proximity of pets in our lives makes their presence, and then absence, a very real and powerful emotion.
My challenge as a Christian is to feel as palpably about that empty tomb on Easter Sunday as I did the first time I walked into our newly empty kitchen. While I know the difference, I need to remind myself constantly, feelings being powerful and unreliable. The reminders can be simple, like whispering in an empty kitchen, ‘good dog.’