As I write this, Boscoe is in the kitchen, sprawled across his orthopedic dog bed, which is topped with a fleece mat and surrounded by five pillows. The pillows make it sound luxurious, but they serve a purpose; they are tucked between the bed and the wall and keep him from slipping off the side and into the crack. If he does slip, he is stuck until one of us rescues him.
He is gently, lightly drugged with two pink Benadryl, which hopefully will help him sleep the night.
The days of him sleeping upstairs with us have been over for months. In the beginning, of course, he slept on the bed, which he achieved through a merry leap. And then we got a higher bed, and he got older, and every so often he would merrily leap and only make it halfway and then slide back onto the floor, and we would laugh and pick him up and set him on the bed, all 50 pounds of him, and even though we were laughing there was a little stab to the heart, this realization that he was getting on in years.
Briefly, we experimented with extremely expensive pet steps, which he refused to use, and then we all resigned ourselves at the same time to him no longer sleeping with us, but sleeping near us, instead, on the floor. For a few years we lived with his dog bed at the foot of our bed, which, in our very small bedroom, made the room even more crowded and difficult to walk through, but we did not mind because it was Boscoe, beautiful wonderful intelligent gorgeous smiling Boscoe, the dog who has lived in this house as long as we have, the dog who has always wanted nothing more than to be near us, very very near, on our laps, if possible; the dog who we so love.
And then there was the whole hilarious time of him no longer being able to get up the stairs in the usual way because his back legs were starting to deteriorate. But he figured out a solution to that--he would run up the stairs as far as he could and then slowly, with great care and determination, turn around in the middle of a step and go the rest of the way up backwards.
Our vet laughed when we told him this and said he had never seen a dog go up the stairs backwards. But Boscoe is a very very smart dog, a border collie, the smartest of the smart, and he figured out that it was easier on his old joints if he pushed off from his front legs, which were still strong, rather than his back legs, which were not.
And then after a while we began carrying him up the stairs at night, and down the stairs in the morning. But about a year ago that ended, too, and now he sleeps in the kitchen.
He had a light supper about three hours ago--much lighter than I had hoped; his appetite is not good these days and he refused two different kinds of dog food before I gave him the last triangle of leftover quiche, which he ate happily. I am already worrying about what to give him for breakfast.
At 16 1/2, an age he achieved on Jan. 4 (his birthday is July 4), he cannot see well--but he can still see. He cannot hear well--but he can still hear. He cannot walk well--but he can still walk. And lately it seems that he cannot smell well, either; to get him to eat you have to pick up a piece of food and hold it under his nose, and he will turn his head away three or four times, but you must keep following the nose and eventually, if you are lucky, he will suddenly notice that the thing you are holding has a smell, and the smell is good, and he will eat it, and then you pick up another piece of food and do it again.
Boscoe does not seem to mind, much, this diminished state that he is in. He adapts. He cannot stand up easily, and so he has learned to rock, like a Minnesotan getting a stuck car out of a snowdrift. Out in the yard, he pees while walking, because if he pees while standing still he falls over. Right now the back yard is covered in hard gray ice, and so he falls over sometimes anyway, and often he just lies there and waits for one of us to rescue him, perhaps keeping a resigned, weathered eye out for vultures. We get behind him and put our hands under his feeble, bony hips, one hand on each side, and we pull sharply and for a second his back legs are dangling in air, useless, like the legs of a paralyzed person, but then we set him down and hold onto him for a few seconds and he's able to get his balance and walk.
Taking care of him reminds me of when my father was dying, and when Doug's mother was dying. Does that seem disrespectful, to compare one's parent to a dog? But the lessons are so much the same: you see them detach. You watch them compensate. You grow patient, accepting that there is more work, and that it is very slow work, and you just must do it and not try to force it. Boscoe eats one small piece of meat at a time. At night we carry his bed and all of his pillows into the kitchen; it takes three trips, sometimes, and I pad everything carefully. In the morning we carry everything back into the living room, where he spends his afternoons. It's not so different from when my father was ill and we had to feed him slowly, small bits or he would choke, and help him stand, and wheel him through the house so that he could have a change of scenery in the kitchen or the dining room before putting him back to bed in the living room.
This afternoon I went out looking for cheap, stinky canned food that Boscoe might eat. We are done with the diabetic prescription stuff; have been for weeks. We are even done with the high-quality organic grain-free canned foods; he won't eat them anymore. He ate a can of Target brand "Boots and Barkley" food the other night, with gusto; it cost 75 cents and has mysterious ingredients. It might well be pure poison from China, for all I know, but I was happy to see him eat it.
But he doesn't eat any one thing more than two or three times, and I knew that we had maybe one more chance with the "Boots and Barkley" before he would reject it. So I drove to Petco and bought four or five varieties of stew-like canned food, soft food with gravy. On my way home I was listening to a CD that Doug's sister gave me for Christmas, little snippets of recordings from RTE radio over the years. It's great stuff--Yeats, and Eamon de Valera, and Brendan Behan, and each spoken-word piece followed by a piece of music.
So I'm driving down Snelling Avenue with seven cans of dog food in a plastic sack on the seat next to me, and suddenly I hear Bill Clinton's voice, eloquent and emotional, talking about the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, and then Seamus Heaney reads a poem, and then Riverdance begins to play this joyful, whirling tune and you can hear people dancing, stomping their feet, and drums drum drum drumming, and it sounds triumphant and strong and very very Irish. And I realize that I am weeping. Not crying, not sobbing, but driving down Snelling Avenue toward home, toward my old dog, with all this stupid dog food that he almost certainly will not eat, and I am weeping.