My life as a domesticated animal

As I shared over Twitter the last few days, The Girlfriend’s dog, Max, had a serious health crisis this weekend. He developed a herniated disc in his spine, which was compounded by internal bleeding around the area. The scary thing is that there is no way of knowing precisely how this happened — it could have been anything, even something as simple as slipping a little when getting down off the couch. Whatever it was, within a period of 36 hours he went from acting weird and walking around with his tail between his legs to being totally paralyzed in his back legs. The latter was itself sudden and shocking, as he only manifested it when we were trying to get him to the vet. Luckily we had the resources available to get him the surgery he needed, and while he’s in the very early stages of recovery, we are optimistic.

Prior to this, Max seemed to be invincible. One of the appeals of a large dog — Max is a Black Lab mix, possibly with some Great Dane — is how much punishment he can take. You can lay on top of him, you can play rough. He’s about ten years old now, so he’s slowed down, but he is still remarkably energetic (when he’s not sleeping). Prior to his health scare, I was complaining to Twitter about his weird insistence that his new bone is some kind of fetch- or tug-toy. He’s bringing that energy to his recovery already. We saw a rehab specialist after picking him up from the animal hospital, and after an exhausting and stressful session (which capped off an exhausting and stressful several days, including surgery and staying away from home), he made a truly heroic effort to stand on his own. With a lot of old dogs, the worry would be how to motivate them to care enough to recover — for him, it’s that he might hurt himself by pushing too hard.

For the next couple weeks at least, Max will be staying with The Girlfriend in Minneapolis, because her apartment is more appropriate (it has some carpeted areas and no stairs), because her schedule is more accomodating, and of course because it’s her dog. They left earlier today, and I can probably count on one hand the number of periods I’ve been in this house without him for any significant amount of time.

Especially now that we had such a narrow miss, I’m driven to reflect on how much he’s domesticated me. His walk schedule turned me into an early riser, apparently incurably — even though there was much protest and frustration when he was first training me. Even when he was staying overnight at the hospital, I still walked quietly to the bathroom and used advanced techniques to close the door as silently as possible, to avoid waking him. I have developed a specific method of picking up my keys so as not to jingle them, and I always watch for food deliveries out the front window so I can intercept them before the buzzer riles him up. Since I only ever drive for family visits, I always find myself reaching to the back seat to pet him when I’m driving, whether he’s there or not. And wherever I am, whatever’s going on, every single afternoon I think in terms of getting back to give him his walk, even when it makes no sense — like when I was giving a talk in Portland and showed up at my hotel room promptly at 3.

Max has woven his way into my life, using methods both subtle and overt. He has altered my behavior on micro and macro levels — from how I shut the bathroom door to how I think about the act of driving. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed by the expense of his surgery and the amount of work that will go into his recovery, and when I wonder whether we really needed to put him through all this. Our optimism may well prove illusory, and anyone who knows me knows I tend to focus disproportionately on possible negative outcomes. For now, though, I remain convinced by The Girlfriend’s final statement when we were weighing up all these considerations: “It’s Max.”

Who would we be, who would I be, without him? We’ll have to find out eventually, but not today, and for that I’m grateful.

2 thoughts on “My life as a domesticated animal

  1. I have a similar dog, whose had similar problems and is a similar age. So naturally this made me cry. It captures the omnipresence of a dog – in both our thoughts and lives – perfectly.

    Here’s to Max’s speedy (at just the right pace) recovery.

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