This post isn't really about the weather, although most parts of the country have by now had a strong dose of those hot, sweltering spells of a kind commonly referred to as the "dog days". Who knows, with the endless thumping about "climate change" or "global warming" or whatever the hell they're calling it these days (I have my own terminology for it and it also covers something you scoop out of a barnyard) maybe some time soon it will all be called "the inconvenient Gore days" or some such.
By the way, do you know how these hot summer periods came to be called "the dog days"? It's from ancient times when it was noted that these hot spells came during periods when the constellation Canis Major and its largest star, the dog star Sirius, were closest to the earth. It was concluded that the nearness of the constellation gave off extra heat. See? They had idiots like Gore swerving the population back then, too …
Okay, the real thrust of this post and the cutesy title are to talk a little bit about the dogs of my family and especially the ones who are sadly no longer with us this summer. The real dog lover in our outfit was my late wife Pam. As most of you who follow me via this blog or on Facebook or have perhaps read some of my interviews know, Pam passed away in 2008. She left behind three little dogs who were her constant companions --- Buttercup, Peanut, and Bear. These were small mixed breeds: Terrier, Pekinese, and poodle, respectively.
Let me explain, too, about those names.
None of them were assigned by me, I assure you. "Bear" is kinda cool, but since he (the only male in the mix) is a toy poodle, and the runt of the litter at that … well, there goes most of the manly association, name notwithstanding.
Let me also admit that I've always really liked these mutts more than I pretended (which Pam well knew) but they --- and her fawning over them --- were sometimes a pain in the butt. A running joke between Pam and me (a rather morbid one, perhaps, but one made when there was no inkling I would be losing her so early) was that she wanted to have her dogs cremated when they died so their ashes could eventually be mixed with ours when we were gone. (We'd long since made a commitment to be cremated and have our ashes mixed when the time came.) My response to her request concerning having my ashes spend eternity with those of her mutts was that I'd had to put up with them in life, thank you, that ought to be sufficient.
Well, as we all know, words have a way of coming back around, don't they?
Sometimes in very ironic ways.
Buttercup died this spring. She'd gotten very slow and frail and I knew it was just a matter of time. But as long as she didn't seem to be in pain I was reluctant to hurry the end by having her put down. She was still eating her regular dog food decently but I also fed her peanut butter toast twice a day to make sure she was getting some added protein and fatty nutrition. She slept, along with Bear, on a cushion on the floor beside my bed.
But one Sunday morning I woke to find her lying dead out in the living room in front of the TV. I had her cremated and her remains are now in a little velvet bag leaning against one side of Pam's urn.
A couple of weeks ago, we lost Peanut. She, too, got very frail and weak. Her I had to hold in my arms and feed her slices of cheese and pieces of peanut butter toast. When she started to get too weak to barely hold up her head, I had to make that dreaded choice of taking her in for euthanasia. I held her in my arms for that, too. Her ashes haven't been returned yet but, when they are, they too will rest in the living room with Pam, like she wanted.
That leaves Bear. Amazingly, he's always been the sickliest one of the bunch. Even when Pam was alive, he'd developed a gimpy back and a recurring cough like he was secretly chain-smoking on the side. Since Pam has been gone he's also gone blind in one eye.
I should mention that we acquired all of these dogs circa 1998-99, right after re-locating to Nebraska. We got them all as rescue pups so never knew their EXACT birth dates, only that as of 2013 they were each in the 15-year-old range.
In December of 2010, Bear's leg got suddenly worse and was hurting him to the point he could hardly get around and was whimpering much of the time. I took him the vet where she gave him a shot of steroids and some pills and we discussed the possibility of putting him down. But, man, I sure didn't want to have to do that just before Christmas. So I took him back home with me and we agreed that if the medication helped his pain and I carried him up and down the stairs to go out to do his business (I live in a basement apartment of our house since Pam passed), we would hold off until after the holidays. Well, it's two and a half years after those particular holidays and the little fart is currently as spry or sprier than he's been for a long time. It's kinda spooky, but it almost seems like he's some kind of succubus who has sucked part of the energy or life force from the loss of the other two.
Needless to say, the little guy has become more devoted to me than ever. And the other way around, too, I suppose. He follows me from room to room and lays near wherever I settle for any length of time. He sleeps beside my bed every night and first thing in the morning, while my coffee is brewing, he snorts and woofs impatiently until he gets some peanut butter toast that he got accustomed to when I was nursing Buttercup and Peanut. Other than that, he's very little bother other than being underfoot too much of the time because he wants to be close to me.
I usually referred to these mutts as "Pam's dogs" and used to put up a gruff front by telling her --- and more recently my daughter and grandkids --- that, if it wasn't for the obligation I felt to Pam, I wouldn't want the stupid things around.
Well, inasmuch as she's been gone for over five years now, I guess I can't claim they are/were strictly "Pam's dogs". No, I never petted them nor fawned over them to the degree she did. But I must have treated them okay for 'em to make it to the fifteen-year mark. And now that two of the "stupid things" are gone … well, I can't pretend I don't miss them. And for reasons beyond just my obligation to Pam.
Remember what I said about your words coming back around on you? Believe it, they do. Even ones said in jest.
So now we're into the dog days of summer and two canine critters who were part of our family for fifteen years are gone.
The fact it's summer probably impacts on me even a bit more than their loss otherwise might.
I think about Pam and miss her all the time. But I think about her more around certain holidays and in the heart of summer because her birthday is July 14. So now I'll be missing her and Buttercup and Peanut. I know the mutts are getting good care and I know Pam is happy to have them with her again. The thought of that is somewhat comforting … Not as comforting, of course, as if they were all still here with me. But we don't get to make those choices, do we?
I know Pam has been watching and I think she must be pleased with the way I took care of "her dogs". I'll find out (hopefully) when Bear and I make the trip and join them again one day.