Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Scenes from a dog park - day 2

In the late fall, in the afternoon, say around 4:30, say just after a rainstorm, while there are still heavy clouds in the sky but the sun has broken through, while the leaves are shades of yellow and red and are falling or have mostly fallen and sit wet on grass still green, there are about, mmm, maybe five minutes, maybe ten when the light is a thick warm orange and everything that is cast in that light comes alive again for one last breathe before winter takes its due.

Stella is by the edge of the park, along the chain link fencing, grazing, nipping off the tender top growth of the tall grass which the mowers weren't able to reach. Barclay, our Bearded Collie, is still with us and he is walking and stumbling and walking and stumbling. His balance has been deteriorating.

It's called old dog vestibular disease which some think may be like a stroke but no one really knows what causes the attacks. It's not supposed to be reoccuring but reoccur it does in Barclay and he's had four attacks now over the past several months. Each time it comes, he collapses, like a fainting spell, and he lies helpless, paddling his legs in the air, whimpering, scared. The only thing we can do is hold him and once his heart has stopped racing, we carry him around because when he tries to get up, he falls, like he's drunk, but not drunk in a funny way at all but drunk like it's the saddest thing in the world. After a few hours, he might be able to stand. After a day, he might be able to walk a few steps. After a week, he can get around again.

The first time he suffered an episode, it seemed he made a complete recovery and we were relieved. The second time he was left with a slight head tilt and that wasn't too bad. The third time, he was left with a lean. The fourth time he was left with a balance so impaired that the slightest unevenness would send him toppling over, like whenever he tried to cross a sloped driveway or whenever his foot landed on an bumpy patch of grass.

Barclay does well in the park as long as there are no unknown dogs around who might knock him over. All the familiar dogs know well enough to give him room. I don't know if this is done out of kindness or disregard but either way it's fine with Barclay. He can do his own thing, walking and stumbling, and when he does fall, it's a soft landing onto the grass.

Carl is here with Linus. Linus is running laps around the park happily chasing scents rising out of the damp ground. Sometimes, Linus runs up to Stella to see if she'll chase him but she just gives him a what-do-you-want glance and continues to graze.

Carl is talking to me about his latest relationship dilemna: "So here's a typical situation. Two women, one is smart, interested and interesting, financially secure, travels, owns a home, prefers rollerblades over cars, has similar tastes in movies and music, as myself, and lives her leftie politics. She’s a friend and my attraction to her grows as a function of the ever increasing length of time I haven't had sex.

"The other woman is friendly, girlish, has a dog, owns a home, would never ride a bicycle because she thinks they are image detractors though she loves motorcycles because they’re image enhancers, lives her politics insofar as she doesn’t have any politics, unless you include shopping and make-up, and she looks good in tight clothes. My attraction to her also grows as a sex-time function.

"But the situation doesn’t just revolve around sex. It never does, right? Well, not past your teens anyway. There’s companionship, there’s challenge, there’s sanctuary, there’s all these things to look for all in one other person and the thing is, I’m pretty sure neither of these two possible relationships will end in anything more than another footnote in my painfully long history of serial monogamy and I’m really tired of that - so tired that, recently, I’ve just not bothered to date at all or at least tried not to bother but sometimes bothered I still am … and then trouble.

"This time, though, I’ve managed to maintain the monastic life for almost six months and let me tell you, a monk’s heart must be made of stone. No emotional highs, no emotional lows. Not much of anything at all. Stone." Carl says.

"Yeah, I don't know any monks," I say.

I'm not a good conversationalist at the park. Half my attention is always on the dogs, especially today when it seems to be a bad day for Barclay. He's falling more than usual. Maybe the ground's too slippery, I don't know. Maybe it's the low lying sun which seems to be bothering his squinting eyes.

Carl continues, "So last week, into all of this, an ex of mine comes along with a phone call asking me if I’m still single and then she does this pitch to me for a girlfriend of hers who, in my sixth month of this now getting very difficult to maintain controlled celibacy, sounds like the rain which is about to fall on parched lands and so of course I’m listening to her, just like an expectant fool, with my mouth wide open hoping to quench my thirst or at least to catch even a drop of liquid or at the very very least to just get a peak, a tiny glimpse of the oasis even if it turns out to be only a mirage."

"Aren't mirages hallucinations?" I ask keeping an eye on Barclay. Everytime he falls, he gets up again by himself but everytime he falls, I want to run over and pick him up.

"I mean she goes on about this friend of hers, about how she’s got style, a nice figure and personality and single, of course, and then just leaves me waiting. No contact info, no name. She says she has to okay it with her friend first. I mean why did she tell me about her in the first place? Then she just leaves me hanging. She never gets back to me."

When Elizabeth first brought Barclay home from the Ontario SPCA seventeen years ago, she said he was the fastest dog in the park. His hair was long back then and it fluttered and swooped as he ran leaning into his corners and then, coming out of them, accelerated. He used his speed well to chase squirrels. Squirrels were his mortal enemies. He didn't care much for Huskies either because he was beat up by one when he was young. But, Barclay loved his people, especially kids, and was gentle with those he did not know.

"I still haven't heard from her. That's just not right. It's like having a tooth that's just hanging on by a thread of whatever that noodley sinuous nerve ending stuff is that teeth hang onto and not being able to do anything about it. You just sit there waiting for something to happen and you can't do anything about it. I mean, you know what I mean?"

Today, Barclay's top speed is a slow, uncertain walk. His back is slightly arced as if he were holding onto some ache in his spine but his nose is still held up high to the wind. This will be Barclay's last autumn here. What will coming to this place be like without him, I wonder and with that, the clouds gather back and overcome the sun.


Caveat said...

He looks pretty good.

My old Beardie came from an SPCA and was about 15 when it all became too much for him. I had him for 10 years.

He had a spinal cord inflammation, used to 'catch flies' and drag his back feet - no feeling there. The nails would bleed. I made him some little doggies Wallabys out of leather and that solved that problem. He was shaky on his feet over the last few years.

Sweet and beautiful dogs, even when they get old and you have to start cutting that gorgeous hair.

I miss Chopper. He died on August 16, 1995.

Lynda said...

I'm sorry about Barclay, how very sad. What a touching story you wrote, outlining his condition.

I don't frequent dog parks much anymore, mainly because most of the people there want to chit-chat, while I want my dogs to socialize and run. When I do go, I get a bunch of people together and we go on a nice hike, avoiding everyone else and their chatter.


frogdogz said...

Tessa has old dog vestibular disease, as well -- only we were initially told 'idiopathic', which is a nice way of saying "We don't know what it is, or why she has it".

Also, dog park chatter versus actually keeping an eye on your dogs is always a dilemma for me. I'm there for my dogs, not to chat.. which of course makes me seem 'unfriendly'.