Friday, April 5, 2013

Dog's Best Friend

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.-       Graham Greene

British author Graham Greene – who suffered from bi-polar disorder – spoke of the therapeutic need most writers have to utilize their own life experiences and incorporate it into their writing.  I for one can’t imagine not having this as my own private pressure valve. I know for a fact that I would lose it.  Some people turn to friends.  Some turn to family.  Some even turn to vices.  Sometimes, I turn to all the above but always, without fail, I turn to writing.  Having this blog - as open a place as I make it to the public - has afforded me the opportunities to do just that.  And to you the reader, I want you to know that your interest in what interests me and everything I write about here, is humbling. 

I recently had to make one of the toughest decisions anyone has to make in life - when is the right time to end the life of your pet?  First off, I never thought of Pesci, our 10 year old Lhasa Aspo, as a “pet”.  Most animal trainers are quick to point out that we shouldn’t bestow too much humanity onto our pets especially if they’re to be properly trained – because after all, they’re animals. Well, color me improper then.  Pesci wasn’t just the family pet, he was family.  Should I have treated him more like a pet, perhaps, but I was never interested in having a circus sideshow entertainer for a pet.  Besides other than being spoiled (tell me a family dog that isn’t), Pesci was as good a companion as you could ever ask for. 

The Lhasa Apso have quite a rich history dating back over 4000 years having originated in Tibet and carries the Tibetan name Apso Seng Kyi, which translates into “Bearded Lion Dog”. They are considered the 14th most ancient dog breed in the world and were bred as the interior sentinels guarding the Buddhist monasteries alerting the monks to any danger.  If you ever get a chance, check out the film Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt.  The Lhasa’s are prominent throughout the film and according to Buddhist’s the bodies of the Lhasa’s could be entered by the souls of the departed lamas while they await reincarnation into a new body.  Keep that thought in mind – you’ll see what I mean later on.

Pesci filled a void in our lives when my grandmother passed away. He became very attached to my mother, who became his de-facto master.  Lhasa’s have a reputation for being loyal to their owners and a bit temperamental to outsiders.  Let’s just say Pesci lived up to his name quite well.  At first he was a handful, as most puppies are.  But we were patient and consistent with him and eventually he began to mellow – a bit. 

He wasn’t destructive and he got along with other dogs quite well.  Even strangers didn’t faze him very much as his breed is generally known to be wary of outsiders.  But Pesci wasn’t a lap dog; unlike their close cousins, the Shih Tzu, which are.  Pesci definitely had an independent streak. He was the active duty Marine to the Shih Zhu’s Reservist. 

For some reason, Pesci had it in for my grandfather.  It was absolutely comical.  For whatever reason he just couldn’t seem to get along with him, to the point that just being in his presence set him off.  The running joke in my family became that Pesci must have had my grandmother’s soul in him and this was simply 50 + years of marital payback.  Ironically enough when my grandfather was in Hospice and in the final stages of his life, Pesci wouldn’t leave his side. 

On the evening before he passed Pesci began acting erratic as did my grandfather who began hallucinating and pointing to a corner in the room where he said he saw his wife calling him.  It was the very same spot that Pesci sat eerily still, staring at the very same wall, barking.  I believe like children, animals can see things that the rest of us are unable to.  Perhaps it’s their common innocence that allows it, but I believe it to be true.  Either way, it seemed to us, that Pesci, ever the guardian, helped guide my grandfather into his final journey. 

Time passed and like any of us as we age we start losing our edge and eventually begin to break down. For Lhasa’s, it’s generally their spines that becomes susceptible to early arthritis and eventual paralysis or their eyes, in which a genetic disorder called progressive retinal atrophy occurs, causing blindness.  For Pesci, he fell into the latter.  What was originally thought to be simple conjunctivitis was in actuality something that was neither preventable nor curable. 

As his blindness progressed there were noticeable changes in his entire demeanor.  Gone were the days of playing fetch or his 3 o’clock mad dash running circles around the coffee table until he puttered out.  He definitely had his quirks; I’m not going to sugar coat it.  He was loveable but at times he could be one ornery little fuzz ball.  He became easily frightened, which only exacerbated the aggressiveness.  The Pesci we all knew would never be the same. Then the day came when my 2 ½ year old daughter, while playing, accidentally stepped on his tail.  Pesci snapped at her.  Luckily since he couldn’t see, he snapped in the opposite direction she was standing.  My heart went to my throat and I knew at that moment, I couldn’t procrastinate any longer.  Something had to be done.

My wife and I started reaching out to shelters to see if we could find one that would adopt Pesci.  We began our search locally and eventually tried out of state shelters through the internet.  Basically each shelter would be more than willing to take in any animal with just about any ailment; be it a dog with three legs, blind, deaf, and barking in Aramaic, but when we mentioned the aggression, it sparked the same result.  No shelter would be willing to take in a blind dog that could potentially harm someone.  It was a heartbreaking and utterly defeating moment for all of us because we knew what the only other option was.  The last thing I would’ve wanted was for another family to be placed in a similar position as this but knowing that still didn’t make our decision any easier. 

The drive to our veterinarian’s office was surreal and heartbreaking. Tears were running down our face.  Pesci was never a huge fan of car rides as he’d always whimper as he lay in the backseat. This time he was silent.  I’m not sure if that made it worse or better but it definitely made us unsure of what we were doing.  Our Vet, a tall and slender gray haired man, had a pained look on his face as he was well aware of why we were here.  He knew of these moments all too well.  But here I was in all of my 38 years – in this position for the very first time.   

Every day I wrestle with the decision we had to make.  Was it the right thing to do?  Could I have done more?  Each time those thoughts enter my mind I see my daughter, and I’m thankful that her last memories of Pesci weren’t tragic.  I know for a fact if they were, I wouldn’t have forgiven myself.  Sometimes in life we’re faced with having to make absolutely impossible choices.  This was definitely one of them.  Our hearts are emptier today without Pesci and I know we’ll never forget the fun and unconditional love he gave to us for the time we were lucky enough to call him family. 

Goodbye my little buddy.
R.I.P. Pesci

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