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Lessons from an ‘endlessly kind’ hound


August 01, 2017

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There is a puggle that roams our neighborhood, and spends a great deal of his time on our porch and in our yard. Our dog, Queso, was wary of the puggle’s spastic energy at first, but they became good friends over the years, following each other about in the important work of peeing upon the place where the last one just peed.

 

When Queso got excited, he sprinted around the yard in goofy circles, and slapped his front paws joyously against the grass, muscular hindquarters in the air, asking the puggle to play.

 

One day a couple of years ago, the neighbor’s dog, a wild-nailed bassett hound named Smelly Belly, came over to say hello while her people were outside. We were on our porch with Queso and the puggle, that unlikely pairing of flea and pedigree.

 

As we opened the door to let Queso inside, all three dogs tumbled past us into the cool interior of the house. They ran in circles, staircase as axis, and we stood there, speechless, listening to the frenetic click of three dogs’ toenails slapping and sliding across the floors. After three laps, they rounded the corner back to the front door and Smelly Belly went sailing out with one of Queso’s toys in her mouth.

 

When my wife adopted him, Queso was one and a half and was being fostered in an apartment in Manhattan, along with two other greyhounds. He had been retired early from racing because he just wasn’t very good at it. He had no interest in chasing other animals and would have performed much better had they set him off in hot pursuit of peanut butter. His racing name was Rum River Rico. Nikki renamed him Queso.

 

He was a strange, ethereal animal, leggy, with the tiniest wasp waist, and a narrow face that seemed too small, sometimes, for his body. His fur had brindle markings that resembled the marbled silt at ocean water’s edge.

 

Most of the time, he was pressed up against us in one way or another. Nearly human size when horizontal, he had very active dreams of running, and we wondered how often he was dreaming about the track. His legs twitched and occasionally punched, as though spring loaded. The mattress shook around us.

 

He loved to sleep on his back, with his legs up like a tipped beetle. At times, in his sleep, he would straighten one paw above his head and then, gradually, allow it to sink back down toward his chest. He did so repeatedly, until, sensing that we were laughing at his expense, he woke up. He somehow always knew.

 

On June 25, after the sudden onset of lameness and subsequent treatments for potential illnesses that didn’t check out, we learned that Queso had bone cancer in his left leg and chest. There was nothing we could do that wouldn’t compromise his quality of life, so we had to make the decision everyone who loves an animal dreads. We drove to the vet with him and came home without him. He ate a can of chicken and more peanut butter than is reasonable in the minutes before he shut his eyes. He left with peace where there had been pain. 

 

Since then, days seem very long. We still move to take him out at the designated times, and then sit, staring, upon realizing that our routines have suddenly fallen away. We keep forgetting he is not there, but are swiftly reminded, and the absence of his massive, graceful form has caused a shaking far more persistent and violent than the one we knew in sharing a bed with him.

 

When Smelly Belly ran off with his toy that day, Queso did not go after it, but stood at the threshold, blinking out into the sun, watching his friends cavorting. Would that we were all so excited by one another, and good at sharing. Would that we could all be so endlessly kind, and that those who are could last and last. 


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