Unguarded

We buried a dachshund this morning.  As I patted down the last clods of dirt on his grave, I said to my kids, “Well, I guess there’s been a collective sigh of relief among the postal workers and the UPS and FedEX guys this morning.”   It was the truest thing I could have said about that dog.

I’ve written often about my menagerie of dysfunctional dogs:  Pancho, the three-legged Australian Shepherd who is the self-appointed shepherd of the dachshunds – Shirley, who has a blown thyroid; Laverne, who’s an 8-pound ball of neuroses; and the late Squiggy, who was blind and on blood thinners and blood pressure medication for a nasty heart murmur.

What I’ve never said about my dogs is that Squiggy is the only one I actually brought home. Eleven years ago, I got a call from my brother.  He said, “You need to go to Southlake Mall and look at the dachshund in the pet store.  He looks like a Dalmatian.”

I was intrigued because I’d never seen a black-and white dapple dachshund.  But I truly didn’t intend to bring home a third dog.  The next time I was at the mall, I stopped in the pet store, and all I can say is the puppy broke my heart.  He looked so sad in his cage I just couldn’t leave him there.  I made an impulse purchase, shelling out an ungodly amount of money for him.  He trembled in my arms the whole way home, but I assured him that he would never again wonder if he was loved.  His name was easy:  Laverne and Shirley had a new sidekick,  Squiggy.

I’ve heard that rescue dogs know they’ve been saved and therefore demonstrate profound gratitude toward their families.  Coming from a pet store, Squigs wasn’t technically a rescue.  But his whole life he believed it .  While Laverne and Shirley had taken the guard the yard oath as puppies and were sworn to keep squirrels, mailmen, and UPS guys away, they employed a method of furious barking accompanied by wagging tails.  Squiggy, however, put his teeth into it.  He bit.  For several years, he was on the vicious animals roster in Henry County, Georgia, because of an incident involving a tax collector.  The list of people he bit grew to include babysitters, neighbors, Georgia Power meter readers, cable guys, pool guys, mailmen, landscapers, and even my grandmother.

The thing was, he always believed he was doing what was expected of him.  His job was protecting his family, which meant he was completely unapologetic when he bit someone.

The biting stopped in this past year, for the most part, and probably because Squiggy had gone blind. At the time, I thought the bite had just gone out of him, that he’d gotten old and was just too tired to care.  But there’s one other possibility.

This morning, as I pulled the shovel I’d borrowed from my dad out of my car, I thought about the last time we buried a pet.  It was 2009. My daughter’s cat had been hit by a car late one night.  The security guard in our neighborhood woke me by ringing the doorbell.  When I answered, he pointed to a dead cat across the street from our house and asked if it was Simone.

I nodded and went to find a shovel.  Thankfully, the old security guy was there because when I started to scoop our dead cat out of the street, I began to feel lightheaded.  I sat down on the curb and started sobbing.  The man took pity on me, went and found a box, and got the cat out of the road.  I tried to bury her the next morning, but the Georgia clay was too hard for me to dig a good hole.  I had to call my brother-in-law to come help us bury the cat.

I remember feeling intense anger for my ex-husband that day. It wasn’t right that I had to comfort my daughter alone, that I had to  call another man to come do what her daddy should have been doing.

My son and daughter stood next to me this morning as I stuck the shovel in the ground under a palm tree planted by the side of our house.  The moist, sandy soil gave easily, and I got a good chunk dug out before my son took over.  As I stood watching him, I waited for that same feeling of anger to well up in me.  Their dad should have been there helping, I started to tell myself.

And then I stopped.  I couldn’t muster any anger.  I stood there watching my kid dig a hole while his sister stood, waiting, with some flowers she’d picked from the yard.  And then I understood.  The last time, I’d been terribly worried about my kids.  They were 18, 15, and 13 at the time, in the midst of teenage troubles, and I was angry because I was raising them alone, without the help of their dad, and I was scared to death.

But as I stood with them this morning, all I felt was proud.  They’re good kids, my two who still live with me, and their big sister, who’s now a senior at NYU.  There’s nothing for me to be scared about.  I don’t have to be a snarling watchdog any longer.  The bite’s gone because it’s all okay.  I’m happy to be over the anger; it lasted almost a dog’s lifetime, and that’s long enough.

Maybe Squiggy settled down in the past couple of years because he was blind and too old to care.  Or maybe he knew that, finally, his family was safe and happy.

Either way, we’re okay, Squiggy.  Sleep well.

 

 

 

 

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