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Creek Running North

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February 14, 2006



I haven't written about Zeke much lately. The news has been depressing by tiny increments. Our pain control for his arthritis is losing effectiveness. His stiffness is getting more marked, his back legs less cooperative. Last month Becky came home to find him splayed on the hardwood floor. Who knows how long he'd been there? I went to the Home Despot the next day, bought ten yards of carpet runner, made pathways across the house for him. He keeps to them now, and they grow a patina of hair and crumbs.

Walking down to the park each morning is a slog that takes an hour. His optimal walking time is between three and six in the morning. After that his joints seize up. Even when he's limber his front feet pull him faster than his back feet can follow. This is a dog that has never walked in his life, unless he's being summoned somewhere he really doesn't want to go. His typical, relaxed, no-particular-hurry pace these past years has always been a canter. That's what he still wants to do despite the arthritis.

So his front end leaps over curbs, and his back end stumbles, and he falls in the street. If he walked, he would be fine. He just doesn't know how. Except going back uphill, of course, and that is a forced march. He looks surprised at the pain, as if each day is a fresh betrayal.

But he wants to go anyway. He waits impatiently for me to drink the coffee, button the pants, get the leash. I did the math today: Zeke and I have walked at least 2,500 miles together between my first and third cups of coffee in the morning. Some traditions you do not alter just because of a little ache.

We increased the frequency of the Adequan injections that are his primary pain control, and the vet will show us next week how to inject it ourselves. Zeke will be patient with it, as he has been with everything else: the cone collar, the cleaning of abscesses, the baths and the general prodding.

Sunday he slept all day. I asked him for a walk and he said no. The niece came to visit and he lacked the energy to escape her. Adoring two-year-olds can drain a dog. Sophie understood, after an short explanation, and let him sleep. He woke at midnight, as usual. I got out of bed to let him out. And to let him in. And to let him out at two.

Yesterday, Monday morning, he had a peculiar sparkle in his eyes, a familar one. I offered him a snack. He wagged his tail hard. We dressed and went downhill. The park crew wasn't working, and I let him off the leash. We passed the flower beds, examining each shrub for messages, and walked toward the feral cat colony on the creek. And doubled back and headed for the baseball field.

Zeke looked at the broad outfield. It was a bright expanse of grass as flat as Fresno. He looked back at me, a toothy grin growing. He caught my eye and began to run.

It was not a smooth run, not even as much as he could manage six months ago. His back legs still syncopated his stride, and they went out from under him a little on the turns, which he made as sharp as when he was a pup. It used to be he could dodge the jaws of the most determined pitbull, outmaneuver the most highly caffeinated terrier. He still thinks he can turn that sharp, as if inertia was something only other dogs need contend with, and for ten minutes yesterday morning he was mainly right.

Twenty-five hundred miles is not nearly enough. The numbers reach astonishing heights by increment. Five cubic yards of hair brushed off his flank, two tons of shit in little plastic bags. A neighbor drove by last week as I stood there bag in hand. He commented on the hassle of cleaning up. It won't be long and I'll be wishing I had more of Zeke's shit to clean, grieving that no one will drag me from a warm bed three times a night, longing for that aching slow trod up Buena Vista Avenue.

Yesterday I worked at home. Zeke slept after his run. I went to the store, bought paper and a ruler to design the shed out back. I sat on the porch with pad and pencil. He came to me, looked milky eyes into mine, placed his forehead against mine. His tail wagged.

Happy birthday, Zeke.

Posted by Chris Clarke at February 14, 2006 12:55 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Long time reader, first time commenter...

When I read of your picking up after Zeke, I instantly thought of an Irish poem from years ago in school - it's probably the only one I remember. It's called "Subh Milis" (Sweet Jam" by Séamus Ó Néill.

This is my (very rough) translation:

There was sweet jam
on the handle of the door,
but I doused the anger
that was rising in me
because I thought of the day
when the handles would be clean
and the small hand

Not so long after I studied this poem, our own beloved dog gradually declined and finally died, but I never thought of the connection till reading this piece. It brings back memories that probably should come to the surface more often.

Thank you.

Posted by: Ronan Cunniffe at February 14, 2006 06:04 AM
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I've seen how it goes. My mother is similarly attached to her 13-year-old American Eskimo, whose joints also ache and whose eyes are also milky. Every once in a while, he'll perk up out of his aged slumber and become pup-like again... usually if there's a piece of bacon involved.

Posted by: norbizness at February 14, 2006 06:30 AM
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Shit, forgot to type in "Happy Birthday, Z-dog"

Posted by: norbizness at February 14, 2006 06:31 AM
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oh, zeke. happy birthday, pup.

Posted by: kathy a at February 14, 2006 07:08 AM
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He's a good boy.

Posted by: the_bone at February 14, 2006 07:17 AM
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Great dog - what a wonderful life he's leading, truly lovely post. Happy B-Day and a big virtual Greenie to your furry one.

You are so wise to enjoy even those brutally early morning walks and the pick-up! We just lost our sweet 7 yr old rottie/lab boy to bone cancer and throughout surgeries and a quick, but too-late shot at chemo this Fall we cherished every last moment, every increasingly shorter walk through our field (right up to a quick turn around the backyard the very day he took his last labored breaths and died in his bed). I'd give a great deal to feel that wet nose on my arm, jonesing for a loping 4am jaunt despite our the bloody cold New England mornings.

Posted by: Grendl at February 14, 2006 07:17 AM
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happy b-day zekie!

Posted by: Anne at February 14, 2006 08:28 AM
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The sentence "Twenty five hundred miles is not nearly enough" brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could run again with my beloved old Tober and hear the happy barks as I got the leash out. I know from sad experience what it's like to come home and find the old faithful dog splayed on the floor, having been there for who knows how long, and to put carpet runners around so he doesn't slip again. As his mind faded, Tober had an uncanny way of finding the narrow wedge of slippery hardwood.

Happy Birthday, Zeke. May the sparkle return to your milky old beautiful eyes on many more mornings to come.

Posted by: Charles at February 14, 2006 08:58 AM
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Happy birthday, Zeke!

Posted by: Stephanie at February 14, 2006 08:59 AM
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Happy Birthday to Zeke!

Chris, I've begun to think, in the past few years, that (thanks to our evolutionary heritage) we humans have a lot of the beastly in us, and only a little bit of human-y.

Being beastly is fine, and something we should cherish. It's the basis on which we connect with the natural world, and each other. But ... we should also cherish -- and use! -- the human-y part. And far too few of us do.

The human-y parts include reason, of course, (and if anybody reading this thinks everybody uses reason, oh my, think again) but also compassion.

We humans have a capacity for compassion that's off the scale of anything seen in the natural world. We have so much of it that not only can we love each other, but we can love inanimate objects, teddy bears and cars. We can love symbols, and even IDEAS (freedom, Democracy, charity).

And we can love our critter friends.

I think those of us who exercise only our beastly traits become good Beasts (right now the United States is run by beasts, btw, and some really shitty, greedy, vicious ones too; the massive, unthinking destruction they’re causing shows how bad it can get when you put human power in beastly hands.).

But only those who exercise their human-y traits become Human. We're all born Beasts (and nothing wrong with that) but we're all born with only the CAPACITY to become Human. Becoming Human does not happen automatically. It takes an immense amount of very difficult work.

For pieces like this, and what I know goes into them, I count you among the rare Humans.

(And it’s nice to know your magnificent friend Zeke is lucky enough to live with an actual Human.)

Posted by: Hank Fox at February 14, 2006 09:34 AM
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Wow. 15? He doesn't look it.

Happy Birthday, Zeke! And many more!

Posted by: Rana at February 14, 2006 10:22 AM
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That picture was taken when he was a mere young whelp of 12.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at February 14, 2006 10:24 AM
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Chris, your writing (and photos) always move me but this entry put me over the edge. I fear I won't stop crying today. Give Zeke a big hug for me. You've made me appreciate my dogs even more. Happy Birthday, Zeke. You're a good boy!

Posted by: jane at February 14, 2006 10:51 AM
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Well, I know a handyman who claims to have fashioned a sort of wheelchair/scooter that allowed his arthritic dog to enjoy years of scooting when he would have been derelict. The man is quite the artist with the mig-welder, so maybe I could introduce you guys, sometime.

Posted by: Ross at February 14, 2006 11:11 AM
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Chris, you're my favorite dog-owner...right after me! Happy Birthday Zeke, you're absolutely the best dog I never met.

Posted by: OGeorge at February 14, 2006 12:11 PM
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13-year-old American Eskimo,

Great. Now Floyd Davidson's gonna show up.

Thanks for the good words, all. A wheelchair is indeed something on the potential agenda for Zeke, if only because of the hijinks that will ensue as he pulls lamps off tables.

Grendl, I'm sorry about your Rottie.

And Hank/Carl, Zeke sends the lifted leg of canine solidarity greeting to Tito.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at February 14, 2006 12:39 PM
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I miss Zekey. He's the best dog.

Posted by: craig at February 14, 2006 12:40 PM
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So good to hear Zeke still has his puppyish moments. Yay, Zeke!

I still miss my Dearly Departed fur persons - at this point in my life, there are a lot of them, too.

Some versions of Pet Heaven say we'll be reunited with our critters, but I've never been too sure of the logistics. Considering how few of my cats got along with each other in life, when there were only 2 or 3 of them at a time, I shudder to think of what it'd be like to preside over the accumulated tribe of them :)

Posted by: CaseyL at February 14, 2006 07:50 PM
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Happy birthday Zeke!

Posted by: qB at February 15, 2006 04:42 AM
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Happy, happy birthday to Zekie. What a dog.

And damn you to hell for making me cry. Again. But my dog just got an extra sloppy kiss from me, because you reminded me I would rather be cleaning muddy paws than not.

Posted by: KathyF at February 15, 2006 06:05 AM
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Happy Birthday to Zeke.

Thanks for reminding me to treasure every moment I have with all my loved ones--even the ones who kept me up all night tearing the stuffing out of their toys and scattering it around my bedroom.

Posted by: Rain at February 15, 2006 06:41 AM
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Happy belated b-day, Zekie! Live even longer and prosper!

I've been lucky enough that my nephew, Fraiser, a standard Schnauzer owned by my sister, has made me a member of his pack. Whenever I visit, his whining, moaning and sloppy kisses welcome is always the highlight. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Posted by: Nikki at February 15, 2006 10:47 AM
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You will miss all that, but never once regret it.

Posted by: Trix at February 15, 2006 07:45 PM
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I can't have a dog because of allergies. but I love reading about you and Zeke. I can see what I'm missing.

Posted by: eRobin at February 19, 2006 10:37 AM
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I couple of years ago I saw some women on a beach with an obviously very old dog. It looked like it could hardly stand up, yet as the surf washed up, the dog took one feeble sidways step into the water - determined to be in the moment.
I lost a young dog to cancer last week and have an old dog lying at my feet right now. Thanks for writing.

Posted by: susoz at February 20, 2006 09:20 PM
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{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{ Zeke }}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

Simply beautiful, Chris. God.

Posted by: ae at February 23, 2006 06:18 AM
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