My dog is brachycephalic. This means that her head is short and fat. Her nose is smooshed in. There’s not enough room for her palate, which means that sometimes the soft tissue obscures the trachea making it difficult to breathe. As a result, she snores and snorts, ALWAYS. When people hear her snort, sometimes they think she’s growling and they become afraid…of a little 25 lb thing, like my frenchie. She’s misunderstood that way and it always surprises me, but then again an individual’s relationship with dogs is strange, wonderful, and complicated.
You have to understand, I was not raised a dog person. We had a couple of rabbits that stayed outside. I don’t remember what happened to the first one. The second one we got from an Iranian kid in the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure he ended up becoming a used car salesman or one of those ambulance chasing lawyers because even at our young age, he was already shady. He sold us, Ronnie-the rabbit. That should’ve been the first sign. What kind of name is Ronnie for a pet? It’s wrong like the name Arthur for a child. Too adult-seeming, too-nebbish-like. Ronnie is a name for a human who always has a dab of mayo at the corner of their mouth.
My brother and I brought Ronnie-the rabbit home and tried to insulate his backyard cage as best we could against the east coast elements. I think that consisted of slapping some rug up on the sides. Ronnie was sluggish, as you’d expect of an old agoraphobic, man with mayo forever on the corners of his lips. I suppose his name was suited to him after all. Ronnie was also really big around the middle, as I remember him. We slapped the rug up, filled his food bowl and the water bottle, shut his cage, and then…he died. I think he had a tumor, which might have been why he was so big. (When he passed, I thought I heard a young, Iranian, boy giggling slightly off in the distance.) To this day, I have no idea what my parents did with him. I’m assuming they hid him away with the Christmas presents or at least that’s what I like to think. Ronnie never looked at us with any kind of emotion. I think he would’ve preferred Glenn Close for a mom. Well, maybe not a Glenn, but definitely somebody between us and a Glenn – somebody with a little more passion for him. I think animals can feel these kinds of things.
If our treatment of Ronnie sounds quick and callous, that’s because it was.
You see, my parents weren’t and aren’t animal people. My mom had a dog or two growing up. But, she grew up in a very hot climate where the door was always open. I imagine the dog running in and out of the courtyard enjoying the sun and the fresh avocados left strewn under trees. She always had “outside” dogs and “outside” dogs are very different from “inside” dogs. My dad, I don’t think, ever had a dog or if he did, he never really mentioned it. What he did mention was my grandmother feeding the cats all over the neighborhood. Apparently, she left so much food out that it was common to see a dozen or more cats visiting the backyard. My dad hated this. It made him feel like his mom was half-crazy and his house unkempt. To this day he still looks at cats funny and I can’t say I blame him. What he doesn’t realize is that it was his mom’s fault and not the cats. Put the oxygen mask over yourself, then your kids, then save a cat or two. But, I think my grandmother got it reversed. I think she saved all the cats, took a drag off a Saratoga long cigarette, ate a fig newton, and the kids could feckin’ fend for themselves.
Eventually, my brother convinced my parents to get a dog. Winnie, we named her after the little girl on the “Wonder Years”. She looked like a mini-golden retriever stuck in a chihuahua’s body. I was at college at the time and I really only saw her when I was home on break. When my parents ate, Winnie was instructed to sit at the edge of the kitchen. She wasn’t allowed to enter, which I always thought was very sad for a dog. I’m not saying you should let a dog beg when you eat or feed it off your g*damned plate or use it as a substitute boyfriend (like some people do), but you should bond with the damn thing. Making it sit at the edge of the kitchen like Oliver Twist with a look of “Please, sir, just a little porridge” in its eyes, never sat well with me.
My brother went off to school after that and Winnie really became my parents dog. Their relationship with it was so strange to me. My mother would pet the dog and while giving her the most loving strokes imaginable, she would say things like, “I’m going to give you away, little thing. Yep, I’m going to kill you or let you fend for yourself. Yes, I am. Yes, I am.”
My dad was a little different with the dog. He would often stick out his leg and make her jump over it, a little trick he had taught her and one he was very proud to show off.
Winnie eventually got cancer. It was obvious to me when I’d go home. There was something just not right with her jaw. My mom would call the dog over and right her jaw with both her hands. She’d put it back the way it should be. I don’t know why she did this. The dog never winced or whimpered when she did it, but I always asked her to stop. There was something about it that never seemed right to me like trying to put a broken arm back together with saran wrap. Finally, after way too long, my mother took Winnie to the vet. She came back without her, which no one expected, even though her jaw hadn’t looked right for so long.
My dad choked back tears. It’s the one of the very few times I’ve seen him do so. In fact, I can only remember two times – when Winnie died and when his mom died and that is all.
You have to understand – my father is really difficult. Hard to talk to. While my mom is great, emotionally available, and the life of the party. But, the way they dealt with Winnie felt like they had switched bodies for a while…or maybe it’s just easier to see the obvious in people and not the pinned down, layered-underneath types of things.
My current, brachycephalic frenchie is an overly-loved, little ham. I’d say she’s my first, real, dog. She will jump up on the couch – something Winnie was never allowed to do – and nudge at my arm. She does this over and over again until she gets as much petting as she wants. When she hasn’t seen my wifesy or me for a while, she’ll get so excited that she that she splays all four of her limbs out and presses her entire body into the floor. She ends up looking like a doggie-manta-ray-fish, as if the idea of love is just too much to bear. And I suppose it is sometimes, now, isn’t it?
We had a singer-friend stay with us once. The singer-friend would do vocal warmup exercises in the morning before heading off. My little frenchie loved the sounds and started “singing” right along with her. Singer-friend showed us the trick and we nearly fell over laughing. Now, I make frenchie “howl” with me all the time. She works up to it, running around, then sticking her big head out, circling her lips, and howling away with me. It’s bizarre, hysterical, and awesome and it makes me puff my chest out just as my dad did when he would make Winnie jump.
I often don’t think I have much in common with my dad, but I know when my little frenchie goes, I’ll choke back the tears just like he did for Winnie. Also, if I see a cat, I look at it funny. I do it out of my own inclination, but there must be a little part of me that does it for him too.