Saturday, February 12, 2011


For the first time in 17 years, I do not have a dog following me around the house.  Last night I went to bed and kept looking at the dog pillow on the floor, expecting to see a furry mass snoring happily, but none was there.  I didn't have to bargain with the other half to see who would be in charge of letting the dogs out one last time before bed.  At dinner, there was no one for me to shoo away from begging at my children's feet; and no one to snatch up the crumbs that still lay unswept on the floor this morning as I type.

Just 15 days after saying goodbye to Sydney, I realized it was also time to say goodbye to Hank.  How these two animals that were born about three years apart were able to time their endings within two weeks of each other is the stuff I can only philosophize about.  It was clear that Hank was sad without his longtime companion, but how was it that his cancer came to be known only two weeks before hers caused her demise?

Unlike Syd, Hank had gotten to the place where no food tasted good to him or could be tolerated.  Sydney had gulped down her last supper of bacon and eggs, and greedily snatched a chocolate chip cookie bar from my purse (one that had grown stale after being uneaten by B) in the parking lot of the vet's office just before I took her inside.  While Hank, who had only been eating bits of roasted chicken for days, wouldn't even attempt the popcorn I made him; the popcorn he'd have pulled out all the stops to steal from us only weeks earlier.

I took Hank for a walk behind our house--he chose to amble up the hill rather than taking the stairs, which seemed an odd choice--and after saying goodbye to the rest of the family, I took him to the coastal trail to lift his shaky leg on as many plants as he wanted to.  It was the best he's ever walked on leash for me, and he almost tricked me into thinking I had made the wrong choice and that maybe he could stay with us for a bit longer.  But the seizures I'd witnessed two nights earlier, and the bile I had been cleaning up constantly  for two weeks allowed my heart to know that it really was the right time.  Not too early, and not too late.

So now I am dogless.  Though I know I have needed some relief of stress in my life, I am at heart a dog person.  I need a dog's companionship and security.  I am feeling a bit lost today, though I know that will ease with the days.  The other half wants to take a break from dogs for a bit.  I felt a bit angry that he reminded me of that as I cried last night.  I am hopeful that the most amazing dog we could ever hope for will somehow find us.  It's happened to me before when I was fostering, but those dogs were always meant to move onto someone else.

In the meantime, I will fondly remember the gifts and annoyances these wonderful spirits bestowed upon me and my family for so long.  I will miss you, 'Stupid Hank.'  I hope eating poop isn't frowned upon in heaven.  Maybe it's even so great as to have poo-flavored dog biscuits for you?  Now that would be the perfect Hank-heaven indeed!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Autism & Emotion

Today I'm contributing this piece over at Hopeful Parents:
We recently lost a beloved pet to cancer.  She had been with us for fifteen years and before M's big regression three years ago, had an other-worldly bond with our little man that she tried as hard as she could to maintain even when his seeming indifference to her (and most everything else) seeped into  their relationship.  M is non-verbal, but I am certain that the words from a thousand languages float intelligently through that beautiful brain of his...but if only we could hear them and know that he felt the same emotions we feel, well, then I suppose I wouldn't be here writing this particular post.
Over the past nine days since we said goodbye to our dog, I've wondered what my son thinks about her missing presence in our home.  And trust me, it is a gaping hole.  This dog was a cattle dog; bossy and stubborn, loyal and loving.  She always made you know she was there, and I've done many double takes since she died because I was certain she was still there, right under my feet, about to knock me down.
It's really bothered me-saddened me-to think that M either feels no emotion toward her passing or, worse, that he feels something as great as the rest of us and it is trapped inside his body, twisting and turning and trying to come out, but not knowing how to.
We've talked quite openly about it all with M and his younger brother.  Our dog deteriorated before our eyes over the past several months in so many ways that it wasn't something you could miss even if you tried.  So why has there been no inkling of sadness from our boy?  
M shows emotions in many ways, so I know that the capability is most certainly there.  He let me know that his feelings were hurt when I yelled at him for smooshing to smithereens a sleeve of crackers recently.  He cried as if to tell me, 'I can't help that I did that!'  He lets us know he is happy to see us when we return from those rare Mom and Dad-only outings by jumping up and down, running away from us with a huge grin on his face.  
The real kick in the pants is that we will also have to say goodbye to our remaining thirteen-year-old dog in the coming days or weeks.  
Less than two weeks before we said goodbye to the first dog, we learned that the second also had an aggressive type of cancer, this one with an outlook of generally 20-60 days of life remaining after diagnosis.  Again, we have told the kids that our friend is sick and we should be especially kind toward him right now.  Is M processing any of this? 
I know it is almost cliche to bring up the 'mysteries of autism,' but this one truly mystifies me.  Some aspects of my son I am able to accept as being just as they are, but this one makes me want to dig deeper to truly understand.
And yet, I am also struck by the thought that perhaps the answer to what my son is feeling is so much more evolved than something my less-complex brain is able to conceive.  What if his reaction to his pet's death is a higher form of acceptance than the tears of my grief could ever achieve?  What if his method of coping is on a totally different plane from anything we ordinary humans are able to accomplish? I suppose that until one of those languages emerges from his brain in the form of words I am able to comprehend, I will continue to wonder...