The art of grace

I’ve always felt almost human. I’ve always known there’s something about me that’s different than other dogs. Sure, I’m stuffed into a dog’s body, but that’s just the shell. It’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul. And my soul is very human.

–from The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

Two Saturdays ago, I started reading this book. Hurricane Ike was coming through and rain was expected all weekend. I was hanging out with my folks and my animals. The fictional account relating the final hours of a dog’s life from his own perspective seemed just reflective enough for such a blustery and cozy weekend.

DSC00938 I’d taken cute photos of Moose and Principi napping together. We’d run and jumped and played as Moose could only do on the carpet in Lavaca. All seemed right with my world.

Five chapters in, though, I had to put the book down. Maybe it was a sense of foreboding. Maybe the thought of Moose’s 12 years in my life brought up too many memories I’d rather not dredge up.

But this past weekend I thought of little else.

Moose has a bad back. He’s fought valiantly and willfully — his mind clear and curious, his heart eager to chase squirrels chattering outside. But Friday, his body began to argue with him and this morning it simply refused to carry him where he wants to go.

An anxious trip to the vet this morning brought tears, but a little bit of hope. He trotted out from a lengthy exam in the back like nothing was wrong. We decided to try a new drug for a couple of days, but agree that it may very well be…time.

This afternoon I’m working on some projects with a content Moose by my side. Fresh water every hour or so, being carried outside to take care of business, and nearly constant contact with my idle right hand agrees with Moose’s regal attitude.

He’s a Lhasa Apso — also known as “Little Lion” — in his home nation of Tibet. Moose is fierce when his will is challenged, loyal to his masters, and eager to please – most of the time.

We’ve had a great life together. He’s trained me well.

He’s forgiving, trusting, intelligent, and playful – regardless of the mood I’m in. He’s protected me from perceived harm, stayed close to me when I’ve been ill, and kept me company when I refused to be consoled by friends and family.

Somehow, Moose hurt his back when he was about 2 years old. I thought he’d met his demise, but the docs took out a ruptured disc and fused his spine. After that, he was kinda loose in the corners – NASCAR parlance for a condition that sometimes causes the rear end to slide out in front of the front end now and again. Moose was a hoot when he ran – especially when he’d cut a corner. But he’s a gamer. He’d just get up and keep chasing that squirrel – or me. Delightedly.

Because of his delicate spinal condition, he occasionally has a flare-up. More than once in his life, I thought he wouldn’t make it. But I’ve never seen “give up” in his eyes.

I think that’s what’s so tough with the looming decision. Looking at him now, he’s interested in what I’m doing, curiously awaiting my next words to him, wondering why he’s getting the royal treatment. Only when he stands does he show a bit of confusion and frustration – at not being able to go, go, go where he wants to investigate.

Moose has endured long days at home alone – then with a kitty cat he adopted. He’s endured my foul moods. He’s licked tears from my eyes and snuggled a little closer when I asked him to. He’s tolerated my sudden shouts at the TV – during game days and race days.

Today I re-read the words of Enzo, the central character in The Art of Racing in the Rain, the book I couldn’t finish.

“I’m old. And while I’m very capable of getting older, that’s not the way I want to go out. Shot full of pain medication and steroids to reduce the swelling of my joints. Vision fogged with cataracts…I’m sure he would keep me alive as long as he possibly could, my body deteriorating, disintegrating around me, dissolving until there’s nothing left but my brain floating in a glass jar filled with clear liquid…”

As long as I’m around, Moose is content. It’s what happens when I’m not around that concerns me. I owe him more than that.

When my grandmother died, I realized I’d lost the only person on earth who thought I was perfect. It was heartbreaking. Reading Enzo’s thoughts makes me realize Moose has filled that void, to some extent.

“He is so brilliant. He shines. He’s beautiful with his hands that grab things and his tongue that says things and the way he stands and chews his food for so long, mashing it into a paste before he swallows.”

Moose knows me, and loves me just the same. That’s why the word “grace” keeps running through my head. No, not in the spiritual sense. I know there’s a whole big theological debate about whether or not creatures have souls. I do know that God created the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air before he created man – and God blessed them. I think that says something important about God’s loving attitude toward animals and the affection that we humans have for our 4-legged beasts.

When I use the word “grace” in reference to Moose, here’s what I’m thinking:

  • seemliness: a sense of propriety and consideration for others; “a place where the company of others must be accepted with good grace”
  • a disposition to kindness and compassion; “the victor’s grace in treating the vanquished”
  • decorate: make more attractive by adding ornament, colour, etc.; “Decorate the room for the party”; “beautify yourself for the special day”
  • deck: be beautiful to look at; “Flowers adorned the tables everywhere”

Moose is a regal pooch — with a sense of propriety. He has conquered this house and I am a vanquished subject. He treats me with kindness and compassion. In his younger days, Moose was quite the looker – black and white flowing hair, fuzzy and more cuddly than any stuffed animal – and his enthusiasm still lights up a room, despite the missing front teeth.

The final drop of grace he’s giving me is time – time to decide what’s right for him. He’s a gamer, and willing to try something new. He’s still curious and content most of the time. He trusts me to make a wise decision that’s in his best interests. He’s giving me time to let go, because he knows how difficult goodbye will be for me.

Moose is teaching me that, while it’s possible to postpone, some matters in this life cannot be avoided.

He’s such a good boy…when he wants to be.

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