By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
As reported in an earlier column, we had to say goodbye to one of our dogs recently who was so ill that we made the tough decision to euthanize her at the vet’s office. Obviously, her backyard roommate, E.J., didn’t know why his constant companion of 14 years was suddenly gone. For a few days, it was obvious he was waiting on her return. The vet cautioned us that dogs mourn, just as people do, and that E.J. would need extra love and attention to get through it.
So we’ve spent nearly a month now catering to E.J.’s every need. He’s a black lab mix who was rescued as a puppy 14 years ago. When he came to us, he was missing one ear which the vet said was probably cut off by a previous owner. The skin around his eye was also mangled and scarred. We’ve always said that E.J. (short for Earless Joe) is “cosmetically challenged” but has one of the best-looking spirits you’ll ever see in a dog.
After the loss, we decided to let E.J. stay inside with us full-time, going out only for bathroom breaks and walks to the bus stop to get the kids after school. For the first week or so, things were working out fine. But lately, he has developed a bad case of separation anxiety, which they say is pretty common in dogs who’ve experienced a big change in their lives. E.J. was what they call the “follower dog”, which basically means that our other dog was the one who wore the four-legged pants in the relationship. She led. He followed.
Now that she’s gone, E.J. needs a new leader. And he has decided that Tom and I are the new leaders. Fortunately, we both work from home so E.J. curls up beside either Tom’s desk or mine and sleeps contentedly most of the day. When we feed the kids, he sits at their feet hoping one of them drops a bite. When we watch T.V. at night, E.J. is right there with us. If we get up for a glass of ice tea or even to walk across the room, E.J. slowly clambers up and follows us – a built-in shadow wherever we go.
But here’s the problem: E.J., a bona fide doggie senior citizen, snores loudly when he sleeps and is extremely gassy. I’m not exaggerating even a little when I tell you that this dog emits odors that smell like a hundred rotten potatoes stuck inside an overflowing sewer pipe. The smell sneaks up on us like a deadly gas, and if we try to get up and escape it, the offender follows us with his trail of green funk trailing close behind. Sometimes I even hear E.J. audibly pass gas while he is snoring, which makes me feel like I’m living in some kind of fraternity house where good manners get dropped at the door.
If we put him outside so as to spare ourselves the agony of the smell, he sits by the door making this pitiful, heart-wrenching sound that’s a combination of a whine and a howl. When we see his sad, black face, which has become framed with gray hair in his old age, we have no choice but to let him back in and try to hold our breath when the wave of paint-peeling odor strikes. We love him. So what else can we do?
I think of it this way. One day, I, too, will be old and gray and will snore and have less than ladylike control over certain bodily functions. Perhaps I’ll be missing someone and need the comfort of companionship, just as E.J. does now. I would hope someone would extend the same kindness to me, even if it meant he or she had to hold their nose to do it. Let’s face it. Sometimes love stinks.