Monday, December 31, 2012

Boscoe: A Big Life Quietly Lived

On April 19th, 2011 I lost my best friend. His name was Boscoe. When he passed away, he was surrounded by those that loved him. His gaze never wavered from mine and it was so graceful that even after his heart had finally stopped, he was still looking in my eyes and I didn't realize he had died. He never knew what was coming and had all his happiness and joy of life intact. It was the kind of passing that anyone who understood the nature of death would envy for themselves when the inevitable comes. But this isn't about his death, it is about Boscoe's life.
Boscoe - The King of Winter

I started this as a catharsis to grief right after he passed away. But it was simply too sad to post. It missed his happiness in my sadness. But I know people will wonder where my Boscoe went and, when I start posting this summer, why I don't end with a shot of my boy. So, I've rewritten it and I hope it tells all his friends and many girly admirers a little more about the Big Boy.
The death of a dog has a lot in common with the death of a person. For most people, the ones they leave behind are left with a screaming grief inside that no one else shares. When they go about the duties required for closing out a life, those around them are having just another day. Traffic is going, people are doing people things and as the one left behind, we move through that day wondering angrily or sadly why the world hasn't stopped. Why isn't the sky opening up and why is no one but me aware of the loss just suffered? The truth is because most of us live a life bounded by that small circle that know us and still love us. The rest is just static and we are passing through.
Dogs are that way too but perhaps even more so because even their passing is often diminished. We who are left behind may hear kind words just as when a human passes, but there is that underlying tone, perhaps even one that isn't intonated but there nonetheless. The one that wants so badly to say that it was just an animal.
It's a peculiarly human thing to diminish death and the grief of it. That's surprising considering it is likely we are one of only a few species, perhaps the only one, who truly understands the full nature of death. You would think we would have developed a special facial expression over endless generations of increasing awareness that is just for showing others that we acknowledge their grief fully. You'd think that we might have developed a hardwired set of behaviors that bring us to hug a person who has lost someone they love and step away, making no demands and respecting it. But we haven't for some reason. It must not be an advantage to evolution to do so. Perhaps it is that push from others to "get over it" that helps us in some way to continue to function and not wallow that is an evolutionary advantage.
There are some people, and even some animals, that get their greater share of public grief. Hysterical fans over a person they didn't know because they sang a song or acted in a movie. Some grieved over because they contributed to humanity or made a great change and their loss is impactful. Some animals receive a greater share because of the joy they brought to many from a zoo exhibit or their bravery in battle or in rescuing others. The rest of us leave a smaller circle who are devastated even more because of the smallness of the circle.
That is why I have to share Boscoe with you. I've given many people snippets of his life over the years on my blog...where he is a far greater star than I...and through talking about his latest bit of adorableness with family, coworkers and friends. Mostly though, his joy was seen and shared only by me. In retrospect, that seems a little selfish because he had enough joy and silliness to give to the world with plenty left over for me. I give it to you now.
I first saw Boscoe in Maryland. I was going to pick out a rescued Beagle to be company for my girl beagle, Gigi. She was lonely in my long work hours and my sister had moved into her own home, taking their dog with them. Gigi wasn't technically mine, but the unspoken agreement was that she would be left with me. And she was. She's still with me, a little lonely now, but still healthy and full of vinegar and a very small...very small...amount of sugar. I wasn't supposed to "interview" Boscoe at all. There were two others but Gigi didn't react well to them at all. Both of them were special needs with medical issues and I think she could smell it on them.
So inside we went to look at more. I was at a loss. There was a room full of beagles, and more coming in and out through a doggie door out of my view. Most of them were throwing themselves at the very tall gate with typical Beagle abandon. All of them with looks of happy pleading. But back behind the crowd and away from everyone else in the middle of the room was this scruffy and overweight older Beagle. He was staring right into my eyes with his head cocked to the side and his tongue hanging out while he panted. But what he did the moment our eyes met is what made me point and say, "What about him?" What he did the moment I met his steady gaze was dance. Just on the two front feet and without standing, but he danced. It was like the happiness he had at me looking at him was too much for him to bear and that as shy and traumatized as he likely was, the joy had to come out. For me, the world just faded away and the chatter of the others became background noise. It was much like what I hear love at first sight is in humans.
The girls, my two nieces Jordan and Savanna, looked a little dubious but they went along with it. He met Gigi and despite the stench of his bad teeth and sketchy coat, there was that doggie bump of acceptance. Back inside Boscoe went to wait in a crate away from the other dogs while we discussed what to do. I knew I was meant to take Boscoe but I wanted the girls to feel satisfied with that also. Boscoe was a much older dog with an estimate of 9 very hard years behind him already. He'd been intact at rescue with his bits hanging way low and the scars indicated a hard life as a hunting dog in a pack that didn't include a human that believed in humane treatment for his animals.
 When I went back inside, he was still staring at my eyes. I signed the papers to make him a "forever foster" because he was a Friend of Winston. That means he had some special needs and a good deal of potential medical treatment to go through and it would allow me to take it off my taxes.
The drive home was pretty strange. It is several hours and it was chilly so the windows were up. The stench of his rotten teeth and bad skin was suffocating us. We eventually had to open the windows and simply shiver but even that wasn't really enough and we were covered in a slimy film of stink by the time we pulled into my driveway.
The first thing we did was let him trundle about outside with Gigi, relieving bladders and such. Boscoe was so excited and not very leash trained so he just kept bobbing about like a pinball with this huge doggie grin on his face. When we came inside the first thing he did was lift a leg on the coffee table. We laughed and said no in a kindly way and ran with towels. He seemed confused since the only inside he knew was that room that was really indoor and outdoor and pee was a-okay.
On his walk, he learned the leash in about 20 seconds and then climbed into...yes, on top of and into...a giant Mondo grass plant of my neighbors to do his business. We laughed at him crouched inside this plant like he was about to be eaten and he looked from one to the next with a look of confused happiness. At that point, I wondered if he might not be mentally not all there. He got a bath next and the water was more filthy than anything I have ever seen. A mud puddle is cleaner and I'm not exaggerating. He was patient but confused and you could see he was wondering if "inside" wasn't something he'd be better without. After that I made him a diaper that looked like he had a kimono bow on. He was adorable in it but in all honesty, he potty trained so quickly that they were retired in no time.
The next thing was to figure out who this fellow named Boscoe was and see how life together would be. I can't know everything that happened in his previous life but I do know it never involved anything in a house. It was all strange to him. When I cooked and got a big spoon or spatula out of the holder on the counter, he would cringe and his ears go down in that way that conveys he is begging not to be hit. So we went very slow. I took spoons out and rubbed them in peanut butter and put them on the floor. Then I rattled them in the dishwasher with peanut butter smeared all over the dishwasher door, racks and spoons. I took the big spoons and spatulas out and covered them in peanut butter and played with them on the floor with him. I covered the pots and pans with peanut butter and left them stacked in the cabinet with the door open so he could rattle them about without fear. It took months of small subtle gestures but one day I turned around and realized I was cooking up a storm and he was standing a few feet back just thumping his tail and not a shadow of concern in his eyes. Only a deep and abiding desire for a little bit of what I was cooking.
The ice maker in the freezer was our only holdout. Because ice cubes occasionally drop and make a pretty loud noise he never quite learned to trust them. After all, where might those slippery buggers really skid off to? Even until the last day I got ice I had to say, "It's okay. Mommy has the ice under control." He would then remain a little ways away and thump his tail.
While all this was going on, Boscoe wasn't just learning to live inside, he was learning how much he loved living inside. He was also developing a level of attachment to me that I'd never experienced before. Not in a person and not in an animal. Gigi loves me, yes, but her love is very equal opportunity and she is just as happy to be with almost anyone. She likes men better than women too. I had no idea that this is what people spoke of when they spoke of "best friend" in reference to dogs and humans. It became a symbiotic type of happiness and love that just became more with time.
Quite simply put, Boscoe lived for our relationship. He sat next to me watching TV and definitely sat closer when I ate, carefully watching each morsel as it traveled. I got used to it and he knew I would give him the last bite. I'd get him set up in my spot on the couch when I wanted to play facebook games but within a minute or two he would be at my knee, pawing me with that every more insistent left paw and staring at me. Savanna put it well when she said it was "stalker-ish". It was, but in a good way.
When I left in the morning I would put them in the downstairs laundry room/ half bath about half the time. It is a very good size so they had 1 giant bed, meant for a great dane or something, and a smaller cuddle bed that they could curl up in together. Plus foot room to roam a bit. The other half of the time I would let them roam the downstairs, just using our standard toolbox stair blocker to prevent anyone from going up and then falling down the stairs. Boscoe could go up stairs, but he was very wobbly coming down and slipped once. I caught him but never again did he walk down them. Our ritual was such that the treat I waved in the direction of the bathroom or the couch let them know what was the order of the day. Boscoe always got the more cuddly bed at first.
Coming home I would usually come in making lots of happy noises and Boscoe and Gigi would jump up on the gate for a pet. From there most of the time I would run up and change and be back down within a couple of minutes. Then I would open the gate and run to the red rug and drop to my knees for the love in. Boscoe would run like a puppy and either leap straight in or turn and slide as if he were trying to make a base ahead of a throw in baseball. The rapid combination of feet and paws pushing, pulling and doing every uncoordinated thing to get as much tickle contact at once made the whole day fade for both of us. His smile would get so broad that his eyes crinkled on the sides and his few remaining teeth would be visible in the back. He'd stretch his "hippy pippers" for me as a part of his ongoing therapy for arthritic hips. He loved it and it felt good for him to get his scritches on his legs but it also served to loosen him up before his walk.
Then we'd play peekaboo which he loved for whatever reason. His paws going up to the sides of his face but never quite covering his eyes. Not that he couldn't, but he wouldn't stop looking at me. Once we were done and both of us had sighed, he'd stand up, shake it out and lean forward to get face time. He'd lean his face toward mine and we'd go forehead to forehead with eyes level....just so he could stare at my eyes up close. I always told him, every single day, that I missed him all day and thought about him and loved him. Every single day. I know he didn't understand the nuances of language, but he knew what I meant and you could see his happiness.
We'd go walkies from there. At the beginning, he was almost lame and couldn't go far. His hips were stiff and legs unsteady. We quickly discovered that he had a badly torn cruciate ligament in the right knee and a slight tear in his left one. He had surgery in 2008; about 6 months after he came to me. After the long process of recovery his walks got longer. In the last 6 months he seemed to have an urge to go further and stay longer. He began to yearn for the longer walk even as I could see an increasing unsteadiness in his bad legs and a certain frailness in him on the way home. Even tired as I could see his was, he would stop and pull to go back for more. The shadow of the future would come to me often then and I'd be gripped by this certainty that time was running away from us.
But once we got inside, he sighed a few times to get his breath back and had a drink, our evenings were filled with a calm and happy love.
It may sound boring and perhaps it was, but Boscoe wasn't just a good dog that loved me in that obsessive way so many rescues do. It was that we were simpatico. He liked to do what I liked to do and I liked to do what he liked to do. Minus the occasional wee-wee licking and digging up worms to eat that is. That was all him. Other than that we had a blast. He liked to garden with me, carefully peering at whatever I was doing and inspecting the baskets for edibles. I liked to kick back and pet him as his liked and thought it was a hoot when he'd watch his animal YouTube videos. Cocking his head and staring at the screen and following the action with his eyes. I discovered that he loved puppies and cats. Puppies more than cats but he'd be happy with either.
Puppies made him roll over and show his belly and ever so carefully nudge them close to him so he could keep them next to his belly just like a mother. He'd sniff them with the most serene expression and I wondered then at what his life was like that gave him this protective compassion over the young. He also loved Bernice who is also known as Satan's Kitty. She lives outside because she can't live inside safely and has an unnatural love of my dogs. Boscoe loved her right back and every single day on coming home from his walk she would bump her head on his and he would sniff and bump right back. Sometimes she would follow us on our walk until we left her "territory". A clearly marked line she always turned back at. Boscoe and Gigi both turned back to look at her when she did this as if to say, "We'll be back. Chill."
On to a more delicate matter, Boscoe was the only living thing that pooped hilariously. I don't mean just a little bit cute or funny, I mean laugh out loud in front of the neighbors hilarious. Because of his weaker hips and ACL surgery, he had a wide stance. But he hunkered down like a frog and then, because he wasn't in prime position, he would grunt. Not a little, but a serious amount of grunting followed by a long grunt at the moment of truth. No, he wasn't constipated, it was just his way. If he was seeing something interesting, he would keep watching it and making a good many noises along with the grunting. So imagine a combo of a whine, excited yip from an old hoarse voice, a groan and a grunt all at once coming out of a dog splayed so far wide that he looks like he's straddling a set of parallel bars. Got that? Yep, that's it.
By the way, he had several vet visits where we asked about this grunting. There really wasn't anything at all wrong with him in that way, he was just a grunter. He also often made a grunt-sigh when he went pee after he woke up in the morning. I'm going to chalk it up to Boscoe being a total guy.
He did have a whole host of other things that needed caring for. Did you know that dogs have 40 adult teeth? By the time he had his first dental, he was minus 26 of those. Yep...26. A total of 18 were removed that round. He'd lost a few already from decay but it was clear he'd never had dental. Of course, why would he, he likely had no name.  He loved getting his teeth brushed and found the toothpaste delish. And those few teeth he had I brushed religiously. The water pik he didn't like so much so we switched to squirting water into that gap where he'd lost bone above his one remaining good chewing spot with those bulbs people use for baby's noses. Worked like a champ.
But he had very pretty shiny cute and perfectly straight incisors and he learned to smile all on his own trying to copy me. We called it "Showing Teefies" and it was an effective method of prying treats out of me.
His CCL surgery was posted on the blog when it happened and his arthritis and degenerating spine needed care and attention and a moderate daily two doses of Rimadyl to control pain and swelling. And the liver checks frequently to ensure no side effects of it.  He also had a bad thyroid that was easily controlled. He developed a great post nasal drip from allergies in those final months too.
Really though, caring for Boscoe's physical needs took maybe 5 minutes a day and cost very little. I can't encourage people enough to be understanding and caring of your dog as they get older. It always sounds worse and difficult when the doc's tell you when something is wrong than it turns out to be in actual work to do. I determined that having a old man beagle is really the very most excellent thing ever, despite these small matters. He also had many awesome physical characteristics.
Boscoe had a fat square butt. Yes, square. And his fat little feet below that made watching him trot along like he did a joy. He was just cute. It was almost like he became more and more puppy-ish looking the older he got. I never saw anyone who didn't smile at him when we passed them on a walk. In the car people would point and wave...not at me...at him. He just had that inviting puppy-ish look. Everyone who met him, whether at Petsmart, the park, on a stroll or at the vet always left with a face that made it clear they thought this dog thought they were special. That's a real gift. He would have been a great campaign politician.
Boscoe also liked watching things outside. Fireflies fascinated him and he would sit down comfortably and watch them, turning his head all around just as the flash faded. I have a lot of fireflies for some reason every year, so long summer evenings made for excellent watching. I was just outside last night, watching the display of so many....more than I've ever seen...and longing for Boscoe to be there with me.
Speaking of summer evenings, Boscoe wasn't much of a summertime boy. I would have thought with his hips and arthritis that he wouldn't like winter but perhaps his terrible thyroid made the heat just too uncomfortable, even with the meds. He loved the winter. This past year we had one of the biggest snows in the history of this area and Boscoe acted like he was in heaven. Head up, ears pert, neck tall and chest out; he would lead me a merry way as I struggled to stay upright following him. When I opened the door that next morning to a world of deep white fluff, he looked up at me like I'd just given him the greatest present ever. I'm so glad he got that.
He died on April 19th, as I've said. That is just about when I start getting blooms on things at my house. My dogwood tree, for example should start then. The last few years I've not done well with it though. Last year they stayed green and the year before they were very sparse. It looked like they might stay green again this year though there were many of them.
Boscoe always wanted near that tree to pee on it but I wouldn't let him, thinking it would be bad for the tree. This winter and spring, he got to it a few times and seemed inordinately triumphant about that. I was worried it might kill it, but since it had done so poorly, I figured nothing would hurt at that point. The day after Boscoe passed, I was balling...of course...and couldn't go to work because I couldn't stop crying. I brought Gigi outside and there it was, covered from crown to lowest branch with pure white blossoms. Spring had sprung that night apparently because every one of the green blossoms had turned. It probably started on the night of Boscoe's incident and continued throughout the day of his passing without my notice. I attribute it to the pee of Saint Boscoe of Second Chances. I guess those second chances work on trees too.
I suppose no tribute to Boscoe's life would be complete without a mention of sleeping. I mean, exactly how many pictures do I have of Boscoe in bed? I dunno, that's how many there are. Boscoe was a bed hound. When he first came home he didn't know about beds or anything else like that. For a few months he slept with Gigi downstairs in the laundry room, (which Gigi prefers, not being a bed hound herself) without a problem. At some point I brought Boscoe upstairs to bed one night. I can't remember if it was the day after his teeth were done or what-not, but I do remember it was because I needed to monitor him through the night.
That was all she wrote for the bed. Once he discovered the joys of a 18 inch mattress, pillow tops and fluffy duvet's...and pillows...he was not going back. When I tried to put him down with Gigi that next night he howled in his hoarse bare voice most piteously and we never slept apart after that. Even when I was recovering from foot surgery and couldn't tolerate the bed moving at all, he was up there with me.
He was an excellent sleeper! I have to say, I got to where I couldn't go to sleep without his little snore fest first. Boscoe snored abominably when he was first dropping off to sleep but once he was fully asleep, he stopped. He also didn't like getting up in the morning. When my alarm would go off the second alarm was Boscoe letting out a huge groan and covering up his face in anticipation of the light going on. On weekends he would sleep until you woke him. No problem sleeping in at all in my house. Though I rarely did indulge, having two beagles who love to sleep late in the mornings is a rarity I really do appreciate having.
Getting ready for sleep was another ritual he loved. When it was time to go upstairs and I went around locking things and turning on the alarm, Boscoe would prance around in his lumbering way and wait by the stairs thumping his tail loudly on the floor. Sometimes he could walk up the stairs, with me a stair below him with hands out in case he faltered. Other times I just carried him. I'd put him in bed and he'd perform the typical walking around in circles before laying down and staring at me.
I'll be honest, at first it made me uncomfortable the way he stared while I was getting ready for bed. It's a bit creepy. Brushing teeth, washing face, putting on creams and all of that was done under Boscoe's watchful eye. Everyone time I peeked at him his tail would thump and often he'd lift his left paw and thump it back down as if to hurry me up. Buddha always takes this opportunity to perform his evening ablutions as well. Usually Buddha made it to bed with Boscoe before me and they had their buddy kisses and bed arrangements settled.
Once PJ's were on and lights going off, I have a habit of reading a bit in order to get sleepy (no offense to the many good authors I read). Reading at bedtime is something of a trick and I'm glad I got the kindle. It made things so much easier. Boscoe would pull my hand over to him over and over as I read whenever I turned a page. The kindle meant he didn't need to pull quite so often. I always gave him his "Mars Rations" which is really just half a granulated rawhide treat for weaker chewers.
If I didn't he had this great intense stare reminder method. He'd sit up and stick his head around whatever I was reading and as soon as I looked up, he go all googly eyed over at the decorative cup I kept them in. Just his way of pointing. I'd usually say something like, "Oh, you want this lamp?" He'd stare. "Oh, you want some of this water?" Stare and tail thump because that is getting closer. "Oh, you want some of these Mars Rations?" Massive thumping tail and doggie grin. Insert treat, hunker and hold it carefully while crumbling it.
Why did we call it Mars Rations? Well, that is because of the dreams, of course. I didn't know the difference between Boscoe's dreams and nightmares at first. I got to know which was which after a time, but at first they all sound like nightmares, don't they? I would wake up (who can sleep through a really active doggie dream or nightmare?) and sooth him and talk to him until he settled.
When it was just a regular, but vigorous dream, I stopped waking him but we started calling it Chasing Giant Green Rabbits on Mars because of the vigorous activity. Hence, Mars Rations as a token for good dreams that night.
His nightmares were another matter. He didn't have them often but it makes me very angry at whatever he went through in his first part of life. On a couple of occasions when I woke but before I could sooth him he would make the most pitiful sigh/squeak of pain. Once awake he would get as close to me as possible, sometimes shaking at first, for the rest of the night. He was just so happy and relieved to see me then that it broke my heart.
Speaking of early life, Boscoe's life before Home clearly never had included enrichment or leisure of any kind. A hunter's life, kept in a pen when trying hard to hunt and avoid a bullet for under performing doesn't leave much room for toys. He had no clue what they were. Gigi, on the other hand, believes there are not enough toys in the universe for her and loves to play. Playing fetch and tug and boink with toys with Gigi left Boscoe uncertain and a little fearful at first. He stood back and watched and only thumped his tail when I looked up and told him "It's okay". After a couple of years he still didn't truly understand playing with toys, but he was getting the idea of playing being fun.
He would jump and play bow and run back and forth between Gigi and I while I threw her toys and had tickle time when she brought them back. He seemed to think he was doing just what he should be and had a blast. I can count the number of times he played with a toy on less than one hand. Each time I held my breath and wondered if we had turned a corner. It never stuck and lasted only a few seconds before he either couldn't figure out the concept or saw that I was watching him and came over for stalking time. The last time he did wasn't too long before he passed, just a couple of weeks. That time I had the phone right there and I snapped a fuzzy and grainy picture for proof. While I think it is sad that he never learned the joy of toys, I'm elated that he learned the joy of play.
Even as I captured that image, I'd been dealing with a growing level of concern for Boscoe. It crept in more and more and had been for a few months. He had stopped even trying to walk up the stairs in favor of my carrying him and seemed to have trouble with the few wide steps on the porch. When I picked him up I could hear his spine cracking more and more with those weak crackly noises only heard in the very frail and elderly. He seemed to feel compelled to stay outside and walk, but his body wouldn't let him and I often had to carry him home because he couldn't bring himself to turn back and would pull so until he simply sat down panting.
I had a terrible, terrible feeling that "the time" was coming. I upped his frequency of check ups and had more thorough blood work just to be sure. I couldn't quite figure out what was worrying me but I realize now it was the advancement of his spinal degeneration. It was like a shadow over us that finally landed, full on, so quickly.
I know this is a long entry, but his was a life that lends itself to sharing. I wish I would have shared more of him with others. Gigi has been very lonely since he died and isn't doing well as an only dog. I'm still grieving for my BoyBoy though. I've been approved to adopt from Triangle Beagle and am watching the site of the wonderful people at Beagle Rescue of Southern Maryland where Boscoe was saved, but I'll be honest, I still tear up about Boscoe more days that I don't. I was vacuuming the couch weekend before last and found a hair of his stuck in the cushion and just lost it. His hair was different from Gigi's and I knew it on sight...It was from his tail or ruff.
But Gigi shouldn't be punished for my grief and I know that giving another abandoned dog a home is not betraying Boscoe at all. In fact, I think if Boscoe could have thought like a human, he was kind hearted enough that he would want another dog to be saved and given a truly loving forever home. What better tribute than a life saved in your name is there? It's hard to tell our hearts that, though, isn't it?
Boscoe lived approximately 13 years, though we'll never know for sure. His lack of care may have aged him far more than his years or his strength may have made him weather more years well. I do know that he came to us on November 18th, 2007 and left this world on April 19th, 2011. We had 3 years, 5 months and 1 day together. They were great. They weren't nearly enough.

3 comments:

Judy T said...

What a lovely tribute. We should all be so loved....

Ohio Kayak said...

Wow...this brings me to tears. I have my first dog ever and now get how others feel about their 4-legged family members. While our blog http://ohiokayak.blogspot.com/ deals more with music, water, etc, I will be posting soon again about our little fuzzy guy...Thanks for sharing

716tj said...

I am so sorry for your loss of Boscoe. No doubt the pain is still there for you, but it somehow eases a bit with the passage of time. I hope you don't mind if I tell you a little about my girl Samantha, a yellow Lab I rescued when she was about 2 years old. I was single at the time, pretty isolated, and lonely. She quickly became my family and the love of my life. I had 9 precious years with her until January 2011, when she passed away from a very fast growing cancer. I had about a day to say goodbye to my best friend. I was devastated and really didn't come out of it until 7 months later when I learned that I had leukemia, which is incurable. I knew that my endless grieving had to stop so that I could fight the cancer. Perhaps I got cancer because of my inability to handle her death. There is no way to know, but I will always love her with all my heart and I believe that I will see her again in the afterlife. That's what makes it bearable for me. My thoughts are with you as you continue on after the loss of your dearest friend. Your article is a wonderful tribute to Boscoe. There is no doubt that he knew how much you loved him and will always love him. God bless you.