Thursday, April 28

The Whole Package

Whether it's some personality defect that makes me attracted to brokenness, or maybe it's one of those "blessings" of a compassionate spirit that often leads one to be a schmuck—well, regardless of the reason, I happen to be the owner of four ridiculous animals.

Our twin-sister cats do things like climb up trees and stay there for a week, mewling "Heyulp meeee" from the treetops, literally. And offering up live vermin as demonstrations of gratitude. Drinking liquids intended for humans out of human beverage containers. Bringing in small snakes to keep as pets. Explosive diarrhea in the bathroom sink. Whatnot.

The dogs are their own special brand of nutso. We've known Cody was handicapped by crippling anxiety and an inferiority complex not long after he graduated from his Puppy Stage, a dark period that included a lot of destruction and mayhem. Like the time we came home to find him in his kennel neck-deep in a cloud of fiberfill that just hours earlier had been his pillow. Or the time we came home to discover he'd chewed both arms off the couch.

Potty training Cody was a challenge—that dog's poop chute works at the speed of a machine gun, and I'm not kidding. You'd turn your back for two seconds—to pour some coffee, say, or pop a couple ibuprofen—and when you turned back he'd have stink-bombed about six different locations. One of his favorite drop zones was that couch he later ate.

Since then, though, he's become very modest about his pottying rituals. I appreciated his refraining from crapping in the apartment, but I could have done without traipsing through dense stands of juniper, clutching a leash that disappeared into the brush so Cody could do the necessary in private. Also kind of difficult to explain to your neighbors why your dog is buried in foliage, only his head and the tip of his cobra tail visible. Praise the Lord for our own house and a fenced yard.

I stupidly thought that getting through his teenage years would see an end to the drama, but alas. Instead of a bumbling, awkward youth (his nickname used to be Noodles Magoo), he has grown into a bumbling, awkward adult (his new nickname is Hey, Bozo). 

Cody is a very cuddly dog. All 80 pounds of him. He's also a very farty dog. He loves being Furminated, to the point of indecency, honestly. But he's afraid of storms. He's suspicious of out-of-place objects. He's a worry wart. Truth is, Cody suffers from crippling self-doubt.

The youthful exuberance that had him leaping ill-advisedly and inexpertly from one place to another and pulling Christmas-turkey legs off counter tops has matured into a middle-aged creakiness that can only be described as Chronic Hesitation. A broom casually tossed on the floor can keep him trapped in the kitchen for hours as though the 1-inch handle was nothing less than a barricade in the Faubourges.

We try not to reinforce ridiculous behaviors through cosseting, but the nighttime pacing put me over the edge. He started doing this thing where he'd jump off the bed, then spend 20 minutes pacing back and forth next to the bed, sometimes throwing himself bodily at the side of the bed, other times slamming his forepaws on the edge, then recommencing to pace, all to show how impossible it is for him to make the jump up onto the bed.

His doing this at bedtime was irritating. Coaxing and coaching and cheerleading him through it became part of my nightly routine. "Hop up! Hop up, Cody! You can do it! Plenty of room! Hop up, Cody! HOP UP YOU IDIOT." Etc. When he started doing this in the middle of the night, waking up me and Noah both and inciting us to unChristian language, I decided we had to do something about it.

We removed the box spring and put down plywood between the mattress and bed frame. Granted, it's a 14-inch box spring, so the bed sits higher than the average bed. After taking it out, we felt like we were practically sleeping on the floor. But! It put the mattress at an exceedingly manageable height for Cody. The mattress height was to Cody what the hoop height is to Shaq: almost laughably reachable. And yet.

Noah aptly realized that perhaps it wasn't the height of the bed but the texture of the floor that was giving Cody pause. The smooth laminate is by no means slick, but I could see how the dog would feel uncertain launching seven dozen pounds of trembling canine from those spindly legs. We bought bedside rugs.

"Look, Cody! Lovely, thick, handwoven rugs for you! Look how easy it'll be to hop up!" Heh.

You know, it's not even how irrational he's being. It's not that he needs excessive encouragement—when it comes to athletic activities, car maintenance, and math, I'm guilty as charged. It's the incessant whining and interminable clacking of 20 long claws that worms its way through my brain and dines on my cerebral center of understanding, reason, and also the part that reminds me that violence isn't the answer.

Much as I've realized in the past with Ethan, I have come to realize that Cody's peccadilloes are integral to his makeup and perhaps he's not the problem, but I am. What I see as annoyances are part and parcel with the unflagging loyalty, quiet companionship, protective instincts, and warmth on my toes on cold nights. Maybe my response to his flaws is more the problem than any deficiencies I perceive in his character. And you know what? I've found a better way of dealing with it. 

I now take sleeping pills.


Unknown said...

I know what Adam the dog trainer would say: Crate him at night. You'd be gifting him with security.

Hate to see a dog crippled by self-doubt. You crack me up.

nestra said...

Ahhhh Ambien, manna for owners of neurotic dogs and wives of snoring husbands!

Anonymous said...

I admire you. We have one extremely, EXTREMELY vocal cat and I am constantly threatening to set her on fire.

Erin said...

Lisa—The problem with that is he's so huge, we don't have room for a crate anymore. We did crate him when he was young, but then he blossomed into a dog the size of a middle-schooler.

nestra—I'm lucky Noah doesn't typically snore. I don't think I could handle any more disruptions.

Sal—I may or may not have been known to threaten off-with-their-heads.

Slamdunk said...

You have overcome adversity. The Mrs. just seals off her bedroom and refuses any admittance to find quiet at sleep time.

2kellymike said...

We have 2 beagles and a redbone, all elderly. They have always slept in our bedroom in a maze of dogbeds on the floor. Most favored son beagle would also make himself at home on the mister's side if he was cold.

That said, we have had to make the decision to move them all downstairs recently. Beagle #1 has dementia. He paces and wanders and gets lost under the bed or dresser at night. Beagle #2 has a bad back so we have to carry her up and down. Redbone dreams very happy, very loud dreams! All of that together ended over 14 years of denning together. We had to get some sleep! Some wounded feelings quickly passed, now it's just the new normal. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Erin said...

Slamdunk—My brother-in-law has been staying at our house for the past few Saturday evenings, and one of the best parts about that is the dogs go sleep with him when he's here.

2kellymike—That's what's been keeping me from enacting a change...guilt! And through all the annoyances, I really do love that they consider us their pack.

2kellymike said...

I think it helped that we moved them all downstairs together at once. They still have each other for the comfort of the pack. (And I quit feeling guilty just as soon as I figured out how very nice it is to get up in the dark to go pee and not stumble over or step on a dog!)

stephanie said...

our dog kennels are huge, as in, they take up half of our bedroom. but it's still a necessity for us, since they've been eating the couch again. (we really need to booby trap that thing). mia is lacking in the self-esteem department....and we're working with her to help that lack of confidence. sometimes i wonder if we are doing any good.

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