Today is the third-to-last installment of this year’s Thanksreading pieces.
I had a grand idea for today’s writing, but that’s fallen to the wayside.
Sunday night was a scary time, and it’s been a long day today (Monday, as I write this), dealing with the fallout from it. I don’t have the mental presence to pull together what I was originally planning on. That said, the circumstances of the past 24-ish hours led me to share thoughts of gratitude for an author who had slipped my mind for a while.
I’ve only read one piece of work from J.R. Ackerley, the British writer and editor, and it’s arguably his most famous: My Dog Tulip.
Alison, the woman I’m fortunate enough to call my wife, introduced me to My Dog Tulip after we adopted Sally, our pekingese. She saw the strong relationship I developed with that little bundle of loveliness, and she recommended I read it.
It’s an achingly beautiful work of literature.
My Dog Tulip is an examination not only of the 16-year relationship Ackerley had with his beloved German Shepard (in reality named Queenie, but Ackerley’s editors made him change her name because of associations between her real name and homosexuality; Ackerley was, in fact, gay), but also of relationships in general. It’s a book elegantly drowning in the bittersweet quotidian of dog ownership and humanity.
Ackerley’s book was turned into a lovely animated film a decade ago, and they are both well worth your time. Like its source material, the movie doesn’t steer away from things like the sex life of dogs or their toileting routines. Certain individuals have pointed to the inclusion of these topics as purely immature, but certain individuals are wrong.
My Dog Tulip came to mind today as I sat thinking about last night.
It was around 7 p.m., and Sally was up on our bed, thoroughly convinced we should also be there. As I puttered in the kitchen, high-pitched screaming (yes, a dog can scream, I learned last night) came from upstairs. I ran up, and there was Sally in the middle of our bed, surrounded by poop and appearing to be in a state of seizure. Her eyes seemed stuck in a loop, constantly darting up and down, up and down. Her hind legs weren’t working either.
Within minutes, we were in the car with her, heading for the nearest emergency animal vet about an hour away. On the way there, Sally lay on towels on Alison’s lap. The poor thing couldn’t seem to lower her head, keeping it arced back, though as much as she could, she kept her eyes locked on Alison’s tender, loving face. Every few miles, Sally would thrash around like she was falling.
We didn’t think Sally would return home, ever. Though neither of us said it at the time.
Once at the vet (getting there in much less than an hour), she stabilized, and she was diagnosed with vestibular syndrome, also known as “old dog syndrome” and “old rolling dog syndrome.” Basically, it’s extreme vertigo, and the vet said that Sally spent the last hour or so “feeling like she was on a roller coaster.” Her eye movement (I can’t remember the fancy term for it) was a physical manifestation of her literal inability to distinguish up from down.
Within a few days, the vet said, Sally will be back to normal, and she’ll probably never deal with vestibular syndrome again. That’s just how it works. There’s no real understanding of what causes its onset, though there are rare instances of the condition being connected to brain tumors. However, the vet said there would be other obvious symptoms by now if that were the case.
Sally was given two different kinds of motion sickness medicine, and we were on our way home. She walks like she’s a bit drunk now, and I stayed home today to keep an eye on her. She got a little stirred up in her sleep this afternoon, so I curled up with her in front of the pellet stove, and we napped together.
Our little Sally Poo is 14 years old. Despite her ability to come across puppyish at times, she’s getting old. Tulip (Queenie) was 16 years old at the end of her story. It’s getting to be about that time.
I’ve taken a lot of solace today in thinking about the story Ackerley shared with the world. Considering the spoken and unspoken stuff that’s shared between a person and their dog. And I thought about one particular bit from My Dog Tulip:
“Was she happy? I suppose she was happy. She had, after all, fulfilled a dog’s most urgent need, she had managed to bestow her heart, and upon steady people whose dull, uneventful lives required the consolation of what she had to give.”