Tending to a man's best friend in its later years


Janet's World

February 28, 2010|By Janet Gilbert | Special to The Baltimore Sun

Later that evening, my husband said, "The thing is - I'm just not sure that Gus is really ready for a wheelchair."

Yes, English majors and less scholarly readers, sometimes it is helpful to use the literary device of manipulating story structure, beginning in the middle of an event to capture readers' attention.

My husband and I spent the better part of last weekend discussing whether our dear friend, Gus, 84, would gain independence or lose dignity with a wheelchair. Was the fact that he couldn't walk very well or very far sufficient reason to introduce the apparatus?

We had to concede that Gus seemed pretty agitated at the very presence of the metallic contraption in our kitchen; he had even experienced an embarrassing episode of incontinence during the fitting.

Now that I have your undivided attention, let me employ the literary device of situational irony and reveal that Gus is a dog. A corgi, to be exact.

My friend, Asil Sekok (name spelled backward for privacy), loves Gus probably almost as much as I love my dog, Moose, and it pains her to see him struggle when he tries to get around. It's hard to believe that it was 12 years ago when Asil first brought Gus home. I took my then-third-grade daughter over to meet him, callously remarking that he resembled the anthropomorphic hassock in the animated Disney film, "Beauty and the Beast." My daughter reports that she remembers me joking about his long coat and short legs, saying "Can't you make your dog stand up?" Yes, I was quite the dog lover back then. I'm certain that I went home and washed my hands multiple times and Dustbusted my slacks.

But today, thanks to my daughter's relentless decade-long campaign for a dog, I have acquired my first dog, possibly the best one in the Mid-Atlantic region, or at least Howard County. More accurately, he is undoubtedly the finest dog in the house. And he has taught me that dogs are really gentle, fee-free therapists that come into our lives to love us, which is all we really need.

So I completely understood my friend's motivation to help her dog live out his senior years fully, strolling about his yard with renewed vigor in his doggy wheelchair. When she phoned to ask whether my husband could help with the fitting, I said yes right away, because I know that my husband's love for dogs is right up there with his love for tools.

Indeed, we in Janet's World have access to a vast array of unusual tools for any job. For example, we own a complete set of Marital Harmony Forceps suitable for extracting fine jewelry from the elbow joint of a bathroom sink, as well as the rare Vehicle Dent Mallets for those unforeseen driveway incidents. I knew my husband would have something suitable for fine-tuning a dog wheelchair; this would be the perfect pet project. Gus would soon be ready to roll.

Here's how a dog wheelchair works: You slip your canine's hind legs through little rubber loops that are attached to wheels, which are attached to rods, which are attached to a soft strap, which you attach around the dog's midsection. Got it? It's kind of a rickshaw effect. Turns out, though, if you are Gus "Houdini" Corgi, you can quickly whip your previously stiff, nearly inert hind legs out of the rubber loops and poop immediately on my kitchen floor. There was no warning about this in the instruction sheet.

Eventually, Gus got the hang of it, even resting between circuits around my kitchen island, while Moose did his very best to be in the way, giving new meaning to the phrase "hit and run."

In short, I think we can take a lesson from Gus about aging. I'm just not sure what it is yet.

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