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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: October 26, 2013--September 20, 2014

Saturday, October 26, 2013:

Bubba Upside Down

I don't especially want this journal to tumble out of a cobwebbed hatbox in my closet only when I do my annual end-of-year mix CD tracklist or when a loved one dies, but I'm afraid I now have to memorialize Bubba the Cairn Terrier, who passed away October 18 at the unfairly-young age of nine. Please forgive the wealth of detail below that probably is interesting only to me and Bev, but I want to capture as much of our furry little man as I can here. Not that I would ever forget him otherwise, but inevitably memories dissolve into Sandra Lee-style soft focus over the years, and I want to keep them as sharp as possible.

Since Bubba's death, our house has been tangibly lacking the inimitably goofy energy that crackled throughout every room while he was around. Whenever he'd bounce off of/into things, right himself, and go barrelling off someplace else, Bev's dad, Larry, would guffaw, "He's full-bore all the time, isn't he?" At some point over the years, it became clear that even the name "Bubba" was way too dignified for him, and he became more commonly referred to as "Mr. Bubs." For instance, we would often play the Snap-Snap Game, wherein we'd throw a blanket over his head and shake it around while he tried to snap down on it with his jaws, and we would ratchet up the fun by singing the following nonsense song whose lyrics seemed satisfactorily meaningless:

Oh, Mr. Bubs, where ya gonna run to?
Oh, Mr. Bubs, where ya gonna run to?
Oh, Mr. Bubs, where ya gonna run to?
Your gaydar's on the fritz

Sometimes he also went by "Inspector Biddlebee," a name for which I don't believe there was ever an explanation. I just know that Bev and I would crack each other up when he'd bound off somewhere and we'd impersonate him saying, "Ooh! Inspector Biddlebee's on the case!"

As tends to happen with beloved animals who share homes with humans, Bubba organically developed his own voice that Bev and I would use when speaking his role in any conversation we might be having. Though his unique voice solidified well before the release of Pixar's Up, Bubba's contributions to our conversations were delivered with an inflection of guileless enthusiasm that I'd liken to Up's Dug, only somewhat breathier. This came about because, God love 'im, Bubba never once performed an action that made us think, "What a smart little guy!" Rather, Bubba's location in the house could often be determined by the direction from which we heard the thunk of his head being walked straight into a wall, like Wednesday the cat. For another example, I once took him out for a walk and noticed that he was limping, hopping along on three legs without putting any weight on his left front paw. I worried that he'd somehow injured himself until he suddenly began favoring his right front leg. It soon became evident that he was fine; he had simply forgotten how to walk for a moment.

Many simple commands never made their way into Bubba's vocabulary either. Every time we were going outside and I needed to slip his harness under his foot, I would say, "Give me your paw," and every time, I would wind up having to simply grab his leg and lift it myself because he had no idea what I was asking of him. He did, however, learn "Want to get the mail?" very quickly, because he was intensely excited about the act of walking across the street to our mailbox, for some reason. He also learned the command "gentle," albeit with some difficulty. When offered a treat, he would often chomp it so quickly and forcefully that our fingers would get the clamps as well. However, once Bev sagely taught him the "gentle" command, he would move in hilariously slow motion, inching his head forward and taking the treat between his teeth with the gingerliness of a bomb defusing technician. Unless the treat was a piece of ham or something else that was way too exciting to be civilized about; then it was back to the chomps.

Color Bubs

Bev's parents, Lanie and Larry, adopted Bubba from The Ark, a wonderful animal rescue in Cherryfield, Maine, in 2006, I believe. Larry wanted a dog who enjoyed riding in the car, because Larry loves to drive, and particularly so when he has an equally zealous companion. Lanie and Larry report that the first time Bubba was loaded into their car, he happily rode along without making a peep, convincing them that he was the perfect dog for them. However, while this conclusion never changed, that initial experience was to be the only time anyone enjoyed a car trip with Bubba without him turning into a coked-up Tasmanian Devil. Generally he'd be confined to his crate while in the car because he tended to bounce all over the vehicle's interior otherwise, and it was easy to imagine him getting it in his head to try working the pedals, resulting in everyone's fiery demise. Getting him into the crate was a cinch: open its door and he would eagerly hop right in every time. Instantly, though, he would realize, "I've made a huge mistake!" and begin not only howling in protest of his wrongful imprisonment but also ceaselessly swatting at the crate's door as though trying to dig through it. Crating him was such an ear-punchingly noisy ordeal that I would sometimes forgo it when we'd be driving only a short distance on low-speed surface roads, which was not a strategy that was without its own perils. On one occasion, during my misguided efforts to soothe him by singing on the ride to the vet, I perplexingly thought, "Surely the subtly calming melody of Lindsey Buckingham's 'Holiday Road' will have a soporific effect on the creature who is currently yelling at the top of his lungs while repeatedly leaping back and forth between the front and back seats." This predictably resulted in Bubba actually standing on my shoulders, barking into my ear for the remainder of the seven-minute trip.

For the first year or so of his life, before he was surrendered to The Ark, Bubba had not been treated very well and had clearly been struck numerous times, and although he instantly fell in love with everyone he met and was affectionate to the point that it was impossible to walk down the hallway without his wet little nose nudging your calves along to assure you he was beside you, it was only in the last couple years that he got the hang of being petted. Earlier, he would instinctively flinch a bit whenever someone raised a hand to stroke him, which was always very sad, though he was very happy for you to simply use him as an armrest, just touching him rather than petting. In the last week of his life, I'd flipped him upside-down in my arms to cradle him like a baby, just as a playful thing to do, and he loved that. He lay perfectly still in my arms, eventually falling asleep there for an hour while Bev and I watched Doctor Who. (Weirdly, he had the same reaction when we would cut his hair. We'd roll him onto his back on the floor to trim his belly fur, and before long, he'd be contentedly snoring.) I wish we'd discovered his fondness for that sooner. His fondness for being cradled, I mean. He seemed aloof toward Doctor Who.

On the other hand, he was crazy about Breaking Bad. Back when we got the first disc of the series from Netflix, Bev got bored about 20 minutes into the premiere and wandered off because the show does not feature Norman Reedus instructing Ferengis on the importance of curb appeal. So after I became hooked, it became a tradition for Bubs and me to wake up early on Monday mornings, snuggle up on the couch, and watch the previous night's episode. Bubba rarely paid any attention to the television ordinarily (one rare exception being an episode of Animal Planet's Too Cute! during which he became obviously infatuated with a fellow Cairn Terrier named Miss Cinders), but he would attentively keep his ears perked and his eyes focused on the screen as we watched Walter White devolve into a frantically-dissembling creature of pure hubristic malevolence. I don't know whether it was something about the series' cinematography that he found so mesmerizing or what, but I enjoy imagining that he simply appreciated the show's Coen brothers-derived black humor, unflinchingly bleak plotting, and justly-lauded performances. Although he'd already fallen ill by the time Breaking Bad wrapped up, I am thrilled that he hung in to watch the finale with me. He agreed with me that it was just fine, but its climax with the oscillating gun seemed relatively tame, considering we saw Walt working on the prototype earlier in the episode and basically knew what was coming, so it held none of the "Holy shit!" surprise of, say, the famous magnet episode. We both gave the episode a B.

Bubba was also always game to have my opinions projected onto him.

Blissful Bubs

At least I can say that one positive thing to result from the negative circumstances of his first year is that Bubba was very well socialized by the time Lanie and Larry adopted him. He lived with a couple of hounds in his formative days, which meant that not only did he get along famously with other dogs, but he learned that baying was the correct way to express his opinions. Though he was perfectly happy to bark and whine when the situation demanded (e.g., being harnessed up to go outside, watching Bev or me go downstairs to the basement, hearing the kids two doors down playing in the pool during the summertime, announcement of a 30-hour sale at Kohl's, etc.), when he wanted to communicate that he was feeling an especially powerful emotion, he would make hilarious "roo loo loo!" noises that he learned from his previous housemates. Here's a recording of them that I looped into a beat for a never-completed song.

Baby Bubs

When Lanie and Larry would go on vacation, Bev and I would dogsit Bubba, which was always a joy for us. Although he'd grown out of the stage where he felt it was his calling to chew every single thing he could get his mouth around, costing Lanie at least two lampshades, he still had quite a bit of puppy in him at that point (see his comparatively short snooter in the above picture, which was taken around this time), so we played all sorts of puppy games with him that he really never grew out of. One of his favorites was being chased around the house with a squeak toy in his mouth. Whenever he heard your footfalls get perilously close, he'd make an amusing "FNHRRR!" noise which coincided with a cheerful squeak as he bit down. This game would often end after about the fifth time that he'd cornered himself, growling, in the computer room, only to make a miraculous escape when we would dramatically lunge for him and fall an exaggerated distance from our target. He also enjoyed chasing snowballs during times of heavy snow. (As seen in this video--sorry I can't figure out the incredibly basic feat of embedding YouTube things in this post.) Essentially we would throw a snowball, it would smash apart somewhere in the middle of our snow-filled yard, and he would merrily chomp a mouthful of snow that he proudly decided was the one that had been thrown. During nicer weather, he did make the occasional effort to fetch sticks, but gave up these endeavors due to an inability to select sticks of an appropriate size, so he'd wind up dragging an enormous fallen branch for a few feet and then give up.

He would sleep between us in bed, spending the night merrily sleep-kicking whichever of us his legs happened to be facing. Not, honestly, the most fun I've had with the little furball, but it's also pretty difficult to be annoyed by a puppy who's galloping in his sleep. Thankfully, however, he soon discovered that the wall against which my side of the bed sits is poorly insulated, and apparently he liked the way the cool glossy paint felt against his belly at night, so we shoved some blankets between the bed and the wall and created a little hammock nook in which he would sleep, pressed against the wall and facing away from me. (Eventually, he tired of that and took to sleeping in a nest of throw blankets that he'd pulled all the way underneath my bureau.)

These visits generally proceeded without incident until Bev and I adopted Cora in 2007. As we had no idea how the two would interact, the next time Bubba was coming to stay, we were careful to introduce Cora and Bubba outside, where Cora wouldn't feel like her territory was being invaded. Luckily, apart from a few minor tiffs when Bubba would accidentally overstep his boundaries, Cora and Bubba quickly became best friends. Bubba had zero alpha-dog aspirations and would in fact become anxious and rambunctious when he didn't have anybody to lead him and keep him in line, which worked just fine because Cora treats all other living things like her willing subjects... and Bubba was nothing if not willing. More than happy to do whatever she wanted him to do, oftentimes Cora needed only to cast a significant glance in his direction and he would immediately lay his ears flat (his "shame ears," we called that position) and slink away. The two of them got along so well, in fact, that Larry, Lanie, Bev, and I noticed that both Cora and Bubba would become mopey and sad when their visits concluded and it was time for Bubba to return to Lanie and Larry's place. So from that point on, we did our best to keep the two of them together at all times, sharing custody between the two houses. Eventually, as Lanie and Larry began spending more and more of the year in Florida rather than Maine, both pups essentially lived with us full time.

Our Christmas Card, 2010

A while back, I took this video, which pretty well encapsulates the relationship between the two pooches. As you can see, typically Bubba would try to play by quickly pretending to pounce, trying to draw Cora into chasing him. Cora would occasionally do a head-fake, causing Bubba to conclude, "We are playing! Yee-haw!" and skitter merrily up and down the hallway at least once, not realizing that he was not being pursued. Also featured in the video is the oft-presented drama wherein Cora would let him briefly sniff her butt, curling her tail haughtily as she did so, and then trot daintily away. At this point, Bev and I would laugh and one of us would quote Borat, teasing, "You cannot have this!" which was the unmistakable message. Incidentally, when Bev and I discuss Bubba in the voice of Cora (which is sort of like a cross between Sesame Street's Bert and an unraspy Strong Bad), Cora always refers to him as "Other Dog," which we're fairly certain is what she would've called him if she spoke English.

Once Bubba became anemic and constantly tired, however, a heretofore-unseen nurturing side of Cora came out. Though she would still make a show of eating treats right in front of him to make him jealous (which I am convinced actually delighted him because his worship of Cora verged on Stockholm syndrome), she would also cuddle up with him when he felt too lethargic to run around:

Cora Snuggles Bubba

Having brought up the anemia, I suppose I'd better address the end now. In early September, we noticed that, although he was still the same intensely loyal, underfoot, eager-to-please food vacuum he'd always been, his energy had decreased and he was carrying himself differently. His legs would slide out from beneath him without warning and he'd belly-flop to the floor. His tail, which ordinarily never stopped wagging or twirling to communicate that he was always having the greatest day of his life, hung limp like a threadbare windsock. He began peeing on the floor, with which he'd never had a problem before, and didn't seem to even realize he was doing it. He simply wasn't himself, so we guarded our ears (with Gorman's!), loaded him into the car, and took him to the vet.

The wonderful folks at the Brewer Vet Clinic know Bubba well, having taken excellent care of him over the years. Inevitably, when we'd take him in for any reason, at least one member of the staff would gleefully exclaim, "Those ears!"


(Bev and I always left 'em sprouty when it was haircut time. That style just seemed to suit him.)

So when these health troubles began, it was quickly evident to the staff of the vet clinic that something was wrong. One of the vet techs, upon seeing us in the waiting room on our initial visit to address these worries, expressed surprise that she hadn't known we were there, as Bubba usually likes to announce his presence at the clinic with a running commentary of whining and roo-loo-looing: "He's usually got a lot to say about nothing at all!" she exclaimed. I won't go into detail about the many vet visits Bubba had to endure as we tried to figure out why he had been behaving in such an uncharacteristically subdued manner, but on October 3, a blood test allowed the doctor to conclude that Bubba was suffering from terminal nonregenerative anemia. The chart he showed us listed about 20 things measured as part of the blood panel: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, etc. Those items whose numbers were in the normal range were printed in black, while those in the low range appeared in red and the high range in blue. Bubba's chart was rendered almost entirely in red and blue. What's worse, we'd taken him to the emergency vet four days earlier due to the appearance of some horrifying, unexplained bruises on his abdomen, and we'd had some bloodwork performed then as well. A comparison of that bloodwork and the bloodwork performed on October 3 showed that things had gotten significantly worse just in four days, and would not be getting better. The vet told us that expensive and unpleasant blood transfusions might have bought him a couple extra weeks, but because his body was not producing any new red blood cells, putting him through something like that would be futile.

The silver lining around the dark-brown cloud, at least, was that Bubba enjoyed a very good quality of life even after the anemia began to voraciously leech his energy. He became increasingly lethargic, to the point where he would sometimes give up halfway and plop down when attempting to walk from the couch to his water dish, but he was not in any apparent pain, thank God. Even so, I felt helpless and guilty for being unable to explain to him why he was suddenly lacking any energy when he used to be a world-class scampering machine. As I'd brush him or hold him in the last few weeks, he would sometimes look at me in a way that made me feel as though he was beseeching me to take away his chronic tiredness, the way I used to free him when his toenail got caught in an afghan or something and he'd treat me like a hero. I had no way to tell him that it was beyond my powers to restore him to his former levels of energy, which could make a Parkour enthusiast look like a mangled wheelchair lying in an alley.

Bubba and the CD Rack

Bubba ate really well for the last month or so of his life, and his appetite did not wane until the last day. As soon as we heard the word "terminal," our fridge became stocked with more meat products than we'd purchased in the eight years since I moved here. Larry used to often share Wunderbar brand baloney (I don't think Wunderbar is high-quality enough to have earned the highfalutin' term "bologna," and frankly is probably so cheap that the two-syllable blurt "b'loney" would be more apropos) with Bubba, so we bought a lot of that and would let Bubba chow down on it. Ordinarily he would gulp things down without chewing, but he took the time to savor the Wunderbar, we think because it reminded him of Larry, his favorite person in the world.

On October 18, I drove to Boston to pick up my friends Amanda and Sean from Logan Airport, as we were all going to attend Cosmic Ben Marlin's wedding the following day. (It was lovely, and seeing one of my best friends so infectiously happy did buoy my spirits during a very dark time. Also, at the reception, some guy angrily accused me of being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, for no fathomable reason. I assured him that I could not care less about the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he commended me for not supporting "smashmouth football." I live for encounters like that.) Bev hasn't been feeling up to traveling lately, so she stayed home. Throughout the day, she called me a few times to let me know that Bubba's gums had gone bone white and that he had begun panting nonstop, was refusing to eat even reliably irresistible treats like liver or tuna, and couldn't stand even if Bev lifted him and set him upright. After it became clear that none of his medications were helping and that his shortness of breath had finally pushed him into the realm of discomfort--a drowning sensation which the vet told us to expect--we made the decision to take him to the vet and have him put to sleep. I feel terrible, and always will, that Bev had to go through the process alone (not to mention that I didn't get to say a proper goodbye, though I know Bubba would never hold it against me), but that is the way our luck tends to shake out. The Brewer Vet Clinic was closed by the time we finally made the call, so Bev took Bubba to the emergency vet, where she held him and they humanely ended his suffering. They assured Bev that she'd made the right decision, which was nice of them, and Bev said that the silence that filled the room when Bubba finally stopped panting made her realize just how hard he'd been struggling to breathe. It was unquestionably the right thing to do, we both know, but just like that, a priceless source of silly, unconditionally loving energy was extinguished from our lives.

Bev built him a coffin, and we filled it with blankets, treats, and toys that he liked, and buried it among the pine trees out back upon my return from Boston. Before we'd filled in the hole, we brought Cora out to say goodbye--it felt like the right thing to do, and I guess we thought there was a chance she might catch his scent and somehow understand the situation--and she briefly peed next to the grave to claim the territory as hers, spun around, and then vigorously kicked a bunch of pine needles into the hole (we call it her flamenco dance), like a widow tossing the ceremonial first handful of dirt onto a casket. Bubba would've been completely thrilled by that, I am certain. I've been thinking of walking back there and talking to him sometimes, but considering the number of times I've mocked David Caruso's character on CSI: Miami for doing that very thing, it seems a shade hypocritical. We'll see.

Every time someone I know loses a dog, I see a lot of references to "the Rainbow Bridge" on Facebook, which I gather is a reference to some famous poem that describes Puppy Heaven. I've never read it, and without dismissing or disrespecting anyone to whom the idea of the Rainbow Bridge brings comfort, the title suggests something a little too specifically saccharine for my personal beliefs. I do instinctively believe in some sort of puppy heaven--my ever-flimsy mental stability would collapse entirely if I didn't believe that animals are granted some manner of eternal bliss beyond this world--but though it does make me giggle to imagine that Bubba was greeted by 72 Miss Cinders upon his passing, I don't really have any concrete images of what may exist where he is now. I just hope he's still being Bubba out there somewhere, because that's all he's ever required to be happy and all anyone with a heart has ever required to love him.

Bubs Asleep

CURRENT MUSIC: Interpieces Organization by Haruomi Hosono & Bill Laswell and #1 Chicken by Red Aunts. Consecutively, not simultaneously.
CURRENT MOOD: Crumbled into tiny bits.
CURRENT DISCOVERY: Lynda Barry's novel Cruddy, while excellent, is right up there with Wendy & Lucy, Futurama's "Jurassic Bark" episode, and, come to think of it, Barry's own The Freddie Stories when it comes to entertainments that you should not attempt to enjoy soon after losing a dog.
TIME: 9:43 AM


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