Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Life with Wrigley

WrigleyThe holidays have passed, so it's time to get back into the daily routines which provide predictability and productivity to life. As for many, the holidays provided both ample enjoyment and stress, as the compounding time requirements of work, family, and entertainment formed a potent - if exhausting - brew. The joy of Christmas was tempered by the need to be on call, which foreshortened time with my family. But there were many blessings in the gift of giving, gratitude, great food, and the time spent with my wife and children, now grown and increasingly independent of their parents through the centrifugal forces of adulthood, marriage, and career training.

There were other, more unexpected, blessings. One of our cats, a 13-year-old gray Persian, began to deteriorate rapidly in early December, developing progressive weakness in his hind legs, at first having trouble jumping, then ultimately deteriorating to the point where he was dragging his legs behind him. Several veterinarians - including a cat specialist - were mystified by the disease, and he was ultimately referred to a small-animal neurologist (yes, such specialties exist in veterinary medicine), who ordered an MRI(!). The initial report was bleak - the scan was interpreted as showing a spinal cord tumor. The prospect of euthanizing a member of our family (no, I'm not anthropromorphizing our animals, but anyone who has a special pet knows how deep your attachment to them becomes over the years) - at Christmas time, no less - was depressing, to say the least.

As a matter of course, all MRI scans from the clinic are sent digitally to Washington State University School of Veterinary Medicine, to be reviewed by a radiology specialist. After several tense days, the answer returned: It was not a tumor, but rather a rare parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis is extremely common in cats, and rarely causes clinical disease. Spinal cord involvement with parasitic cysts is extremely rare, however - but treatable. After a week of antibiotics, our old friend is nearly back to normal - jumping up on the counters, getting into the butter, stealing the broccoli (he loves vegetables!) and causing his usual mischief. But somehow it's hard to get too angry with him. His recovery is one of our best gifts of the season.

And then there's Wrigley...

During the course of several vet visits for our cat, my wife met a neighbor with a 4-month-old puppy called Wrigley (pictured above). Wrigley is a Golden Doodle - a cross between a Golden Retriever and a miniature poodle - and one of the cutest darn dogs you'll ever lay eyes on. Our neighbor was looking to board him while they were out of town for the holidays, and my wife - in her passion for "cute" dogs - offered to watch him. It was love at first sight - Wrigley was playful, energetic, friendly, and good-natured. And she was easy on the senses, with button-black eyes, a soft coat, minimal odor, and gorgeous, subtle coloration. But love is fickle - and easily extinguished. The honeymoon lasted about one day.

Dogs have many fine attributes which make them wonderful companions. Pack animals by nature, they love the companionship of people. Easily trained, they can be taught to perform many remarkable tasks - service dogs, search and rescue, police work, personal protection, illegal drug detection, - even cancer detection. But above all, the most treasured characteristic in dogs is their loyalty. A dog will love you, and be loyal to you, even though you scold it, neglect it, punish it for misdeeds, leave it - even abuse it, God forbid. You can be a miserable sonofabitch and your dog will worship the ground you walk on. Their friendship and devotion is nearly unlimited. Wrigley was terminally cute and playful - but she was not loyal.

Wrigley was ecstatic to be with us - her true owner forgotten in a nanosecond once the door slammed shut. And ecstatic to be with anyone she met - man or beast.

Wrigley was classic ADD - when you called her, you were the most exciting thing on earth - for exactly two seconds. Then she was off, to the next most exciting thing she'd ever seen. Mixing two breeds can enhance their best traits, but such is not inevitable. With Wrigley, the rambunctious and independent playfulness of the poodle combined with the Golden's unconditional love for all mankind produced a gorgeous and engaging animal. She was all looks and personality - and no loyalty.

The bloom was off the rose rapidly with the liabilities of canine youth - the endless chewing, the hyper-frenetic activity, unceasing barking, the apparent inability to differentiate "indoors" from "outdoors" when tending to bodily functions. When her owner returned, we expressed our sheer joy at her visit through grateful, carefully engineered smiles, as Wrigley ran off, ecstatic to meet her newfound - if dimly-remembered - owner.

Yet she, too, gave us a gift at Christmas - the appreciation of the value of loyalty. How often are we drawn to the beautiful, the engaging, the gregarious - only to miss those quiet, invaluable treasures of devotion, commitment, endurance in trials, true friendship: loyalty, in a word. To have both - as I have been blessed with in my family - is to have all the treasure a man could desire.