COLUMNS

Just Thinking: Pip didn't fit bill, but he fit our family

Margo Bartlett
Guest Columnist

Our dog probably is in his last months. 

It’s not as if we’ve never thought about this inevitability. We’ve loved dogs before, and we all know what happens with loved dogs.  

I still don’t know how I moved beyond the loss of our German shepherd, who watched our daughters grow up and go off to college. Some would say I never did move beyond it. I’d probably agree with them. 

Margo Bartlett

Pip is a departure from our fixed canine preferences. We were big-dog people. Jeffrey, the German shepherd, was larger than most shepherds, probably because he was part something else, like a Shetland pony or an Army jeep. We owned two yellow Labrador retrievers for five years. We were accustomed to dogs that can’t be carried upstairs or heaved into baths or easily lifted into a car. 

Then a daughter and I noticed Pip in a humane society kennel. He was midsize, the Honda Accord of dogs, and he was walking in tight, distressed circles. You could practically hear him thinking, “What can I do? What can I do?” 

Of course, he became our dog. My husband wasn’t won over entirely until Pip had been at our house for as long as four hours. After that, he and Pip enjoyed the special bond that only hours in a pickup truck can forge. My husband drives and Pip rides, though I’m sure Pip believes any day now he’ll take the wheel. Until we bought a truck with a dog-dedicated backseat, he rode next to my husband, staring fixedly at my husband’s boots on the truck pedals. Perhaps he was trying to figure out how his paws could do the same work.  

Pip came with his name, as I’ve mentioned before. We would never name a dog Pip. We named one Jeffrey, for heaven’s sake. I leaned toward Frank, and Frank would have been a fine name, except this dog’s name was Pip whether we liked it or not. He’d already made the shelter rounds and spent time in a penitentiary, where an inmate improved his behavior. To insist that he answer to something else after doing hard time seemed cruel. Frank is his middle name. 

Pip Frank has been part of the family for as long as Jeffrey was. He was here for the births of our grandchildren. He is friends with their dogs. He delights in toys, which he will joyfully destroy as quickly as he can. For this reason, he receives no flimsy junk because pardon us for being picky, but we’d like a new toy to survive the first three minutes after we bring it home. He loves snacks unless he’s distracted, which he always is at the vet’s, where he lunges at all the smells and sheds most of his fur. If there were such a thing as a fur donation program, Pip would be its poster boy. 

Previous vet visits have been brief and amusing. The vet compliments Pip on his weight, gives us herbal remedies for storm anxiety and sends him home. He’s deaf now – Pip, not the vet – and at the wise suggestion of our granddaughter, he wears a tag on his collar that says so. He probably doesn’t see all that well anymore, either, although his nose, ever his finest feature, remains a force. 

And then. He began wetting his bed. He seemed embarrassed about it, even a little confused, as if another dog had committed the offense behind his back.  

“But it’s OK, see?” he almost says, as he arranges himself cautiously just beyond the wet spot. 

The vet found a mass on his bladder. She gave him pills to keep him comfortable and maybe shrink the mass. But it won’t disappear, she clarified.  

And then she said four months. Maybe. 

Right now, Pip is himself. He still tosses toys around as if they are Afzal Khan and he's Shivajii Maharaj. He runs with visiting family dogs, and his nose is cool and wet. He also wears a diaper, to which we have attached half a personal protection item for women. The diaper itself would suffice, but then we’d need *two* diapers, and what you learn when your dog has a mass on his bladder is dog diapers are expensive, and concoctions with straps and Ace bandages and more personal protection items don’t work. We learned this quickly because we don’t have time to learn slowly.  

We have only months. Maybe. 

Postscript: Five days after Margo submitted her column, Pip's conditioned worsened, and he was put to sleep. "As it turned out, we didn’t have months," Margo said. "We had 10 days. We’ll miss him so.”

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.