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A Dog Dilemma; Another Winky Story

Soaking in the sun on this Sunday afternoon.

During my “at home vacation” I was faced with another crossroads about Winky, and like so many crossroads, I faced it alone. There are many things I do alone and feel quite capable. But when it comes to finances, life altering decisions, and kids, God did not intend us to manage these things alone. He says plainly in Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one…”

If you are my friend, you know how much I value your input and conversation. We talk in depth and our talks quench my thirst for perspective and insight. You are a substitute for a partner or a parent, and you know I value our discussions. I cannot say it enough, but for you I am grateful.

If you want to read about Winky, You can read Part 1 here:

https://jonifrances.com/2018/08/12/can-i-teach-this-dog-new-tricks-part-1/

Part 2, here:

https://jonifrances.com/2018/09/09/winky-part-2/

THIS IS A LENGTHY POST.

There hasn’t been a Part 3 until now, in part because while I have kept Winky, it hasn’t been a solid decision, but more like an acceptance that I’m stuck with him. I know how horrible I sound. I’m probably going to lose 3 of my 4 followers. But to clear my name, let me remind you that while I haven’t been in love with Winky, I have committed to him, and if you know me, you know how I feel about commitment; it trumps feelings.

One morning just before vacation I woke to find my bed with blood all over it. After double checking and discovering I hadn’t been murdered in my sleep, I determined that it had to be Winky, yet outside of some matted hair, I could find no evidence of a wound. This is at 5ish on a work morning. I made some quick assessments (I think I should include this scenario in a cover letter when applying for a job: problem solver, dedicated employee, etc) and proceeded to get ready for work, leaving Winky secured in my bedroom with all his doggy needs.

I came home from work to find him listening to the radio and practicing his line dance moves; he was fine. I washed my sheets and when I gave him a bath, I discovered a wound on his cheek. Since there was no more evidence of blood, I decided to wait for his annual check up that was coincidentally, 2 days away. Winky continued to behave in his Winky like fashion and I felt confident there was no sense of urgency and his wound would heal. To be on the safer side, I continued to leave him in my bedroom during the workday. Not my favorite thing to do.

When I took him to get his shots and reported to the Dr. the bloody incident, he guessed that Winky had an abscess tooth that exploded. After a few questions, I still didn’t understand how the vet came to his conclusion, but accepted my ignorance. The vet said he wouldn’t be able to determine for certain if Winky had an abscess unless he put Winky under. Under the blankets? Oh, sure! He sleeps under my blankets every night and that won’t cost anything. Nah…not so lucky. Putting Winky “under” is what I’ve avoided every year by not giving him the recommended dental care that has me leaving vet appointments with my own tail between my legs.

The conversation goes something like this:

Vet: “Well, Winky still hasn’t had any dental care and I really recommend it.”

Me: “Hmmm. How much does it cost, again?”

Vet: “Well, it depends on if he needs to have teeth removed. But typically it’s just the cleaning. Putting him under is the most expensive part of the procedure. That runs between $300 and $400.”

Me: “And what happens if I don’t do it?”

Vet: “Like I said, it’s just compromising the health of his teeth, plaque can build up, his gums can recede, he might be eating and suddenly his teeth will all fall out and he’ll cry in pain and it will be your fault.”

Well, that’s my interpretation of what he says. As the discussion progresses, I feel like the biggest dog owner loser. I’m sure the vet is just giving me facts, but they feel like thunder clouds moving in on a perfectly sunny day.

I took Winky to a nearby pet store that hosts a traveling dental service a few times a year. I scheduled Winky with the hope that he’d get a good once over and I’d take advantage of the discount this service offers. But the tech who provided the service on that cold rainy day informed me that she couldn’t service Winky because Winky’s teeth were beyond the routine cleaning that she would normally perform.  She recommended that I go to another provider that provides full doggy dental care on a sliding scale.

Ugh. How does this even happen? I could list on 4 fingers what he eats, and on none of those fingers are people scraps or bones. And how is it that my doggies are so health fragile? Rocky was put to sleep because of a back condition that immobilized him and Lucky died of cancer. I have friends and know of people whose dogs never receive little care. They live long lives full of vitality and act completely like dogs. I have one friend who doesn’t even give her dog shots or flea medicine! This is not a dog who is neglected. He’s healthy as an ox and pampered with daily walks, treats and couch privileges. My dogs on the other hand are threatened with various ailments and odd dispositions. It’s as if I spread some kind of contagious dog disease on them, and they’re none the wiser. They all have one common dog like behavior. They all love me.

I took Winky to the sliding scale fee clinic to get a second opinion on his teeth. Well, maybe this is a third opinion. After a $281 dental cleaning and assessment, I was told that he needed to have about 18 teeth removed. I asked her how many teeth he had, and with what he would chew his food if 18 teeth were removed? After a lengthy conversation, complete with x-rays, I left with a quote that was good for 30 days. I would watch to see if Winky was experiencing pain. 30 days passed, the quote expired, and here we are.

At the vet’s office, with a knot in my stomach, I scheduled Winky for surgery. The vet gave me a rough quote of $500 to $600 if no teeth had to be removed. If teeth had to be removed, it could go up to “around a thousand.” I considered submitting a photo of Winky to a dog modeling agency to pay for his health care. But there’s always the issue of time that interferes with these great ideas. He is that cute, though.

Winky’s big day came during vacation. Late in the day I received the first call that informed me that side one of Winky’s mouth required 7 teeth be removed. If the sliding scale fee place was accurate, that meant side two had 11 teeth to remove.  The next call informed me that side two had 5 teeth to remove. I immediately recognized a discrepancy between sliding scale fee vet and this vet, but that was a moot point. I considered giving Winky a healthy side and a non healthy side, but of course I told the Dr. to proceed. “Yes, go ahead and replace all the brakes.” The final bill would be $1160.00. The Dr. also  informed me that Winky has periodontal disease and I’d have to stay on top of that if I want to decrease the chances of more surgeries. I hung up the phone and cried.

As I continue to develop my side biz I anticipate things that I hope to achieve with the money I earn, and adding more doggie expenses has never made that list. I understand some people will do anything for their dogs, but (until now) I haven’t been one of them. I want a dog to know his place. I want that I rescued him to be enough. I virtually camped out to retrieve him after he’d escaped a couple of weeks into owning him. I want that to be enough. If you’re curious about that event, you can read this link. Please keep in mind that this was written in 2014. It’s not edited and some areas may not make sense to you, and that’s okay.

I want him sleeping with me to be enough. I want him to understand that I chose a house with a fenced yard on one level, because of him. I put doggy doors in the walls and replaced dog soiled carpets with hardwood, because of him (and Rocky). I want that all to be enough. I want him to know, HE’S A DOG!

I was feeling resentful of the responsibility for him and how I’d ended up with him. I went to my computer and placed him on 3 Re-Home sites. As I scanned my photos for his cutest pictures to place on his profile, tears streamed down my face. In the story I wrote for a would be owner, I spoke of his anxiety to take walks and how he doesn’t do well with men (or strangers, or kids, or people when they stand up, and still with me when I call him). I admitted he sleeps with me, but that he also likes his kennel and may adapt to sleeping in that. I described his excitement when I ask him to go on a walk, and his fear of actually walking down the sidewalk (or road or beach) and then I wondered who would want him because he’s so undog like. I felt I was doing the right thing. That I need to be smart with my money and don’t want to be that person who can’t pay my living expenses or gripe because I don’t go on vacation, because of my dog expenses. I felt comforted, thinking no one would want him, and at the same time hoped someone would.

I was spent from emotion and frustrated at navigating this horrid predicament by myself. I just couldn’t fathom what Jesus would do. But I called on him regardless, because that’s what I do. When I went to get Winky from the vet, the vet tech mentioned how sweet he is. I was afraid to talk, unsure of what emotion would spill out. In a flattened tone I agreed and told her that I was trying to find him a home.

The next evening someone surprised me. I had an email from an interested party, and my heart sank. But she had another dog and a cat. She had ignored what I said about other animals, so BAM. She’s out! I was relieved. Then later I was shocked to see another inquiry and then another, and my stomach turned. First of all, who are these people who want a dog who doesn’t walk and barks at everyone? I looked at my description again, wondering if I’d subconsciously painted a better picture than I’d intended. But nope. My biggest loser complex grew bigger. Also, I’d assumed finding him a home would be a process and I would ease into it, kind of like birthing a baby. Maybe 9 months would pass and I’d adjust to the idea of handing him over. I didn’t imagine packing up his things tomorrow. I went for a walk and cried.

The next day the vet tech called to tell me that she also had a possible home for Winky, and in that conversation I explained my trepidation and we agreed that we may talk again in the future, but right now I could not move on this decision.

I pulled him off of the Re-Home sites. Before I could get him off however, a friend reported to me that she had seen a comment on one of the Facebook sites where someone criticized me for wanting to get rid of Winky. Like I said, I know I sound horrible. But I also know that I’m not unkind and I’m sorry I’m not that person who will sacrifice myself for my dog. Winky is a dog. I carry all the emotions that many dog lovers carry. But our emotions vary. I have friends who would never pay $1160 for surgery and they’re financially more capable than I am. They adore their dogs. I have other friends who would pay thousands in medical bills. We all have a different financial, time, and life scenario, and come from different family and social cultures. No one should criticize someone for not doing what they would do in a dog situation. I think if I were homeless, I wouldn’t own a dog. But I’m not homeless, so I’m not privy to that judgement. 

A couple of days after this whole emotional rollercoaster, I was put to another test. At about 10pm I heard a scuffle on my back deck. I have discovered that at night Winky employs some dog like behaviors. On this night, he was challenging a skunk. He successfully chased off the skunk, but he himself, was skunked. At about 10:15 I was giving him a bath, which did not remove the skunk odor. And like every other night, Winky slept with me. I was grateful I was on vacation, because there is no sleeping next to a skunk.

Commitment: If you give it enough time, feelings will catch up. Now I love him.

Part 2 has been delayed because I don’t know what to say about this dog. Part 1 left me at the mercy of an imaginary judge who would put me in the slammer for considering giving this dog up. But maybe I could make an appeal and get a new judge who doesn’t own a Scout and has had some financial catastrophes and doesn’t have the luxury of extra money for dog expenses, or whose money is tight and just wants to go on a cool vacation some day.

Besides, a Part 2 isn’t going to round off this story. I don’t know why I even assigned a “part” to it. I gave you the backstory, so I guess I could fill you in on current day. But at this rate, there could be a hundred parts to this story. After all, Marley and Me was a whole book and then a movie! And I can tell you, this story has no R rated scenes. I remember taking our kids wondering how we ended up in a bedroom in a dog story. But again, they were married. No scenes like that in Winky’s (aka, Bullwinkle’s) story.

I still vacillate between my love for Winky and my commitment to him and if there is a difference and if there is, does it make a difference on how I will move forward with my ownership of him? Will I pay the $1000 for the teeth care that was recommended, or do I follow some people’s advice to let it go. “Dogs have survived without dental care for years!” But for years, we didn’t know that their teeth were cracked and their roots were exposed and that without the dental surgery they could be in pain. As I write this, he’s gnawing on a cow’s ear. In this moment, in spite of the x-rays, he’s not making a good case for himself.

I didn’t set him up this morning to prevent him from peeing on the living room floor while I was at work. It’s a typical scenario. He doesn’t have an accident for a few days. Granted, that’s when I’m in and out of the house throughout the day, or on a day when I’m monitoring him as if he might sneak into my safe and discover a few dollars I have in there.  So on a work morning when I’ve gotten off track and am running late, I get sloppy and forget his bad habits. I begin work at 6:45, so it’s easy to be sloppy if I’m not on my game. I don’t get him into the garage or put up a gate in a designated area. He has full run of the house and I think, “Oh, he’ll be fine. He doesn’t want the money in the safe.” I mean, “He’ll be fine, he’s got the whole outside to pee and poop. He’s got pee pads in the garage and in my bathroom. Surely he’ll use those options before he’ll go on the bamboo hardwood that I installed because he and Rocky had peed on the carpet so bad I had no choice but to replace it, if I ever wanted to invite a guest into my home again.

But surely, he does not use those options that are obvious to us humans. I walk in the door tonight and there’s pee and poop on the floor. At least he’s consistent. It’s right where he always does it, right under the green chair where the planks are beginning to lift (again). Bamboo is pretty, but it’s the softest and least expensive hardwood, thus the most susceptible to damage of a peeing dog, or an outdoor toddler pool, but I have the peeing dog.

In Part 1 I shared that this summer I discovered what a lame owner I have been. I have a million good reasons, but Winky (or my imaginary judge) doesn’t care about a one of them. About a week ago I went to a conference for work. My boss offered to watch Winky. I was relieved yet apprehensive. When I checked in to see how things were going, as a typical educator she said, “He definitely has some sensory processing issues. He reminds me of working with autistic kids who like to be snuggled in and are afraid of loud noises.” Ahhhhhh…. There was none of that description when I picked Winky up that winter day in deep rural Oregon. The emphasis was on his sweetness and that he had papers. Now I’m thinking, “Papers Smapers. Tell me about his sensory processing issues!” When my boss had offered to watch Winky she assured me she would be fine because their family had had dogs with anxiety issues. I decided to ask her the other day, to really get her assessment of Winky, coming from a caretaker of dogs with anxiety, how Winky ranked. She said, “Well, you definitely have a special dog.” I guess I knew that, but now an expert had affirmed it.

So maybe those reasons matter. They contribute to the quality of care I can give to Winky. The whole thing is frustrating. And it’s complicated because Winky is truly the sweetest thing, and when I’m snuggling with him I forget that I’m missing out on the delight of a dog in the normal sense of the experience. My delight in these moments is how soft his fur is, how big and brown his eyes are, and how much he needs and loves me.

I really have tried to work with him this summer. He went with me to the beach and to Lake Billy Chinook.

An almost normal moment.

There he joined about 6 other little dogs. My friend is a dog lover and she brings her little dog and invites her friends to bring theirs. I questioned her before I took that big leap, but she was sure it was worth a try, as in, “How complicated can a dog be?” My friend was right. It was worth the try, but that’s about all it was worth because I was on pins and needles doing my best to manage his emotions (I have no idea what they are) around the other dogs who lolly gagged innocently while Winky protected the space around himself.  It was there that I realized how much Winky had missed out on under my ownership. That must be worth something.

He never socializes with other dogs, so he’s super protective. He’d never been to a body of water that I know of (except for the beach he’d visited the weekend before), he’d never roamed free and been chased by a black lab (which was a result of roaming into the campsite next door), outside of being lost for 48 hours when he ran away, he’d never slept outside in the open. This time it was with me on a couch, looking at the stars, and listening to wildlife all around us (the next day I discovered there was a lizard family hanging out at the couch where I’d just slept. I moved indoors the next night). It was at least a couple of hours before he could calm down enough to sleep. At every noise he jerked his head and he’d hold his nose high, like he was sniffing the stars, but I think he was just sniffing life. It smelled so much different than the house he’s left in every day.

With the two summer excursions, I felt we were on a roll, so I began a concerted effort to walk him daily. But regardless of my persistence, he’s really gotten no better. He seems slightly more excited than he once was. When I call his name with leash in hand I think he does an extra somersault than he did before the summer exposures to the world. Then we walk outside, I with my bologna bait, and still, it’s a painful exercise as he runs out wagging his tail in a doggy skip, then screeches to a halt just past the driveway. Some days I can coax him down the sidewalk to the intersection about 100 feet away (I know feet distance now, thanks to my navigation maps), but some days I’m unsuccessful. As the summer fades into fall, works gets busier, I have more on my plate, and the days get shorter, so does my patience. Those days when he stops as if he’s got glue on his paws, we do an about face and return home, a few steps away. I wish he knew that I’d give anything to walk two miles with him.

Our Golden Retreiver Lucky was a perfect dog, except we couldn’t take him on walks. He’s probably the only Golden Retriever who had leash aggression. We believe he developed an extra protective territorial sense because of the invisible fence we installed in our front yard. This concept was affirmed by a dog trainer. The invisible fence shocked Lucky whenever he went to greet a neighbor walking by. Grrrrr. By the time we figured that out, it seemed too late to fix, or maybe too late for us anyway. Then there was Mindy. We got her from the humane society. She was a medium sized dog that looked like a German Shepherd/Collie mix.  Unless you were a small child, she was great. We learned everyone over about 3 feet was safe. The problem was that Mindy’s hazel eyes and soft pointy ears begged to be caressed and loved, and humans under three feet couldn’t pass up the opportunity. As a result, I walked on eggshells and had to apologize a couple of times to friends after Mindy snapped at their children in response to their cuddles. Finally, one day when some good acquaintances were helping us move and their under three foot son was along for the ride, she drew blood on his hand. In that moment I knew Mindy’s life with us had come to an end, and for a flash, I wondered if mine had too. Walking on eggshells I could do, coming up with money for a disfigured child, I could not. I was fortunate and not only were these good acquaintances giving of their time, they also forgave this dog who bit their child and drew blood.

Finding a home for Mindy was traumatizing to the kids and me. Our emotions were depleted each day as we faced the reality. But also from a practical sense. It is not easy to find a home for a dog who bites small children. Both humane societies in nearby counties wouldn’t take her, nor would the shelters I called. I recall a news story when an anchor woman responded to a dog that had been found in a kennel in the river. It was a tragic scene to the unknowing bystander. She said that there’s always someone who wants to take an animal. Depending on the circumstances, that may not be true and I felt for the unknown person who had just been slandered. I considered putting Mindy down because I didn’t know where to go or what to do. For awhile I considered living with a dog who bites children. A friend’s friend realized my desperation and stepped in and dug deep to find a resource that we could live with. Giving up a part of one’s family is grueling, regardless of the reason. I haven’t even shared the story of the two dogs pre-children, but I will stop with Mindy.

I sometimes feel I’ve gotten the short end of the dog deal, but then I wonder if our dogs think they got the short end of the human deal. It’s kind of like a twisted Marley and Me story, but I don’t live at the beach and I’m not drudging through this with a spouse, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll become an author.

I have no idea if a Part 3 will unfold. I remain at a standstill with Winky. I don’t know if I’ll keep him. There’s never a day when I feel good about letting him go, but there’s also rarely a day I feel like spending the time and money on him that he deserves. In the meantime, I’ll continue to pet his soft fur, he’ll sleep with me in my bed, he’ll continue to hang out in the yard with me while I do yardwork (or I’ll chase him into the yard to keep him from the traffic in the street),

Supervising my back yard work.

I’ll meet his big pleading eyes when he looks up at mine, and continue to tell him, I love you, Winky… and it’s a darn good thing you’re cute.