Monday, November 4, 2019

The Greyhound Shuffle: Sun Down, then Bounce Back

I have the worst breed of dog.

The kind that takes selfies in portrait mode.

It's called an Italian Greyhound, and it is a nightmare beast whose very existence spits in God's eye.

Don't get me wrong.  I love my "iggy."  I love him like a son.  He's an attractive, gentle, affectionate dog and a lovely companion.  It's not his fault he was put into the frail, skeletal body of a joke breed that has no right to exist.

A bit about Italian greyhounds, before I begin speaking about my own specifically.  The smallest breed of sight hound, this breed is a couple thousand years ago.  They are called "Italian" not because they originated in Italy, but because of their popularity during the Italian Renaissance, when you might recall seeing various paintings and tapestries of noble women in elaborate, frilly dresses holding one of these bug-eyed gargoyles.  They were bred by clever Turkish traders who figured out that Italian noblewomen were gah-gah over these dogs and would pay top dollar for puppies.  (There's some debate about their origin, as we've seen primitive sighthounds at sites like Pompeii.  However, it seems like the modern Italian greyhound has a genetic origin further east than Italy, and the "original" sighthounds of the Mediterranean have been lost.)

The reason for the dogs' popularity was simple.  Sight hounds were a symbol of nobility... for men.  For women in the 16th century, your options were rather limited by your gender, especially if you were someone important.  But one thing you could always opt for was as a nurturer, caregiver, and/or bearer of children.  And what better way to express your maternal prowness than with a dog that was literally designed to emulate the helpless, pathetic, baby-like need for attention? 

Catherine the Great loved iggies like Queen Elizabeth loves Corgis.

Italian greyhounds are one of the few breeds truly bred solely for companionship.  They were never made to hunt, race, or be useful in any discernible way.  What they're great at is being affectionate, and to be honest, they're sort of annoying when you get right down to it, because they are demanding of affection.  They will cuddle you whether you want to cuddle them or not, and because they are so pointy, their snuggling comes with a lot of sharp edges.  They're all elbows.

The funny thing about dog breeds is that people who are really into breeds don't like to speak poorly of them.  So there are few Italian greyhound enthusiasts who will tell you the honest truth about this breed, which is that they are mind-bogglingly stupid and resplendent with health problems.  Their teeth are a nightmare and they are difficult, if not impossible, to house train.  Their spindly little frames and bird-like bones are eager to break, and their voices are shrill and sharp and unpleasant.

The lifespan according to the AKC is about 13 years, but the average lifespan is actually about 9, because a quarter of these dogs die from accidents, which, if you're an Italian greyhound, can be something as seemingly innocuous as jumping off the couch and breaking a leg.

Why, then, would anyone want one of these creatures?

Well, they're cute.

Not necessarily this one.

Make no mistake, they are really cute.  Their buggy eyes, their body shape and weight, their human-like mannerisms were all designed to evoke a fierce desire to protect.  They are the dog equivalent of a cuckoo egg; even the most rational of humans can't help but feel a deep, instinctual, material desire to protect these little baby imposters.  And they get cold so they have to wear clothes.  And their skin, paper-thin and overly warm, is as soft as velvet.  So there are definite pros to this dog.  None that I would consider a big enough boon to justify the continued breeding of them.  Frankly, if not for human meddling with the natural order of things, their obvious inbreeding and terrible genetic problems should have wiped them out centuries ago.

But although I think we should allow the breed itself to die out, I also think that the individuals who exist currently should be taken care of, and that brings me to Carlisle.

Enjoy this rare photo of Carlisle in good health.  
All that follow are a hell of a lot less flattering.

Carlisle has been with me for 11 (going on 12) years, and according to my brother-in-law, he has both the frailty and yet the surprising robustness of Mr. Burns.  Also according to my brother-in-law he has "Three Stooges Syndrome," the same condition as Mr. Burns.

But we've finally hit "the big one."  In California, "the big one" refers to the earthquake that will someday plunge us into the Pacific ocean.  Here in my house, "the big one" refers to the seizure that will finally do Carlisle in.

It started a few weeks ago, when Andrew observed that Carlisle had lost weight.  This was true.  At his biggest, Carlisle was 12 pounds, but he had begun to get skinnier.  Sight hounds aren't a dog with a lot of weight to lose and, within a month, Carlisle had begun to look emaciated beyond reason, as if he'd made a political mistake in North Korea and been sent to one of those camps.  (This isn't a joke; this is both how he looks and how things work in North Korea, and someone really ought to do something about the latter.)

It was something we had partially overlooked because it was a gradual, and also because, in the "cold" months, Carlisle, like most Italian greyhounds, wears fleece sweaters to keep himself warm.  But at a certain point his weight loss became so obvious that we had to take him into the vet.  That, and he had stopped eating, further concerning us.

This is after he regained a pound.
I have more graphic images but honestly they're too sad.
A general rule for dog owners: you should be able to see, but not count, the ribs.

There, they diagnosed him with the usual handful of disorders but could offer no solution as to why he had lost so much weight.  A blood test revealed his albumin levels were in the garbage.  Albumin is a blood component your liver makes that helps blood maintain its viscosity; without it, blood gets thin and watery, and can leak out of your veins.

This explained it when, a few days post-vet, Carlisle began throwing up blood.  Weak from hunger, he staggered around the house, his back end barely holding him up.  It was hard to tell how much of his condition was muscle loss and how much was motor control loss; Carlisle's epilepsy has always made him wobbly, but now, he needed a box to step up onto the couch and bed.  Jumping was out of the question.

It seemed like it was time to say good-bye.  But, as has happened before, Carlisle simply didn't die.

He's alive in this photo, I swear.

He slept for a week, getting up only when we roused him, usually to try to entice him with food: chicken nuggets, scrambled egg, Pop-Tarts.  (The Pop-Tarts were a bigger hit than the chicken, for some reason.)  (Maybe the colorful grey sprinkles on top?)

And then, suddenly, he got better.

He spends most of his time sitting like this, eyes unfocused and tongue hanging out.  

There's no rhyme or reason to how Carlisle operates.  Every few years, he teeters on the edge of death, and then comes back with a sleepy innocence that implies he has no clue what just happened or why everyone seems so upset.

"The greyhound shuffle is not just a dance, 'k?'s a state of unrest."

Now, I will say his bounce-back wasn't entirely 100%.  It wasn't even 50%.  He only gained back one pound and he's still underweight.  His balance is atrocious and he still needs his box.  His tongue hangs out the side of his mouth now, and his general functioning seems slower and... well... worse.  But he's alive.

The "greyhound shuffle" is steps back, then steps forward, but never quite as far forward as he initially was.  Carlisle has been back-and-forthing for over a decade on the precipice of death, sort of in the same way he'll go back-and-forth as he tries to figure out how to jump onto the couch.  (Solution: he never gets there.  He gets caught in a neurological loop and keeps up the repetitive behavior until another dog attacks him, at which point the humans intervene to muzzle the other dog and help him up.)

We're happy he's "better" (a relative, not accurate, term) but also emotionally wrung out.  With a baby on the way, Carlisle picked a bad time to start yet another slide into the grave.  We don't have as much money, time, or energy as we normally would.  I would argue the emotional cost is the worst.  But none of them are inexpensive.

The most important thing, to us, is that he's not in pain.  He doesn't seem to be.  He seems relatively happy, all things considered, and we're trying to give him a peaceful transition.  But it's a slow one and it's hard to watch.  Especially as his motor control and mobility get worse and worse.

The moral of this story, of course, is not to get a fancy dog, because purebred does not mean "healthy," nor "smart," nor "trainable."  Carlisle has been staggering around the house in diapers for weeks with his tongue hanging out and his clothes loosely draped over his boney frame while the Seamus the mutt, who is two years older and was found in a dumpster, runs circles around him.

I love my dog.  I just don't love what he is.

A beautiful fucking disaster.
Hang in there, little guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment