Requiem for Rudy by Jay Squires
On a bitterly cold Halloween night, many years ago, they’d left Rudy attached to his leash, the other end of which they’d wrapped around one of our rosebushes near the street. He was whining, yipping. Trick or Treaters, coming up to and leaving our door, passed him by.|
To say he was scruffy was an understatement. He was to-the-marrow ugly. Part was lack of care, but the rest had to be hereditary. He had the protruding lower jaw characteristic of the Chihuahua, but the other gene donor possessed that kind of dense hairiness that lends itself to matting. Poor diet probably accounted for patches of bare skin, scratched raw.
The former caregivers, those bastards, knew exactly what they were doing.
We brought him in overnight and immediately on the following day, took him door-to-door around a four or five-block radius. No one claimed him, though several looked guilty as hell. We got no responses from the signs we posted on power poles and at the corner bus stop. A newspaper ad was money ill-spent.
It’s important to know that back then, Bakersfield Animal Control was not a “no-kill” organization. If no one claimed a stray, it was euthanized within 48 hours.
If ever there was a dog who deserved better caregivers, it was Rudy. And I’m not speaking only of his original caregivers.
No dog ever worked harder to force his caregivers to give him the attention he craved. There was no fabric-covered couch corner, no dining room table leg, and chairs, no floor-hanging drapes, nor doorway he failed to pass by without leaving his yellow signature.
Our personal vet, an animal lover if there ever was one, convinced us we should shower Rudy with our love. Once he realized he was wholly accepted by our family, Dr. French assured us he would stop marking his territory.
As I read over what I’ve written, I realize that my words have rallied the readers’ sympathies around Rudy. Even the piss has dried in your minds and the floors, legs, and fabrics have been scrubbed and Febrezed. I suppose it’s the way our reader-minds are put together. No sense trying to change them by embroidering on the truth. You’ll just love him more. So I’ll proceed with the facts as I remember them.
We tried to follow Dr. French’s advice — we truly did. After we’d bathed Rudy, flea-proofed him, and brushed him out as best we could, we took turns holding him in our laps. He was not a young dog, but he squirmed and wriggled and clawed at our clothing like a puppy, not content until he baptized our faces with his hot, slimy tongue. And mind you this: Rudy’s was not puppy breath.
I don’t want to waste adjectives trying to describe his breath. I’ll just stop at rancid. If the reader needs more, I’ll ask her/him, the next time you are on a nature walk and happen upon a decomposing animal, to get down to within an inch of the decaying mass and breathe nature’s excess so deeply in your lungs it will forever remain in your memory. Or, go no further than to let Rudy’s panting mouth get within a few inches of your nostrils.
Dr. French explained it easily enough. Rotted teeth, some of them below the gum line. Age, certainly, and owner neglect, probably. Surgery, at this point, expensive. Given his age, which he estimated at ten years, he may not survive surgery.
There was another solution — one no dog-loving reader wants to hear: that is, not to let Rudy on your lap. Do not let Rudy jump up on the couch and snuggle beside you. Like the dust cloud that forever hangs around Pig Pen’s head in the Charlie Brown comics, a stench-nimbus surrounded Rudy.
I’m not a horrid person, reader. Guilt ripped at my heart, as I’m sure it did for Roseana and our kids. At times I found myself on the couch in front of the television with Rudy curled beside me. I would avert my face so much from him that I could scarcely see the television screen, and then guilt would have me lay my arm across him. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could feel his whole body sag into a sort of sigh. At the next commercial, I’d be at the sink, scrubbing from hand to elbow. Then I’d find another seat.
Rudy lived in our home for nearly two years. We owned two other house dogs at that time, one a large mixed-breed and one a cocker. They had little to do with Rudy. You might say they ignored him. All three had our large backyard to play in, which they accessed through a doggy-door.
We had decided early on to make Rudy an outdoor dog. Blocking off the doggy-door, however, was not a workable solution. That would mean opening and closing the door to let our two house dogs out and in, while not letting Rudy squeeze in through the open door. The north end of our backyard had a fenced-off enclosure, with a walkway and gate at one end opening up to our detached garage. Honeysuckle vines climbed the fence and bathed our senses with its beauty and fragrance. We provided Rudy with water and a food bowl, and we dropped him over the fence.
Two hours later, Rudy was back in the house, sticky honey-suckle matted in his fur. An inspection of the fence revealed he had tunneled under it. We refilled holes for days and finally reinforced the other side of the fence with stones. But just as the huge boulder, rolled in front of Jesus’s sepulcher could not contain Him, so did the layering of stones from fence-end to fence-end not contain a very determined Rudy. To make matters worse, we never discovered his point of entry.
Rudy had entered the realm of magic.
For a brief period, we kept Rudy, attached by chain to a swiveled-headed spike in the center of the backyard. There he had a full circle of movement within a thirty-foot radius. Instead, he lay about a foot from the spike and was so quiet that one of us was always peeking through the curtain to make sure he was alive.
It was not a solution, though, and Rudy knew that. Bakersfield temperatures soar to 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, and the evenings, in all but the summer, were too cold or too wet to leave him out.
However insufferable Rudy was determined to make himself, he was an indoor dog.
Not a day passed that I didn’t make my rounds, toting scrub-brush, rag, and pan of bleach-water to each of Rudy’s favorite piss-stations. During the day, while I worked, Roseana made her rounds.
Rudy was not shy about lifting his leg in front of us. If you’re truly honest with me you’ll agree that his act was premeditated and hostile and — admit it!— you’d have found it infuriating. By the time we located a newspaper to roll up and swat him with, he’d already have forgotten what he was being punished for and have been off looking for other yellower pastures. So we’d use the next best thing: our open-handed swat. He responded by scrunching himself into a trembling ball and yowling at the first, and the only, swat. He continued lying there, shivering and whimpering for what must have been a good half-minute afterward before prancing off.
It was obvious he was no newcomer to that type of punishment. More than that, I was horrified by the animal to which I devolved when the voices in my head convinced me that Rudy needed to be taught a lesson that he would never, ever, EVER forget! I was capable at that moment of murdering that defenseless dog I had grown so to loathe.
So, I resisted the voices. I think by doing that I held onto my humanity by a thread. But it came at a cost. The cost was that Rudy had won the battle.
What the Squires family had lost with Rudy’s victory, was the social joy of having friends and family visiting us in our sewer. Yes, that word is apt! While we may have been noseblind (with a special nod to the Febreze commercials for the coinage) to the urine stench, a guest, upon entering, would receive a full-on blast of ammonia attacking the back of his or her throat. I felt that blast every afternoon, five days a week, coming home from work. It slammed into Roseana’s throat whenever she returned from shopping or other errands.
On the first Thursday of the month, Roseana played Bunco. It was on a rotating venue, so that once, and sometimes twice a year, she was to host it. That involved cooking an elaborate and sumptuous meal, which she loved doing. Only now, Rudy’s presence robbed her of that monthly joy. Bunco was held, instead, at our daughter, Amanda’s home, with take-out from a local restaurant.
Our life revolved around Rudy. Every major in-home decision we made only after considering Rudy’s impact on it. Why replace our old living room furniture (and we needed new furniture desperately), with the more expensive variety that we desired, when after two weeks it would take on the look and stench of the old? So we settled for cheap and replaceable.
I believe Dr. French was wrong in the ten years he ascribed to Rudy. I think he was at least fifty. No, I think he was closer to sixty — that he had outlived his previous caregivers, and had been tethered to our rosebush by their adult children, maybe grandchildren.
Rudy’s end, though, would come on our watch.
I think his inner organs simply, and with finality, exerted their authority, as so often happens with the aged through heart attack, stroke, or final slumber from which they fail to awaken.
Actually, we had noticed for a few days how lethargic Rudy had become. We’d even discussed taking him to Dr. French if he didn’t rebound. Our vet was very straightforward with us on our previous pets. If their condition would not improve, or the pet was suffering, he would suggest euthanasia. They would return the body to us, or for a small fee, would dispose of the body. For considerably more, they could even cremate, then return its ashes to us.
With those options foremost in our minds let me take you to his final night in this, his personal Urinoriam.
As I recall, the fog had settled on Bakersfield rather early in the evening. While Roseana stayed up to finish reading her book, I had gone ahead to begin the ritual of preparing for sleep. Usually, that involved closing the door and then lighting an incense. Tonight, I was sleepier than usual, so I grabbed the canister, and sprayed out a fog of Febreze to every corner of the room, climbed into bed, sighed out a breath, and fell asleep.
At some point, I awakened to a jarring shake of my shoulder and Roseana’s voice. “Jay — Jay — Rudy’s … I think Rudy’s dead.”
“What! Why — ” I tried to form a congruent sentence. “Why … how do you know?” I rolled out of bed, rubbing my eyes, and trudged through the open door. “What time is it?”
“Three-A.M. … I covered him with a pee-towel you’d used on the bookcase before bed. It was all I could find.”
I stared down at the bulging yellow-splotched towel. “Are you sure he’s dead?”
“Look for yourself. I was reading when I saw him, out of the corner of my eye, dragging his hindquarters off the mat, like they were paralyzed, and he had to pull himself forward with his front legs.”
I almost guessed out loud that he was heading for his last table-leg, but it seemed inappropriate. “Noooo, I don’t want to look.” I know I said it with a kind of whine that embarrassed me.
“Well, you’ve got to. I watched him pull himself forward twice before he just shivered all over and went limp. That’s when I got the towel.”
“He could have just fainted.”
“That’s why you have to look, Jay.”
I got down to one knee and lifted the corner. His eyes stared past me. I moved my palm in front of his face. His eyes remained vacant. “You don’t faint with your eyes open. Do you?”
“How do I know?”
“I don’t think that’s how you faint. I think he’s dead.” I gave the towel a gentle prod with my forefinger and looked at his eyes. “Yeah, he’s dead.”
“Are you going to bury him?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s like pea soup out there.” I pulled apart the drapes to a sea of gray with a dull, yellowish reminder in the upper left of what had been the streetlight.
“He’s not staying inside. We’ve got to do something.”
“I’ll take care of it. Get me an old blanket we’ll never use.”
She brought me, instead, a very large beach towel. We hadn’t been to the beach in years and weren’t likely to go. With a gulp and a near gag, I tucked the pee-towel tightly around the bulge so I could lift it onto the spread beach towel. Centering him near one end, I folded the sides over until they met in the middle of the pee-towel. Then I began to carefully roll it up lengthwise, always making sure the side pieces didn’t come untucked. It was not unlike (if you’ll excuse my simile), rolling up a burrito, only larger.
I returned to the bedroom to slip on my trousers.
“Where are you taking him?” she said to my back.
“I’ll handle it,” I said through the closed door. When I came back out, I added, “Unless you want to.”
I held the bundle gingerly to my side in both hands, while Roseana gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and opened the front door. Outside, it was gray and cold. Our property is on a terrace, and ten steps descend to the street. I clutched that bundle in a fog that was so dense I had to use a kind of foot-braille down the steps to our car. Placing the snuggly wrapped Rudy on the floorboard in the back seat of our Saturn, I circled around and climbed in behind the steering wheel.
I realize, as I’m sure the reader fully realizes, that I am stretching this story out. I think the writer in me hopes that while trudging through this interminable description that I am buying time to stumble upon an ending that will be more satisfying to the reader, and less damning to the writer, than the true one at which I can deposit you now.
My story ends after a three-mile drive through the cottony tule fog when I pulled into the wide, paved alleyway behind my Allstate Insurance office. Mine is one of four offices in this strip-mall, next to a dry-cleaning business on the eastern end. The strip-mall is zoned “business,” so the city keeps even this alleyway behind it immaculate. I had forgotten the four-hundred-watt light poles at either end, that on a clear night would place any street person in center stage for the audience of periodic police cars patrolling the area.
The western end of the strip-mall alleyway was, on a clear night, even more brightly spotlighted than the rest, owing to the Seven-Eleven, which never closed. That was where I now drove, my headlights off. I pulled up to the gigantic dumpster and I turned off my engine. I got out and brought the door to just short of latching, but enough for the dome lights to remain off. Rounding the car, I opened the rear door, and carefully removed the bundle, again not latching the door.
The dumpster was heaped to the top with layer upon layer of cardboard which had once been boxes that the Seven-Eleven employees had broken down.
I’d like to think I said a few words of separation before I placed the bundle on the cardboard. Today, as an old man, I think I would. Today, I believe there is a listening space, without postulating a listener, that is slipped between the dry surrounding brambles of our arrogance. Space is left there, to be filled or not.
I latched the back door, went around, and got into the front seat. I started the engine and glanced over my shoulder at the bundle perched atop the cardboard. It was so vulnerable there. It seemed to cry out, “Look at me!” Like Rudy, himself, every day of his life with us. “Here I am… Notice me. See me. Accept me.”
I turned off the engine and I opened the door.
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