Pet Project

Our last one is Bixby, a dog of an estimated 15 years, roughly 11 of which he has spent in freedom. Yes, he is a rescue dog, sprung from a hoarder house in Oakland. That there is an acknowledged phenomenon such as ‘hoarder houses’ is another story. Anyway, some neighbor finally realized that the derelict house down the street domiciled 25 dogs and, well, this wasn’t a good thing. The Oakland SPCA freed the dogs and offered them for adoption. Thus, our Bixby.

Over the 10 years I have known him, Bixby has evolved from a silent and generally terrified little border collie mix into a much more gregarious version. Only within the last three years did he begin making eye contact. And less than two years ago the silence ended most dramatically with Bixby’s discovery of barking. And amazingly, he has quite a loud canine voice. Bixby now barks all the time, usually demanding treats, or more generally, attention.

Something about all this transformative experience warms my heart. Beings can heal. They can heal and even remain slightly nuts. Bixby has a somewhat maddening habit of walking in circles. He has loud clattering claws, which are most unfortunate on our expanse of wooden flooring. He eats in a strange manner, grabbing amount of food from his bowl, then furtively running to the nearest corner to chew. Doubtless this is all adaptive behavior. When rescued from his 25-dog hell, Bixby was virtually blind. Mange and assorted other things had rendered him almost hairless.

Jane saw to it that his glaucoma got treated. Same with his coat. As for the latter, Bixby now is the most prolific producer of dog hair I have ever witnessed. We have continuous balls of fur rolling up and down our hallway, drifting onto my sweaters and trousers. He is quite the mammal.

But he is an old mammal. Somewhat arthritic, it takes him longer to stand. But once he’s up, he is a ferociously friendly doggy, barking out his greetings and utterly enthused about life.

Until yesterday, when suddenly he couldn’t quite stand. He had gone blind in one eye. And so we were off to the vet.

He spent a night in the doggy hospital. Bixby is a perennially anxious little animal, and I imagined him panting up a storm. He seems to have had something like a stroke, and extra panting probably would not help. We came by to visit him today and found him on the treatment table surrounded by veterinary staff. One was working IVs, fans and thermometers to get his doggy temperature down. The other was holding an oxygen tube. Meanwhile we talked to the veterinarian.

Bixby was, let us say, unresponsive. He lay on the table, eyes closed. So we wandered outside to have a coffee and have a discussion. Bixby is getting excellent treatment. But this is San Francisco, and our veterinary hospital has valet parking and is adjacent to haute boutiques selling Scottish woolens, hand-thrown table settings and croissants so glazed as to be almost blinding under normal light. I am delighted at Bixby’s treatment but concerned about the cost. He certainly gets better healthcare than several thousand people on our city’s streets. But he is a dog. He has had a remarkably good life, post rescue. And what may be ailing him, the veterinarian speculates, could be a flea-borne bacteria acquired during his shut-in years. Thus, any life.

Were we witnessing a sad end during our visit? Hard to say. Bixby came around just a little bit during our stay. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

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