Bixby is dead. Long live Bixby.
And he did live long by dog standards. More important to me, he lived long enough to be an excellent sort of transgenic role model.
He was always confused. Some believed that he wasn’t terribly bright. I was agnostic on this point. To me, he had been traumatized so consistently during his first four years abandoned with 25 other dogs in a derelict house in West Oakland…that it was impossible to say. The adage about “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is probably true. Actually it is probably truer than one might think. Meaning that behavioral psychology having been more or less found by a dog (Pavlov’s), the basic facts of patterning may just be overwhelming in the typical canine life.
That is to say, a dog’s life. And that’s what Bixby had, powerless, abused and forgotten. Until us. And then Jane and I got to live with a dog who habitually wandered in circles. The veterinary internist (yes, Bixby saw one) initially asked us about his symptomology. Was he walking in circles? We laughed. For although this is a frequent sign of stroke in dogs, not in Bixby’s case. Our dog had been walking in circles for as long as anyone remembered. He couldn’t be still. In fact, he couldn’t achieve anything like repose unless he was, more or less, asleep. Otherwise, when Bixby wasn’t heading counterclockwise, he was panting.
And the example to me, as someone who has to cope with the echoes of trauma, is that life is there to be lived. Bixby was indefatigably optimistic. When Jane first brought him home he hid outside on a deck for three months. Then he finally came inside. Then after about six months, he could be petted. And so on. Until recent years when I would look down at my desk and see him standing to the left of my wheelchair. He had come to be petted. And after a while he would not only stand beside the chair but actually look up at me. Eye contact took a long while to come to Bixby. And then there was the surprising appearance of Bixby’s bark. And from there he was off and running, loudly demanding attention. It was a wonderful thing to behold.
Which didn’t mean that he wasn’t nuts. I could pet Bixby extensively for 10 minutes and then 90 seconds later he would run from me as though I was a doggy kidnapper. Patterns. It was all a matter of patterns. Nothing to take personally, even if it was impossible not to take personally.
When the doorbell would ring, Bixby would tear around in circles. Someone was coming. There was going to be some action. After all, early life being what it was, Bixby never learned to play the most basic doggy games. He couldn’t fetch a stick. He didn’t know stick from shtick. But he did have the border collie’s herding instinct. He was always uneasy when Jane was in one room and I was in another. We learned to have a bed nearby during dinner time. With everyone seated at the table, he could at least stretch out and stop panting. Or at least, pant less. His work was done. And now he is done. Rest in peace, Bixby.