I clenched a fat pill between thumb and forefinger and shoved it into a slippery hunk of hot dog. This method worked until Red learned to extract them. He'd roll the hunk around his mouth and then, proud as a coed tying a cherry stem with her tongue, spit the pill onto the floor before swallowing the meat. I slicked the pills with butter, cream cheese, gravy.
Salami ultimately proved best. Early mornings I'd sandwich the pill between two fatty slices. As its solution dissolved into his soft dog insides, I'd open the cabinet and take my own smaller pill.
I put my dog on Prozac. Or rather, Reconcile, the aptly named canine version of the drug. Truly, it demanded reconciliation with some unpalatable truths, the least of them that I would end up the sort of woman to put her dog on Prozac.
A year earlier, my girlfriend had had a headache. A month later, she still did.
"I can't breathe,"she said, pressing her hand to her forehead. Air hunger, we later learned it was called. I started to feel it, too. Every breath was part gasp.
Her joints began to throb. She was tired and dizzy all of the time. Her skin hurt, she said.
"Where?" I asked.
Her diagnosis of late-stage Lyme disease brought relief and a new nightmare — battles with the insurance company and treatments whose side effects rivaled the symptoms of the disease. I was 30 years old and we had been together only one year. I wasn't prepared to take on the role of caretaker. Who ever is? But there was no other choice that I was willing to make.
Red kept close watch on her, fastidiously licking her hands and feet — the couch cushions or his own paws when alone, as if to smooth the disarray our lives had fallen into. I taught my college classes and tended to the administration of our lives. Instead of crying, I went for ten-mile runs through the verdant hills of Central New York. I fell asleep numb, wishing myself better able to face what was happening.
Sometimes as my girlfriend slept, I would lift the blanket to look down at Red, tucked in the cave of our bodies' heat. He'd shift, dragging the nictitating membrane of his eye up just enough to glimpse me, then sigh back to sleep. There is an animal in my bed, I would think, still stoner-stunned every time. A 70-pound beast.
He was beautiful, coated in red fur whose softness people often admired. Skin puppy-loose, it slid over his muscled body in movement. His paws smelled nutty, like Fritos, and every day, I pressed my nose to their cool pads and inhaled. I marveled at him — so alive, so himself, so mine. Why couldn't my love for humans be that simple?
I'm sure I missed the first signs, but I remember when he started following me out of bed in the morning. At eleven years old, he had long been sleeping later than me. Suddenly, he was poking his worried face into the shower as I lathered at 6 a.m., bumping into the back of my knees as I poured my coffee and assembled lecture notes. He was so reluctant to let me out of his sight that I had to push him out the back door to pee before I warmed up the car.
One morning, when I opened the door to let him back inside, he refused. Planted at the far end of the yard, he stared me down, the milky scrim of his cataracts glinting, ears trembling.