Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Birth of a Dog Nation
The deal between my chronically alcoholic girlfriend and myself was this: Stay sober for one year, and we’ll get pregnant and get married.
She held up her end of the bargain, and it was a very good year for us…. so as she was ingesting prenatal vitamins and going to AA meetings twice a day, in the tenth month of her sobriety, the rings were purchased and the birth control pills were shelved. Birth certificates were excavated, and licenses applied for. The hall was booked for the reception, and regular meetings with Father LeDoux were scheduled. Plane tickets were purchased to fly both families down to New Orleans. She even made me go to “Catholic Camp” for a weekend as a premarital couples indoctrination / retreat.
And we got pregnant. The first foray into parenthood for both of us.
During her third month, she miscarried.
I’m not going to go into great detail here, for this is a story unto itself…let’s just say, as miscarriages go, this one was as bad as they get. Health care in New Orleans has always been a crap shoot, and it took three trips to the Charity Hospital emergency room to finally convince somebody that was pretending to be a qualified physician to give her a D & C….and as I held her hand, a glass vial was shoved in our faces with the contents of the procedure, the “Dr.” querying: “Wanna look?”
The period of domestic bliss (and it’s prerequisite sobriety, I feared) was officially over.
Giving herself no recovery time to heal psychologically, a few days after the miscarriage she looked at her three dogs and announced: “If I can’t have a baby, then somebody in this house is gonna get pregnant”, the only candidate being her 3 year old Shih Tzu, Dalai.
Little Dalai was about to be rechristened, “The Dalai Mama”.
I strongly advised against the idea, with a marriage, collected family invasion, a freshly unprocessed miscarriage, and a tenuous sobriety hanging in the balance. Having a litter of puppies in an apartment that already contained three dogs, one cat, and a fish whilst trying to pull all that off was lunacy, and I could see the hand writing on the proverbial wall…something was going to break, and it was going to be sobriety.
In retrospect, she knew that too…. she always needed to give herself a “rational” reason for starting to drink again. Part of the pattern.
So “play” dates were arranged with with an AKC male Shih Tzu (four dates, $500), and she got Dalai knocked up.
On a crisp night in the fall, Dalai’s pregnancy came to term and as she started to go into labor, she didn’t know what was happening. She was scared, and the safest place when experiencing any type of fear ( per example, a New Orleans thunderstorm) was on my chest.
So as I lay on the bed, gently stroking her, she gave birth to the first of three pups on my breast… it was amazing.
They say that in the animal world during times like this, instinctual “knowledge” kicks in, but with Dalai, this was not the case. She didn’t know what to do, so I had to break the pup out of his sac, rub his little shoulder blades until he started to breath, dangle the afterbirth in front of her face like a dog treat to get her to eat it, and affix the pup onto a nipple.
My betrothed had gone back to work by this time (She was a piano entertainer at Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane and Plantation Vibe Emporium). Every other hour on her breaks, she would come home to check on the process, and by 3am, we had three new Shih Tzu babies in our home, clumsily named Uno, Duo, and Treo until we could come up with something better.
It was a wonderful night. The last one we would share for a while.
DRINKING, DEATH, AND DESTRUCTION
The drinking started, and by the time we got to Christmas, the wedding had been called off, the hall had been cancelled, Father LeDoux was notified, and we barely got through the Holidaze with some family members who decided to make the trip to New Orleans regardless if there was going to be a wedding or not.
When she falls off the wagon, it isn’t a gentle climb down to the ground. It’s more like a full-on swan dive straight into the gutter. Zero to 120 mph in about three days.
So to ring in the New Year, with an apartment of 8 pets, including three newborn puppies, the drinking ramped up to “condition critical”… Three liters of vodka per day, flat on her back, non-ambulatory, defiling the bed because she can’t stand, let alone walk to the bathroom.
During these times, I couldn’t be around that scene…I could monitor it, if allowed, but I couldn’t live in it. I kept a small apartment just for these occasions, a necessary survival expense. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been to the “try and drink yourself to death rodeo”.
My basic stance was to leave, and dangle support in front of her like bait. I would only reinsert myself into her life if she got her shit together enough to be admitted into our favorite Detox center, St. Vincent Depaul’s.
I don’t know if this was right or wrong…. but at the time it really was the only viable option. She’d go on a bender, screw up our life, and then when she finally decided not to die and get into detox, it was my job to clean up the apartment after three weeks of total pet and human neglect, and try to put the pieces back together again. This was our cycle, our own dance with Doom.
One of her favorite pastimes during the bender phase was to “Drink and Dial”…. continuously torturing me, always with the intent of securing the promise that if she did make it to detox, that my support would still be intact…which of course, it always was.
It was then that I got this call, in barely translatable slurred speech:
"Uno’s dead, and Treo isn’t going to make it”
They weren’t nursing, and of course, being on her way to chat with her maker face to face, she neglected to notice.
So I scrambled down to the apartment, and broke my pact with myself. She could drink herself to death if she wanted to, but I couldn’t sanction having innocent little lives be lost as the result of that decision. I grabbed the puppies and hustled to the vet.
The vet informed me that, yes indeed, these dogs were both dehydrated and malnourished to the point that, at least for Treo, survival was unlikely…. and the most humane (and most cost effective option) thing to do would be to let her die.
I asked the vet, “Just for the sake of argument, what would I need to do to keep Treo alive?”
His response: “ You would need to insert a catheter down her throat, and inject formula and antibiotics into her stomach once every three hours…for the next six weeks. But the little one isn’t going to make it through the night.”
So against his better judgment, he hooked me up with the needed feeding implements.
I was about to become a Dad.
These are my children. Renamed Huckleberry (Duo) and Doodle (Treo), after another rocky two years, I finally assumed full custody after one of many subsequent swan dives.
Doodle still has the quirk of sucking on my fingers, a reminder of the many times I fed her by slipping the catheter into her stomach.
The future ex-wife is history, but this dog love is forever.
They were born in the French Quarter above the Voodoo Museum on Dumaine Street.
They were born amidst much human suffering, and they’re extremely adept at soaking that suffering up, and returning nothing but unconditional love… I know: cliché but true.
They have been through hell and back with me…from their rocky start, through a hurricane, a long separation (I had to leave town to take care of my father: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and my own personal descent into suicidal madness… and never once did their loyalty or love sway.
They are by my side. Constantly. (Frankly, one’s in my lap and the other at my feet as I type this little story.)
I used to say that the only thing in my life that has never let me down was my love of music and my relationship to the piano….but that isn’t entirely true.
These little moppets are also in that select company. They have never let me down.
Dog Only Nose.