Of dogs and people
I’m most likely a sociopath. No, this isn’t the same as a psychopath or a schizophrenic. A sociopath lacks empathy and in some cases, the capacity for true emotions. Hard core members of this diagnosis group are often ruthless leaders, both publicly and privately. These folks are able to use their lack of feeling as a tool in their arsenal when climbing the social, political or corporate ladder. They aren’t necessarily mean or evil, but the missing parts of their psyche allow them to step on the fingers of those climbing behind and below and then take a nap or grab a sandwich. It isn’t that they necessarily know they are sociopathic nor that what they are doing is less than socially responsible. Most people are not that self aware. They simply act as they have always acted and if they consider it at all, most likely it’s in the vein of feeling sorry (or more likely, disdain) for those who aren’t as good as they.
I think I’m more of a middle-of-the-road sociopath: I feel pain and love (at least I think I do) and even some empathy. I felt the loss, though at a distance, when my father passed. I felt something when friends have ended their battles. Truly though, not strongly and not for long.
Over the past two years, we’ve lost our three dogs. I had a 14 year old mini dachshund and my other half, a 15 year old boxer-mix and a 10 year old staff-mix.
First, the staff developed heartworm, after which followed a long and trying recovery. Shortly after that, she began behaving strangely and in the end, it was determined that she was suffering from a brain tumor. Following her passing, first the boxer (after a long decline) and then our doxie both passed. I was moved by the way the staff died: it was sudden and harsh and she was young. I also knew how much she meant to my girlfriend and I felt her loss. I was present when they ended her suffering and I did cry. No matter how it sounds, I was not affected when either of the other dogs passed. Some of that was that both were suffering (and had been for a long time) and honestly, both had been very trying at the end.
I know that just the manner in which I describe that sequence would anger or horrify some. I understand that and it’s why I believe that my self diagnosis is correct. The staff and I spent eight years together and most of the last six months of her life in direct proximity to each other. I took care of her, day and night through her recovery from heartworm. Yet I really didn’t have feelings for her.
In the thirty years since I was a boy, I’ve had many dogs. I’ve lost many dogs. In all the cases, I was largely unaffected.
When I was a kid, about five, our family got a lab-mix. She was with us until I was twelve, when she passed from cancer. The night before she went in to the vet, I jumped out of bed and landed on her foot. She yiped and limped the rest of the night. My mom took her to the vet the next day, never really saying what was wrong. She was gone five days before our parents let us know she wasn’t coming home.
It hurt so bad that I told myself I would never allow myself to get that close again. I pushed the hurt down and buried any thoughts about her. I’ve used that technique every time I have been faced with a loss since then. The less you think about something, the less it can hurt you.
After the loss of all our dogs, I told my girlfriend about my decades long desire to own a puli. I did some research and found one of the few US breeders and contacted them. I mentioned to the breeder that while I’d like a puppy, I’d actually prefer an older dog. Hopefully housebroken and obedience trained. She responded with the fact that she had a two year old female that hadn’t worked out as an ability candidate and she was looking to place her. After a few more back and forth about pedigrees and health testing, I said yes.
I have a tendency to get excited about a project and then lose interest after a while and my girlfriend was concerned that this would be one of those projects. She made me promise that I would never leave her outside and that she would be a part of our lives. I promised.
Polly was shipped to us from Michigan and we drove to Reno to collect her. I had seen a pair of pulik many years before and except for a few websites and TV shows (where puli were featured as unique rare dogs), I really didn’t know what to expect.
We went in the terminal and the first thing I could smell, from dozens of feet away, was Polly. (That would turn out to be due to getting wet and not being dried properly. Polly would NEVER soil herself, even after 15 hours in a dog crate.) After collecting her and getting out of the airport, we decided we would get her out for a quick potty break. She immediately slipped her lead.
For 90 minutes we chased her through high speed streets, with traffic blazing by, honking. Through parking lots. Through industrial areas. All in the dark and chasing a terrified, black dog. How it ended is still bizarre. My girlfriend had been circling the area – we lost sight of each other two minutes into the ordeal – and somehow she saw me. She pulled into the lot and pulled out the crate. Polly, despite having only been in the car five minutes before the chase begun, recognized it and ran there and into her waiting crate.
From there things got worse. She was beyond terrified of us. She jumped over kitchen counters to escape. I put a leash on her and for the first week, that was our only means of capturing her. I told my girlfriend she had to go back. I couldn’t imagine ten years like this. My girlfriend, who really hadn’t been all that enthusiastic about getting her in the first place, now said, no way. You promised to work with her and there’s no way we are sending her back to the situation that produced such a terrified dog. I knew I had to keep my promise, so I said that if it took me a year, I would work with her.
That night I grabbed the leash and made her lie on my tummy while we watched TV. She hyperventilated and her heart beat a million times a minute but she stayed there. I took her out to do her business every day, many times a day. I kept her on me while we watched TV every night. And slowly, oh so slowly, she calmed down. I took off the leash. She started coming when called. She laid on the floor next to me and I pet her or just let my hand rest on her. She decided to sleep with us at the foot of our bed.
She worked her way into my heart and for the first time, I let her.
Over the months, I told her every day that I loved her and I would protect her. I did love her. She looked at me and I knew she loved me. We walked together virtually every day. We spent almost every waking hour together. If I left the room for a glass of water, she followed, nose in the back of my knee. When I took a shower, she relaxed on my bed and waited. She rode in the back seat of my truck everywhere. Everyone in town knew Polly. She slept on my bed every night.
In about the sixth month we had her, we went to the National Puli Specialty. We met many we had talked to on Facebook. We met a breeder with a litter of puppies. Our goal was to get a boy for my girlfriend and this breeder had some boys. Once she knew that my girl was intact and who the breeder was, she refused to sell us a pup until Polly was spayed.
Over the next six months, I went back and forth about the procedure. For whatever reason, I was scared. I made appointments and broke them. Resolved myself to it and made appointments again. I looked for excuses to cancel and I did.
On April 18th, I took her for a walk, hoping for loose stools or hard stools or bad gas.
I took her in and told the tech how worried I was. She said that things happened but not often. I left my best friend and the only thing that truly loved me. My last view of her was watching her leave the room, tail held high.
An hour later the phone rang. I could see it was the vet. I figured she had some blood work that showed something. I heard the voice and it was the doctor. My blood actually became so loud in my head that all I heard was “cardiac arrest” before I dropped the phone. My best friend was gone.
There’s more. There’s the horror scene of me at the vet. My Polly Pocket laying there, looking like she was sleeping. But there’s no more to be gained by me writing it or remembering the pain. I lost the only one who loved me. She lost her life. I don’t, can’t, understand.
We have a new puppy coming. Vadrozsa Pyper at the Gates of Dawn. Pyper. I will be with her every day, just like Polly. She won’t be Polly, of course. With Polly, every little thing, every bit of trust earned, every time she ran back to me, was a victory, celebrated. Pyper will be a tiny puppy. The love will be there. I just don’t know how I will feel.
Can I let myself feel for this youngster what I allowed with Polly? Can I be vulnerable?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I miss my Polly every day, every night. I will look down at the foot of the bed and see Pyper and try not to see Polly. I will love her.
Even sociopaths feel. Maybe we miss the depth of feeling that normals experience. Maybe we don’t – miss it, that is. I do know that I would not trade the love I felt from her and for her for not feeling the pain now. Maybe that’s what being human is. Makes me feel a little lucky to be not so human. Sometimes.