Sunday, November 04, 2007

bear

I do penance for Bear every night as I lift the quilt and invite my dogs to join me on my stacked featherbeds. I tuck them in by my legs, two small terriers, letting them snuggle down into the feathers before wrapping them in the old quilt for warmth. Dogs love warmth, every dog lover knows that. I learned it watching Billy seek out the sunny spots in the house or jump into a basket of laundry fresh from the dryer. I often think of Bear as I fall asleep, the soft breathing and sweet, warm bodies of my dogs forcing me to remember her.

Bear was a small black Schipperke, the second of those tailless Belgian dogs to live with us. Bear followed Cindy by eight years, years filled by a seizure-prone pug. She was a playful puppy, an energetic adult, great fun for us in our grade school years.

When I was nine, Bear developed an itchy back and like Cindy before her, it was unrelenting. Whatever it was, and there were plenty of theories, it drove her to fits of scratching. Dr. Ray's ministrations and his soothing ointment had no effect. Nothing impacted this itch. It must have been maddening and torture for that little dog, the most severe itch being on her back where she could not reach.

At every opportunity, Bear would race to my father's bed, an old mahogany four poster my mother had fitted with metal rails in order to accommodate a larger mattress. The rails were the perfect height to scratch Bear's back, to soothe that desperate itch. Scratching made it worse, of course. We'd put her out so she wouldn't scratch; she'd dart inside as soon as the door was opened.

Missing her one day, we found her in the bedroom, her back a bleeding mess. This horror was repeated over and over until she ended up with an oval patch of bleeding, hairless skin from rubbing against the rails. We put her outside to stay and from that day on she lived in the back yard. We were, by then, front yard kids, active, outdoors a lot, but Bear was a backyard dog and so she was alone.

That's how I think of her now ~ alone. And the worst, the most painful, agonizing thoughts are of Bear alone in her dog house on the coldest night of winter with deep snow and all of us warm inside. On those desperately cold nights, I would sometimes find myself seized with a kind of panic, a 12 year old's guilt, wondering how she was faring out there, realizing I couldn't sleep until I knew.

Going to the door, I'd call her, persisting until she hobbled from her dog house, a moving inkspot against the snow. Rousing her from her nest, from whatever warmth she could find, I'd feel reassured that she was alive. I'd pet her briefly, then shut the door and so to bed. I left her there, cold, alone, in the dark, with no companionship, with nothing that dogs thrive on. Nothing.

I hate myself for this. It is one of my worst sins. I can't write it without crying. What a hideous thing to do to a dog. It's no excuse that I didn't know what dogs were like, what they needed. It was a terrible, terrible thing to do and it is a permanent stain on my conscience and an ache in my heart.

I think the intense shame and guilt I felt over the treatment of one small black dog fueled my near lifetime insistence that I didn't like dogs. Until Bill arrived in my life five years ago, I lived dog-free, touting the superiority of cats over the panting, shedding, jumping, licking canines of my acquaintance. I jokingly insisted my sister should administer "the final solution" to her pack of nine unadoptable and ailing dogs. And Bear was always on my mind. I couldn't laughingly denigrate a dog without thinking of Bear and with Bear inevitably comes a hot shame. Always.

There was a little comfort for Bear when my father remarried. As my stepmother arrived on the scene, we were coming alive again after the shock of my mother's disappearance. A dog lover, this good woman was horrified at our neglect of the little Schipperke. I am horrified too, and filled with regret. After 35 years, I am still sickened by my mistreatment of that poor animal.

I can't fix it. I thought writing about it might help. I don't need reassurances that what I did wasn't that dreadful. It was, end of story. But I live a program that insists I make amends, to right wrongs where I can. Long before my dogs arrived, I helped animals where I could, supported rescue, paid vet bills for strays, anything to assuage the guilt. And though it can't be fixed, my neglect of Bear, it is some comfort that my two terriers have the best possible dog's life, every comfort, constant companionship, inside living with their people, lots of exercise, endless, boundless love and affection.

I wish I could do it over with Bear, give her this kind of life. I'd find a solution for her itchy back as I've found for Billy's itchy hip. I'd tolerate her quirks as I tolerate Deaf Betty's barky attention to every falling leaf and passing car. And I'd let her sleep with me every night. I'd hold her and love her and keep her warm, every night.

There aren't any do-overs, and regret is the most wretched of emotions. I suspect I will die with this one. What about you? Do you have regrets that simply will not leave you?

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28 Comments:

Anonymous tater said...

I love you.

When my sister and I were young, we had a BB gun we used to take target practice with. We were sitting on the front porch when we noticed a robin perched up on the telephone wire in front of our house. We aimed at it, not thinking we could ever actually hit it. We did. It fell flapping to the pavement as we looked on in horrified silence. We knew that according to the westerns we watched, it was necessary to put it out of it's misery. with tears streaming down our faces, we stood over it and took turns shooting it, so that it would not suffer. It took at least 8 shots. We were both beside ourselves with grief, regret, and hot shame. We never picked up that gun again, and neither one of us can stand the idea of hunting, to this day. I will never point a firearm at another living creature, unless it is a human, intent on killing myself or a loved one. I feel the same guilt just writing this, that I did that horrible summer morning. Those stains never come out.

November 05, 2007 1:33 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

and i love you, brother. how awful. it doesn't go away, does it? i'm so sorry for you and your sister and that poor bird; i feel sick reading this, knowing how you felt.

November 05, 2007 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Mark H said...

BUT . . . Wasn't it your Dad who moved Bear outside? Did you as a child have a say? In my childhood, we had NO say about animals, and they were NEVER allowed indoors. They didn't get even a doghouse until I was probably 9-10....and we had cold winters. Now as an adult who sets those rules, OUR dogs DO stay indoors. Maybe too much.

The memory of Bear WILL stay with you, true, nothing can change that, but I am not sure you should shoulder the blame.

Maybe I DID have a lucky break. As I child I felt I had NO say in control of anything that happened to me until sometime in middle school when I realized that playing piano well, in a cowtown, provided an out from the father I feared.

It IS true though, I didn't want to have a dog till well in my 30's...maybe you've explained why a bit.

November 05, 2007 2:29 PM  
Blogger David said...

You're like that empath from the Star Trek series, the woman that took on others' pain as her own.

I don't want to make you wrong for feeling as you do, but I don't see how you can possibly blame yourself or find wrongdoing in a situation that was so completely beyond your control.

Were you responsible for Bear's itching condition? You say that you took the dog to the vet. It was the vet that failed Bear, not you or your family. That your step-mother found a solution was a gift, not a remonstration.

The fact that you felt badly about the situation at the time shows that you weren't callous to the dog's suffering. You simply couldn't find a solution. If you had given in to the dog's desires it would have surely died from infection long before your step-mother arrived to set things right. You probably saved Bear's life.

You are way, way too hard on yourself.

November 05, 2007 2:52 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

mark, throwing her out was a joint effort. my dad pretty much left the care of the pets to us. i blame myself most for the neglect: she was my dog, my sister's dog (and she feels as horrible about it all as i do) and i was the one who would call her out of her house in the ice just to make myself feel better.

it isn't like i'd do it all the time. she escaped the back yard and managed to get pregnant, a first. we didn't know until she wouldn't come out and wouldn't come out and we finally found her shivering in the corner of our little clubhouse, a dead puppy stuck halfway in the birth canal. it had been that way so long that it had rotted and she was very, very sick.

it's just neglect. i think that's the worst thing, to think i could have done better and didn't. but i appreciate your kind words.

david ~ i appreciate the thought, but i figure this is my pain. my neglect = my pain.

but i think it's cool that the world is made up of folks who can look around and share the shitty stuff. probably half the folks alive can look elsewhere or at least shove off half the responsibility for the bad deeds to others.

the rest of us end up in AA, like me. and that little taterbug :-)

November 05, 2007 3:12 PM  
Anonymous tater said...

Honesty, and the owning of it all. That was the hardest thing for me to learn, but the only way to live a life with integrity and enough self pride to to avoid the cycle of escapist behavior. Sharing it with others is more difficult still, but the benefit is the understanding that you are not unique or alone. Thank you for sharing, keep coming back. :)

November 05, 2007 3:40 PM  
Blogger totegirl said...

Ugh. I feel your pain and obviously have some of my own. I was a stupid, careless pet owner for many years. Yes I fed them and kept them inside, but I never took them to the vet. I rationalized that I never had the money, but I had money for beer and for concerts and for my own entertainment. And when they got too sick, I'd take them to the pound or they'd just finally die. I felt so bad about it that I didn't have any pets for years. I felt I didn't deserve the unconditional love of an animal.

Now, at the age of 36, I have 3 dogs and a cat, all given to me after being rescued from some horrible plight, and they get the best care I can possibly give them. They eat before I do. They go to the vet before I do anything fun. I got them pet insurance!

I'm sorry for what I've done, and you are too, but we'll NEVER do it again as long as we live, now will we? Nope.

November 05, 2007 5:10 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

totegirl ~ nope, never. that's the only thing that makes it better. that and helping out where i can with rescue and homeless animals.

November 05, 2007 8:50 PM  
Anonymous Kamrin said...

Little dogs can tell when their owner is going to have a seizure, or when bad weather is coming. That little dog knew that in your special heart, you had climbed out of your own warm bed to check on her, because you cared. Bear knew you loved and cared for her, even if you had not yet learned how to effect change for her. Now you show your respect for her by honoring her spirit with how well you care for dogs now. She knows that you learned and that you are "making right" in the only way we can when it is the issues of our youth we are trying to repair. Much love and peace to you.

November 06, 2007 12:11 AM  
Blogger Willym said...

I'm holding you close in my heart at this moment.

I know that no words will ever clear you of the regret you feel for something you did as a child but I often think that for children dogs are just "pets," for adults they are "companions." Watch children at a Vets with their dog - they are often unconcerned but the parents are another story.

I have two regrets that will stay with me until the day I die. The first involves an animal and the second a human. One day I hope I have the courage that you have to write about them. I've come close a few times but...

Give Betty and Billy a hug for me.

November 06, 2007 6:09 AM  
Blogger Debbi said...

I do have a regretful story, but I'm not going to share it here. I've been sober nearly 17 years and can't let this one go yet. Maybe never. I completely understand how you feel. Thanks for your honesty.

November 06, 2007 6:28 AM  
Blogger Red7Eric said...

((Lynette)) ... you're good people. Because everyone has done something less than perfectly, but only the good'uns have the heart and soul to regret them. Is part of making amends forgiving others for things they've done less than perfectly? Perhaps you could share some of that with yourself.
Cheers,
Red

November 06, 2007 7:47 AM  
Blogger David said...

All right. I'll let you own this guilt, as long as you allow yourself to be forgiven.

From your response I do see that the dog did suffer terribly from issues of neglect. But I repeat, you were a child. If your father had, instead of handing the care of a dog to you, handed the care of an infant to you, and you at the tender age of 12 mishandled that care, I don't think the police would be going after you. They'd go after your father for abdicating his responsibility.

I know you love your dad and that he is a good man, so no aspersions are being cast here. And I recognize the turmoil your family was going through with the disappearance of your mom. So acknowledge that you made mistakes, but also acknowledge that demands were made of you that you may not have been prepared to take on. And the only one to blame for that is circumstance.

As Red7Eric has said, if you can learn to forgive others, why not share that gift with yourself as well?

November 06, 2007 10:52 AM  
Blogger kusala said...

You sum it up perfectly when you say that "regret is the most wretched of emotions." It's also not a productive place to live in and its only productive use is to propel us into behaving in ways that we won't regret. And from everything I've read from you, you've surely moved forward in ways that are far from regrettable.

Amazing how much regret and guilt bubble to the surface as we age, after the often "carefree" years of our 20s, and maybe longer, eh? I find it eerie the way that some of my feelings of 'guilt' are indelible things that never go away. I sometimes think that's the real gist of the concept of "karma."

Keep this in mind also: you were a child.
-Joe

November 06, 2007 1:18 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

kamrin ~ thank you, i'll keep that in my mind.

willym ~ i don't know why there are a few things that just won't succumb to making amends, setting things right as best as i'm able. there are a few that stick. this thing with bear, another situation with a child. i hope that you will write about yours one day even if only for yourself.

debbie, thank you. i understand completely.and congrats on 17. maybe my thoughts about this dog have something to do with coming up on 25 years. more introspection or something. anniversaries do that generally, this one seems to be affecting me more.

eric ~ thank you honey. i have let myself off the hook for a lot. A LOT. a lot. criminal behavior, awful treatment of human beings, big failures, some really bad stuff. and still . . . the dog. i don't think i'm a rotten person over all, pretty decent mostly. this just sticks in my psychological craw (and that's a phrase i like and shall use again)

and david, thank you. maybe writing this has been cathartic and will be the thing that removes the block from being able to forgive this behavior. but as i said, i've forgiven myself LOTS of stuff and have made appropriate amends on TONS of stuff. just not Bear.

Joe ~ it is indeed one of the odd things of getting older. and that makes perfect sense ~ that karma is what we suffer internally as the result of our actions.

wait! joe!! where are you???

November 06, 2007 3:39 PM  
Blogger kusala said...

Where am I? Here in Santa Barbara, as always. Whassup??

November 06, 2007 3:43 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

i thought you were still on the road with huntington . . . must catch up :-)

November 06, 2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger kusala said...

I *wish* my vacation was that long! Was only gone from Friday-Wednesday. Back home almost two weeks now. Just started to post the photos on my blog.

By the way, my regret that won't leave me is this:
I let an emotionally scarred, depressed, self-hating young man become a dangerously promiscuous, relationship-destroying, compartmentalized mess -- a decision that led to him becoming HIV positive. I wish I had had the tools and the self-esteem to not let that happen, but I know that everything will be ok in the end, and I've learned so much in the process.

November 06, 2007 4:20 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

oh joe. there's nothing i can say that doesn't sound inane in the face of that. regret. remorse. hurts.

November 06, 2007 5:51 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Oh Lordy, so many regrets. Mine are unkindnesses to people who deserved better, or moments of cowardess - not standing up to bullies or bigots. The only way I know to make ammends for things like this, that are long behind me, is to learn from them and make sure they don't happen again. You've done that. Still, I know, sometimes it haunts you, as my failures still haunt me. So we tell our friends and they forgive us when we can't forgive ourselves.

I don't know you, dear, but here's a cyber hug.

November 06, 2007 6:14 PM  
Blogger SubtleKnife said...

Regrets? Apart from managing to dump someone over the internet last weekend? I didn't mean to, but I was stupid enough to forget webblogs are public, so he read my thoughts before I could talk to him about it.

Another one that has stuck with me for ages is that when I was in my mid to late teens one night I thought I woke up because I heard our dog moaning. But then I listened and didn't hear anything. The next morning he was found dead from a twisted gut. Even if I had gone downstairs, the odds are he would have died from it, but that doesn't make me feel any better.

Ugh, I'm not in a good place myself at the moment, I'm not feeling great and then I couldn't get to work because someone jumped in front of a train, which of course brings back memories... I regret letting myself get so depressed all those years!

Okay, that's enough from me. How about a hug now?

November 07, 2007 8:33 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

oh honey, so sorry. about all of it. and consider yourself hugged. ((((((YOU))))))

November 07, 2007 9:24 AM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Lynette -- shit. I hear you. I won't try to make you feel better, because, well, you know. There is something about the animals, isn't there? I have tried to figure out what it is that makes it so different for us. It's not that I'm desensitized to human suffering, I'm outraged and saddened by it, but anything involving an animal - I can't even bear to watch a report on TV about it or something.

Back when the girls were preschoolers, and I was pregnant with the son, we got a dog. I'd always been a dog person, grew up with dogs. He was a chocolate lab, named Hershey. (lame name, I know) I don't know why we bought a purebred dog; we didn't have much $, and in hindsight, I can't imagine paying into that system rather than giving a shelter dog a home, but that's what we did at the time. He was a puppy, very rambunctious, way too much energy for me to handle, pregnant with 2 little kids. I became annoyed at his wildness, the chewing, tearing up the yard, the kids stepping in dog poop. He needed attention and training.

I knew about dog training - my mom worked for vets and was a handler for dog shows. I had no excuse, but I did not put in the time to train the dog. People say, oh, you had little kids and were pregnant, a dog was too much. But i had no excuse, b/c with my background, I knew what would be involved before we bought Hershey. I knew, and I failed to give that dog what he needed to be a "good dog". It was my fault, not his.

My ex and I took him to the pound. We lied and told the girls he ran away. We've never told them the truth, although I think the eldest might know. I am so ashamed of this, I've only ever told one person.

I am deeply ashamed of this. Probably one reason why I don't talk about it is that I know people will try to find excuses for me, and there are none.

I'm sorry you have that memory of Bear, Lynette. You're right, there are no do-overs. You're a wonderful person in so many ways. All we can do now is love the animals we have now, and do better. Hugs...

November 07, 2007 12:10 PM  
Blogger SubtleKnife said...

((((((LYNETTE))))))

November 07, 2007 1:27 PM  
Anonymous tater said...

One last thing and I will move on. I am very proud that you have not bowed to the pressure of cognitive dissonance coined by Fetinger. It is the temptation to change one's interpretation of an event to better suit their perception of self, rather than accepting their wrong behavior and making amends or changing it. It is what Hitler employed to scapegoat the jews. By dehumanizing them, he was no longer burdened by the notion that what he was doing was horrific, barbaric, morally indefensible, and inhumane. This has been employed time and time again in human history and has resulted in mass murder, rape, torture and genocide too many times to count. Cheney and Bush are using it to torture "terrorists" right now. Colombus used it when he murdered and enslaved native peoples in his quest for gold. I am proud that you have owned this sad memory of your past, and haven't excused your behavior. It is the right thing to do, and it has effected positive change in your life.

((((((Nette))))))))

November 08, 2007 8:47 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Oh my God, what are you trying to do? Kill me???

I have such guilt over Sadie's last year of life when her kidneys began to fail and I had to gate her in my tiny kitchen with the tiled floor because of the constant accidents she was having. Before that her favorite place to sleep was under my bed just next to the nightstand directly under where I would rest my head for the night(she was too old by then to jump up on my bed). But when she got sick and I would gate her in the kitchen for the night she would look at me with the saddest expression of "Why, Daddy, why?" OY, the GUILT!

November 08, 2007 8:52 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

Elizabeth, thank you. I know it's universal and that actually helps more than anything. This kind of thing is not a popular conversational topic in most circles, so reading what you all have written means a lot.

MCowbell . . . Ugh. I know. That's happens a lot. My sister, who did serious animal rescue for 15 years did the same thing as a young mother. The amazing St. Louis pit bull rescue guy, Randy Grim, says that we need to think of ourselves as animal guardians, not animal owners. Changes the dynamic, he says. Not the guilt over the past, though. ((((MC))))

Tater ~ thank you, honey. That's what that blue book teaches us, isn't it? taking responsibility. thank god for the blue book.

michael ~ so sorry about your sadie. she was a little jack russell, wasn't she? but you remember this: you stood by her until the end and you did right by her by not abandoning her when she was sick. and yes, "OY, the GUILT!"

November 09, 2007 9:08 AM  
Blogger Shark-fu said...

Oh, this post touched me so.

I regret so much about the last year of my childhood dawg's life and I too love on my sorta-beagles in memory of Clueless. But I will always regret what he missed out on because my family had gone to shit...the walks, the play, the rubs...all of it.

I like to think it made me a better dawg momma and a better person...and that Clueless is now in dawg paradise.

November 11, 2007 8:27 PM  

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