This is a departure for me so if you can’t bear the thought of wading through somebody else’s dog story I totally understand and will catch you next time. For everybody else…
I once had cause to learn about a wunderdrug in veterinarian circles called Anipryl when my poodle mix began to show signs of confusion. I tried it on her and was happy to see her shake off a new foggy-headed recalcitrance and quickly become her old self again. It made me think, even though she had yet to show any change in behavior, that my other aging pooch, Tessie Trueheart, might also be a candidate for the drug.
To be honest, Tess had always been a little gaga right from the get-go.
The list of symptoms that Anipryl claims to countermand read as a personality description of Tessie who I found at a Humane Society in Gainesville, Georgia when she was 18-months old.
A mixed-breed terrier, Tess had a hunted, fearful look in her large brown eyes that I was convinced I could vanquish with lots of love and attention. Years later, the best that I can honestly say is that the fearful look wasn’t always there. Whatever happened in those first eighteen months of her life was always lurking right below the surface.
Tess never failed to shy her head from my hand when I leaned down to pet her. She never understood what I wanted when I called her to me. I’d have to say that she adapted to love and learned to tolerate signs of it from us, her family who she lived with for 14 years, but physical intimacy or affection would always freak her out and we learned to be careful not to oppress her.
When Tess first came to live with us, she spent a good deal of time staring at walls. (This, by the way, is one of the classic symptoms that Anipryl promises to address.) There were times when the rest of the family would be watching TV and one of us would turn away from the tube to notice that Tessie was staring intently at one of us—often within just a few feet of our faces.
Once when my brother came to stay with us for a long week to build a fence around our house, he spent evenings with Tess on his lap which was unheard of. He spoke to her in a soft, crooning voice, constantly soothing her. By the time he said goodnight each night, she would follow him to his bedroom and then sleep outside his door.
However, the next morning she would bark at him as if she had never laid eyes on him. She did this every morning for the nine days he was with us. Devoted to him by night. Totally unprepared for him by morning.
A Haitian woman who was cleaning our house once remarked to me as she was leaving one day: “Your dog talks to me.” I had to admit I had noticed that Tess was particularly committed to staring at this woman as she worked. “What’s she saying?” I asked. The woman went to Tess and pulled back her ears. “Mostly stuff about food and hating the vacuum cleaner,” she said. “But she says children threw rocks at her.” The woman’s hands rubbed over the scars behind Tessie’s ears that I didn’t even know were there.
Once we gave a dinner party where Tess sat two feet away from one of the female dinner guests and kept up a low-grade growl while never once taking her eyes off the woman. (I must confess to having never liked this woman and was more amused by Tessie’s rudeness than I should have been.)
If she was let out to the backyard to relieve herself, she would later return to the closed door and stand silently for one of us to remember she was out there. But when you opened the door, she would just stand there staring at you. (Another advertised symptom treatable by Anipryl, BTW.) Usually my husband or I just lifted her back inside.
We often referred to Tess as our “voodoo dog,” because she was so otherworldly in so many ways. She acted as if she heard voices from a place only she had access to.
Once she awoke the house in the middle of the night by making a sound like a human scream. Later that morning, we received word that a friend of ours, dying of breast cancer, had given up the fight at exactly the time in the middle of the night that Tess screamed.
Tess was a classic Omega dog. She never allowed herself to sleep on our bed while we are actually in it, but indulged when we left. While my other dog would sniff a proffered treat suspiciously, holding it up to the light, touching a tentative tongue to it to make sure I wasn’t trying to poison her, Tess immediately wolfed down anything offered to her. She allowed all other animals in our house—dogs and cats—to eat before she did, yet she was ravenously hungry at all times.
Tessie resembled a bloated miniature greyhound. She was tan and, because she liked food so much and I saw it as a way to give her love, chubby. Her head was small, her legs long and skinny but her middle was very round. Once, when my husband was picking up my step-daughter from her relatively-snooty equine day camp which was heavily populated with adorable Jack Russells in the back of every SUV, Tess, who had accompanied my husband that day, got out and became briefly, insanely happy, rolling in a pile of horse manure. When my husband finally caught her, a middle-aged and very unimpressed woman asked with intense disdain what kind of dog it was. My husband—carrying a redolent Tessie at arms’ length—grinned at her and said: “I’m surprised you don’t know. This is a pedigreed Butterball!”
Two years after we got Tess, my son pointed out to me that Tessie was wagging her tail. We’re not sure when, exactly, she started doing that, but we do know she hadn’t done it before.
As my husband said, “What if we put her on it and she becomes normal?”
NB: When Tessie died, she did it in typical Tessie-style—without explanation or advance warning on the 14th anniversary of the day we found her.