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The following essay was published in The BARK, Fall 2015 issue:
by Jenny Scott
I recently put my dog Jack, into assisted living. I knew it was time: he has escalating hygiene needs, he wanders, he is confused and he often puts himself in harm’s way.
The assisted living facility is lovely. It has wide windows, many of them facing south and east, which let in the warm, chunky beams of sunlight in which Jack loves to nap. There is a pleasant, fenced-in green lawn where he can amble about and pee on flowers. The food is delicious: grain-free kibble twice a day and healthy treats like bits of apple, chicken, carrots and peas. The caretakers are generous, loving people.
The best thing about the facility, though, is the cost. Some assisted-living facilities can be price-prohibitive, but the one we put Jack in is downright affordable. That’s because my husband and I are his caretakers and the assisted living facility is our home.
Jack is a Pug. A bug-eyed, brachycephalic, low-riding Pug. He’s always been a happy, bright, if somewhat confused little character. But at the age of 13, he began marking his territory, not only outdoors, but indoors as well — piano legs, sofa legs chair legs. (If nothing else, the anthropomorphic use of the word “legs” for this furniture extensions tells us how wrong it is to pee on them.)
It’s not that Jack didn’t have the occasional accident when he was younger. It happened. One morning, my husband, rushing out of the house for work, left a note by the coffee machine that read, “Poop by bookcase.”
Of course, that note wasn’t a directive, an order for me to poop by the bookcase. No, no. It was a straightforward statement of fact, letting me know that there was a pile of poop in front of the bookcase.
I looked at that note and thought, This is just perfect, this is so us. Some spouses might leave a note that said, “Have a nice day,” or maybe, “Dinner out later?” But we have our communication down to the nitty-gritty essentials. (I saved that note, in case I ever begin to put on airs. If I start to think, Gosh we’re cool people, I can always pull out the note, “Poop by bookcase” to bring myself back to reality.)
When Jack began marking his territory inside, it was clear he didn’t know what he was doing. I scolded him in the beginning, but realized it was mean and senseless to scold a senile dog. It was like scolding a baby, or a fish.
I tried to keep up with the messes. Armed with paper towels and a spray bottle of non-toxic cleanser, I sniffed around the house like a Bloodhound until I’d found and wiped up all the puddles. Though I sprayed the room with a “floral” air freshener, there remained a misty background odor of “fetid urine swamp.”
I got to the point where I didn’t want people to come to our home, and if they did, they absolutely had to be dog people. Eventually, I wouldn’t even let dog people in. It was that bad. My husband said a couple of times that our house smelled like a barn, which was so very helpful, Honey. Thank you.
In addition to urinating on his indoor trees, Jack is losing some of his hearing and his sight. Sadly, he sometimes lightly bumps into a table leg while he’s heading who-knows-where. He looks humbled and surprised when this happens, shaking his head like a flummoxed cartoon coyote. I can almost see little stars circling his head.
He’s also begun to growl viciously at coats and bags left on sofas and tabletops, then seems to wonder why these fiendish intruders pay him no heed.
Though he’s failing in some areas, I’m not about to take him to the vet to “put him down.” After all, he’s still Jack, my cherished friend. He runs happily to his food dish. He jumps onto sofas and chairs and deftly scales their backs like a little mountain goat. He wags his tail when we pet him or rub his belly.
I had to take some kind of action, though, to change our embarrassing situation. I needed the equivalent of assisted living for him. Since there are no such facilities for dogs (at least, not in our area), I had to create one.
The first thing I did was acquire a crate I could confine him in when we weren’t home. He’d had a crate as a puppy, but that was long gone. When I put him in the new one, he looked at me with his big bug eyes as thought I were dunking him in hot oil instead of on top of a cushy pillow. As soon as he discovered he wasn’t going to fry, however, he quickly accommodated himself to it.
I’ve always heard that dogs feel secure in their crates, and sure enough, jack now voluntarily goes in his to sleep even when we’re home. I assume it’s much less scary in there than it is in an increasingly strange world, where walls and furniture move around, where the scenery is foggy and there are faint, unknown sounds.
So the crate helped with the accidents. I’ve also begun to let Jack outside much more often than I had been. I let him out a lot, in fact. It’s like training a puppy. Many times, he looks at me like he’s got more on the ball than I think, as if he’s saying, “You just let me out five minutes ago, but if this is what floats your boat…”
The third thing I do in our assisted living plan is to shadow him like a private investigator. If he attempts to creep into another room, I follow him, finally speaking loudly, letting him know I’m right above him.
“I’m right here, Jack. Don’t you dare.” When I do this, he startles and looks up at me, impressed, as if I were some omnipotent god. This trailing is really working. I think he thinks I’m always behind him, even when I’m not.
All of this takes a lot of time, but it’s well worth it.
I hope to keep Jack in assisted living as long as possible. I hope he dies here in his sleep one warm evening. I don’t ever want to “take him in,” or “put him down.” I’ve had to do that with other dogs and it’s one of life’s profound heartbreakers — to look into the eyes of an innocent animal as he or she is injected with a heart-stopping barbiturate.
What I really want is for Jack to live forever. Is that too much to ask? To have a soft, furry, breathing creature by my side always? To feel the warm weight of this exact individual against my legs on cold winter evenings? To have a sure listener to help me bear my version of the world’s troubles and sadness?
I know it’s too much to ask. Yet, for however long he has left, I’ll keep him happy and safe in assisted living. Dinner at four, crafts at six, lights out at eight!
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The following essay was published in Nostalgia:
LEGACY OF A BAKERY
by Jenny Scott
(Buchner’s bakery began in Klaham, Germany in 1904, by Anton Buchner. Anton later immigrated with his family to the United States and opened a bakery in Aurora, Illinois. His son, Michael took over the business in 1941. Then, in 1974, four of Michael’s sons, including my father, took over the bakery. I have the most wonderful memories of growing up as the daughter of a baker.)
When your father is a baker, you’re bound to be a poet. When a few times in each long ago year, you and your brother are pulled from your soft beds in the middle of the night and spy though the rectangular kitchen window the world when not many others are using it, you’re bound to be tired. You’re bound to be thrilled.
You ride through a town changed by darkness and arrive at the small, familiar bakery, lit like a flashlight’s sneaky head at the end of a row of hushed wooden homes. As you enter the humming place, slaphappy help squirt dabs of jellied Danish filling on your cheeks and nose, and your future resume begins to alter.
As you are allowed, encouraged even, to dip your miniature, just-washed hands into a huge vat of fresh, warm, smooth chocolate donut frosting, then lick each finger like a slender, molten lollipop, with a side of cold milk and a ball of cookie dough, you’re bound to dismiss all thoughts of stockbroking.
When, for kicks, you step into the walk-in freezer to see how long you can stand it, and stare at hard rolls plopped like squat, symmetrical mountains on each cold stretch of steel pan, then step out to touch the corpse-cold jaw of your vibrating brother, you probably won’t be a financial analyst.
You see rushing, plump store women snapping cake orders to a mousetrap clipboard as your father lifts a swirled, cottony wedding cake taller than himself. You are dwarfed with awe. You’ll tend to enjoy the unusual, to savor pride.
You know little of wing-toped shoes and pattered ties. Your father stuffs a wad of crumpled sweet roll orders into his shirt pocket, and you know nothing of briefcases.
As you lie on heaped-up flour sacks listening to white-clad uncles tease, you’re bound to be lulled to sleep by the hum, roar and whoosh of fans, conveyor belts, and a gargantuan mixer the size of a good easy chair.
As you lie half-sleeping on those sacks, the first morning customers, with running makeup and tilted hats balanced on snow-spat hair, trickle into the store of the yeast-wafting bakery. Through closed eyes you hear them tell of car problems and back problems and winter dawn’s homely, splotchy beauty.
These dear, funny, crabby people often wink at you as you rise to peek at them buying goods your father has baked. Your father has baked.
When he takes you back home at noon and carries you up the stairs leaving a path of floured footprints, then kisses you good day with apple flavored lips, you’re bound to curl and sleep until supper.
With hours like that, you’re bound to be sassy, indulgent. You’re bound to be a poet. Even if you never write a word, you’re bound to deal far too much in memories, to toil in rhythms.
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