In recent months, a few concerned parties have suggested that I consider getting a seizure response animal. I’m not opposed to the idea. In fact, I go through phases in which I wholeheartedly (and deludedly) assume that that adopting a dog would drastically and instantaneously change my life for the better, though I’ll admit that epilepsy-related aid isn’t my primary motivation. Dissertation-writing is lonely work, and the prospect of a living creature obliged to provide me with loyal and unconditional affection is understandably appealing. But in my more rational moments, thank the powers that be, I’m able to look back at previous experiences and remind myself that my romantic visions of long walks on the beach and evenings spent nuzzling on the couch encapsulate but a small piece of canine ownership.
I haven’t had a pet since the death of Billy, the Miniature American Eskimo that tortured my family throughout much of my childhood. We weren’t Billy’s first home—he spent his initial two years with a woman who, guided by holistic dog-training manuals, felt that discipline of any kind amounted to animal cruelty. She thus gave him free reign of her dwelling, at least until she moved and was conveniently unable to bring Billy, in all likelihood already showing signs of his future insubordination, with her. I don’t know why my mom and dad ended up agreeing to take him, but I do know that we quickly discovered that, surprise surprise, free-range dog parenting doesn’t result in an obedient animal. Though my parents spent hundreds of dollars on remedial lessons, Billy was by and large a lost cause. The sexist little beast learned to obey a couple of basic commands, but only when asked by a man; I have distinct memories of begging random males to ask Billy to sit after giving up on chasing him down the street, my futile and increasingly frustrated yell totally ineffective in getting his attention as, needle-nose first, he darted around young children and old people in scooters in pursuit of some imaginary rabbit or hallucinated cat or whatever.
I won’t expand much on Billy’s many exploits, which earned him infamy among our friends and neighbours and resentment among my brothers and me. Suffice it to say that even now, eight years after his passing, his particularly obnoxious qualities are occasionally recalled by those who had the pleasure of making his acquaintance. “Remember his crazy bark? Remember how he’d try to escape every time someone opened the front door? Remember how annoying he was?” Do I remember? Of course I remember. If he managed to ingrain himself in the minds and souls of people who only met him once or twice, how could someone who shared their formative years with the pesky bugger possibly forget?
Even if complaining about Billy was a frequent family pastime, we certainly cared for and about him. Grooming, though, fell by the wayside; within a week or so, Billy, a pristine white when he stepped foot in our house for the first time, drifted to a shade of off-grey that he remained for the majority of his long life. While no one seemed to care much—he was purebred, yes, but he was also neurotic, a precarious mental state that disallowed his participation in dog shows, not that we’d have thought to take him to one anyway—Dad would periodically be moved to action by his guilt about our failure to properly maintain Billy’s pedigree appearance. This sense of culpability was not, however, great enough to warrant spending money at the doggie spa. Billy was therefore washed in the bathtub, a difficult and time-consuming process in the best of circumstances.
The time Dad read that egg is good for a dog’s coat so rubbed several raw eggs into Billy’s already tangled fur was unequivocally outside the “best of circumstances” category. I’d like to stress that my father is an intelligent man, just one with intermittent lapses in common sense. Though he soon realized that he had made, in the words of Gob Bluth, “a huge mistake,” his frantic effort to rinse Billy’s sticky hair, now smeared with rapidly coagulating egg, proved counterproductive. The more he worked at the clumps, the more matted they became. When the giant tangle eventually dried, it revealed a felted mess and a miserable animal. Bringing him to a professional was, at this point, the only option, and the clean-up job, which took a full day and cost several hundred dollars, necessitated the removal of half of Billy’s fur. Left behind were undignified bald patches and an obviously embarrassed dog. Poor Billy. Poor Dad. Poor me: there’s nothing like a semi-nude purebred to illicit judgemental glances from more diligent dog owners at the park.
Billy King Kong Sweetlove (no, we didn’t name him) continued to irritate us for well over a decade, eventually dying of geriatric ailments.When I began writing this post, my intention in memorializing him was to convince myself that I didn’t want a repeat of the Billy Years. Finishing it, though, I’m invaded by a sort of insidious nostalgia that’s inducing me to see if Miniature American Eskimos can be trained as seizure guide dogs. Husband, beware.