Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sometimes, It's the Little Things

Through some strange sequence of Google coincidences, I ended up at my own blog this morning and realized that I haven't said a word on it since February. And I realized how much has happened since then, but how many of those things have been so small that I didn't think to blog about them until they added up.

"Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?"

Bruno's seizure episodes have all but come to an end. After that last post, I made a sort of connection in my brain: the worst of Bruno's seizures all seemed to happen right not long after he had a lot of goodies. Christmas was a confusing time for him, with people pouring in and out of the house, colorful paper being ripped to shreds, weird music playing through the home theater system. And to placate him, I was giving him goodies on the regular.

After writing that last post, I was feeling particularly emotional, and he could feel that. So I gave him extra goodies to let him know that everything was okay, that he was a good boy. And he had another particularly violent seizure.

The goodies in question? Blue Buffalo. Supposedly the exact sort of crunchy, green, organic stuff that I always buy for him. So I did some research and found that I wasn't alone. Scores of complaints were piling up on the interwebs from puppy-parents whose little ones were having all sorts of nasty reactions to Blue after the company was sold. Some opined that the inclusion of walnut shells in Blue's kitty litter might be contaminating their canine goodies and food. Was it a slam dunk case? Of course not. Correlation doesn't imply causation. But it was enough for this desperate daddy to throw away all of the Blue goodies in the house and see what happened.

It's been six months since, and he's had two very, very minor episodes that didn't result in full-blown seizures, but merely disorientation and a general grumpiness. Which, I might add, you can literally see him trying to control. One time, he actually put himself in time out, as if he knew something were wrong and he didn't want it to escalate.

The other little thing that felt like a huge thing was that Bruno made a canine friend. Our next door neighbors got a little Chihuahua/terrier mix named Champ, and after a few days of woofing, Bruno decided that this little guy was okay. Which blew. My. Mind. Over the course of a few months, I could even see Champ having a calming effect on Bruno when we ran into other canines while out walking/jogging. He even gave Champ kisses through the fence, and would try to initiate games of tug-o-war with the little guy!

Sadly, Champ disappeared after three months. The neighbors were away for the weekend and he broke out. They never found him. That was two months ago, and Bruno still looks for him, still pines for him. If it thunders, he immediately runs outside to comfort Champ (who was never allowed inside). Sometimes he just sits at the fence and stares into that yard, hoping his little buddy will come out to play.

It breaks my heart.

And unfortunately, most of the good that Champ did for Bruno has been undone. It used to be that, when we were out walking, if a little yappy-type mutt ran up to Bruno, he would remain pretty calm. A few weeks back, though, a little ball of angry fluff came running up to him and bit him right on the nose. And now they're the enemy again. All of them


Monday, February 11, 2013


It's been a while.

It's not that I haven't had a lot to say since the last time I posted. It's that I don't really know how to express what I'm feeling fully. That may have a lot to do with the fact that I don't think linguistically, so taking torn thoughts and turning them into a cogent string of words is tough.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I mentioned before, but haven't said much about since, the fact that Bruno has neurological problems. Contrary to suspicions, neutering went a long way toward diminishing those. Before, he was having major seizures or similar neurological episodes three, four times a month. Post-neutering, that's down to way fewer than once a month. Usually no more than one every two months.

But Christmas was bad. Really bad. Over the course of three days, he had three major episodes, one of the accompanied by severe convulsions. Those that weren't involved severe disorientation, immobility, hallucinations  and -- here's the kicker -- severe aggressiveness. Directed at absolutely nothing or no one.

In other words, he would lie on the ground, look around at shit that didn't exist, and snarl a deep, resonant, painful snarl that resembles absolutely nothing that otherwise comes from the boy. To make matters worse, the worst episode occurred when we had house guests. One moment, he was Bruno, jumping around, playing, snuggling with the company, as happy as he could be. The next, he was lying in my brother-in-law's fiance's lap snarling ferociously at... nothing. I managed to get him off her lap and onto the floor, where he just lay growling for the next hour, with one five-minute break during which he completely lost all control over his body.

The cause, it seemed, was just too much freaking excitement, just like it usually is. Either a nightmare, or bad weather, or something similar. Explicable causes did little to ease the minds of our guests, though, and of course the questions started rolling: "Can you treat this? Are you going to treat this? This isn't like Bruno at all!"

And therein lies all the conflicted thinking and lack of word-making. In the parlance of our times, I'm fucked for what to do, except love him and fret over the fact that I'm fucked for what to do.

Reasons that I can translate from my non-word-thinking to some semblance of words:

  • It's a sporadic issue. His doc and I agreed that if it were more frequent than once a month, we would start to seriously discuss medication. Reason being, the anti-convulsive medications are considered effective if they limit seizures to once a month. So there's that. We could put him on meds, and his current once-every-two-month occurrences would still be considered within the norm. (He's had one episode since Christmas -- just this weekend -- which involved a bit of growling and some shaking, but passed pretty quickly.)
  • On the other hand, Bruno weighs 75 pounds, 90 pounds of which are his head, and 100 pounds of which are jaw muscles. You know the regular red Kong toy? He literally puréed one in under ten minutes. Granted, by his nature, Bruno is the gentlest, kindest, snuggliest, most submissive boy in the world, and wouldn't dream of turning those bear-trap jaws on a two-legged person. But during these episodes he's not Bruno. That's the only way I know how to put it. Bruno goes away, and I'm not sure what happens when he comes back -- whether he remembers what happened during the episode, or whether he's just picking up on the tension in the room -- but as soon as he regains his sense of reality and stops with the snarling, he instantly starts cuddling and nuzzling and trying to make things right. It's like a switch flips, although it takes a few minutes to flip. The point I'm making here is, this isn't a behavioral problem. This isn't his fault. But the reality is, he could potentially do some damage during one of these episodes. Now, granted, if he did bite, the bitten someone would likely be me, since they usually happen when he's sleepy, and he uses me for a pillion, and the bite likely wouldn't be that bad, because he has the motor skills of a drunken baby giraffe when he's like this, but still -- what if, by some struck of bad luck, something did happen to someone else, and the question arose: are you treating him for this condition?
  • The thing is, if I do put him on meds, in all likelihood it will change his personality permanently. And 99.9% of the time, Bruno's personality is the last thing in the world you would want to change. He's so sweet. He's so gentle. He's such a good, kind-hearted, well-behaved boy, with such a passion for life that it's entirely infectious. He lights up any room he's in. He refuses to let anyone be unhappy in his presence. He's everything that's good and right and worth loving in this world, all wrapped up in a big, goofy, clumsy package. I do not want to change that. At all.

So I just don't know what to do. I mean, there are exactly two options here: medicate him, or don't medicate him. Granted, he's been through obedience school (passed with flying colors!) and we're talking about trying to work with a behavioralist on his issues revolving around canine aggression. There's hope there.

But this thing -- this isn't a behavioral issue. It's not an obedience issue. It's a neurological issue. If it were occurring more than once a month, the decision would be easier. If they caused him longterm distress, the decision would be easier. But we're right on that cusp of indecision. His doc refuses to make the call. I can't make the call. I feel like I'm facing Sophie's Choice here. I have to choose between one thing and the other, and both seem equally bad.

I honestly hate to even talk about this, because, of course, there's the whole ridiculous perception of pit bulls "turning," and I don't want to lend any fuel to that fire. There's a medical problem, which is doc thinks (due to some of his physical reactions) may be related to an upper-spinal or neck injury from his fighting days. Or it may be genetics. Who really knows? I just hate that such a sweet, loving boy is at the center of this whole brouhaha.

I'm so glad, though, that he's with me, and not another family, who might consider a more drastic choice.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Bruno by Any Other Name...

I tend to take Bruno to the puppy store at least twice a week, because every time we go, he becomes a little more accustomed to all the smells, and every time we see another puppy in public and it doesn't result in a fight, that's a good, positive thing. We've made huge progress in just a few months, and just this week I actually got him to sit, with a big German Shepherd only four feet away from him.

That's huge. HYOOGE, I tell you.

Twice weekly trips to the puppy store mean we don't generally come home with much from each trip. A new chew rope here. A bag of goodies there. Today, we went for a frisbee, because Bruno's such an amazing jumper, I figure some frisbee training would put that to good, productive, healthy use.

People, of course, are just drawn to the child like a magnet. So it's good that he likes people. But whereas parents used to just let their spawn dogpile on Max Bear without a moment's hesitation, they see Bruno's ginormous mouth and ask first, which I appreciate.

"Will he bite?"

"Not if you only have two legs," I say.

And as their children are wallowing all over him (and he's adoring every moment of it), the parents always ask: "What is he?"

And since I got his DNA test back, I always give the same answer: "He's an American Staffordshire Terrier!"

The responses are usually the same: "Hmm... never heard of one of them. He looks like a Boxer or a pit bull, though."

I never say much, if anything, to that.

We were standing by the aviary today, though -- Bruno with his hands up on the glass so he could keep an eye on the little dinosaurs -- and this itsy bitsy little girl comes up and asks, "What's his name?" I tell her, she looks at him, and says, "Bruno, can I pet you?" And this is the first time I've seen him take his eyes off the birds without being dragged away, but he turns, buries his massive cranium in her chest, and nuzzles her, as if to say, "I thought you'd never ask." She's wrapped around him, loving on him, and he's loving on her, and she says to him, "Bruno, you look a lot like my Brutus, but he died." Then she turns to me and asks, "What is he?"

And, of course, I say, "He's an American Staffordshire Terrier."

She scrunches her face and says, "Brutus was a pit bull. I don't know what a 'Merican Haffershur Terrier is."

And I leaned down and whispered in her ear, "It's basically the same thing. American Staffordshire Terrier is just a fancy way of saying pit bull."

And right there, in the middle of the store, this miniature person -- she seriously couldn't be more than six -- frowns up at me and says, "Mister, you should just tell people he's a pit bull when they ask. People don't know what 'Merican Haffershur Terriers are, but they do know what pit bulls are, and they think they're 'posed to eat people. You could show 'em that's dumb by letting them pet Bruno and show 'em that he doesn't eat people and maybe then they'll like pit bulls."


Seriously, when the hell did kids get so damned smart?

You know what, though? I minded her. On the way out, Bruno saw a group of kids he just couldn't resist, and while they were loving all over him, the dad asked -- as all dads do -- "What is he?"

"A pit bull," I said. "He's a pit bull."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Envelope, Please!

The results of Bruno's Wisdom Panel's Insights Mixed Breed DNA Test are in!

My bestie has been giving me shit about this for weeks. "Why do you care? If you adopted a little black baby, wouldn't you love her just as much as if she were white?" And of course I would. But, I replied, "If I were blind, I would want someone to tell me my baby was black so I would know what to do with her hair!" I just wanted to know what Bruno's breed makeup was so I could make better decisions about his long term health care, and so...

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm just insanely curious. And now I know!

Okay, first off, a little caveat about the results. I picked Wisdom Panel because it seems to me to be the most scientifically sound of the bunch. I really like the fact that they don't over-promise in the certainty department, because this sort of DNA testing is 1) in its infancy and 2) not like the sort of DNA test you would do to prove paternity. Yes, PCR is involved. Yes, they're looking at specific markers. But they're comparing those markers to bloodlines of AKC-registered pooches, and all of that can get a little messy, and, well... lemme just snip a snippet from a chat between me and Abbie, 'cause she says smart things:

Ive been curious about these tests myself, but the only entire dog genome sequenced is a boxer (I believe). There might be a few genetic quirks associated with certain breeds they look for, but just because you dont have that quirk doesnt mean you dont have that breed in the mix, and closely related breeds might all have that same quirk, and then just by chance, you might be that breed and have lost the quirk... For this to really work you would have to have entire genomes sequenced from numerous animals of all the breeds youre testing for.
So, if the results had been a little screwy, I wouldn't have been shocked. But then again, it was only sixty bucks. I've spent that much on a robots that turn into toy trucks before. Anyway, with no further ado, here's what Wisdom Panel says Bruno is (and this is purely based on the DNA sample; no photos or descriptions):

Their picture of the American Staffordshire Terrier even has Bruno's markings, which I think are what lead most people to believe he's a Boxer mix. So, no Bullmastiff, no Boxer... Bruno is all AmStaff! Yay! I finally know what to tell people now!

But wait, there's more... Wisdom Panel Insights is a Mixed Breed Identification test, so it's geared toward looking for mixed breeds, and assumes you're sending them the DNA of a mutt. The report also included this:

Dachsund. LOL! Note the minuscule percentages, though. I'm chalking all of that up to either 1) the stuff Abbie said above, 2) the fact that American Staffordshire Terriers are a relatively new "pure breed," made from a mix of terriers and bulldogs, or 3) possibly a DNA contamination (from the doctor's office in which I took the tissue sample) being amplified by the PCR.

Whatever the reason, the results aren't significant enough to worry about. My baby is an American Staffordshire Terrier!

Or, I could have just saved sixty bucks and used this picture as evidence:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

If you asked Bruno what his favorite thing is, I think he would tell you it's that Daddy is home all day, every day. As I slave away at my keyboard from morn' to night, he generally lies on my feet, only making a peep when the delivery man comes 'round or it's time for our post-coffee, pre-sweltering-heat-of-the-day jog.

So the first time I took a business trip last month, it was hard on both of us. Especially hard for me, because I had just recently discovered that Bruno suffers from seizures.


It's downright terrifying to sit there helpless, watching your baby convulse, knowing there's nothing you can do. It's an even worse feeling leaving home alone all day, not knowing if he's going to have a seizure when no one is around.

His doc thought that going ahead and getting him snip-snipped might help a little, since hormones can be a potential seizure trigger, but I researched that, and it seems that estrogen is far more likely a trigger than testosterone (which this child has in spades!), but he needed to be neutered anyway, because it's the responsible thing to do.

It also gave me the opportunity to take a tissue sample for his DNA test! I've been trying for weeks, but every time he sees the swab, he freaks out and hides. And I'm pretty sure he would have let me scrape the inside of his cheek if I pressed the issue hard enough, but it wasn't worth putting him through the anxiety.

So his doc let me stay in the operating room with him this week until he was anesthetized so I could scrape his cheeks and get the samples in the mail. Which, on the one hand, yay! But on the other hand, there's a reason doctors are always kicking family members out of hospital rooms in TV. It turns out, Bruno is prone to anesthetic apnea, which is all well and fine when you're reading about on the internets, but another thing altogether when you see it happening to your baby! The Christian concept of Hell has nothing on the next hour of my life. Srsly. But Bruno came through just fine, and his doc was nice enough to let him recover in an examining room instead of a kennel, because Bruno tends to go a little Grrr SMASH when he's caged.

Hopefully the DNA results are worth all the effort. Actually, to be honest, I don't really care what the results are; I just want something on paper that I can point at when people argue about what he is. Because everyone has an opinion, and they're all different. "Oh, he's definitely got some Boxer in him, but I don't see the Bullmastiff!" "Oh, look at that beautiful Staffy mix! No, I don't see any Boxer in him at all!" "Oh, if you ask me, he's Bullmastiff and Boxer, no doubt about it! Pit, though? Nah!"

I'm typing this while taking a break from packing for another trip. Bruno doesn't get his stitches out until the day after I get back, which is another source of stress. But hey, I get to go to Disneyland for the first time! Yay!

Who am I kidding? I'd rather be home snuggling with my little smooshy-bouche.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bruno, Before, During, and After an Ear Cleaning: A Play in One Act


[Simple stage, a blue bathtub, lit by one spotlight. As the play opens, BRUNO, an adolescent, is in the tub. As the curtain rises, he notices THE BOTTLE]

BRUNO: Daddy! Noooo! Nooooo! Not the bottle! NOT THE BOTTLE! I know where that goes. I know this is going to be horrible. Nothing good could possibly come of this.

DADDY: But baby, your ear is ooky. This will make you feel better.

BRUNO: NOOOO! Don't stick it in my ear! You're sticking it in my ear! THE HORROR! HALP! Someone call the poh-lice! My rights are being violated! Call Child Protective services! I'm being abused! This is the awfulest thing anyone has ever done to anybody in the history of ever! This is against the Geneva Conventio...

Oh... oooohhhhhh. Oh, daddy, that feels much better, thank you. Kisses!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Little Bullies, Big Babies, and the Story of How I'm Not Dead Yet

Those of you who spent much time on the previous incarnation of Dust in a Sunbeam might remember Robin. She was Max Bear's girlfriend, the sweetest  little Red Devil (aka Red Nose Pit Bull Terrier) in the world. Unfortunately, Robin no longer lives next door (she moved to Memphis to be with her grandma), but four of her seven puppies remained. It turns out, the Baby Daddy was Zeke, the evil pit who lives behind us and who has attacked Bruno twice now. He's a fence jumper.

The puppies are, I hate to say it, ferocious, a fact that my neighbor attributes to their raping daddy, but which I attribute to the fact that 1) no one every spends any time with them and B) the runt of the litter remained with them, and the other three have gotten a taste for blood in their constant attacks on the little guy. It's been an ongoing source of conflict with the neighbors, who just throw up their hands and say, "We don't know how to control them!" And it's been a constant source of stress for Bruno, who goes into howling, screaming, distressed running fits every time they fight.

This week, the conflict came to an ultimate head. Bruno and I set out for our morning walk, and about a half-block away from the house, two of the puppies (they're about six months old now) came running out of nowhere and viciously attacked Bruno like a couple of little velocipuppies. One grabbed his ear and nearly bit a hole straight through it. The other attacked his, umm... *points down* sensitive bits. And Bruno wouldn't fight back. He tried his best to get away, but given that they're puppies, he wouldn't actually bite back. (His selective aggression with other canines confuses me, but that's another blog post altogether).

The one who was chomping on his, umm... *points down* business, I kicked as firmly as I could without doing any damage. He flew about four feet, and his feet were already scampering before he hit the ground for his return attack. What finally broke it up was a crazy neighbor running up next to us and FIRING A GORRAM PISTOL into the air. The puppies scattered. Bruno literally shit on the sidewalk. And as soon as I could speak again I told her where the puppies live so she could go get someone to wrangle them back home. She also called Animal Control.

I try to keep peaceful relations with my neighbors, since I'm the only white guy on the block (my only other white neighbhor is the Dwarf across the street -- Little Fat Kid That Max Hated's mom -- and everyone is kinda scared of me (they call me Renegade. Seriously, how long has it been since that show went off the air?). But when your kid attacks my kid's junk, I'm gonna raise some hell, so hell was raised, and it was decided that two of the puppies would go to a new home (the home of someone who actually wants them, and promises to raise them right), and two went to the Humane Society (again, the good one, the real one, not the evil goatfuckers at the Humane Society of the United States). I hope they'll get the upbringing they need there. It's a no-kill shelter with a great education program, so there's hope. And I hope they find a good home. But I'm so glad they're gone. And so is Bruno.

What's most messed up about the whole situation is that when I explained how viciously they attacked Bruno, all I got was eye-rolling. From my neighbors. From the police detective who came to my house to get my statement. Everyone looked at the puppies, looked at all seventy pounds of gargantuan-headed, monstrously jawed Bruno, and you could tell it was all they could do not to laugh. That pisses me off. But what can you do?

In other Bruno news, I completely forgot to tell you guys that he saved my life! No, I don't mean metaphorically. I mean he actually and truly saved me from literally dying to death.

As I said in my last update, I've been doing a very lot of yard work since Bruno came into my life. And for me, doing yard work is always preceded by taking copious amounts of allergy medication, since I'm allergic to the Earth and pretty much everything contained upon it. A couple of Saturdays ago, though, I forgot, and was chopping down some bamboo shoots when alovasudden I stopped breathing.

I was already winded from swinging an ax, so the sudden loss of oxygen intake hit me quickly. I crumpled, and as my vision faded to black -- in what was almost certainly seconds, but felt like hours -- I saw Bruno recognize that Something Was Wrong. He came and nudged me playfully, I guess testing to see if I was joking around, and when he decided I wasn't, his eyes bugged out, kinda like this ------> but with a look of dismay, not joy.

The last thing I saw before I lost consciousness completely was him running into the house to get alert the missus, and the last thing I heard was a weird mix of barking and downright human-sounding screaming.

Needless to say, I didn't all-the-way die.Sweet baby didn't leave my side for the rest of the day, though. He rested his gigantic cranium on my lap, and wouldn't hardly take his eyes off of mine, and when we finally crawled into bed that night, it took forever to get to sleep because he kept checking on me to make sure I was breathing. I hate the word "blessing" so much, but without resorting to spooky kumbaya words, I'm at a loss for what else to call him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A for Effort, B for Bathtime

Bruno is probably the most enthusiastic mimic I have ever met. He also wants to help, no matter what you're doing, and no matter that his lack of opposable digitus primi is an issue.

Take plumbing, for example. I've been gutting and reworking the plumbing in the front bathroom, replacing not only the faucet, but all of the guts, too. And suffice it to say, the architects didn't have Wookiees in mind when they designed my bathroom cabinets. So the work involved a lot of uncomfortable folding and bending and swearing and grunting. And in the midst of the foldiest, bendiest, swearingest, gruntingest stretch of work last week, all of this sudden I had this ginormous noggin in the cabinet with me.

I shooed him out with a giggle, only to have said pumpkin noggin pop right back in. So I figured, what the hey, it's not as if I could get any more claustrophobic. He watched for a minute, saw me banging and hammering and twisting on a pipe, and in defiance of all known laws of matter, managed to squeeze one of his gigantic paws into a tiny space that already included the top one-quarter of a Wookiee and a head the size of Sputnik, and started poking and prodding at the pipe along with me.


Maybe not so adorable? (Okay, just as adorable, but a little more time consuming...) I've been doing a lot of work on the yard here lately, mostly planting new grass seed in a couple of big bald spots that died in a drought the summer that Max died, and which I've never really had any reason to do anything about.

I've also been working on slowly clearing out the hedgerow at the back and sides of the yard -- which mostly consists of bamboo -- since we're planning to put up a privacy fence soon. The loss of all that wilderness, though, is particularly distressing to Bruno, who's a shy pooper, and who now has almost nowhere to hide and do his business. Poor guy gets clogged up if anyone catches him in the act, including the neighborhood puppies. I think I might have to add a canine outhouse to my list of outdoor projects.

Anyway, back to the grass -- the planting of which has required a good bit of watering, which has in turn turned half of my backyard into a muddy mess. I was working on raking it the other day, and assumed that Bruno was distracted by his ball, as he usually is when we're outside. I stopped raking for a second, though, and couldn't help but notice that the SOUND of the raking didn't stop when the actual raking did. I turned around, and Bruno was dragging his paws through the wet dirt, making beautiful little raking trails that quite frankly shamed mine.

And so began what has now come to be known as the Week of Baths. I've had to bathe the child every day for the past seven days. Twice today, because a flash flood turned the entire hard into a mud pit.

Thankfully, not all of his helpful efforts end up in such messes. As I was chopping and sawing and carting bamboo to the curb on Sunday, the missus lent a hand for a few minutes. Apparently Bruno thought she would have no clue where the limbs were to be dragged to, though, so as she picked up her first handful, he herded her to the exact same spot in the fence where I had been throwing it over. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

I've also never lived with a herding puppy before, so that's pretty new and fascinating for me.

Still trying to figure out exactly what this boy is, though. Not that it matters, but I've always either lived with AKC registered purebreds, or known the exact mix of breeds involved in my four-legged family members. I think there was some guessing on the part of the people I adopted Bruno from, although I can definitely see the bullmastiff and boxer and, now that I've spent more time with him, the staffie, but some part of me is just unsure. And I hate sounding so unsure when people ask me what mix he is. I feel like a bad dad. So I'm going to get one of those puppy DNA kits soon, just for giggles. It may end up being a huge waste of money, but both my genius virologist friend Abbie and Bruno's doctor said pretty much the exact same thing about it: "Even if it's hooey, I've spent sixty bucks on dumber things than that." So I'm ordering the kit soon! Even if it's not entirely accurate, at least I'll have papers to point to. I'll keep you guys posted.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Big Baby Steps

Yesterday was a pretty big day for me.

Since I adopted Bruno, I haven't taken him for a walk. Partly because he had a hurt foot, but I have to admit, the biggest reason is this: all the times I've walked him before were to take him back to his old home. I would walk him down occasionally, rather than driving, so that if he did break out and none of the neighbors were home so he could call for a pickup, he would at least know how to get back to my house on foot.

So, yeah, I've been hesitant to take him for a walk, because my regular walking path takes me right by his old house. And yes, I've joked before about changing my walking path, but let's face it: this is me we're talking about here. I may as well try to sit in a different chair in the den. Hell, I've been walking or jogging by Max's favorite old bush nearly every day for nearly two years now, breaking my heart every time, because... well, that's my walking path. It's where I walk.

The boy needed a good jog, though, so yesterday morning we set out. And the closer we got to his old house, the more anxious I became. How would he react? Would he make a beeline for the front door? Would he assume he was going back to his old home?

I never would have predicted his actual reaction. He was fine the whole way there -- happy, energetic, playful, frolicky -- but as we passed that house, he put his head down, deliberately refused to look at it, and pulled me by with the intensity of an overpowered freight train until we were safely past.

Which puzzled me, really. He wasn't abused there. In fact, when people were home -- admittedly not a lot, but still -- he was doted on and loved almost as much as I dote on him and love him.

When we got to the next intersection, the weirdest thing happened. He stopped (inconceivable for this child when he's on a walk!), turned around, grabbed my hand, and pulled me down to his level for a great big head snuggled. And I'm still figuring out his vocabulary, but I think he was saying to me, "Things weren't bad there, but I don't want to go back. I choose you. You're my person now."

Whether that's what he was saying or not, I grinned like a crazy person for the rest of yesterday. I also got home, pulled out my phone, and changed the contacts for his old people. They used to be filed under "Bruno's Uncle" and "Bruno's Dad." Now they're proper people names. Because he's my family now. For reals. For sure. For good.

PS: We took another jog this morning, and you know what? We went a different way.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I'm Awake

I mean that metaphorically.

The only way I know to convey how I feel -- how I've felt for the past one year, nine months, and thirteen days -- is to speak in metaphors. So you'll have to bear with me.

I poured so much of my heart into Max Bear that, when he died, I buried that piece of my heart with him. And it left this huge, raw, gaping hole. A hole I've never thought about filling. It felt futile to try. It felt wrong to try. The idea of ever adopting again seemed utterly inconceivable. Impossible. Not even worth imagining.

Which doesn't mean that I could never love another canine. I've done plenty of work with the Humane Society in the intervening time. I've gladly babysat on several occasions, for long periods of time. I adore my nephew Willoughby beyond the telling of it. My life is full of puppies whom I adore. The idea of being a dad, though? It wasn't even a possibility.

Nearly a month ago, I was driving home from my best friend's house, and I decided to take the long way into the neighborhood to get the most out of the cigarette dangling from my lip. And as I turned the corner onto my street, I nearly ran over this gorgeous -- but emaciated -- bullmastiff/boxer mix (come to find out, much later, he's got some staffie in him, too). I stopped so close to him that I couldn't see him anymore over the hood. I thought I might have hit him. So I leapt out of the car, and he ran past me, hopped into the open door, settled into the passenger seat, and looked at me as if to say, "Let's go!"

I rode around a bit, asking people walking by if they knew him, and eventually honed in on the corner where a few people thought he lived. One house was empty. One neighbor basically told me to sod off. The other two, though, were pretty sure he lived in the empty house, but hadn't seen a human there in weeks.

So I gave the two nice neighbors my phone number, asked them to call if anyone showed up, and he came home with me. The next day, I spent most of the day trying to figure out what to do with him. I called the Humane Society (the good one, the real one, not the evil douche-face charlatans at the Humane Society of the United States). They said he would be isolated for five days to give someone a chance to claim him before they started evaluating him for adoption. They asked if I would mind fostering him for five days, to keep from putting him through that. And, of course, I agreed to that. I didn't mind this sweet face sticking around for five days until we could find him a good home. Who would?

Late that night, though, I spotted a sign for him, called the number on the sign, and discovered that his name is Bruno. He had been rescued in Indiana from a situation where he was fought and kept in a tiny cage. Not long after that he moved here, and the guy who rescued him was soon thereafter sent to survival training. So while the kids went to live with the guy's brother -- with whom I was speaking -- Bruno remained at his new house, and the brother visited twice a day to feed him and check on him.

That wasn't enough for Bruno, though. He longed for more constant human contact. So he kept breaking out. He'd been in the pound twice already, but didn't learn a thing from his time in the joint.

After hearing a little more of his story, I told the guy I would bring Bruno right over, and loaded him up to get him home. And I don't know what got into me, but I lit into the guy pretty hard when I saw him face-to-face -- all but accused him of neglecting Bruno, demanded to know why he was so skinny. I got pretty grr. I shocked even myself. The guy took it well, though. He explained that Bruno had been battling a bad infection from his previous life, and was on some hardcore antibiotics. His appetite was thoroughly shot. I accepted that and calmed down.

And then a weird thing happened: when all the dust settled and it was time for me to leave, Bruno turned and kissed, like, my entire face. And I started bawling. Out of freaking nowhere. It hurt so much to tell him goodbye. It hurt worse than I could have imagined it would. Which is weird, because I didn't realize that, in the day he spent with me, I had started to fall hard for him. And I'm usually very in touch with my feelings. Annoyingly so. I don't think I have a subconscious.

Anyway, as it turns out, that wasn't goodbye; Bruno's breakouts continued after I got him back to his house.

I got a call the next afternoon: "Hey, is this the guy who was asking about that dog yesterday? I thought you took him home. He's in my yard." So I went to pick him up, and returned him back home that night. And the next day, another call, from another neighbor. He quickly figured out that all he had to do was knock on a neighboring door, and I would be there within minutes. He would sit at the curb and wait for me -- his own personal taxi service. It happened several times that week, and when it happened the next Friday, the brother asked me if I would just keep Bruno overnight, since he had plans. I gladly did. The night turned into the weekend, and Bruno didn't go home until Sunday. Then Sunday night, though, he called for another pickup.

It was decided the next day that Bruno would just stay with me until his person's training was over and he was back home, which ended up being the next Friday. And in that week, the love I felt for this boy only grew. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt alive. He did something mischievous, and I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. The missus looked at me and said, "I can't believe you're laughing." Has it really been that long since I had?

And maybe it felt okay to open my heart up to Bruno so freely because he's just so completely and utterly different from Max. He wasn't filling the hole that Max left. But he was finding a new place in my heart, and in the process, at least healing the horrible scars around that old ragged hole.

After he went home, I went over later that night just to get a sense of his home situation, make sure he was okay, and introduce myself to his person. He explained that he was being deployed to Afghanistan, and asked me if I would adopt Bruno. And I was through the roof! "YES!" I said, with tears in my eyes.

He said he hadn't seen Bruno in weeks, and wanted one night with him to snuggle and let him know he loved him. "Pick him up at oh-eight-thirty tomorrow he said." And I was so excited I didn't sleep a wink that night.

Then the phone rang at seven the next morning, and when the first words I heard were, "I'm sorry," I knew the news was bad. The guy had talked to his dad, told him he'd found a good home for Bruno, and his dad pitched a fit. He had assumed Bruno would be moving to Indiana. He had been working on the fence, and preparing a place for him. The guy said to me, "I can't dishonor my father's wishes. I just hate that I got your hopes up."

He hadn't just gotten my hopes up. He had crushed them. I spiraled into a nasty depression. A really nasty, bitter, mean depression. Friends were worried about me, and rightly so. But I had thirty days left to see Bruno before he moved, and the guy told me I could come by any time to visit. I don't think he believed I would, but I did. Nearly every day.

Then, last Wednesday, he texted me and told me he had to go to Georgia for the day. Would I keep Bruno while he was gone? Of course I would! Some friends didn't think it was the best idea. One said I was torturing myself. But I had to spend one last day with him if I could.

Day turned to night. No call. The next day, I got a text: "I talked to my dad and he said if Bruno is going to a good home then it would be alright."

There was more said than that, I assure you. But as of last Thursday, and as of that text, I'm a daddy again.

I wish each and every one of you could meet him. Like I said, he couldn't be more different from Max Bear. And I don't mean that in a good way or a bad way. But I do think it's what makes it all okay. Max Bear was so freaking brilliant. He was a tinkerer. He built his own back scratcher out of bamboo, for goodness' sake. He was independent and not incredibly physically affectionate, although he never, ever failed to show love, usually by pressing the bridge of his snout against your forehead, since hugs were often too much for him. (Come to think of it, Max Bear was a lot like an Aspie!)

Bruno, on the other hand, is a wallow butt. He's... well, special. He's also pretty sure he's a Pomeranian, I think, and if he's not sitting in my lap, he's resting his ginormous head on it. (Right now, he weighs about sixty pounds -- up from I'd guess around 45 when I first met him -- but he's still way too skinny. His doctor thinks he'll probably weigh around eighty when he's done gaining weight. So not too too big, but still quite a lapful.)

He has sooo much personality, and his own weird quirks. I remember being puzzled when asking how he behaved when having his nails trimmed, only to be told that they had never been trimmed. His nails are immaculate, though! Turns out, he chews them himself. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen. He'll  chomp chomp chomp , hold a paw up, inspect it, and when one nail is to his liking, he'll chomp chomp chomp on the next.

He's incredibly playful, but also very quiet. He doesn't bark when the doorbell rings, although he always goes to inspect. The only time he really barks is when he sees my dope-dealing Pentecostal preacher neighbor, whom he hates for some reason. And when he does bark, it sounds like a cross between Sauron, Michael Clarke Duncan, and a Hound of Hell.

Max Bear was always so peculiar about how he laid down, sometimes taking up to half a minute to do so, twirling and patting and preparing and positioning. With Bruno, it's like his paws are four impatient school students waiting for the bell to ring. The instant he gets the notion to plop, his feet abandon the earth, and he lands with an earth-shattering kaboom. In some ways he seems so... well, dumb. And yet, in other ways he's so very trainable. I taught him to use the doggy door in about two minutes. "Shoes are not for chewing!" took a little longer, but only a day or so. If there's one common thread, it's that discipline is tough, since both Max and Bruno came from abusive situations (Bruno indirectly, but still, he's had a rough past. His face is covered in scars). If I raise my voice too much, he cowers, and it just breaks my heart.

But whereas Max's coming into my life was an act of abduction, really, Bruno's coming into my life was an act of kindness by someone who saw that we loved one another, and realized that he would have a good life with me.

I rescued Max, and he never forgot that. Never. Every day of his tragically short life, he remembered that I took him from a horrible situation.

Bruno... well, he rescued me. And I don't think he'll ever realize it.