The Poodle Professor – Part II

Who could possibly be more qualified to watch an 18 year old dog for a few weeks than I? It turned out to be much more of a challenge than I’d anticipated. Did I mention that none of my dogs happened to be poodles? Just what’s it like caring for a miniature poodle? Think the canine equivalent to a surly alcoholic on steroids.

            How can I put this one delicately? Paris’ digestive functions were very regular. So much so that I often joked that I should start eating her dog food. I would ask readers not to take that point seriously. Please do not start sending me cases and cases of dog food.

            One day I came home for lunch and decided to take Paris outside. Unfortunately, on this occasion her “regularity” was a little off. A situation developed where I had to clean her. It made me sad to see such an elegant looking dog who carried herself with such class in a “dirty” state. I did my duty, no pun intended. Following this, Paris took an immense dislike to me. I can’t say I blame her. If someone speaking a language I couldn’t understand took a wet paper towel and started probing my nether regions, I wouldn’t be signing up for that person’s fan club either; nor they for mine for that matter.

            Paris suddenly morphed into a very different dog. She became a recluse in her own bed. She wouldn’t leave it on her own. When she needed to go out she’d sit up. I’d carry her to the yard. She used to prowl the back as though she were discovering a new world for the first time every occasion she ventured out there. Not any more. She would do her business and sit down. I’d take her inside and place her in front of her bowl. She’d sniff for a second and then wheel around racing out of the kitchen to the living room and into her bed. I didn’t know what to make of this. I don’t recall every hearing about a dog who passed up the opportunity for “num-a-nums”, as my step mom called them. Paris did.

            This went on for the next day. I’d take her out, put her in front of her bowl, and she’d bolt back to her bed. Why wouldn’t she eat or drink anything?

 And then there was the night crying. She had a beautiful plush bed in the living room. I slept on the couch next to it, just so she wouldn’t get frightened…more than usual. It didn’t help. Paris suffered from separation anxiety. She’d get up and start crying whenever my step mother wasn’t around.  Every night she’d whimper. Sometimes she’d go on for hours. One thing I really don’t like to hear is a female crying while in my presence during the middle of the night; be that female human or dog. It just gnaws away at my self-esteem. I tried to settle Paris down as best I could. I attempted to sing to her with the hope that she’d at least be happy when I stopped. No success. I realized she would eventually calm down and fall asleep right around the time I needed to get up and go to work. Before readers go back a few paragraphs to see if (s)he missed something: this is a story about an 18 year old dog; not an infant child.

            When Paris wouldn’t eat or drink anything from her bowl, I worried about her health. In human years she would’ve been 90. Lack of nutrients would certainly take their toll, but not before the dehydration. I tried putting her by her bowls in the kitchen repeatedly, but she’d just scamper back to her bed. I didn’t understand what was going on. Did Paris’ Gallic temperament inspire her to go on a hunger strike to protest my care?

            Paris and her human family lived in Slidell, Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit. She survived one of the most devastating natural disasters in our nation’s history. I started to wonder if I’d be able to survive two weeks with her.  

             Before resorting to renting an IV pump, I recalled that Paris liked the cereal I ate. While she lay in her bed I took a handful of it and put it under her nose. She gobbled it! Success! I brought over some more. She munched that also! I felt so happy she dined on something. I then thought I figured out the problem. I brought her water bowl over to her bed and put it in front of her face. After a little coaxing she drank! I then brought over her bowl and spoon fed her. She ate rapaciously.

            On the day before my dad and step mom were due home, I sat on the couch exhausted. I think I’d gotten about five hours sleep over the previous week. I gazed at Paris soundly slumbering in her bed. Since this was mid-afternoon she dozed quietly. Her crying didn’t start until I got ready for bed. I didn’t get it. She would rather die of starvation than leave her bed. I spent hours trying to comfort her and make her feel okay and she didn’t seem to care. I couldn’t believe how ridiculous she behaved.

            In spite of my physical and emotional exhaustion, I had a moment of clarity. I realized the way I lived my life wasn’t much different from how Paris did. How many times in my own life had I not taken risks in favor of staying in my comfort zone? How often had I decided to forgo having fun in favor of watching television and falling asleep on the couch? I would add: this was the same couch I sat in at the time. And the point that really got to me: I could understand how my mother must’ve felt whenever she tried to help me and I took it for granted. I became irritated by a dog’s behavior. I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience one’s child behaving that way. She’d passed away two years before. I’ll never have the opportunity to tell her that I finally understand why she’d get upset with me in my younger days.

            To this day, my experience poodle sitting was one of the most educational of my life. I’m a better person today for having it. They say that the elderly have a lot of wisdom to impart. I suppose the same goes for older dogs. I think she did prove my opening quotation a bit wrong, though. She wasn’t my enemy, she was my teacher, but I’d have to say I did consider her a friend, albeit the four legged variety.

            I figured when my step mom and Dad got home, Paris would return to her usual self. None of us realized at the time that she was terminally ill. She passed away on June 9, 2012 following a long and happy life.

            My step mother has a magnet on her refrigerator. It’s a picture of Paris soaking wet and sitting on a body board. “She loved the water,” my step mom said. Whenever I see it I think about how brave a dog would have to be in order to jump in the water and then sit on a surf board. I learned that in addition to teaching me a few things about leaving my comfort zone, it turned out Paris wasn’t afraid to lead by example, either.    


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