The Expensive Labor of Ensuring My Dog Outlives Me

Miss Truvy Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis is a bad dog, and I'll pay whatever it costs to keep her alive forever

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The Expensive Labor of Ensuring My Dog Outlives Me
Photo:Emily Alford

On Wednesday, I told the guy dropping me off that he couldn’t come in my house to pee, a request I think was probably just an excuse to come into my house to fuck, which would have probably been fine by me. Except for the matter of Miss Truvy Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis.

Her vomit towel was still balled up in a corner of my porch from the day before, when she’d managed to locate three squares of chocolate from a two-year-old edible in an old purse on the floor of my closet and eat them in the one minute it took me to check the mail. So I’d forced her to drink a tablespoon full of hydrogen peroxide to vomit the weed candy before it killed her. The vomit towel is not to be confused with the pee towels lining the couch where she likes to relax. She has recently begun dribbling in her sleep, necessitating the towels until we could make it to our early morning doctor’s appointment so that I might pay yet another $500 for the blood tests that would determine that she has the same urinary tract infection she always gets, a test her $80 a month health insurance does not cover because they claim the urinary tract is too close to her kidneys, organs that have themselves never performed spectacularly, thus making them a pre-existing condition that her insurance is not responsible for.

The stewardship of my 12-year-old cocker spaniel also requires me to take into account that she breaks out into bloody sores if she eats chicken or grain, requiring freeze-dried grainless, poultry free kibble made of salmon and peas, which makes her breath smell like a bag full of day-old Captain D’s left in a hot sewer and costs about the same as lunch in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Except now there are too many phosphates in her kidneys or something, our good friend Dr. Hannigan tells me, and so we will need to meet with a nutritionist on Monday to discuss a chickenless, grainless, pro-kidney diet. At night, Truvy Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis requires a $70 drop in her left eye, but not the right eye, that is the eye that once required a $1,500 amputation of an inflamed third eyelid. Her ears are bad. Her teeth could be better. Under doctor’s orders, she is not to climb stairs, following a tennis ball injury four years ago, and thus, we live on the first floor. She now requires a nightly pill to stanch the urine leakage in addition to another supplement to promote kidney health, as Dr. Hannigan informed me dialysis and kidney transplants are not really options.

So I diapered Miss Truvy Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis on Wednesday night, like always, and we went to bed alone.

“Of course I won’t get out of here until she dies or I die,” Little Edie Bouvier Beale, in the documentary Grey Gardens, says despondently of her mother, Big Edie Ewing Bouvier, two of my dog’s namesakes, as she contemplates another decade or so of voluntary entrapment caring for a creature indifferent to the sacrifices necessary for that care.

“Who is she?” Big Edie asks.

“I don’t know when I’m gonna get out of here.”

“Why do you want to get out? Any place would be much worse.”

When I had my mastectomy five years ago and was confined to a couch for an entire summer, my little or big Bouvier, depending on how one looks at our situation, would bring her toys to me one by one, arranging them in a neat row beside me on my convalescent sofa. When I was healed enough, she watched roughly 5,073 hours of Miss Marple on that same sofa, her little snout resting on the space where my left breast used to be. Occasionally, we would lock eyes and she would sigh deeply, as if to say “I don’t know when I’m gonna get out of here, but any place would be much worse.”

This week was not the first time she’s performed the same sort of cock-blocking as her spiritual ancestor. She doesn’t like it when people hug standing up, and so anyone who chooses to embrace in our home must do so while seated. Visitors must acknowledge her immediately upon entering or else she will interrupt human conversation with a series of accusatory little sounds like “Roo, roo, roo,” that I think are meant to mean, “You? In my home? Greet me in accordance with the customs and culture I have implemented within my domain.” She needs to play tennis ball at least once per week or else she becomes depressed.

“You’re a terrible dog and should be euthanized,” I tell her sometimes as I’m holding her like a baby and forcing her to let me kiss her dumb little snout, which she does not enjoy but tolerates.

“I made her like this,” I explain to people, not by way of apology, but by way of defining that we are who we are. “I can’t take it back now,” I say of the dog my ex and I got on sale at a kill shelter for $40 after workers had found her eating from a Philadelphia dumpster. One who now costs me around $3,500 per year.

There was the boyfriend she hated and would bark at until she was given a tennis ball or rawhide treat for distraction. About that relationship, she was correct. There was the one who wanted me to sleep over so badly that he offered to take me home to pick her up along with all her little amusements and medicines when I explained she can’t spend more than six hours at a stretch alone. “She pees in strangers’ houses,” I had to tell him. “Then I’ll clean it up,” he answered. It’s possible I would have married that one for his acceptance of my willful and sickly dog alone if not for a disagreement surprisingly unrelated to my elderly dog’s anger peeing, which is a separate issue from her incontinence peeing.

But it’s Truvy Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis and I instead, getting older together surrounded by overgrown shrubs in a West Hollywood bungalow among the detritus of our decrepitude: the towels, the pile of medicine bottles, tennis balls and plush toys, dishes of water I keep in every room so she might never have to walk too far for a drink, bowls of half-acknowledged freeze-dried salmon.

“You will never die,” I tell her every night before bed, when she requires a hug before shuffling over to her side. “Promise me right now.”

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