Linx rests his grizzled, warm snout on my left bare foot where his whiskers tickle my skin with each slow breath. Sometimes he licks my toes, or nibbles on the little ones. Linx is under my desk on his dog bed. I can see him through the glass tabletop. His wedge-shaped head features two black triangle ears. I reach down to rub his velvety ear between my thumb and forefinger. I know he likes this, because he pushes his head against my hand and lowers his lids over his dark brown eyes. Linx is a Norwegian Elkhound, a medium-sized tracking dog favored by Scandinavians. Hunters love these dogs because they can bound through Nordic streams and trot for miles in spruce forests following the scent of a moose. Linx’s thick, dense, silver, grey, and black coat repels water. His tail curls tightly over the center of his back, except when he’s sleeping and it relaxes onto his dog bed.
Linx sleeps a lot these days. The pandemic’s quarantine orders has kept me home more than usual over the last four months. As a stay-at-home writer I think I already spend a lot of time at home, but apparently not as much as I thought. Linx’s outstretched back legs softly lie on my right bare foot. I watch his stomach rise and fall in a rhythmic way until it is interrupted with small bursts of short breaths. I never noticed this before. How long has he been breathing like this?
There are other things I notice lately. Linx’s rear left leg hovers over the hardwood floor when he is standing still, as if he is afraid to put weight on it. How long has he been doing that? Is my dog suddenly elderly at thirteen-and-a-half years old? He still goes on daily walks. Ok, they are only 15 minutes now, not the hour-long jaunts we used to take. He still jumps into the back of the car into his crate, like a horse sailing over a fence, except on the days he can’t see the take off point, and then I have to cradle his rear end into the vehicle.
Since the pandemic grounded me, I am home to witness Linx’s daily bouts of bile vomit juxtaposed with “laser shits” that make a noise like an exploding balloon full of pudding. I take him to the vet and hand him off to the vet tech on a 6-foot leash—a handy length for social distancing. She takes him into the vet’s office. I call on my cell phone and we have a veterinary version of telehealth for my hound.
Armed with meds, a special diet, and more time to watch Linx’s health, I begin my vigil. Fortunately, what came out of his rear end is immediately managed. As for the other end, I start a crude vomit diary, jotting down the time he upchucks, how long after his last meal, the color, the consistency, and other such metrics. Soon, I notice a pattern. Linx can keep his food down, and not release the vile bile on my tile floor, if he is fed every four hours.
At mealtime, I dump a can of his prescription turkey and rice on its side and slice it into equal quarters, the thickness and shape of hockey pucks. I feed him five times a day at intervals I call “puck o’clock.” Linx likes the sound of the word “puck,” and he knows when puck o’clock arrives. I walk around the house chortling, “Puck, puck— puck, puck, puck—puck,” like a chicken in a barnyard scratching at grit. If I have let puck o’clock pass, he comes and finds me, bats my leg with his paw. So far, the bile projectiles are in remission. I know this treatment is only temporary, as feeding a dog like a pate goose is not a recipe for a long canine life. Eventually his break-through vomit will return, and whatever is ailing him must be diagnosed and dealt with.
Linx is my devoted companion. My daily footwarmer, who grounds me in the moment. When the world around me seems to be spiraling out of control, he takes me away to a place of calm. The extra hours at home have shown me he is aging more than I care to admit. He is an old dog. I pray he survives through the pandemic, the protests, and the election year politics. I could not bear to lose him in the midst of so much sickness, unrest, and division. For Linx is more than just my cherished pet. His pedigree represents thirty-five years and seven generations of my own responsible dog breeding. He is the last of the line, from my last litter, the last dog I will ever own that I whelped myself. The last dog I will have whose first human contact was my cradled hands lifting him up to my face just seconds after birth. When he goes, so goes a lifelong passion of producing puppies with unconditional love for myself and for other dog lovers.
But for now, he is sleeping on his dog bed under my desk. I feel his moist breath on my bare foot. I see his grey muzzle through the glass tabletop. I will cling to this moment for as long as I can. For as long as he can.
Lisa N. Peterson is an award-winning writer and journalist. Born in Sleepy Hollow, New York, she pens stories about true crime, dogs, and horses. Peterson earned an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University. She is currently working on a true-crime memoir, The Look-Back Window, about two murder cases she covered as a newspaper reporter in the 1980s as well as her own experience as a crime victim survivor. She lives in Newtown, Connecticut with her husband, her horse, and her two hounds. She blogs at www.lisaunleashed.com.