22 February

What I Admire About Gus. Love And Projection

by Jon Katz
What I Admire About Gus

I admire Gus, I’ve come to realize. And I identify with him. Part of it is projection, I imagine, we often transfer our own traits and emotions onto our dogs. Yet this is a dog with personality, and I think, character.  We all lover our dogs, even the ugly ones, and see them as beautiful. That is part of the wondrous alchemy between people and dogs.

I believe, as you know, that we get the dogs we need, and then we project our own needs onto them. The truth is, for all the best-selling books and opportunistic behavioral studies, we just don’t know what dogs think most of the time, and it’s so easy to assume that they think the way we do.

That’s what we need from them, to be what we want them to be, and because they give us what we need, we take good care of them. The truth is, a good dog is a dog who doesn’t behave at all like a dog, but like the dog people think a dog should be.

Dogs love to have sex, dig holes in gardens, chew on sofas, roll in disgusting things, fight with each other. From the moment they are born, we go to work changing them, dashing around madly, classifying their natural behaviors as “bad,” forcing them and cajoling them to be “good” dogs, which is to say, dogs that can no longer do much of anything that is natural to them, or that they love.

The very definition of a good dog is a dog who doesn’t get to do what he wants, only what we want him to do.

In the natural world, Gus would long be dead or eaten because of his megaesophagus, he would not have survived it.

But I am working very hard and spending a lot of money to  keep him healthy. megaesophagus is a testing disease, it challenges the dogs and the humans. One of the things I admire about Gus is that he never succumbs to his illness, he never looks sick or acts sick.

When I come downstairs in the morning, he is waiting for me atop the sofa, with a twisted rope to throw. It is part of our morning ritual. When he spits up, even on me, he swallows hard, licks my hand, and runs off to find a toy.

It is not pleasant for a dog or human to have this severe acid reflux, this regurgitating or vomiting. Those are not things that feel good, to the dog, or to the people who love the dog. I can it is painful for Gus, and uncomfortable. Many megaesophagus dogs are listless, depressed, lethargic, no fault of their own.

Gus almost never looks or acts sick.

When I am sick, I hate to act sick. It makes me feel vulnerable and useless.

When I had open heart surgery, I got up out of bed the next morning, and insisted on taking a walk. It wasn’t that I felt great, it was more that I didn’t want to be sick or look sick. I couldn’t bear it. I walked so much they sent me  home after three days, a record in the intensive care unit. And it wasn’t because I was Superman. I really didn’t want to seem sick.

I refused to let the illness shrink or diminish my life. I don’t talk about it or think about it.

Yesterday, I was in bed with a nasty cold, but when Maria asked me if I still wanted to go to the RISSE soccer tournament, I was almost insulted. Of course, I said, I’m not really sick. What does that even mean, I wonder.

Yesterday, Gus seems to be transformed by the new diet, at least for a while. But when he is sick, and he has been very sick, he will spit up, shake his head, look at me and Maria, and go and grab a toy to bring me to throw for him, or play tug-of-war.

Therein comes what is perhaps the projection. Like me, he’s not interested in looking or acting sick, even when he is.

Gus is an adaptable dog, which helps. He has cheerfully accepted a muzzle, even though he can no longer eat the grisly stuff he loves to eat. He cheerfully accepts a sweater on days when it’s too cold for him. He stands on his  hind legs to eat, which helps move the food through his esophagus. He sits still for medications.

Even when I know he’s sick, he isn’t sick, he never seems sick, he never succumbs to it. I don’t know if that’s what’s really going on, or if Gus is just an oblivious or perhaps not so bright dog. But he is smart, and he seems keenly aware of everything around him.

I have come to admire the way he is dealing with this disease, I almost get the sense he is determined not to let it diminish his life. Isn’t that strange. He is a tough little dog, full of life and spirit.

If you wrote that, I would probably roll my eyes and remind you that dogs are not people.

Humans are fascinating too.

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