Roger
 

James Bassett
 
 

© Copyright 2015 by James Bassett
 
 
 
 

 

Photo of Roger.


They told me his name was Scannello, however one might spell that.  Likewise, however one might say that repeatedly throughout the day or say it right after ‘sit’.  This is a dog.  “Sit, Scannello” does not come trippingly off the tongue.  Everything that moves your mouth has to think about it.  And when you’re talking “dog”, new, strange, unknown “dog” talk, it has to be quick and easy.  Otherwise, “just how long is it going to take to get this sentence out of my mouth” soon becomes cats chased up draperies, pillow innards flying everywhere, chairs, tables, and shelves full of whatnot toppling willy-nilly, guests bowled over at the door, and poop, yes, poop is professional “dog” terminology, poop and pee everywhere.  No.  “Sit, Scanello” was not good “dog” talk.  He became “Roger” real fast and, so far, no poop, no pee.  Thank you very much, Roger.  Other dogs have not been so nice.  Roger can hold it forever.
 
They had tagged him a purebred Cocker Spaniel.  After all, he didn’t quite look like anything else.  The face on him was a Spaniel type. But if you saw him lying down, you’d think of him more as a good size Retriever type, a Setter if you were to catch just a glimpse of the feathered tail and legs, or who knows what with those big, hairy, snowshoe feet.  Anyway, he was an adult, and when he stood up, there was a slight jolt.  His stubby little, crooked legs jerked to a stop just six inches up from the ground.  The Cocker Spaniel left a defining mark on this otherwise good size dog. 
 
As the towel dried away a simple bath you could see the curls rising up, flipping back, turning right, and screaming left.   You could see the curly Golden Retriever, the kinky Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the wavy, feathered Setter, and the thick double coated Cocker Spaniel wiggling through every runaway lock, ringlet, and twisted curl.  To call him a Cocker Spaniel or a Retriever mix was an insult to nature.  This was the first animated, very frenzied, and maniacal purebred cowlick.
 
Anyway, for a while anyway, he’s now my red dog Roger, my scruffy dog.  My dog “for a while” because I volunteered to be a foster home for a nokill, animal adoption agency, F.A.I.R., For Animals in Risk.  I supposed the grammar to be no worse than my own.  And by the way people, about the twentieth time you tell someone you are a foster home for a dog to be adopted, you just want to turn around and scream:
 
Okay.  So what if I do end up keeping the dog?  Just what is your point?” 
 
I know they are just thoughtless comments in passing and it’s my own fault to build such resentment over remarks that are rude only by naiveté.   But I do so savor to wallow in the contentious mire and to ill consider all the possible implications behind,
 
Oh, how could you give up such a face?” 
 
Of course, only a heartless ogre could take in such a cute little dog that was facing death at a crowded animal shelter, only to coldly cast it off to another loving family so another and another could also be so cruelly housed temporarily.   What could I be thinking?  
 
In all probability, I will allow Roger to go just to sneer at the scoffers.  That’s the real foe in me I hate to love so.  Damn the need and damn your own need.  Retaliate.  Avenge what no one really meant at all.
 
(Look out.  Here comes another sentence that won’t soon be grammatically dissected.)
 
You just have to release the idle chatter of those who don’t quite grasp the significance of the space, because right now you have to concentrate on getting in between the terrified cat racing through the TV room and the now vicious, bent on killing, Roger in hot pursuit, yank the dog up bodily by the collar, screaming bloody murder, “No, we will not be eating the cat today, Roger,” and wondering yourself just why you go through all the more unfriendly aspects of the companion animal game, the learning, the teaching, the training, the reprimanding, the scolding, the yelling, and screaming that molds the dog into a peaceful piece of the family puzzle, just to all too soon release the dog over to a perfect stranger who will then reap the benefits of saving yet another out of the hands of, many prefer the euphemism put to sleep, but it really is, death.  Thousands upon thousands.  Year after year.  Letting the one go, if you can, to give precious space to another.
 
But, anyway, Roger is mine for the time being.  The time being, first, three months for tick and valley fever medication prior to neutering and adoption.  The time then extending to six months for tick and valley fever medication prior to neutering and adoption. The time now being two or three more months of medications for valley fever only, no more tick fever, prior to adoption, as indicated by blood samples taken during neutering.  This is how it goes. 
 
Valley Fever is an erratic disease, causing most no symptoms whatsoever and some others slight, flu-like symptoms.  But for still others, an unlucky few, it causes severe and debilitating, possibly deadly reactions.  Roger was not responding to the Valley Fever Medication.  The disease was progressing.  Though there were no obvious symptoms, nothing so visual that just to look at him you thought of debilitating disease, there were times he turned, froze, and cried out in pain for no apparent reason.  He would turn in one direction or another, to stand from sitting, or to climb the porch stairs, only to freeze, crying the pain as only a dog can.  If I was close, I would check frantically that I wasn’t standing on his feet or tail, or pinching his hair to the ground or floor.  I would just hold my hands near him, because you could see it hurt too much to touch.  Then it was gone as quick and you didn’t think so much of disease, rather something broken, dislocated, or caught up wrong inside.  I mentioned to the neighbor lady how much the veterinarian increased the drug dosage, adding “Which I guess will either cure him or kill him.”  And I knew that really was no joke.  It was an obvious last ditch effort.
 
I hope for the former rather than the later in the not so facetious remark, but I am no stranger to animals, their illnesses, and providing for the need and know that all efforts don’t end in success.  But success isn’t the point.  The point and effort is statement to a social ill of abandoning animals to tremendously overcrowded shelters, end results known to all, definitely not a statement of societal success.  All the animals that have shared my home and life have been animals in need.  Some needed longer than others, some I hardly remember, and yes, people, some stayed their full lives, others remain still, and still others died for the trying.  Roger?  Will he stay or will he go?  Well, we’ll see.  The intent is to finally get through this current wall of horror and finally place him for adoption.  One; because as well as all the others, he deserves better than to be thrust from home and left to his death, and two; because others need this half-way from hell to home space.  Sheol.  Selah.
 
Right now, I wonder who this dog is.  I’m sitting in a park, taking in the sites and sounds of a good ol’ hippie folk festival, crowded, loud, and bustling with erratic activity, sidewalk circus acts, painted faces, dazzling streamers, and flashing fireworks of types.  And this dog is letting other little dogs jump on his head.  Little, baby girls are pounding and pulling on him the way they will and he’s wagging.  All of him is wagging.  Big people are brushing past, reaching down and giving his head that little ruffle and a bang.  I guess it’s a pat on the head, but it looks like a bang to me.  But he’s wagging and he is for all intents and purposes ignoring the odd dog who stretches at his leash to pounce on him.  That’s who I thought this dog was.  That’s why we’re here, to get this fairly unsociable dog accustomed to being around people and other animals in public places. 
 
At home this is the dog I have to physically restrain at the door, whose fierce growling grows into savage snarling, pulling me over in his lunging at visitors.  I short leash him when approaching other dogs on our daily walk because he goes directly for the throat, a full set of teeth bared and bloodthirsty.  It is the dog I close in the TV room when I leave the house because he attacks the cats in an instant.  His attempts to kill them may have thus far been disrupted and, admittedly, he has softened, even lately been found lounging in the same sunspot with them on the floor.  And visitors may now be greeted with less sheer violence and out of danger as soon as they take a second to bend over and tap his barking head.  But for a long, long time that took a particularly brave person. 
 
This was supposed to have been the first of many planned outings into the public arena to begin what I thought was going to be a fairly long trial in socialization for what was up to now an unruly, aggressive, confrontational, and intimidating dog.  But no, maybe finally, “Who is this dog?”  He’s right next to me on a loose leash, weaving in between a big city, crowded park of people.  The dog I brought home is not this mild, happy dog breezing through the chaos and mayhem.  My dog was the chaos and mayhem.  But today I wonder. My breathing trembling a little as I wonder when this all turned around.  My breathing trembling a little more, when I think of him moving on. 
 
So, Roger.  My red dog Roger.  We’ll see.  If you live, Roger -- We’ll see.
 
P.S., I guess.  (Someone, my sister I guess, once gave me a book that I neglected to read, something about a Once and Only Genius or other, that she informed me at the time used the P.S., postscript, as some sort of literary tactic or form.  So I thought as long as I added, “I guess”, I might use it as well, without too closely exposing myself to plagiarism.)
 
So, Roger.  My red dog Roger.  We’ll see.  If you live, Roger -- We’ll see.
 
P.S., I guess.
 
And so we did see.  And now he’s back.  This being a somewhat terse method of indicating it is now some time later.  You see, Roger found that “forever home” they call it.  It didn’t take but a day. 
 
The limping in the back leg that caused him such great pain and had been treated for Valley Fever for so song wasn’t Valley Fever at all.  When the organization’s veterinarian continued on the same path expecting different results and refused to hear any discussion on the progress or the lack of it from the home point of view, and despite the stern and fairly condescending objections, something about the dangers and complications associated with multiple and conflicting medical treatment interactions and reactions, I consulted my own veterinarian.
 
You couldn’t argue with the numbers.  Tick Fever and Valley Fever were both indicated and in high numbers, and both are insidious diseases, and both can situate and manifest themselves in joints.  But it was also possible that the leg was its own and segregated affliction.  Once given a history of the treatment thus far and armed with a few x-rays and manual palpitations, my own veterinarian offered the possibility and probability of a cruciate ligament injury.  It was something common to the breed, the spaniel part of Roger, and he referred me to a surgical specialist known to him to perform the most current surgical correction for this problem.  That specialist, also armed with x-rays, confirmed the diagnosis and confirmed his surgical expertise, and in fact, was even renown for teaching this newest technique to Veterinarian orthopedic specialists throughout the country. 
 
I was just glad Roger was injured.  Injuries are fixable. Some things are not.  I might have even done it to him myself.  He was a really energetic dog and I could only go for so many walks for so far.  He got most of his exercise chasing a ball down the hall.  And I chose that hallway expressly for its entertainment value to me.  It was tiled.  It was my delight to watch him scramble and slide, slip and tumble as the ball bounced from wall to wall.  The Vet. said it probably was not an injury, but we love the guilt factor in our lives.  And like I say, I was just glad he was injured.  He also said, “Keep him on his medications for the Tick and Valley Fevers for now, but I think they are no longer a problem for him and we’ll be able to get him off all that after the surgery.” 
 
Roger and I went home and I did not throw the ball down the hallway.  I guess we’ll see, Roger.  You may go home to some home yet.  I guess we’ll see.  But we did go for a long, long, quiet walk that night.  Walks wouldn’t be allowed after surgery for a month or so.  And if the doctor was right, Roger would be well.  They’d be no more reason to hold on to him. 
 
Of course, organizations will be organizations, and nothing was going to happen fast.  I may have finally broken through a barrier and found a real and curable diagnosis for Roger, but it was expensive.  Even “no-kill” organizations can’t put out unlimited cash on individual dogs.  It was put to me very succinctly in a fairly blunt email.  It wasn’t anything new or that I didn’t know.  Roger had already cost them a lot in medications and now this.  The Board of Directors had met and if I did not care to pay for the surgery myself, Roger was to be killed.  And if it had been an abbreviated time limit with an obscure recovery possibility, I would not have replied so abrasively.  It would not have seemed so much like emotional blackmail.  But they had allowed Roger to remain in my home on medications for more than a year.  You don’t just yank support at that point.  That decision is made first.  The decision to place a dog in the home for extended medication and recovery is a full commitment to all but the incurable or more tenable of outcomes in relation to adoptability.  At least as much as that was a given even in kill shelters relying on foster homes for their favorite “projects”.  That was the standoff.
 
I have to hand it to them.  It may have taken the “committee” approach and six months, but they put up for, if not the most expensive surgery, a surgery that has served dogs well for a long time, and, if not the most current surgery, the best surgeon.  And though I was going to make up financially for the better surgery, my contact with the organization advised me otherwise and in a manner I found fully acceptable.  That surgery was for the dog “athlete”.  Even the doctor had said so.  It belonged to the champion dog Frisbee competitors.  I wanted the world for Roger and so I was being grandiose, elitist.  Roger just wanted to go for our daily three-mile walk around a few blocks.  He wanted to chase the ball.  He wanted to chase it frantically down the tiled hall, but I couldn’t do that anymore, even if the doctor maintained it was not an injury of trauma.  The ball bounced around the walls of carpeted rooms only.  I deferred and surgery dates were set. 
 
He was shaved from hip to toe.  The cut was a foot long, swollen and red, with big, black, railroad tie stitches.  You don’t hear the doctor talking to you very well looking at that.  The surgery had gone very well and Roger would be fine.  But.  And this was not just one more “but” in the life of Roger and me together.   It was the bigly “HOWEVER” of them all.  There was no cruciate ligament injury.  A biopsy had been taken.  There was also no indication of associative Valley Fever or Tick Fever activity.  So the good news would be he could finally be taken off his medications.  The other news was that Roger had a very degenerative arthritis in that knee.  There was neither medication nor surgery that could cure and heal Roger.  There would be no walks, not ball, not anything other than bodily functions for Roger for a month, if such a thing were possible. 
 
Of course, the surgery cost no less.  While open, there was an exploratory done.  It yielded nothing other than already mentioned.  So I had taken the organization down the road of the most expensive and positive path of proof possible that Roger was for all intents and purposes, not a very satisfactory prospect for adoption.  And had done so at a few turns rather rudely and self-righteously.  I was so proud of myself.  Can you hear the self-deprecation, the sarcasm dripping?
 
So the months rehabilitated Roger and with otherwise good veterinary health approval, also of course, finally brought Roger to the nearest adoption site, placed him in his kennel, and while home enduring the very expected inner-turmoil, vowed to retrieve him tonight and never bring him there again.  He was my dog and he was home in my arms that night.  I know the feelings well.  I had fostered many dogs in my life.  Steeled against my own sentiments, sometimes I think against my own sensibilities, an adoption counselor that had received three phone calls the next morning from someone who had seen him yesterday yelled out to me as I entered the facilities.  “Scanello’s” going home, buddy.  They’ve been calling all morning. 
 
I didn’t meet them.  No one is ever good enough to take your dog once you have gone through the fire.  I intentionally leave that to the adoption counselors.  My job is to give a temporary home.  But you hear things and they call you and when you know they’re not home, you take over the last of the food, the favorite toys, and his blanket.
 
Two families adopted Roger.  Cousins?  Sisters-in-law?  I can’t remember.  But the one who called was young, pleasant, and excited to have Roger.  She would take him to my Veterinarian and get the scoop on his previous heath issues and his continuing arthritis.  I could hear children in the background.  Now that I’m old, I refer to young women like this one on the phone as “inner-city kids with children”.  It’s an obnoxious term of battered hope, but still, hope.  And if not the hope of the young and in love, still, the hope for the young and in love. 
 
I thought of Roger as he would always perk up with exactly that hope when we would hear the playful screams of children in the neighborhood.  You could tell he so longed to be with them that I would often joke about my buying a few children just for him to play with and have for his very own.  And no matter my sense of loss right now, or my foreboding for his future, I grasped the one given, the one known delight, that Roger now had-- children.  After all, it wasn’t all about me.  The entire ordeal, the whole enchilada, isn’t all about me.  Maybe that’s how I should express it to those who think it so difficult to give an animal a home for a while, just to give them up, in order to save them out of the overcrowded animal shelters.  It isn’t all about me. 
 
That’s why you don’t call again.  Even if you want to visit, makes plans to meet in the park or at a community event so you can see Roger one more time, just once, playing with his new children.  It had been a couple of months and I had been wanting to do just that more and more.  But you don’t.  It’s not fair.  And I don’t know just who it isn’t fair to the most.  It just isn’t fair.
 
So, I was very glad to hear from the adoption councelor after a few months.  You never know after such a struggle whether you may have offended people beyond remedy.  You push for you and yours and see what’s what in the end.  There was a fifteen-inch beagle needing a foster home.  She was an adoption return because she didn’t get along with cats.  I let her know I had a cat that was accustomed to such struggles and that we would try it.  The beagle’s name was Daisy Mae.  People would say, “What else?”, but I didn’t know what that meant and don’t still.  She really didn’t give the cat a second glance, was a spotless houseguest, if you get my drift, and was adopted first day in the limelight.  Other than a call from a nervous new dog owner contemplating returning her for running so quickly out open doors, but who was also easily persuaded to let a little time and instruction mend such a minor problem, Daisy was the antithesis of the Roger rigmarole.  And it did at least let me know that I was not entirely ostracized from the group altogether. 
 
I was certain of that when I heard from the primary foster contact who had seen me through the days of Roger.  She hoped I might be ready to take in another and I was except for this one week.  This week however was already scheduled.  I had Roger again, just for the week. 
 
I didn’t call.  I didn’t make arrangements to see Roger one more time.  The second cousin, or sister-in-law, the one I had not spoken with at his adoption time, called.  They were moving.  My heart sank.  This poor dog Roger was out of a home again was my thought before she could even utter another word.  It was unfair of me.  They wanted only for me to hold Roger while they moved things from one house to the other this week and then they would bring him home when they were settled and could watch him.  It was a lot for them to get this done with the children and the dog. 
 
Sure.  I’d love to see Roger for a week.” 
 
I regretted my initial and almost instant cynicism.  Maybe not the cynicism so much as how quick to be the skeptic, how critical, how untrusting had become my soul.  But it wouldn’t leave me.  Roger was presumably in two households, one watching Roger for the other.  All the right words and suggestions were in place, but it was missing a heartbeat.  Still, I dismissed that with,
 
Sure.  I’d love to see Roger for a week.”
 
I stood at the door, her door.  She hadn’t even offered to bring him over to my house.  I stood at her door and chatted.  She hadn’t known about his arthritis, his health problems.  She handed over pills whose label held a date three months past and the bottle still full.  I was supposed to give three a day.  There was some explanation and a complaint about the organization and its adoption practices.  But it was just chatter and they would call in a week.   We were home and Roger was bathed, a must for all dogs coming here, just in time to put in our walk.
 
Roger knew the schedule and the walk to the minute.  He knew when we would walk and where to begin running, which turn to walk again, and to run the home stretch.  I was glad to have Roger for the week, if not the fleas.  Surprise.  Roger sleeps on his back, spread eagle, or I would not have seen them the next morning crawling in and out of the dense coat to the more sparse stomach.  Another bath, flea shampoo, and a double dose of over-the-counter flea ointment to the neck, tail, and tummy, and a carpet spread with 20 mule team borax to dry and kill wandering fleas and their eggs, all of which dried his coat to an extreme, and his long, gorgeous, unwieldy cowlicks were no more than dull and ugly, brittle straw.  And although I would have thoroughly enjoyed returning the fleas, I was not disappointed to never hear from the “forever home” again.  And not overly surprised.
 
I did make the obligatory calls to the owners about retrieving Roger.  One was to a message machine, the other to my original contact who very pleasantly offered to relay the message to the other.  Both, I’m sure, certain they had put a good one over on me.  Me, however, just very glad to be out walking with Roger again, glad to be finally giving him the medications he was supposed to have received for the last three months, glad to be rid of the disturbing bout with fleas, and glad Roger was not returning to such or another such condition.  I was not glad to see he had begun to limp on one of his front legs. 
 
I checked for cactus spines, matted fur, cuts, anything that would cause a limp.  I feared the arthritis was continuing.  Its degenerative nature prompted the surgical Vet. to indicate an immune deficiency possibility.  That had also been brought up about some blood tests showing an elevation of certain levels sometimes equated with a compromised immune system.  That the degenerative arthritis could be progressing and be Roger’s final disabling was a plausible prospect.  But, still, injury needed to be eliminated as the culprit.   I pursued the matter without the adoption organization.  I wasn’t of the mind that this was their responsibility, or that Roger was in any way their responsibility any longer at all.  Foster and adoption contracts can be convoluted, but for now, Roger was in my care by word of the “forever home” and I cared to use my own Veterinarian to check into the leg. 
 
Now considering the saga of Roger’s medical chronicle and developments, I would have injured Roger myself if I thought that would make certain injury was the diagnosis.  Besides arthritis, the Vet. informed me during the examination that there was still the lingering issue of chronic Tick Fever, Ehrlichia, and its insidious symptoms, including sore, swollen joints.  But in the end, injury it was.  A few days of anti-inflammatory medication and Roger was cured.  A few more for good luck, and a few more because the Vet. said so, one final month of ehrlichia treatment, and Roger’s days of pills were over. 
 
Wasn’t this now a good, full two years after Roger had come to me?  And gone and come to me again?  Couldn’t I see the graying at the muzzle that was not there when he first arrived?  Now he’s off all medications a month or two and there are no symptoms of any kind.  There is only the hind leg, arthritic limp.  And that brittle straw is softening as he sheds into another winter coat.
 
My contact with the organization is searching for someone to hold a dog for post surgical recuperation.  I’ve already turned away two other requests for fostering dogs in need of a temporary solution for having Roger for a while.  I’m not a multiple dog care person.  Some people are.  I focus on one dog at a time, while still giving home to my two cats and two emus.  But this one dog, this time, is in a prison program of sorts.  There are such programs intended to assist dogs in need and the inmates’ rehabilitation, a mutual assistance of sorts.  If it were a positive return to program and only a matter of the recuperation time with no possible extended custody, that might be a possibility.  There is so much need.  I could accommodate a positive stay of one or two weeks, but not the ever possibility of an extended health or physical recuperation of the two years Roger has needed. 
 
And still, if you mention the end game, the adoption, the “forever home” for Roger, there are those who degrade you still further with questioning how you might care for a dog for so long and still think to adopt him to strangers.  And still there are those who chide you even with your own reluctance. 
 
OK.  So what if I do keep the dog?  What is you point?” 
 
Certainly I have nothing to prove now.  Roger has come and gone and returned again.  Even if I did let him slip away that first time just for spite, to spite those who taunted, or did they really (?), to prove my tenure and tenacity, I lose no stature certainly now if I forego releasing him further.  Certainly I could release the enemy now, the impulse to strike vengeance against an idle comment.  Certainly. 
 
But still, it begs the question again.  Roger is well.  And still, there is a great need.
 
So, Roger.  My red dog Roger.  I guess we’ll see.  You see, Roger, you lived.  So I guess, we’ll see.
 
e e cummings would place here
a space
two dashes - -
and another space
to indicate a pause
 
Still.  It isn’t fair, Roger.  But still, I guess we’ll see. 
 
Harold Pinter would just plain write out - - Pause
 
Still.  We’ll see.
 
And yet again write out as quickly - - Pause
 
We’ll see, Roger.”  - -  “Damn it.”
 
Pause - -
 
Bastards.”
 
Pause
 
We’ll see.”
 
But, if nothing else, we first do have to see you through to the end of this bit of dried straw coat look you have for the fleas and the bathing.  It will take the full year at least for the coat to change over.  It’s half through now and just a mild little ugliness to endure until the certain emergence once again of my gorgeous, red and animated, very frenzied, did I say almost or and, maniacal, purebred cowlick.
 
(Look out.  Here comes another sentence that won’t soon be grammatically dissected.)
 
So, we’ll see you through this little bit of ugliness first, Roger, because that’s the real strategy behind beholding great beauty, behind beholding greatness, behind life in abundance, which is precisely what I want that someone, someday, to see in and feel for you at that first glance, immediate, overwhelming endearment and generosity.
 
That’s the point.  It never was how many, but how well.
 
So, Roger, - - we’ll see.”  - - (Pause)
 
Well - - P.S., I guess, rather than (Pause).
 
Roger died about two years ago.  He died in Arkansas, where one of the cats, the two emu and I moved with him eight years ago.  I never built him a fence.  He never left the property without me.  He walked on a leash three miles every day with me and ignored all the loose, country dogs that harassed him while we did that.  I didn’t travel by airline anymore.  Roger kept me company driving everywhere.  We visited friends and family, inseparable.  He even learned to sit in the front of a canoe. He was my ballast.  I don’t think he liked it.  I draped a towel for his shade.   A few times he’d sit up and look around, adjust a little and lie back down.  He and the kitty are both buried in the back.  There’s a simple white cross, a little crooked, wood cross painted white over each of them.   I hold Evan, one of the emu, looking through the muscadine growing on the fence at them and their little ground. 
 

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