Since I began this blog, I’ve been laudably consistent in writing only about food. Today, though, I’m going to break my self-imposed thematic constraints and dedicate a post to Bailey.
Bailey was a pound puppy: my sister found him at the Coon Rapids Humane Society, where she volunteered for some time. Like many of the dogs there, B. was underweight and skittish, spooked by loud noises and sudden movements. Not much was known about his past; as a pup, Bailey was frightened by raised hands. We think he may have been abused.
I was a freshman in college when my family brought Bailey home. The story of his homecoming has become family lore: when my dad approached him, Bailey jumped up, propped his paws on my dad’s legs, and peed all over my dad’s feet. At times my brain tricks me into thinking I witnessed this, the urine streaming over my father’s graying sneakers, and I have to remind myself that suggested memory isn’t, by definition, authentic. At times, I set aside this technical, temporal logic flaw and claim the memory as my own.
I first met Bailey when I came home for Christmas break, and I’ll admit now I was scared of him. Then, he was much more aggressive than in later years — snappy, I remember thinking. He’d gnash his teeth at the garbage collectors, yelp at passing cars, snarl at the neighbors’ dogs. He was slight — still scrappy from pound rations — and had a guarded look in his eye. Midway through that winter break, I sat on my bed, crying over unrequited lust. This was real crying — huge, wracking sobs that the dude in question didn’t deserve, but I was 18 and the hurt felt real, so fierce it lodged in my chest and stifled my breathing. Bailey hopped up on the bed and bit my hand, matter-of-fact. Later, I realized he probably didn’t like all the noise I was making, but at the time, I took the bite as a sign not to shed another tear over a less-than-worthy boy.When he was young, Bailey caused mischief. He snooped in closets and gnawed convenient shoes, leaving a bevy of leather and canvas orphans. He’d root in the laundry baskets and tear into garments ripe with sweat and the smells of places he hadn’t been, wouldn’t be, but that provoked his interest anyhow. My first Christmas home from UMass, I tossed aside a pair of black pants I’d worn to a bar. Within an hour, Bailey had chewed one leg clean off. Not clean off: Bailey’s teeth left a jagged hem, cartoonish as a shark bite, furious in its intent. My mom suggested making shorts from the remains. I rejected the suggestion, wondering what about that scent cocktail had angered Bailey. Maybe it wasn’t anger, but instinct, an innate curiosity wired so deep that it caused B. to wreak havoc on innocent clothing.
More than most dogs, Bailey was an epicure. Sure, he liked dog treats, even after he developed allergies to them. B. ravaged the kitchen trash can so often that my mom hid it in a cabinet fastened with a baby lock. But Bailey liked the good things, too: Belgian truffles swiped from the sideboard, unsalted butter, scraps of steak I palmed him during my pseudovegetarian years. My family loves recounting how B. scarfed an unattended loaf of bread that was to be made into stuffing. We sweated each time Bailey got into the chocolate, worried that this time would be the last, but it never was. At Dr. Antonucci’s, he’d stand tall on the exam table, wagging his tail as if to say, “You thought that was the last of me? Pshaw!”
He was fond of blueberry yogurt.
In high school, my sister and I bonded over junk food. Our town was kind of a shithole, and long after the malls and coffee shops shuttered for the night, we’d drive to Taco Bell or Wendy’s and eat our haul parked beneath the streetlamps’ orange cones of light. Bailey joined us on Krispy Kreme runs. I’d drive, and from the passenger’s seat, my sister would share a donut with Bailey, alternating bites until the treat was finished.
Bailey liked ice cream, but who doesn’t?
As he got older, Bailey chilled out. Where before we kept him away from other dogs (and children, and adults), we now brought him in public without fear of the litigious unknown. Before he went blind, Bailey enjoyed trips to the dog park, though I’m not sure if he was allowed off the leash. Formally untrained, buoyed by the prospect of flight, Bailey would split whenever the chance arose. We couldn’t leave him alone too long in the backyard, lest he re-dig his favorite hole under the fence. We filled the hole with cinderblocks, but Bailey always found a way to escape.
My dad used to joke that Bailey had a Swiss bank account. “I’ll pay you back tomorrow if you buy me that hamburger,” dad translated. Bailey’s eyes — brown, plaintive — watered. “Please,” my dad interpreted, “the money’s all there, I promise.”
He saw us through a lot of shit, that dog. Divorce, disease, one thousand screaming matches. The week-long mental health break I took freshman year, late winter. Bleak, the below-freezing air that hit me above the collarline. I smoked my Parliaments (always Parliaments) while Bailey punched pawprints through the iced-over snow. How many hours I spent chain-smoking in the backyard, filling soda cans with butts, with Bailey by my side. He never fancied the motion of the porch swing, but he’d sit by your feet as you rocked yourself calm.I saw him for the last time this June, when I flew home for my mom’s birthday. Blind, epileptic, allergic to all but the mildest soaps, Bailey had just been diagnosed with glaucoma — his eyes would have to be removed, we thought. As though oblivious to his fast-accruing ailments, Bailey sniffed the air near the stove, eager as ever for a handout. He’d slowed down considerably, his steps tiny and tentative.
We had lots of nicknames for him: Cheerleader Ears, Bean Dip, Beetlebop, Igjabop, and Beeley.
Bailey was put to sleep yesterday. One day prior, he was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor — an aggressive, untreatable thing that would have overtaken his liver, kidneys, prostate, and bones. How can cells so quickly go haywire? I wondered as I did my shitty internet research, 1,500 miles away from my dying pet. Can the same thing happen in humans? I wished, in the way a small child wishes, that I could strike a divine bargain, trading a few years of my health to sustain Bailey just one more year.
At lunch yesterday, I sat on a bench, feeling the sun prick sweat from my arms. The breeze mussed my bangs; pigeons cooed as they pecked apart a bagel. Perception of external stimuli: a capability I so often take for granted presented itself anew. Ali said that at the very end Bailey was calm, not even flinching as the doctor injected his paw. Maybe he knew it was time.
I’ll leave you with my favorite memory: Bailey standing on the picnic table in the backyard, sniffing the air, relishing the sun on his face. Not distracted by cars, or squirrels, or the chops on the grill, he stood placid, anchoring the scene.