Perhaps the cutest puppy in the history of all puppies ever, I scooped Gus Seinberg and his ears into my life in the summer of 1998. He and his brothers and sisters were found in a box in Albany, California and brought to Berkeley where they became eligible for adoption on July 3rd. I was 27 at the time, my heart smashed along the streets of San Francisco, as 27 year old lesbian hearts lend themselves to a kind of reckless romantic smashability, iconic in scope. I had a few things going for me in the healing department, though. Two musical Elliotts accompanied my rise and fall, Mr. Smith for the wallowing, and then Ms. Missy for the phoenix from the flames kind of jam. And also a kind and gorgeous Sagittarian butch who liked to fix things found me to work on. Marina would run baths for me late at night and pour me good bourbon while I soaked. She read out loud to me from Raymond Chandler novels, left flirty personal ads for me in the Missed Connections print ads in the 90s SF Weekly, and picked me up to bomb around town in her matte black Plymouth Belvedere, green hotrod flames stretched over the side like a tattooed lady’s curvy hip.
But still, the kind of ache I nursed was nothing I’d ever encountered, endless and self-obssessed, irritating to all around me and no fun at all. Marina was a damn saint, her patience as legendary as her flawless style. So when I woke up one day wanting a puppy, she took me to get Gus.
Turns out, Gus has been the love of my life, really. No one else since my parents has been with me day in and day out for almost 17 years. And we were both such pains in the ass. He spent his teenage years shredding down comforters I couldn’t afford, getting me evicted from a few apartments with his howling separation anxiety the neighbors could not abide, and snarling at every baby who came within a block from him. And I toted him around from city to city, a HERDING dog with no one to herd but me, no land, no place to run. Gus has always had high anxiety, he hates change and still, I just did my thing, introducing him constantly to one of each of the 11 different tiny places we’ve lived. He’s had a whole host of women parade through his spot on the bed next to me (not to brag) and never once complained about moving over. By the time I got him here into the country and a stable family life, where he can run for acres and acres, well, he can barely run at all.
When he was small, Marina taught him all the useful things in life, how to sit and stay. How to get in the back seat. A little bit of recall. How to take a treat gently without fingertips involved. The only thing I ever taught Gus was how to spoon. I started the day we got home. I mushed his back into my chest over and over, sometimes against his will, forming him into a tiny fur comma against me, his puppy head right under my nose. Does anything smell as good as the crown of a puppy’s head? No. No it does not. As he got older, I could lie down on my side and pat the bed next to me and Gus would wag wag wag, then leap onto the bed and nestle himself perfectly into the crook on my body, his handsome head sharing the pillow. If I was sad, he’d come unfurl the fist of my sobbing body with his snout, put all his needs aside and lie down facing me, surely on the verge of saying the perfect thing to say, but never needing to.
I can hear him right now, as I type this, dragging the nails of his back paws over the old farmhouse planks. I’d call him in here to find me, but he can’t really hear anything anymore besides sirens and gunshots, so I just wait until he lumbers in and pulls himself onto the geriattric space foam bed he has over there in the corner. He circles around and around, considering the lying down option, sometimes thinking better of it before he does the slow laps through the house, clicking and dragging on the floorboards as I click and drag on the keyboard. I think it hurts him, the lying down, and once he’s down, it’s an investment. He’s not going to go anywhere for hours. I look over from time to time to see if his body is rising and falling, or if Forever Slumber has come for him, and I’ve been slowly, and then suddenly, sentenced to a new life without him. And also rescued, mercifully, from having to give the order myself, his best friend hanging the finish line of his wonderful life with my own trembling fingers. I can’t imagine it, really, but then I do. I imagine it over and over and over. Holding his face in my hands while he dies.
Gus Seinberg has done every impossibly horrible thing a dog is not supposed to do. He ate a whole raw chicken off the counter. Twice. He’s gorged himself on two pounds of stolen grapes, and ate an entire one pound block of bittersweet chocolate out of my brand new messenger bag. And, being thorough, he also tore the bag apart. He blew his knee out like a point guard in a bad pivot and then got attacked in the dog park right at his beautiful regal neck. He’s ODed on pain meds flavored like treats and gotten his stomach pumped on New Year’s Eve like an idiot at a frat party. Plus embarrassing things like when he peed on these nice shoes a crush of mine wore over to the house (although he was right about her) or when he pooped in his dog sitter’s purse just last year.
Here he is.
I think Gussy is going to make it to his 17th birthday, and maybe he’ll make it to my 45th. But I don’t know. He is slowing down at a rate that I find both shocking and reasonable, heart shattering, and gorgeous. I think it makes sense for us to do this thing together. He has been by me every step of the way and through every nasty and beautiful transition life has tossed at me. It will be an honor to go through this transition with him.
He seems light as a feather now when I lift him up into the car to lug him around with me everywhere. I don’t leave him with anyone else anymore, so I only go where Gussy can go. I cook for him, chicken and white rice. It’s gift for both of us really, because when I am too busy or depressed, lit up with the grief attending some of the things life has been offering me lately, I can just add some spinach for myself and eat the damn dog food with him. Even as he declines, he finds ways to care for me. It’s incredible.
I’m saying all of this here because I’ve come to understand it’s important to say All Of It while the Beloved is still here. And Gussy, as much as I’ve imagined him talking, and often talk for him, he doesn’t really do it. But he listens to me endlessly. He doesn’t mind the horror that is my singing voice or the shortsightedness of my ego when it digs in. He likes all my outfits, thinks I’m the most beautiful sight in the world besides steak and he is happy to see me no matter how much I snapped at him when he didn’t deserve it. Gus Seinberg taught me everything I know about loyalty. He shows me every day that most things I think are urgent, aren’t truly important, and the deeply imperative things in life are rarely urgent after all. He has been my greatest constant teacher and companion. I still sniff the crown of his head every day. It remains a perfect pleasure.
I don’t know how to say goodbye to him, but I imagine he will teach me that as well when it is time. He is the most perfect thing that has ever happened to me. Later I will take him out and we will walk a short way together,
Paws and feet,
Paws and feet.
*For Laura, who loved Gus and took care of him too.