I used to breed Great Dane pups. Well, half Great Dane, and half Saint Bernard. I call them American Superiors.
So that I could keep one descendent from every generation and so that (going back four generations now) others who wished them could have one. Best dogs I’ve ever had. Best dogs I’ve ever seen.
But dogs are dogs. Their methods of breeding, reproduction, and birth are hardly easy, civilized, or elevated. Sometimes they’re just brutal. Which reminded me a lot at the time of things I’ve seen with and out of people too.
So I wrote this short story about em both: dogs, and people. Because when they are both high and elevated, they are both noble indeed. And when brutal and beastly I get good and damned tired of watching them kill (intentionally or otherwise) and of burying em…
So for Tuesday’s Tale I’m telling ya, sometimes I Get Sick.
I GET SICK
My bitch killed two of her own. There were only four to begin with, so it was a real blow. To all of us. As much as I love my bitch, and think she’s much smarter than average, it was totally unnecessary. Had I not been already exhausted with overwork I could have seen it coming. Could have prevented it. Should have prevented it, but truth was, I was just plain too late. I get sick of being too late. It always ends like hell, and the payoff is lousy.
With her breed of dog you have to watch the pups carefully. It’s not that she’s a bad bitch in any way, or an uncaring mother. She isn’t. Actually it’s quite the opposite. She cares a lot. Which is why she killed them. Too much of love is deadly in her kind.
We’d been through this before. It wasn’t our first rodeo, for either one of us. I knew how she’d litter, and what the follow on would be. She birthed for two days straight, but slowly. Very slowly. Again, normal for her kind.
Six pups in all, one blue, one brindle, one gold, three black. All of the coat combinations possible given her jet-black coat and the complex coat of her sire. But two were stillborn, a black female my kids named Zoë and a huge pup, twice as big as any of the other two combined, we named Goliath. It was bad he never drew breath. From his size at birth alone it was likely he would have been a prodigious monster. Maybe the biggest my bitch had ever bred.
But four lived. A black female we named Jade, a golden male named Leo, a brindle called Peter, and a beautiful blue (always the rarest in appearance) I named Seanna, meaning “blue gray wave.” They all thrived for five days. My bitch had more than enough milk to nourish them all. Leo grew the largest, Peter next, Seanna was the smallest, but fed the most, and yet Jade too did well. Her fat belly often swelled with what she ate.
On the fifth night I gave up watching the pups anymore. Just let their mother do all the tending. She was doing a superb job, and although I knew that being a Great Dane, and about two hundred pounds, she would be a danger to them until they were three or four weeks old, they all seemed well. I could go back to bed at night, let my bitch care for the pups alone and without my interference. I was already almost sick with overwork and lack of sleep. All night den-father to the litter seemed overkill.
The next morning I got up late, having overslept from previous lack. I went downstairs and looked at the thick blanket on my den floor where my bitch and pups should have been. But they weren’t there. She had moved them all up onto the couch. I ran over, afraid of what it meant, but it was too late.
She had two wrapped in front of her, her legs bent at an angle almost as if she were a human mother hugging them to her. She was licking and grooming them. I snatched them away immediately and placed them back on the floor. Then I looked for the other two.
Sometime after she had placed them on the couch they had slipped behind her. They were caught between the large seat cushions, dead and suffocated. One dead perhaps ten or twenty minutes, one dead probably not two or three minutes earlier. Both were still warm. Leo lay above Jade, a familial yet senseless fellowship of death.
I tried what I could with a syringe to resuscitate them both. But rigor set in quick with Jade. Leo stayed warm and pliant for nearly an hour. I thought at first he might have been comatose, instead of dead. But I could find no sign of breath or heartbeat, even a suppressed one. Eventually he too stiffened.
As best as I could reconstruct from what I saw their mother had probably went to get on the couch during the night to take a break from feeding them all. To take a little rest, maybe get some sleep. She’s used to laying on our couch or lounger as part of her normal routine. Then she heard one or more of them whine, demanding more milk, or her for her warmth. She had retrieved them all to be with her, carried them in her mouth to where she was, because after all she wanted them near and it was far more comfortable on the couch.
But they were too young still, and she far too large. Greta Danes bitches will often crush their young if left unwatched, and never even notice. An accident of nature they don’t think about until after death has claimed his prize.
She felt terrible afterwards, as did I. It took her awhile to figure out, but once she did she moaned and groaned. It was really my fault though. She’s a dog. But I’m a man. I knew what could have happened, and I had let myself become over-confident. That after a couple of litters she already knew all there was to know, and that with such a small litter to tend no real harm could befall form her loving but clumsy efforts at tending her pups. At two hundred pounds they were no match for her mass, and because of her breed, her unchecked affections were lethal and sure.
And, of course, I could have put up all of the cushions before I went to bed that night. That way she could not have placed them on the couch, where they could suffocate beneath her, caught between cushions many times their size, and crushed under a mother many times their weight. I could have also risen earlier. I had missed saving Leo by less than five minutes, and missed saving Jade by half an hour or less. But in all of these things I had been over-confident and stupid, had let exhaustion and lack of sleep and preparation blind me to risk. If anyone was at fault, it was certainly me. If anyone is to blame, the blame is all mine. And just as with any reckless, unnecessary accident or tragedy, there is always someone to blame. If you’re ever really willing to be honest about it.
That didn’t comfort their mother though, any more than it comforted me. Knowing how a sorry thing happened is very different from having prevented it. But at first she didn’t understand either. So she walked in rapid, worried circles around the small bodies, tried her furious best to lick them back to life, and when after an hour she finally realized they were absolutely dead, she demanded to go outside and tried to dig a hole to bury them in. I went outside and spoke to her softly, knowing she couldn’t understand me, but finally she looked up and left off her task. She didn’t need to understand me; she knew they wouldn’t be moving again. And so I guess she was sick of digging her holes.
Why is it that I’m the one that does all of the burying? I often ask myself that at times like these. I’m always the one putting the bodies down. I’m always the one digging the holes, or making the arrangements, or watching the corpses get planted.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
I know my time will come. It’s inevitable. One day someone will plant my mortal remains, and that doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just a body, and well hell, I like it and all, but it seems a poor ride into eternity. It seems very fitting to me to shed it in time. I’ll have other places to be by then anyways.
But until then, on days like today, I have to wonder, what makes me so damned special? How come I get spared, how come I’m the one always left behind? As many times as Death has vested me, smiled, shook my hand, spoke to me like an old friend and wished me well, he’s never once asked me to follow him anywhere else than someone else’s grave. Just recover from whatever hit me so that I can be the one to execute his rites. His silly, tiring, pointless rites and rituals.
Friends, family, victims known and unknown, even my dogs and animals. I’ve inhumed them all. Planted them all. Entombed their last remains so often that all that remains to me is but a shadow of what I used to know. Used to feel. About them. About myself. I get sick of being the one to do all of the burying. I really get sick of it. A disease without end. A task without profit.
And so one day, one day God help me, just send me a cure.
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