I fear my little dog is mad.
Sometimes, not often, she does not recognize me. She trembles and seeks cover. She hides in the laundry room or beneath the short set of stairs beside our bed.
On a couple of occasions she has hidden in the backyard. Usually she shelters by a tree near the fence. The first few times I found her there I didn't think much of it. She is waiting for her friend, a neighbor's dog who sometimes comes out in the evening, I told myself. Once I thought she was mesmerized by a rabbit in the yard next door, who watched us as I picked her up and carried her inside.
Maybe her hearing is not so good, I thought. Maybe she is just being stubborn and independent, I thought.
But now that it is cold, I worry more. In the evenings, after our walk, we bustle about, making supper. Dublin is in her chair by the front door, Paris is in the kitchen with Karen. I scoop out bowls of kibble and top them off with a little wet food or a bit of ham or turkey, but when it comes time to serve them, Audi is gone. We check the usual places, sofas, chairs, the bed. I grab a jacket and a flashlight and go outside. She's not at the tree. I walk the perimeter calling her name. She does not come.
I have found her huddled under the deck, shivering. But mostly, I do not find her, after a few long and panicked minutes she simply appears from somewhere, after Paris and Dublin have come out to join the search. She goes to them, not me. But she lets me carry her in. I close off the dog door. I close the door to the laundry room. She will not eat so we put her supper back for a while. I lift her onto a sunroom chair, drape an afghan over her. Audi watches her secret movie.
After a while, maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour, she is better. She jumps up on the couch, crawls over my lap and snugs against Karen, who, after a while, gets up and fetches Audi's bowl and feeds her by hand. (Paris looks on incredulously, startle on her face: "I'm sitting right here.")
I Google: "sundowners syndrome dog." It is apparently a real thing. But Audi's symptoms don't quite correspond to the ones I find listed on the Internet. She does not seem more aggressive or irritable, just confused and frightened. She doesn't bark during these episodes, she doesn't become clingy--she seems indifferent to us. She paces a little, but the list of behaviors attributable to canine cognitive dysfunction doesn't really fit her case. Besides, she is not an old dog; our best guess is that she will be 7 this year.
And there's no regular pattern to these bouts, other than they seem to occur in the gloaming. It's after the evening walk, in the hour after sunset. In the fresh dark.
I tell myself it is a small thing to have to worry about. Most of the year, the weather is mild enough that Audi would be fine outdoors. And I don't see how she could get stuck under the deck, if that's where she goes to hide. Paris did once, but that a few years ago, before we had the deck rebuilt. (She was chasing a rabbit or a chipmunk and somehow got wedged in an odd corner. I had to tear out a couple of boards to rescue her.)
And, I tell myself, things will be different when we move. The girls won't have this big backyard, there will be no place for Audi to tuck herself away. Finding her will be simple.
So for the next few weeks, we'll just have to watch her. If she seems a little off, we'll bring her straight inside after the walk, close off the dog door.
I still want to believe I'm imagining it.
Maybe what we're seeing is not the onset of dementia I fear it is; maybe it's a strange kind of seizure. Coalie had idiopathic epilepsy, which over the course of his long and fiercely happy life resulted in seizures that made him thrash and writhe and crash about the house. Maybe Audi is going through something like that, only with less drama. Like Coal, she doesn't seem to suffer any ill effects from these interludes; she comes back to us whole and seemingly unshaken.
Our vet once told us that Coal wasn't much bothered by his seizures. He just woke up in a place different from where he laid down. Maybe it is the same with her.
She has become more sensitive to weather in recent years, but then maybe we all have. When it stormed the other night, Audi leapt from the chair where she was sleeping and crawled up between us. She trembled until the storm moved on. But it was a bad storm. Maybe there was something sensible in that. Maybe there is secret logic in all these behaviors. Maybe she just needs her alone time.
But I am afraid for her.
I know what I want for her is immaterial to whatever forces govern fate. I know we will try to do our best for her but that there are limits. I know that in the end sweetness and tenderness do not matter, or at least that they will not save us.
I do not want my little dog to be mad. If this persists, we will do what we can to find out what is happening. We'll take Audi to the vet, and certain protocols will be followed.
Audi never knew Sherpa, though Paris and Dublin did. Sherpa died some months before a neighbor found Audi, and--thinking she was Dublin--brought her to us. At first we thought someone had lost Audi, but we soon realized that probably wasn't so. We found her another home but that didn't work out so we took her back.
I'm glad we got that second chance.
Sherpa was mad. She might have been mistreated before we met her, but we don't know that she was, only that she distrusted me her entire life. She liked Karen, and the other dogs, but I disconcerted her. Maybe it wasn't so bad. We lived together for 14 years. Once when we were having some remodeling done and the noise got loud, she forgot herself, ran into my office and jumped into my lap.
Audi is not Sherpa. She trusts me and seeks me out. She is happy to see me.
Except when she goes walkabout, when she retreats to her realm of private terrors.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.
Editorial on 01/22/2019
Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Audi in the gloaming