Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pavlov's Promise

It’s been very quiet around the house without Rio, even in the short few hours since he passed away. I had no idea how much auditory conditioning we had been doing with him, and without him there to respond to our stimuli (picking up car keys, opening a door, throwing a leg out of the bed), it’s like a canyon without an echo. His collar had a couple of metal tags on it that jingled whenever he moved, so we always heard a report back after he took note of our “cues”. He would even detect the faint sound of the remote control turning off the satellite receiver (not the sound, but just the satellite electronics) in the evening, and would rapidly jump up off the floor in order to accompany us back to the bedroom.

Of course, the sound of the doorbell (ours or one on TV) caused a huge response, and I learned to absolutely hate the Pizza Hut commercials for that very reason. Man, his “guard dog” bark could curl your hair! The clang of his metal dish being set down on our granite counters caused him to come running, as did the rhythmic sound of the peanut butter jar lid being dropped onto the counter. When either of us sat down on a chair with shoes in hand, we would hear the jingle of his dog tags as he ran over to us to express his complete excitement about the possibility of going outside. In fact, you could hardly bend over to get your shoes tied without getting a face full of dog tongue. What made it awkward (OK, downright dangerous) once he was blind was his inability to precisely approach your face in these situations, and often we would end up with a painful nose in our eye, or a dog tooth in our lip. He was simply not one to hide his true feelings.

One poignant footnote to this notion of auditory conditioning came just after Rio died. I had expressed some concerns to Dr. Stone about making sure that he was really gone before putting him to rest in the ground. I guess I feared somehow that he could still have some life left when the dirt came raining down on him, and suffer somehow. My helpful, worrying mind at work once again. Of course, our vet reassured me gently, but firmly that Rio was indeed gone before he packed up his medical bag and left our house, but I guess I just wanted to make sure for myself. Barry had gone outside to bring the garden cart to the front door to help us take him down the hill to his grave (he weighed 70 lbs), and when he got to the front porch he found me standing there, pressing our doorbell once, then twice. There was nothing but silence. Peaceful, lonely silence.

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