Tower to Tomato, You’re Cleared for Landing

Is it wrong to use humor to deal with a difficult situation? I don’t think so, but if you do, please stop reading. Humor has been one of our main weapons in dealing with Travis’s declining health and the sadness, grief, and melancholy we feel as we watch him deteriorate day by day.

Travis, happy after a recent hike in the Catalina Mountains

There isn’t much funny about urine-soaked belly-bands and canine diapers. Let me revise that. There are plenty of adolescent pee-and-poo stories to fill this page but I’m going to skip those—for now. (No need to cut off my options for later…)  But changing diapers is nothing compared the pain and frustration we feel watching him struggle to find his water dish or hearing him lie down with a mighty groan. Without humor, we couldn’t provide the care we do with the love we feel.  It’s our armor, our fortress.

Lately, something about the way he stares at the table and wanders into the kitchen has attracted our giggle outburst   First, full disclosure. When Travis joined the pack, he didn’t have much interest in the dinner table or the kitchen. Kathy never fed him from the table or shared meal preparation scraps. I ruined him. Of course, I don’t think I ruined him, but Kathy disagrees. Again, that’s another topic for another time.

Travis takes this food focus very seriously. He doesn’t want to miss a morsel tossed his way. As with many vision-impaired dogs, Travis relies heavily on his remaining senses to get him through his world. He was never a scent-driven dog so it’s no surprise that he uses his nose more for tactile purposes than olfactory. And it shows. Instead, Travis has decided that his ears will step up and take over where his eyes left off. And that makes for a very adorable (and heartbreaking, at times) sight.

No matter where he is, the pose is always the same. He stands with his weight evenly distributed, wide in the front, narrow in the back. His head is tilted about 30 degrees to the right, chin pointed toward the floor and his ears high and angled forward. His focus is fixed on an arc about six inches in front of him, homing device finely calibrated. It’s as if he’s an air traffic controller waiting to guide a flight safely toward runway 03C—and into his mouth.  Unfortunately, he’s often facing the wrong direction.

When he tires, he lies down in a sphinx position with his front legs stretched in front of him like miniature goal posts, hoping to score whatever scraps or bites are shot his way. I was a college basketball and softball player, so the challenge of tossing a piece of tomato or apple toward the goal is irresistible.

He can hold this position for an hour or more. Sometimes we’ve cleaned up and left the kitchen and he’s still waiting on another flight to come in. Sweet boy. We usually touch him to let him know we’re changing rooms. Sometimes, I’ll touch the corner of one of his flews with a treat because I can’t watch him wait any longer.

I’m not sure why this routine makes us smile and giggle. Perhaps because his vision loss and battle with cancer have given him a purity, erased so much of the communication from his eyes and face that when we see this intensity and concentration, we can’t help but grasp for it and enjoy those fleeting moments of interaction in the best way we know how: humor.

We’ll continue to give him every comfort we can afford, mentally stimulating walks when he’s up to it and a seeing eye person to guide him along his path. Humor will protect us, shield us from the pain and sorrow in the coming days and weeks and months. There’s no need to worry about tomorrow. We’ll practice being a dog, living in the now, enjoying every opportunity to laugh with Travis.

“So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter.” -Gordon Allport

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