I had a dog named Tetanus
Posted by 08/16/2007
Tetanus? What kind of name is that?
It's a long story.
The Beginning of Tetanus
Back in November of 1991 a friend of mine, Chad, had a dream I died of tetanus. At the time both of us were very interested in dreams. They seemed to offer some glimpse into a creative realm. An unhindered time of thought that you could use for insight and ideas. Both of us had dreams that had come true too.
In fact, about a year earlier I had dreamt someone died - and then a month later she actually did. It was a woman who was sick, but no one was expecting her to die. It seemed like Chad and I both kept dreaming things that would end up happening. Usually it wasn't something so dramatic. For instance, I had several dreams in which a black-haired dog appeared prominently.
At the time I was working at a print shop with a lot of letterpress equipment from the early to mid 20th century. Even an old foot-powered machine from the 1890s the boss liked to call "the Whore". On December 1st, 1991 I was working on a job making rolodex cards. Those are these little cards that slot into a thing called a Rolodex. No one uses those anymore, right?
When you are working on a printing job that involves cutting or scoring - you have to check it every so often to make sure it's still working. With a rolodex job for instance, you make sure the cards pop out easily - but they shouldn't pop out too easily. Otherwise they just fall out all over the place.
The quickest way is to grab a sheet from the running machine. You don't really want to shut down the press just for a quick double-check though. So you throw your arm in the bin at the back of the machine and grab a sheet real quick. Before the machine has a chance to close up again.
But one day I wasn't quick enough, and my wrist was punctured by an old piece of steel that served as a pincher for dragging paper out of the barrel of the press. Since it was an old machine, I thought - "Oh, no this is how it happens. This is how I die of tetanus..."
I Thought This Story was About a Dog?
Well, I told you it was a long story. The dog will appear soon.
After the accident I went to the doctor. I was a little nervous, because of the dream. I got the tetanus shot and asked ...
"What are my chances of getting tetanus?"
Doctor: "Oh - about fifty fifty".
I thought for sure I was going to die at the point, and for several hours afterwards. That evening I called up a friend of mine who was studying to be a doctor and asked her the same question. She said there was no way I had tetanus. That I should have red streaks going up my arm emanating from the wound, and that people get tetanus from an old nail that's been sitting in a field for 50 years - not from a working printing press. I guess the doctor was just messing with my head or something. I don't know.
The next day I went back to work with a bandaged up hand and wrist. I drove to a print shop near downtown to deliver those rolodex cards. I walk to the back of the shop and there is a box of puppies. Somebody says "Do you want a puppy?". I walk over to the box and he says "They're 7 days old. The mother was run over. We are feeding them with bottles.". I look down at a box of 5 puppies. They are so young their eyes have not opened yet. I put my hand in the box and the only black one nudges over toward my hand. I am planning to move to Austin in 2 months and this is a bad time for me to take on a dog. But I take him anyway. I couldn't help it. Plus, I had had those dreams about a black-haired dog. So it was kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That was December 2nd, 1991. I remember precisely because it was exactly one year to the day after the death of the woman I had dreamt of dying. I decide to name him Tetanus, because of the tetanus scare I had experienced. And because I thought it sounded like a good Latin name. And it made him sound vicious. Plus I always liked the character Lockjaw.
So I take him home and keep him in a box with a heating pad that night, waking up every two hours to feed him. It's sort of like having an infant. Then I take him to the vet. He has worms. I feed him all the de-worming stuff and gradually work him up to solid foods by giving him watered-down, mushed-up puppy chow. My mom helps by coming up with ideas how to feed him, and putting up with him yelping in a box in the laundry room all day while I'm at work.
After a few months he's doing well and it's time to move to Austin. I was in Richardson, Texas at the time, living with my parents. My sister Joy was in pre-school and she took Tetanus in for show-and-tell. Now Joy is about to enter nursing school. That gives you an idea of how long Tetanus lived.
Tetanus very young - with Waldo. Where's Waldo?
The following is a list of streets Tetanus and I lived after that:
Rosedale - Austin (1992-1992 age:0 - 9 months)
This is the house where Tetanus's character was formed. The doors were open all the time. He went outside whenever he pleased. It was great because there was a park across the street and he just ran over there whenever he wanted. Without a leash. I think there are laws against that now. Probably because of him. He was living with 3 bachelors and not much in the way of "boundaries and limitations" as the Dog Whisperer would say.
So he picked up some annoying traits. Like chasing me and my bike down the street when I went to school. He was also a "tough guy" always barking at people and dogs. Going ape-shit. He was all posture though, I never saw him run so fast as when he bolted away from a doberman pincher that called his bluff one day.
Another thing he liked to do was steal something, like a sock. Then you had to chase him to get it back. He had a great time with this. One time he stole Chad's underwear. That was a pretty funny scene; Chad darting around the house with a towel around his waist scampering after Tetanus who is carrying a pair of underwear in his mouth. Chad beaned him with a boot he threw across the yard and it kind of knocked him senseless - so he dropped the underwear, and Chad won, although I think he still feels bad about it.
Tetanus liked Chad, though - if for no other reason than he would give him an apple core every morning. He would wait for it and start drooling - just like Pavlov's dog.
Cloverleaf - Austin (1992-1993 age:1-2)
The next house was around Cameron road in Austin. It was the year he was forced to live outside all year (although I snuck him in the window of my room sometimes), because one roommate insisted that dogs belonged outside. I can't remember who. I guess it was because dogs stink and have fleas. I can understand that. One of my roommates, Dub, built him a little doghouse from an abandoned cylinder-shaped barbeque grill - and put a big cushion in there for him. Plus, there was a covered area outside where I sat and smoked thousands of cigarettes. So it was like Tetanus was half inside anyway. Dub would sneak him inside his room too.
Tetanus enjoyed fetching tennis balls - and wrestling for the tennis ball after he fetched it. When you tried to pull it out of his mouth he would growl. It was a game. I think your not supposed to play that game, because of some sort of dominance issue. But he enjoyed it. His favorite thing was still to be chased.
The fleas at this place were terrible. I tried spreading diatomaceous earth in the back. But it was a hopeless battle. That stuff was next to useless - and yet toxic at the same time. He would develop a big bald spot on his back during the summer. People don't remember what a miracle things like Advantage™ are. It was terrible back then.
He did all sorts of things during this time, like run with Dub as he rode around the neighborhood on his bike, or go swimming in a swimming hole - or go camping. He really liked the camping. I should have taken him out more. He liked jumping over logs and splashing in creeks. He also insisted on following you if you tried to go off alone to go to the bathroom. That was annoying.
His severe separation anxiety continued at Cloverleaf. Whenever I left the house he would jump and yelp and try to get over the fence.
12th street - Austin (1993-1995 age:2-4)
This was a good house for Tetanus, except for the fleas. He had a very large back yard. And he could open the screen door whenever he wanted to go outside. Also, lots of people came over and he liked people - sort of.
It was here I first started making a grill cheese every morning and giving him one slice of cheese while I did that. I called it my "offering to the gods". He would always wait expectingly while I sliced cheese. Even to the last months of his life.
A female dog named Suki moved in after a year or so. She was an all black Husky and he was in love. She played him for a fool though; she had this trick where she would pretend to be going outside, open the door, let Tetanus run outside excitedly after her, and then let the door slam shut behind him. "Sucker" she says. She didn't like him. Imagine a dog rolling her eyes and saying "Idiot", all the time, and that was basically her attitude toward Tetanus.
Sometimes I would leave the house, drive a few blocks and then "thud!" - there would be this sound at the passenger door that was Tetanus jumping up at the window. It was a funny sight, but he was lucky he didn't ever get run over. Sometimes I would look in my rear-view mirror and see him bounding toward the car. "Oh, here he comes...". The house didn't have a good fence. He got out a lot and wandered around the neighborhood. Then I would drive around looking for him, but he always managed to find his way back.
Lindell Street - Nashville (1995-1996 age:4-5)
I lived in Nashville a year. This was not a good time for Tetanus. The house didn't have a fenced yard - so I tried tying him up in the back with this stake sort of thing and a really long leash. But he would always get himself caught up in it. I would come home and find him stuck with no slack on the leash left. He spent most of the time in my room anyway. I walked him every day. And I even wrote a song for him called Big Enough for Two. It seemed too much for me to take care of him sometimes, like he was some kind of albatross, and I considered giving him away. But I just couldn't do it.
One time I tied his leash to a post outside the grocery store and when I came back out he was gone. I was kind of panicky, looking around for him. I asked someone if they had seen a dog, and strangely they said "Maybe someone stole it. People are stealing dogs a lot these days". Was that true I wonder? What an odd thing to say.
Anyway, I gave up and walked home. And there he was. It was about a 15 minute walk - so he had found his way back. Running across fairly busy streets wearing a leash the whole time.
Tetanus in the snow
There he goes
This was the only time in his life he got to run in the snow. Real snow. Austin doesn't have that. He loved the snow. I would let him outside my room without a leash and he would run around the neighborhood. I wouldn't let a dog outside without a leash now, but that was then. I also took him walking in a state park a few times and he loved that. In Nashville he got lots of walks in the beautiful fall and spring weather. So it wasn't all bad.
One day he bit somebody on the hand. They walked up to him and tried to pet him and he just bit them. He wasn't really a nice dog. Although he was nice to some people. The person threatened to sue me, and insisted I pay for medical bills. It was just a scratch though. Some people take themselves very seriously. After that I tried to warn people he might bite.
Also, I got him neutered that year. I should have done it earlier but I had this perception that it was the same as neutering a human being. And I wouldn't want that done to myself, you know? When he came back from the operation he was all groggy and couldn't bark. I was afraid he would be that way forever. But it was just normal recovery from surgery. Duh.
I remember when I left Nashville - on my trip back to Texas - my car was all loaded down and Tetanus sat in the front seat with me. I stayed in a motel that didn't allow pets. And I wanted to leave the room and get some food at Denny's, but he kept barking and scratching on the door whenever I left the room, so I had to carry him down the stairs and eat some crappy gas-station food in the car with him. But it was good 'together time'. "It's me and you buddy, to hell with everybody else".
The next day when my car died on the highway, and then caught on fire as I tried to pour oil in the engine - I remember him looking at me from inside the car. "Hey Rob, What's up out there?". I got him out of the car. Luckily it didn't explode. The fire just went out by itself. But I'll never forget that moment. My car is on fire, Tetanus is inside looking at me and I'm thinking "Shit - the car is going to explode and he's going to die in there. And the whole time he's giving me this trusting 'Hey, Rob' look.". That would have been terrible. I might never have forgiven myself.
Around this time he got to spend some time with my sister and brother in Richardson, Texas. My sister Joy would read to him and take him down slides. I'm sure he loved that. Ken would put pieces of bacon on a clothesline and make him jump for it. Tetanus had lots of fun when he was there.
Tetanus going down slide with Joy
Back in Austin he stayed at a friend's house for a month while I found a place to live. What was notable about that was he played catch with a lumbering doberman pincher puppy. It's hard to describe, but the puppy would grab this rope in his mouth, shake his head and let go - and it would fly across the yard. Then Tetanus would do the same thing. So they were playing catch. I didn't see him much at this time, but I would stop by late at night and leave bags of dog-food.
15th street - Austin (1996-1997 age:5-6)
So I moved back to Austin, just 3 blocks from where I lived before. Life continued to be rough for Tetanus. He lived with another dog that intimidated him. Also, I was gone a lot. I would run home after work, walk him in the cemetery next door, put him in my room, and then go over to my girlfriend's place. One day I came home and he was very subdued and had a lot of blood on his side. It seemed like maybe he had gotten in a fight with a dog, but I'll never know what happened.
My roommate took him to the lake that year and apparently he was a great swimmer. I should have taken him out swimming more.
Hollywood Street - Austin (1997-2000 age:6-9)
Tetanus running around
I left 15th street and moved into a house on Hollywood street with the woman that I was to marry. From this point on life is comfortable for Tetanus. Because Advantage™ came out, he had a full fenced yard, and was inside most of the time. There were 2 dogs in the adjacent yard he would bark at. They would run back and forth alongside the fence barking. "I'll tear your head off!" he yells, "If it weren't for this fence!..". One time he managed to get in their yard. I looked over the fence and saw him walking furtively, hiding from the 2 german shepherds which had come to the fence to greet me. He wasn't so tough then. "Rob, can you get me out, please?" he said quietly.
Tetanus and Rob wearing gray slippers (you can't see Tetanus's slippers)
This is when he got long walks most everyday. And he would get very excited about it. Turning in circles if you just said the word walk. We changed the word to 'ambulate' and 'stroll', but he would always figure it out.
Tetanus with Kathy ("Rob, what's up with the chick?")
Avenue F. - Austin (2000-2001 age:9-10)
This was a corner lot next to a business. So there were always trucks driving by, or people walking their dogs. Lots of opportunities to bark. When we moved later it was only blocks away - so we would walk by this house a lot, and for a good 3 months he would walk toward the sidewalk thinking we still lived there.
Franklin Blvd. - Austin (2001-2007 age:10-15)
Tetanus getting frustrated
The next house was just blocks away on Franklin Boulevard. One great thing about this house is that is has a giant yard. Twice the normal size. So he had lots of room to run around. This was also where he had his first encounter with a possum. He cornered it and it hissed at him, and then collapsed. Even though I know about possums - I thought it was actually dead. And so did Tetanus.
This is the final house for Tetanus. But he lived here for the longest time actually. 5 years of his life. There were neighbor dogs here to bark at, and a lot of cats that would sneak in yard that he had the opportunity to chase. He also learned to live with a cat in the house, although that took a little while.
The back of the yard is adjacent to an apartment complex. People throw chicken bones and beer cans in the yard. So I eventually put up a barricade blocking off the last 6 yards of the yard - just so Tetanus would stop eating those chicken bones. I didn't trust them. And one time he bit me when I tried to take one away from him. I guess it was really good. He was banished from the couch for a month for that. I think he was sorry.
January 1st, 2002 Tetanus had what seemed to be a stroke. He woke up on on New Year's day with one eye droopy and one leg dragging. This was never explained. No one knows what happened. But it seemed like a stroke. He made a slow recovery over a few months, but he was never quite the same.
A few years later he started to develop severe bouts of back pain. When it was happening, he would yelp if you tried to pick him up and his back would arch up. It turned out he had some compacted vertebrae - and even though he was old we decided to have corrective surgery done. That's when we called him "the dog with the million dollar ass" because it cost a lot of money and it was right where his tail met the back.
When he returned from surgery he was a wreck. He could barely walk on his own power for a few weeks. I figured I never wanted to put him through surgery again. But within a few months he was actually jogging with my wife. He still had a back paw that slightly dragged. That never really returned to normal. But overall this was a very happy time for him. Running. Getting walks, feeling good. It's the fall of 2005 - so he's 13 going on 14 years old.
The Golden years
After this burst of new energy subsided - he started a very gradual, very slow decline. First his hearing started to go. You could walk in the house and he wouldn't even know you were there. Then his eyesight started to fade, he went on walks every 3 days, then every week, then once a month. Then not at all. It was just the aging process. He would get up to get a drink of water and forget why he got up. That sort of thing.
Excellent new couch
He slept a lot on the couch, next to me, while I worked on my laptop. He seemed content. Not excited about things, leading a labored existence - maybe even a little frightened and confused about losing his hearing - but overall content - living his final years. I started giving him cookies every time he came inside from outside. I figured at his age that was an accomplishment worthy of praise. He was always excited about the cookie until the last few days. And it was only during the last month he couldn't physically get on the couch anymore.
I could talk more about his decline in those last days - but I'd rather not. The end of life is sad and depressing, it can't be helped. But for the most part he had a good, long life.
Maybe now the energy that coalesced and made him Tetanus is coalescing somewhere else and of a nature like all the things that he loved to do. The concept some people call Heaven.
Tetanus in Dog Heaven