Guest Column: Lessons from a year of living doglessly

Hudson, a 12-year-old dachshund, died last April. (Credit: Charity Robey)
Hudson, a 12-year-old dachshund, died last April. (Credit: Charity Robey)

Last April, our beloved dachshund, Hudson, died. He was 12, which is pretty old in dog years, as they say.

My husband suggested we wait a year before we started sniffing around for a new dog, “out of respect.” I thought this was a strange idea, but now that a year has passed, I can see some good has come of waiting. No good for Hudson alas, but waiting has helped me understand what that long, black dog meant to me. 

H.L. Mencken described the dachshund as “a half-dog high, and a dog-and-a-half long.” By my calculations that made Hudson a double-dog. He was twice the trouble of any dog I have known, and I loved him twice as much.

When my spouse, two school-age sons, and I brought Hudson home as a puppy, we didn’t know he was a “special needs” dog, and I never thought of him that way. I thought he was perfect.

Yes, he had “separation anxiety” as well as an eating disorder, but can’t you say that about a lot of New Yorkers? True, we could not leave him alone, and we could not feed guests while he was in the house, but who needs guests?

Like all our dependants, Hudson received an education. But puppy classes, anti-barking collars and the combined techniques of “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan, Barbara “No Bad Dogs” Woodhouse and the Monks of Skete could not set him straight. Two kinds of anti-anxiety medication did not work.

I took Hudson to a canine behavioralist, to treat the separation anxiety that meant he could not be left alone without howling piteously. She told me to impose a routine of ever-lengthening absences, rewarding him for being alone, with a bone cut from the leg of a creature that must have been the size of mastodon. She said the bone would “make him associate your leaving with something pleasant.” In other words, I would train my beloved companion animal to want me to leave him alone. This did not work either.

And so, for 12 years, this 25-pound hound was my bane and my joy. I’ve thought of him so often in the past year.

In July, I remembered the Independence Day fireworks displays that Hudson attended with us, during which he was the only dog not barking at the sounds of exploding shells. Ironically, leaving him home would have made him bark. As long as he was with us, he was happy and quiet.

Hudson believed in preemptive eating. When he saw something that might be food (and his definition was liberal) he ate first and asked questions later. At my son’s baseball game, he ate the umpire’s sandwich, bag, and all.

While I made lasagna, he nabbed a pound of mozzarella from the kitchen counter and ate it in three bites.

During apple season, he earned the moniker “Air Hudson” for his move to the fruit bowl. He entered the dining room at a dead run, launched himself, and, bending his upper body and long jaw over the apples in the center of the table, snagged a Macoun on his way down. Rarely did I catch him in the act. The only evidence was a little pile of apple seeds under the table, although I did wonder at our brisk rate of apple consumption.

When we went on vacation, Hudson stayed at a kennel. One year he got into a bag of food meant to last another dog a week and ate every morsel. When we picked him up, he looked like he had been inflated with a bicycle pump. The vet showed me an x-ray in which the unchewed kibble filled his digestive system like a logjam of redwoods on the Columbia River. Somehow he pulled — and it went — through.

Repeated bouts with cold and flu this past March resulted in a blanket of damp tissues in the house, and more thoughts of Hudson, who would have had this problem under control. Some people keep cats to control the mice, or dogs to guard the house. Hudson was a Kleenex dog. While he lived, we did not have a problem with discarded tissues. He ate them.

A classic American folk song about a dog named Blue goes, “Old Blue died, and he died so hard, Shook the ground in my back yard.” One year later, our yard is still vibrating a little, but the year of living doglessly has passed. We are sticking our snouts into the world of shelters and rescue organizations. I hope we find another dog as perfect as Hudson.

Charity RobeyThe author is a contributing writer for Times Review Media Group. She lives on Shelter Island.