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Domestic Disturbances

Helen Rafferty


It’s 3 a.m. and our dog can’t sleep. And since Hugo’s mastered the trick of bashing in our bedroom doors with his massive, anvil-shaped head, the rest of us at Casa Rafferty are not sleeping right along with him.

Hugo is an 80 pound Husky-Shepherd-Demon mix we adopted almost 14 years ago. Then, he was the biggest, hairiest, most adorable puppy in the pound. Now, he’s the biggest, hairiest, most dysfunctional member of our sleep-deprived family.

Hugo’s vet describes his condition as, “Age-induced cognitive dissonance,” thus avoiding the more graphic, “Senile-Time for the Big Sleep-dementia” in the hopes of staving off my own “Advanced grief-induced hysteria.”

Despite his regular dose of anti-anxiety meds, Hugo keeps me up at night, sticking his wet nose in my face, torturing me with his mute pleas – “Where am I? Who am I? Who are you?” Hugo is destroying my house, now that certain formerly voluntary body functions have switched into Auto mode. He’s crazy, he’s messy, he smells terrible and I’d do just about anything to keep him around forever.

And to think of all the times I wanted him dead; times I would have gladly used the family gun on him if we’d been crazy enough to have one.

I could have killed him whenever he bolted out the front door, the garden gate or, on more than one occasion, the kitchen window to wreak havoc through the neighborhood. Eternally unrepentant, Hugo managed to escape on a regular basis, which means I spent much of the last 14 years in a homicidal rage.

An overreaction, you think? Well, you try constantly telling the mailman, the Con Ed guy or that nice young Jehovah’s Witness that the beast aggressively inspecting his crotch “just wanted to say “Hi.” Try appeasing the young mother across the street after an 80 pound hairball with teeth bounds joyfully into her toddler’s splash pool while said toddler goes catatonic with terror. Explain to the dog sitter who gives Hugo a big, fluffy blanket to sleep on why he chose to eat it rather than lie down on it, necessitating a midnight run to the doggy ER and several weeks of post-blanketecomy care.

And then tell me how I’m supposed to adjust to the shock of a clean house, a good night’s sleep and neighbors who suddenly stop threatening to sue me.

I can’t. As old and tired and out of it as Hugo has become, I want to believe the wild, wicked, joyful young beast we brought home from the pound years ago is still in there, hiding under his now mangy fur, behind his big, brown, med-clouded eyes. Old? Out of it? Ready to go? Hell, no – Hugo’s still in there, he’s just waiting for the right time, the right opportunity to tear up the block and lead the whole family on one last run through the neighbor’s gardens.

Chasing cars, jumping out windows, eating blankets, wagging his tail for any human being that crossed his path – Hugo was trying to teach us something, and it took until now to see. His whole doggy life was a testament to the joy of living without guilt or malice or fear. I get it now, now that he’s getting ready to leave us.

I swear if he would jump through that window one more time, I’d jump with him.