THE TILLY & TOMMY REPORT
By Fred Mittag
In our March column, we asked our readers to send in some of their animal stories. What follows is the first one in what we hope will be a long series.
“A Dog Named Bruno”
Alejandro Grattan noted in his February “Editor’s Page” that dogs benefit, among others, the elderly. That stimulated memories.
My brother years ago gave our parents a dachshund that they named “Bruno,” a dog that soon became important. My father couldn’t bend down from his chair, but he could call Bruno, who would faithfully come and pull the large warming socks off his feet at bedtime. My father spent regular time throwing toys for Bruno, who would fetch and then stand against my father’s leg to drop the toy back into his lap to be thrown again. My mother played with Bruno, too.
My parents were amused that Bruno learned the word “ball” and they couldn’t say it around him, because he would become too excited. After all, they couldn’t throw the ball for Bruno all day long. So they started to spell it, and Bruno even learned what that meant. They were proud that Bruno could recognize the spelling of b-a-l-l, even though it meant he would demand that they throw it so he could run after it. They enjoyed demonstrating Bruno’s spelling prowess to visitors.
My brother kept a small vegetable garden in back for our parents and Bruno harvested some of it for himself. He would walk down the row, carefully eyeing the crop and choose a bell pepper. He then repeatedly jumped up and snipped at the stem until the pepper had fallen and become his. But before eating it, he would bring it into the house and prance around, showing it off. Or he would pull up a radish and vigorously shake the dirt off and then eat it.
I never thought of these things as dog food, but Bruno happily ate them, along with raw brussels sprouts and other things. And it’s not as though my parents were starving him. Along with b-a-l-l, Bruno learned to spell t-r-e-a-t. Bruno simply enjoyed harvesting his own vegetables, along with his regular chow.
Bruno, being a Wienerwurst dog with short legs, couldn’t avoid scraping his penis on the edge of the concrete steps going out the back door. My father, noticing this problem, installed a plank on the steps, complete with a piece of carpet for Bruno’s footing. After that, Bruno always used the carpeted plank, a boon to his private comfort.
But he only used the plank to go outside to harvest the garden or to roam around the yard. When he needed to potty, he didn’t use the plank. Instead, he came to my mother who had to pick him up and carry him outside, then set him down in the yard so he could pee. Bruno had been a very easy dog to house-train.
When my father was in the hospital he would tell my mother she needed to go back home and take care of Bruno. This was a godsend for my mother, because otherwise, my father would have expected her to spend the whole day and most of the night at the hospital, a wearisome duty.
Bruno survived my father and developed diabetes. My mother had to be a nurse to Bruno, giving him insulin shots and pills. After not having my father to care for, Bruno gave her more purpose in life than she would have felt otherwise.
My mother called one day to say that Bruno was very ill and was shaking. I lived nearby and we took Bruno to a veterinary clinic that was open on Sunday. I’ll never forget how she held him in her lap as we rushed to the clinic. The veterinarian asked for permission to give Bruno a shot in the stomach with a large needle, but to no avail. My mother had waited in the car, and was spared seeing that terrible needle.
The veterinarian pronounced Bruno dead and came with me to the car to tell my mother, whose eyes welled up in tears. I went back in with the veterinarian to pay him a reasonable fee for his effort. He told me that my mother had lost her dog, but that she had not lost her need for a pet.
But my mother decided against another dog. She was already in failing health and besides, she thought it would be unfair to expect another dog to take Bruno’s place. All these years later, my brother, sister, and I remember Bruno for his charm and intelligence. But not least, for his precious role in the lives of our parents in their final years.