Things We Leave Behind
By Kristen Brakeman on November 01, 2012
Chopper: Our New One-Eyed Mutt
About seven years ago my in-laws moved into a small apartment and began purging unnecessary items from their lives. Besides getting rid of needless junk, they sorted sentimental keepsakes from the past and then divided them up between their sons.
At the time we weren’t too happy about it. It seemed morbid, and what’s worse, we were suddenly stuck with boxes of mementos from my husband’s childhood, and had nowhere to store them either.
But after my in-laws’ deaths this past summer, we realized how wrong we were. It turned out that what his parents had done was not just practical, it was incredibly thoughtful as well. Because of their sorting and purging, my husband and his brother had little left to deal with, and for that we were all very grateful.
Unfortunately, even with their planning, his parents left behind two items that we didn’t know what to do with. Nobody wanted them, yet nobody wanted to part with them either.
I am now the proud owner of both.
The first is an unusual painting of a man walking to an outhouse in a pounding rainstorm – a painting that was prominently displayed at my husband’s childhood home and in all others that his parents lived in since. The second is Chopper, my in-laws' 150-year-old deaf, arthritic, one-eyed, trembling, foul-smelling mutt. (Oh, he bites too.)
When my in-laws first moved down to Southern California to be near their grandchildren they struggled with loneliness. They had left their life and circle of friends back home in Northern California, and, besides occasional babysitting, had little to do. I was worried about them so when I read somewhere that pets were good therapy for the elderly, I suggested that they get a dog.
It took some convincing, but ultimately they agreed. I began an internet search for the perfect second-hand dog. Eventually I found an adorable Jack Russell Terrier (just like the one on <em>Frasier</em>) that was available for adoption at the local Humane Society.
I called my in-laws and had them rush to the pound before someone else could snap him up. Only a few hours later they arrived at our house to introduce us to their new dog.
But when we opened the door there was no adorable Jack Russell terrier. Instead, there stood an old quivering wiry-haired mutt. This dog looked like a German Shepherd had mated with a hedgehog and the hedgehog won.
“What’s this? Where’s the adorable Jack Russell Terrier that I found?” I demanded.
My in-laws explained that they chose this little dog, oddly named “Chopper” because the humane society worker said he was a better match for them. Also, he was free with their “Seniors for Seniors” program.
I could not hide my disappointment. This dog was a shoo-in to win an ugliest dog contest, and what’s worse he smelled like a dirty old fish tank.
But my in-laws loved him, as did my kids. In fact, my children thought I was a horrible person for not seeing his appeal.
My in-laws catered to that dog like he was a newborn baby. They bought him a cozy new bed and a car seat and let him rule their house. They gave him a steady diet of table scraps even though their vet reprimanded him for his weight gain. Over the years they spent thousands of their limited dollars on his ever-increasing medical problems, including an expensive surgery to remove his cancerous eye.
My husband and his brother often joked that their parents treated Chopper like the child they never had. They adored that little mutt.
But after my father-in-law passed away from a brief illness in July, and my mother-in-law died from a stroke two weeks later, Chopper was left alone. My brother-in-law stepped up to take care of him for the short term, but then found an apartment that conveniently did not accept pets. Chopper was orphaned once again.
We tried to find him a home. I posted a picture of him on Facebook, but I think my description was a little too accurate and likely scared off any takers.
Friends suggested that it might just be best to put him down. After all, they said, he’d lived a long full life. But my husband and I just couldn’t do it. We didn’t think that he was in pain and it seemed wrong to put him down just because having him would be inconvenient. Also, my kids were still getting over the loss of their grandparents. Chopper is the last connection they have to them.
Perhaps that’s why we inherited that painting - the depressing one of the guy trying to get to the outhouse. Neither my husband nor his brother wanted to have it up in their homes, yet neither wanted to get rid of it either. It’s a connection to their parents that they’re just not ready to part with.
When I look at that painting I wonder what my mother-in-law saw could have possibly seen in it. She had such a positive outlook on life, and to me that depressing painting didn’t fit.
My husband suggested that maybe she liked the dreariness of it. Maybe when she was feeling low she could look at that bleak painting and say, "Well, life could be worse. I could be this guy having to walk outside in a pounding rainstorm just to use the toilet.”
Perhaps that’s what appealed to them about Chopper? As the years took their toll and their list of ailments grew, they could look at him with his even longer list of problems and figure he had to feel worse. “Here’s a dog in worse shape than us. We love him!”
Hopefully, I’ll grow to embrace our new dog Chopper somehow. I have to admit, it is hard to look at him with his one eye and his shaking arthritic legs and not think, “Life could be worse.” The fact that he’s still eager to chase a ball boggles the mind.
And I suspect that my in-laws are staring down at me now and having a hearty laugh at my expense. “So you wanted us to get a dog, did you?”
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