I won't romanticize Gomez. He was profoundly territorial above and beyond the typical dog. I was the only person he would tolerate extended close attention from, and he occasionally and randomly wouldn't tolerate any attention. There is the example of my friend Jennifer, who was petting him without incident one day when suddenly and without any warning whatsoever, he bit her hand. He had bitten Erin several times, on one occasion putting her in the hospital overnight for IV antibiotics after it got infected and leaving her with a small scar. This was the point where we instituted the "nobody can touch Gomez but me" rule. I went through multiple dog sitters over the years, only occasionally finding one that would follow my instructions that he could never be touched and could only be handled via the leash that must stay on him at all times (I want to thank Amanda from Happy Tails for the past four years). With these limitations, his life became rather small. And then Asher arrived and Gomez's life became yet smaller, because the rule was that Asher and Gomez could never be in the same room together, preferably not even on the same level of the house together. As soon as Asher could understand the spoken word I began teaching him three rules, "Repeat after me, Asher: Don't ever touch Gomez, don't ever run at Gomez, don't even talk to Gomez."
A reasonable person could make a very compelling argument that I should have gotten rid of Gomez many years ago (Erin nods her head vigorously). It's not even an argument, it is just a fact that it is insane to keep a dog like this, that it was negligent for me to keep him after Erin's bad bite. But emotional truths are not reasonable things, and it was an emotional truth that Gomez was crucial to me in a way that is beyond any explanation or defense I can give.
I received Gomez as a gift shortly before I started my internal medicine residency. It is a truism that you should never accept a gift that eats, but an American Eskimo puppy is really something to behold and very nearly impossible to refuse. As a breed they are known for behavioral issues, but there weren't any powerful warning signs at first. I tried to socialize him. I took him to dog parks, I took him to behavior courses, had two different "dog whisperers" come to work with him, etc. It just wasn't in him. But it wasn't in me, either. I'll admit: those early years, when I came home from a long day at work (and I wasn't going to interact with another living thing apart from Gomez until I went back to work) and I got out the leash and he was grumpy about it (because he was a dog who hated going for walks), and then he and I are trudging grumpily together down a rainy Portland street and he is growling under his breath at everything that he sees and outright barking at anybody who comes anywhere near us... "Yeah," I thought. "This is my dog."
He had big bright eyes and a great smile when he was happy, and he was astonishingly smart. Erin once made me a bet that I couldn't teach Gomez to turn on the Christmas tree lights by stepping on the switch. I had him trained to do it within 30 minutes. There were these things about him that were just simply great. But at the same time he was unbearably insular, he was intolerant, he loved what he loved (Brandon and food) and he was viciously suspicious of everything else. If he was a human being he would possibly be a Trump voter. He was an incredible amount of work. I lived in constant worry about what he would do and arranged our entire lives around the principle of minimizing that.
But I felt that I owed him something (his life, I suppose), and that he was a responsibility only I could possibly have taken on and had any success with, because who in their right mind would bend over backwards, lose sleep, put their marriage in jeopardy, etc., over a rough and tumble white dog like this, a dog not obviously lovable beyond the surface? Is it reason enough to do something, just because nobody else can? Probably not, but I did it.
Gomez was slowing down. He was getting arthritic. He was emotionally calmer but still unpredictable. He was starting to have some problems with his bowels. But I figured we had a few years left.
Last night, in classic Gomez fashion, he stole a chicken drumstick off the table and before I could stop him, ate the whole thing bone and all. I immediately had a doomed feeling about it. Within an hour he was obviously very uncomfortable. He couldn't stay still, he was trying to retch, he was whining. He was in pain and it was decision time.
The vet said what I suspected she would say, which is that the bone was almost certainly impacted or possibly had already perforated his stomach or bowel, and while they could do x-rays there was a very high chance that he would need surgery to have any chance. Meanwhile he was getting worse, more and more uncomfortable. My every instinct was to save him, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. He was almost twelve years old, he'd had a good run but now had a very small life indeed from which I was largely absent, and he was an unfortunate danger to my family and it was past time, long, long past time.
At the end we sat together in a way that we hadn't had occasion to do in a long time. The medicine made him comfortable very quickly and he relaxed, and the vet left us alone. Gomez alone with me, which is just exactly how he would have wanted it, how he would have preferred his entire life to be. I had always hoped that he would die quietly in his sleep, and that it wouldn't come down to me making the decision. But it made perfect sense, because it was always me, I was always the one thing for him, the person who cared about him, the person who kept him alive on this earth, the person who lost sleep for him, and so also the person who could finally decide to call it quits.
Asher was still awake when I came home. He could tell I'd been crying and he asked me why I was sad. I told him that Gomez was dead. Asher, of course, was completely unfazed: in his view, this was just purely good news since the dangerous monster was gone.
"We can get a new dog, Daddy, a nice dog," he said.
"Maybe someday," I said. He saw I hadn't cheered up, so he thought some more..
"Or...." he said. "We could get another bad dog?"
"No buddy," I said. "No more bad dogs."