|This is not Thurston -- it's the closest I could get|
with Google image search. Imagine a much
sadder, much mangier version of this dog.
The dog's name was Thurston -- actually Thurston Howl III -- and he had been with my roommate for many years before we went in on a 3-bedroom house in Glen Park, the (at the time) great undiscovered neighborhood at the south edge of San Francisco. My roommate and I had worked together at a restaurant, and both found ourselves in need of housing: He was being evicted from a warehouse he had helped turn into a live/work performance space/disaster area, and I was growing weary of my studio apartment in the Tenderloin, which despite many positive qualities still insisted on being in the Tenderloin.
So we joined forces, and the house we found was a bit run down but architecturally typical (garage on the bottom, three-bedroom flat on top) and an absolute palace to the 23-year-old I was at the time. My new roommate, over the five years we both lived there, would prove to be unusually flinchy about tenant-landlord relations, preferring to either fix things himself or leave them alone rather than bother her, for fear that she'd suddenly raise the rent or kick us out or something -- let's just say that the San Francisco rental market changes people in ways I did not fully understand at the time. This tendency first revealed itself in relation to Thurston: The rental application asked if we had any pets, and the ad we'd replied to said "cats ok," so he wrote a little essay in the margins, in a supplicating handwriting, in hopes that his dog would not prove to be a dealbreaker: "I have an old hound dog who sleeps a lot."
This would prove to be true. What my new roommate left out was that the dog also shed a lot (and by a lot I mean enough to change the color of the carpet), suffered from severe arthritis and hip dysplasia, and smelled like a microwaved hot dog rolled in a marathon-worn sweat sock. He whined all the time, unprompted. He would lay in the front living room all day, moving only to stay in the sunny spot on the carpet, and where that lifestyle would have suited any of the other dogs I've known just fine, Thurston would let out a sustained, impossibly quiet, incredibly high-pitched whine, all day long. (ALL. DAY. LONG.) He could not be bothered to move at any time, seemed to be completely deaf (or at least totally immune to being yelled at by his owner), and let out the most pained, miserable sound I have ever heard any other living thing make if he was in any way pushed, pulled, lifted, or otherwise manhandled. The best way I can think to describe it is as a combination of a wounded seal and a coyote being struck with a crossbow bolt.
My roommate kept a cheap little loveseat in his bedroom but I never saw anyone sit in it but Thurston, probably because it had pinstriped white-and-blue upholstery, kind of like a seersucker suit, and had a darkening, greyish-brown, Thurston-shaped stain in the middle. Every time I walked past his doorway on the way to my room my eyes fell on this loveseat, and I instinctively shifted to mouth-breathing to avoid the awful smell that his room could not quite contain. I wondered how much of that smell was coming from that loveseat, and how much from the bed and the carpet. If that loveseat disappeared, how much better would it smell in here? Could I even get that thing out of here? I'd have to buy him a new loveseat, that's fine, but I'm not sure I could get that close to the old one without gagging.
The entire house had wall-to-wall carpet in a darkish, gun-metal gray -- not what you'd call nice, but not gross or anything, at least not until we moved in. Its dark color was ideal for setting off the color of Thurston's white fur, which coated every corner of the common areas and my roommate's room. I never imagined any animal could shed as much as this dog shed. If I were given a garbage bag full of white dog hair, a bag of speed, and a weekend, I don't think I could do as thorough a job coating this carpet as Thurston did on a regular basis. I have no idea where all this hair came from, because I've never seen a dog with so thin a coat. You could see his pink skin right through it, almost like he had no coat at all.
And don't think I just sat back and let this happen. I tried, oh god I tried, to keep things tidy. I went out and spent $150 -- and we're talking 23-year-old dollars here -- on an upper mid-level vacuum cleaner, and passive-aggressively started vacuuming the house every few days, without saying anything about it to my roommate.
The house would stay hair-free for about a night, and seem okay in the morning, but after about 24 hours I would start to wonder if I had gone into a fugue state and merely imagined vacuuming the house because there was no longer any evidence that it had ever happened.
Also, there was so much hair that the vacuum cleaner would clog up within a couple of minutes; I'd have to turn it off, take the thing apart, pull a golf ball-sized wad out with my fingers, and resume vacuuming, only to have it clog again within five minutes.
I guess Thurston also had fleas or something, because one of my roommate's favorite pastimes was to comb the dog's back with a very small, pink-handled, super-finetoothed comb while he watched TV, examining the hair that would come off in the comb, then dropping it in a glass (or sometimes a bowl) of water.
I know I already mentioned the noises, but oh Jesus god were those noises terrible. Whenever my roommate would take Thurston out for a walk, which he diligently did, like the good dog owner he believed himself to be, the dog's arthritis and hip dysplasia would cause him to resist and make horrible, tortured noises every step of the way. It being San Francisco, our house was on a steep hill, and my roommate would walk Thurston down the hill to the nearby park (Glen Canyon, for those of you scoring at home), but when they came back and Thurston had to come back up the hill, the dog would stop cold in his tracks and my roommate would literally get behind him and push, like you'd push a stalled-out car. Of course, this wasn't always the case: sometimes he'd get in front of him and pull his leash, like a miner pulling a sled of whimpering, smelly gold.
|Closer, but still not quite miserable enough.|
This all makes it sound like my roommate was sadistic, or didn't care about the dog, but that wasn't it. He seemed to really like the dog, and be very attached to him. He told me he'd found him in an alley behind his loft/performace space warehouse, and that he'd been abused by his prior owner. The couple of times I probed for more information, I never got any more details than that his penis was pierced, which I agree constitutes abuse, but didn't quite explain the endless, pointless mewling.
In any case, my roommate was in many ways a good owner to Thurston. He took him almost everywhere (though he'd then leave him in the car), and when he left him at home, would come home early to make sure he got fed at his regular hour, and was totally on top of his flea medicine. It's just that he also seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the animal was completely miserable, lived with excruciating pain, and got no apparent pleasure from anything or anyone. It would seem that the dog was making himself clear with his miserable noises, and both I and our third roommate would hint around that maybe the dog would rather not go on, but my roommate would just shrug it off and call him "a whiner." While technically true, it seemed an understatement akin to calling Charles Manson "a bad egg."
Thurston's raw, unleavened existential misery seemed screamingly, face-slappingly clear to me, our third roommate, and everyone who ever came over -- clear enough that I began to notice that despite all the talk about hip dysplasia and arthritis, my roommate never mentioned the vet, and I figured that had to be because any vet would see immediately exactly what I'd believed since about six weeks after moving in with Thurston: that his every move and every sound, that every fiber of his being right down to that awful smell coming off him so strong you could see it like heat coming off a road, was begging for the sweet release of death.
This may strike you as cruel. When I would tell people about it at the time, a few of them certainly seemed to feel that I was being insensitive (at best). I felt like it was the opposite, that it was my roommate who was being insensitive, that nobody else would prolong the obvious misery of this poor creature a moment longer than needed. That keeping Thurston alive, dragging him up that hill and pushing his feeble, creaking bones down those steps every day -- as my roommate was wont to do when the noises got too annoying -- was the real cruelty.
I can't remember when the thought first occurred to me, but before long it was nearly all I could think about: I needed to put Thurston out of his misery. Whatever horror my roommate had saved him from could not have been much worse than what the poor thing was going through now, and if my roommate didn't have the stomach for what needed to be done, I would just have to do it for him. I'd just have to make sure he didn't know I did it, or even that it had been done: I had to make it look like an accident.
Maybe I'd leave some chocolate out. Dogs can't eat chocolate because it'll kill them, right? I'm sure I heard that somewhere. So I'll just get like 12 Toblerones and leave them on the kitchen floor while my roommate's at work. Maybe I'll even go down to Ghirardelli Square and set him up with the good stuff -- it is his last meal, after all.
Another option: we'd had to train ourselves to make sure never to leave the front door open for more than a couple of seconds, or else Thurston would invariably make an otherwise uncharacteristically spry move out to the street, down the hill, and into the sunset. My theory was that he was trying to get to the highway a couple blocks away (280 South for you scoring at home) and throw himself into traffic. Whatever his motives, this happened quite a few times, enough that Animal Control had to get involved more than once. After the second or third time, they told my roommate if they found him again, they'd keep him. What could be easier than leaving the door open?
Both the chocolate and the open door seemed too risky, though, too easy to bungle. How much chocolate does it take to kill a dog? How serious is Animal Control when they make a threat like that? These were known unknowns, and I didn't feel good about either of them -- not to mention I would be blamed and held accountable even if he believed whichever plan I went with was an accident.
The plan I settled on was simple and (I hoped) undetectable: I'd inject a big air bubble into a blood vessel while he slept. I felt confident that I could find an injection point -- between his toes was the spot I tended to envision -- that would never be noticed, unless my roommate insisted on an autopsy.
For months I fantasized about the crime, with a frequency rivaling the way I fantasized about 1992 Cindy Crawford, but I never saw an opening where I could do it without fear of discovery. Obviously, I just didn't want to go through with murdering -- does anyone have a problem with me downgrading that to "euthanizing"? -- my roommate's dog, no matter how miserable they were both making me, because in his weird way, my roommate loved that dog.
And anyway, a solution eventually presented itself when I had the good fortune to meet the young lady who would become my wife and provide me with two things: reassurance that I was not insane to feel that this dog was utterly miserable and that his being kept alive was a peculiar strain of sadism; and an escape route from the situation, when we got an apartment together just around the corner (Glen Park, it was like Hobbiton then, I miss it even now) and I moved out of the house after four years.
Did I miss Thurston, or my roommate? Although he and I never had a single argument or raised-voice discussion in all the time we lived together, and had a generally affable relationship, I think I spoke to him less than five times after I moved out, and they were all when I bumped into him around the neighborhood (dragging a whimpering Thurston behind him, naturally), and I've had no contact of any kind with him since.
As for Thurston, I took the most vivid memento of him I can think of with me to my new apartment: the vacuum cleaner. I'd paid for it, after all. But once we got it to the new place it became clear that it was so thoroughly imbued with the hot, retching smell of Thurston's coat that we did what my roommate never could: we put it out of its misery, took it to the dump, and got a new vacuum cleaner.