During my last two trips to my parents' house, I've been startled by how dry our deaf dog is becoming. She's always had her itch spots--those spots that can make a dog kick her legs involuntarily, or lick a human hand as though she herself is licking whatever part of the body that hand is scratching--but now her entire body would seem to be an itch. She's barely resting when she's up again to scratch her jaw, or her neck, or her sides. This morning, I put my increasingly well-rested mind to work on this problem, after the dog and I woke up for her first trip outside at about 7 a.m. Surely, I thought, there must be something we can apply to the dog's skin to keep her from needing or wanting to scratch all the time. When I'm itchy, I use lotions. But lotions aren't made to be licked, and that could be a problem for our dog. Nothing petroleum-based, for instance. And the dog is untutored genius, head to toe; there's no stopping her when she wants to be somewhere or to do something, and so any application that would require her to be still is pretty much out.
Somehow, by the time my mother had returned from a morning beautification, I had thought of olive oil. If she licked olive oil off of her toes after we rubbed it in, that extra oil in her system might also work its way through her digestive system and improve the condition of all her skin. I said to my mother, of course she keeps licking her feet--she's trying to keep them from drying out, but it's just like licking chapped lips over and over. Let's heat up the oil a little bit first, my mother said.
We double-teamed the dog on the kitchen floor and rubbed warmed olive oil into her paws, getting it in between the cracked tips of her toes and her claws. She was, as one might imagine, confused by the proceedings, and she was even less skillful on my parents' kitchen floor than usual. But she found her footing soon enough, and three hours later, she'd barely touched tongue to paws at all. We decided the treatment seemed a success so far and proceeded to dose her digits again this evening.
One disadvantage of the dog's deafness is that it's difficult to talk her through things, though that didn't stop me from crooning to her while I massaged her paws before bed. On the other hand, one advantage of the dog's deafness is that it's easier to sneak up on her now--say, with a camera. And if I shoot without flash, she even lets me stay around and practice on her for awhile. And her deafness hasn't changed a thing about her favorite activity to undertake with me around, which is sleeping while I read. (I used to joke that the dog liked Anthony Trollope's novels best. I don't think that was true; I think she would have liked Tolstoy best, had she not just had all the innards of her left ear removed when I was reading Anna Karenina, and she's never seemed to have many complaints about Eliot. Anything that keeps me sitting still and warm in bed. Anything that might prompt me to eat Swedish Fish, or anything else, really, in bed. Thus, she has no problem whatsoever with my reading Nadeem Aslam. She is an equal opportunity sleeper.)
She believes that this bed is her bed, though now she sometimes loses her nerve and needs to be lifted onto it. She tears it up every night, gets it ready for both of us, curls up right where I'm going to sleep, near the very edge of the left side, though she could lie down anywhere on its double-bed width. Once I'm settled, she moves further away. She runs in her sleep, snores and barks and croons, has gotten even louder than before now that she can't hear herself and can't hear us quieting her. We joke that she is learning to read lips, but I believe she's just enjoying her new liberation from our commands. She is a dog who knows her own stubborn mind. She gets jealous and loud when my father kisses my mother goodbye.
First thing tomorrow, she will try to cadge shredded wheat, or bagels from Shapiro's, or yogurt--or whatever else I rustle up for breakfast. At some point during the day, she will get frisky and want to play. But mostly, she'll curl up beside my right hip while I keep reading Maps for Lost Lovers, or she'll curl with me in front of a fire if I make one, and if I leave the house, she'll get into the front window and watch me drive away. She is, as we have always said, such a dog. I continue singing this identity to her, even though she has not been able to hear me for months. She is such a dog.