The Year in Dog Shit

You can’t always predict what will grab and hold your attention—a pop song, a politician, a personal tragedy. As the year comes to an end, Hazlitt’s writers look back on the things they were particularly preoccupied with in 2013.

I’ve spent most of this year trying to keep a dog alive. My girlfriend and I adopted a one-year-old frankenstein named Oscar, neé Crockett, from the Humane Society in March after a particularly bad bout of dog fever. We’d just gotten back from a vacation, I’d started a new job earlier that week, and it seemed like a good time to fuck our lives up a little bit.

Oscar came preloaded with worms, hook and heart. The hookworm was in its final stages, but the heartworm was full-blown. While the Humane Society would foot the bill until he was cured, it was on us to keep him more or less immobilized, lest he get worked up and cause a grip of dead worms to break off and block an important passageway inside his compromised body. We could take him out to relieve himself, but that was all for at least a few months. It was a drag; he liked being outside. We gamed the system and brought him down to the backyard more often than any dog should need, you know, just in case—but then he validated our trickery by shitting every single time. And, honestly? It was amazing.

As part of the treatment, he was on prednisone, a corticosteroid and immunosuppressant. I don’t know if it was the drugs or learned behaviour from living in a shelter (each poop could be your last) or an attempt to please us (you came to the right place)—whatever his reason, he always kept one in the chamber. Seven, eight times a day sometimes. I developed an outsize and wholly undeserved sense of pride in his prolificacy, told friends and family, took out an ad in the pennysaver. Some people might say this is evidence of an empty life. These mopes have never seen my dog’s heroic dumps.

Weather warmed up, snow melted, cryogenic loot from the winter reanimated. Squirrels arrived and Oscar did his best to murder each and every one, often settling for a thorough sniffing of the perimeter of our building’s yard. We took him in for a vet appointment and they told us that, while we were thankfully out of heartworm country, they did notice some roundworms in his stool. Heartworm kills in the shadows; roundworms wriggle in the mahogany grave for all to see. The eggs and larvae live in the soil, and he probably wolfed some down during a recent survey of the newly thawed grounds. More pills, more poop scrutiny, less freedom to roam with his nose in the dirt. These too shall pass.

All day long, my girlfriend and I message each other about his bowels. “How was his poop this morning?” “A little soft, actually. I think there was some hair in it?” He field dressed a noise-making tennis ball a friend gave us in about 30 seconds and swallowed the squeaker, though it eventually escaped unscathed. He ate part of a woven carpet, made for a fine tapestry over the following week. You get to know the cycles and the signs: ballpark mustard means watch for bloating. Friends stop calling, but they were never really your friends anyway.

Another side-effect: strong feelings about dog turds in general, especially when there’s a magician at the end of your leash that can slip one past his teeth in seconds, real sleight of mouth shit. You can tell he’s got one in there because the light has returned to his eyes. Sheer ecstasy. Dog shit in the wild, before just a mild nuisance, now fills me with embarrassingly murderous rage. “You’re ruining it for the rest of us,” I yell at nobody, an hour before sunrise, fishing rogue feces out of the dog’s fucking mouth with my bare fucking hands. And yet, this idiot with the ears loves it. Intellectually, I know I should not let him eat foreign poo—this is, after all, a dog whose immune system has already seen some peaks and valleys. Emotionally, though? He’s had a hard life. It’s tough to deprive him of such joy.

Mary Roach was on the podcast Bullseye earlier this year after her new book Gulp came out, and the host, Jesse Thorn, mentioned that there’s nothing his dog finds more fascinating than a dead squirrel in the late stages of decay. This, Roach explained, is why so much dog food smells like shit: dogs go nuts for the stink of decomposing flesh, but, since there’s no great business plan for selling sacks of rotten rodent carcasses, their kibble has to somewhat approximate the aroma. Dog food only comes in different flavors because that’s what humans like, she told Thorn, and because we like to imagine it’s what dogs like, too. It’s not. What dogs like is shit. Dogs’ lives are shit, and if you have a dog, your life will be shit, too. It’s actually pretty great.