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27 November 2014

A Dog Called Schrödinger

Rudolfo Carrillo
by Rudolfo Carrillo

Nine years are a fraction of a human life. Nine years are most of a dog's life. Nine years ago I began my experiment as a college instructor, after having spent many years in the newspaper business. Nine years ago, I met a big red dog, a stray who frequented campus. These were experiences that changed me.

The change was foreboding and relishing at the same time. Though I spent four years teaching high school in the late nineteen-nineties, I found myself mostly unprepared, thoroughly astonished by the challenges I undertook as a teacher of adult basic education.

My new colleagues helped. Feeding the stray dog during breaks from evening class helped. Norma Versakos was my supervisor. She was an old school wobblie, a leftist with a mission; passionate, well-educated and patient; her mission was to bring education to the masses. We are making the future in this office, she would tell me.

The dog was suspicious of humans. While Norma taught me how to teach, how to reach out to others with knowledge and optimism, he taught me about the fragility of life, how circumstance makes partners of separate lives.

The big dog would wander around campus in the evenings with a companion, a small black and white spaniel. While he could be coaxed into contact with the requisite hot dog, taco or hamburger, the spaniel kept her distance, growling and pacing in the distance while he partook. Afterwards, both would run off as if summoned elsewhere by a mysterious force.

One night, I saw them in the distance by the river. They were living in a hollow by some trees, had dug a hole under the roots of a large cottonwood. When they saw me approach, they barked and ran. I wandered back to campus and lectured on the basics of fractional equivalence.

When they ceased to make their nightly appearance for a solid week, I considered calling animal control. I practiced my speech, but never called, convinced they had been taken in by others or had died. For the following four weeks, I allowed the knowledge of the dogs to wane, comforted by my memories of their tenacious existence in the Bosque.

Sometime in late September, the phone in my office rang. It was the campus receptionist, calling to say the dog I had been feeding was at the front door, wagging his tail, wanting to come in from the summer sun. I walked out to the main office. The big red dog was sitting by the entrance, wagging his tail and licking his chops. He was thin and frightened. I walked out of the door and he jumped up on me, wagging his tail and howling. I gave him a turkey and cheese sandwich I had brought for lunch.

For the next five hours, I hid the dog in my office. I consulted Norma. She had a kind heart and allowed me to keep him quietly under the desk. She said I should call him GED, since that was what I taught at the school. When my shift was over, I got up to leave and he followed me out to my car and jumped right into the back seat when I opened the door.

I drove him over to my house in Fringecrest. The first thing he did when he got inside was to urinate on the leather couch in the living room. Then he went to sleep. I told my wife I wished to keep him. He was a good dog, had remembered me and sought me out after all. I said I would call him Schrödinger, since I had considered him dead when he was actually alive.

The years spun by. Schrödinger had an exciting life among our pack. He didn't get along great with Arnold, the old Malamute I kept in the back yard, but they were always polite to one another. He was indifferent to the bonded pair, Rosie and Dulce ... until they were in the backyard together where they would chase each other around, tongues hanging out, legs flying, dust everywhere.

In 2011 my wife adopted a miniature pughuahua who she called Hannah. Schrödinger bonded with Hannah and the two became inseparable, sleeping together, eating in the same room and. though they were very different, displaying a devotion to one another that is endearing. When they are out in the yard together, Schrödinger seems to guard Hannah, standing by while she explores, following her around loyally, sharing her joy.

During the summer of 2014, long after his older pack mates had passed into infinity and as his relationship with Hannah the pug continued to grow, I noticed Schrödinger was having trouble eating. I switched his diet to a softer sort of dog food and he was grateful. But by the time autumn arrived, he was still having trouble. I guessed he had some bad teeth, and made an appointment with the vet.

While under anesthesia, it was discovered Schrödinger had a tumor in his mouth, on his hard palate. A biopsy was done. The pathologist who investigated the material said he probably had an aggressive cancer. The doctor prescribed pain killers and referred the dog to an oncologist.

Now it is the end of November. Schrödinger sleeps a lot. His appetite is good; we are feeding him boiled chicken, rice and cheeseburgers. He still goes out every evening for a long walk that takes us from the edge of Fringecrest up to the Air Force base and back again. He likes a bowl of cold milk and a chunk of chicken breast afterwards. Sometimes he sits by me and puts his head in my lap. Other times, he licks his pet pug on the face and paws at her affectionately as they lie together on the living room couch until both fall into a deep, wintertime sleep.

And though through experience, I have learned to view things in the distance and have learned to view the world in groupings of many years, I now find myself measuring my time in days, in moments. There are triumphs in those minutes and there may be tragedy too. I am reminded those things will change me, will show me a way into the future.

*Learn more about Schrödinger's battle against fibrosarcoma at bit.ly/schrovsfibro.

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