A Dog's Life: The Bizarre Story of Katie and Gizmo
Foibles, Thy Name is Gizmo
A bit of background is in order so that those who did not know him in life can get a feel for what made our Shih-Tzu unique. Most dogs like to play fetch, run in the glorious summer sunshine, be held and coddled and simply bask in the attention of their humans. Well, not our Gizmo; not even a little bit.
We adopted the furry bundle from a family who claimed that he simply hadn't "fit in" at their home. He came to us with a laundry list of bad behavior and a bottle of doggie eau de toilette. Gizmo was barely six months old at the time and his previous owners didn't even give the puppy a parting glance as they left him in our care.
To say that the first few months with our new canine companion were trying would be an understatement. He harbored some major food aggression that we attributed to the fact that he had been forced to share his meals with a multitude of other animals at his former home.
Countless hours spent utilizing positive reinforcement, coupled with the dawning realization that the food bowl was his and his alone, Gizmo finally came around. Within a couple of months, he would let us take food right out of his mouth with nary a whimper. He had come a long way, but there were still miles to go.
One of the worst aspects of the tiny terror's personality was his disdain for small children. Again, the root of this problem seemed to lie in the treatment he had received at the hands of the youngsters who had helped raise him.
Our daughter was around four years old when Gizmo came into our home. He had only been with us a short time when she leaned down to give him a kiss and he bit a piece out of her lip. I realize that children (or adults for that matter) should never get in a dog's face, but he reacted so quickly that there was no time to warn her to stay clear of him.
Needless to say, she never completely trusted him after that incident. Neither did she dare put her face close to his again. The tiny scar she still bears is a constant reminder that any dog can lash out, even a ten pound Shih-Tzu.
To make a long story short, Gizmo had a short fuse that we learned to tiptoe around. He never really played or seemed to enjoy physical activity; preferring instead to lay on the couch and sleep most of the time.
There were a few quirks that the little fellow possessed that were endearing. One of our favorites was what we referred to as "teddy bear paws." Gizmo liked to have his belly rubbed and hated for it to end. Anytime he wanted us to keep petting him, he would paddle his front legs in the air. It was adorable and one of the things we loved most about him.
Gizmo exhibited other behaviors that were also uniquely his. He incessantly licked the floors, carpets, rugs, my husband's hairy legs and the underside of his front paws. This was never a case of a few swipes before moving on to something else. The slobbery, noisy lapping would go on until one of us put a stop to it by telling him that it was enough already.
Following a licking spree, he would barf up something akin to a hairball. When we spoke to the vet about his strange habit, she didn't seem overly concerned. We accepted it as part of his personality, as we had done with many of Gizmo's quirks.
Among his other qualities was a tendency to grumble as though he was cursing us under his breath. This usually occurred anytime we had the audacity to leave the house for any reason. He found our departure to be completely unacceptable and he wasn't afraid to let us have an earful upon our return.
If there is one word that could describe Gizmo, above all others, it would have to be "smelly." If there was any doubt in our minds as to why he needed cologne, it had disappeared within a day of his arrival. No matter how many baths he received or how clean his fur was kept, he always carried with him a foul odor. It wouldn't be until he was a senior dog that the smell would manifest into something quite abhorrent.
All in all, Gizmo was a sweet dog with more than his fair share of personality glitches. Even so, we loved him dearly and he felt the same way about us. The one thing that we did that he could never forgive, however, was to bring another dog into his world. Her name was Katie and theirs would be a relationship that was steeped in mutual disdain.
The Shelter Dog
Gizmo had always shown great interest in other dogs; all animals for that matter. He loved to watch nature shows and anything else on television that depicted animals. He would show his enthusiasm by barking and mimicking their movements as the four-legged creatures he couldn't quite reach frolicked in front of him. He didn't pay any mind to humans who appeared on the screen, but animals immediately grabbed his attention.
With this in mind, we set out to our local animal shelter with the intention of finding him a companion. We had decided early on that we wanted to adopt a female dog, naively thinking that this would pose less of a threat to Gizmo's fragile ego. Boy, did we miss the mark on that one.
The dog who caught our eye was a gorgeous dachshund mix that had just been removed from stray hold. She was extremely affectionate and as gentle as a lamb. We loved her from minute one and assumed that Gizmo would do the same. To be on the safe side, we set up a meet and greet for the two of them before finalizing the adoption.
When our dog and our dog-to-be first laid eyes on each other, they were both as uninterested as they could possibly be. We took that as a good sign. There wasn't a hint of aggression from either party. Gizmo wagged his tail a bit which we assumed was his way of giving his seal of approval. After she was spayed, the friendly rescue joined our family.
Our new addition, who had already been named Katie, turned out to a bit of a handful herself. She had apparently made up her mind from the moment we walked her through the front door that the house was hers. For his part, Gizmo retreated to his favorite corner and let her take over; so much for protecting his ego.
Over the years, our dogs' animosity for each other only grew. We tried keeping them separated, but they would always find a way to be in the same room. They fought until we would have to pull them apart. Luckily, their aggression was mostly for show and neither of them was ever seriously hurt.
Katie and Gizmo lived under the same roof for eight years and never did come to terms with each other's right to be there. They were as different as night and day and yet completely in agreement on one thing: they couldn't stand each other. That deep-seated hostility makes what happened after one of them passed even more puzzling.
In the spring of 2018, Gizmo's always precarious health had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. We noticed that he was becoming lethargic, but chalked it up to his advancing age. It wasn't until he stopped eating that we knew that something was very wrong. We scheduled an appointment with our veterinarian hoping to get to the bottom of what was ailing our dog.
After a thorough exam and a battery of tests were completed, the news was grim. Even though he had seemed fine in the days leading up to his loss of appetite, Gizmo was in the final stages of liver failure.
The vet explained that it wasn't unusual for a pet to hide their ailments for as long as possible until the symptoms got the better of them. Since his condition was terminal, she suggested that the kindest thing we could do for him was to let him go.
We stayed with Gizmo as the vet administered the shots that ended his life. It was a sad occasion, but we knew that it was the best thing for him. We then bundled him up and took him home to be laid to rest in our backyard, a place that he had known for many years and in which he would feel at ease.
At the time of his passing, we had three other dogs besides Gizmo. The two who came our way after we adopted Katie had always gotten along splendidly with Gizmo. They searched for him in the days following his death until finally coming to the realization that he was gone for good.
Katie, on the other hand, didn't seem to give the loss of the dog she had known the longest a second thought. She had never liked him and his absence meant nothing to her. In the weeks that followed, it would become apparent that Gizmo would not allow himself to be so easily forgotten.
Two Become One
Shortly after Gizmo died, we noticed some marked changes in Katie's behavior. Within a month, she began roaming through the house licking the floors and carpets. She would do this, just like Gizmo, until she vomited. It was something she had never done when he was alive; not once.
She had also taken on her nemesis' habit of obsessively licking my husband's legs and feet. Katie had always adored my husband, but had never shown it by slobbering all over him; that had been Gizmo's thing up until this point.
Katie's sleeping arrangements suddenly changed as well. Her favorite place to lay her head had always been the living room couch; whereas Gizmo had preferred a comfy spot on a dog bed beside the television. Now, Katie could be found every morning sleeping curled up in the spot that Gizmo used to occupy.
One might think that she had simply decided to sleep in the bed because it was suddenly vacant. I would agree except for the fact that we had thrown the dog bed away after Gizmo died. Katie, rather than laying on a nice soft couch was now choosing to sleep on the hardwood floor.
Gizmo had seldom played with the other dogs, but when he did he would ultimately end up making choking noises if the tussling got a little too serious. This would always lead to one of the humans in the house coming to his rescue.
Katie, on the other hand, reveled in a good wrestling match and never ended a play session willingly. That is, until the personality transformation that followed on the heels of Gizmo's death. The once unshakable opponent would now walk away from even the tamest of battles in the throes of a choking fit.
As previously mentioned, Gizmo had a habit of licking the bottom of his front paws. This usually occurred when he was stressed or upset for some reason. The paw licking seemed to comfort him and relieve his anxiety. Katie had never shown any need to soothe her spirit in the past. After Gizmo's passing, she would lay and methodically lick the bottom of her paws until one of us stepped in and discouraged her.
Katie also began to paddle her front legs, "teddy bear paw" style, whenever we rubbed her belly. Again, this is something that was completely new for her. She had been in our home for eight years prior to Gizmo's passing without ever exhibiting any of the aforementioned behaviors.
Our leaving the house had also become an issue for Katie. She had always suffered from separation anxiety, which usually manifested in her chewing up something that belonged to us. That was now replaced by a steady stream of grouchy rants that she would assail us with anytime we dared to walk in or out the door. She had not been vocal in the past, but she was certainly making up for lost time.
The spot in our backyard where Gizmo is buried has also become a focal point for Katie. We have a large fenced-in area in which the dogs are free to run. Even so, Katie always makes a beeline to the spot where her enemy in life is now resting. She won't walk directly on the small patch of land, preferring instead to give it a wide berth. At times, we catch her barking frantically at the gravesite, front legs on the ground while her hind end is in the air in full-on play mode.
On other occasions, she will come up missing and we will find her sitting stoically beside the overturned earth. She doesn't move a muscle and won't respond when we call her. Instead, she sits silently transfixed at the spot where Gizmo is interred.
The observations that we continue to make on a regular basis have convinced us that Katie has, somehow, absorbed the essence of Gizmo and made it a permanent part of her persona. As bizarre as that might sound, everyone who knew both dogs agrees that the Katie everyone knew is gone.
She is no longer the fun-loving goofball that we loved for years. The dog who was always friendly and adored everyone she met is now standoffish. Simply put, Katie isn't Katie anymore. She still looks like herself on the outside, but on the inside little remains of the dog she once was. She is now, for us, an enigma.
A Word in Closing
There will be many among you who will say that Katie is mourning the loss of Gizmo in her own way. Perhaps she adopted many of his attributes as a way of coping with the loss. I would agree, if I hadn't known them both so well.
Our other dogs felt the shift in the house after the death of their companion. They moved on and became accustomed to the new normal. Katie seemed overjoyed with the new developments. If she felt anything akin to sadness, she hid it well.
As of this writing, Katie is a healthy dog who lives a good life. That being said, the life she is living doesn't seem to be entirely her own. Each day she does something that reminds us that she is, at the very least, channeling the dog she so despised.
Observing Katie's metamorphosis, we sometimes kid that Gizmo is back and up to his old tricks. It is becoming more apparent over time that the joke might just be on us.