College Essay by EH, 2012

“Here, Atticus!” I say, indicating a dropped piece of bread on the floor. He stares at me, head cocked, ears akimbo. I tap with my foot the exact spot where the bread lies. Nothing. Not even a twitch.

Atticus has never been the most intellectually inclined dog. But as anyone in our neighborhood will attest, what he lacks in brains he makes up for in spirit and soul, in a way that makes people who pass him on the street just smile. The change began about a year ago. First were the seizures, which had been present but dormant since puppyhood. Suddenly, they were a weekly occurrence, and the violent fits of thrashing became one of my biggest anxieties. Slowly, these started to take a toll. His usual ditziness took on a whole new meaning: walls did not exist (as his skull will tell you), objects more than a few inches in front of his eyes were invisible, and commands were suddenly just noise in his ears. It is a complicated thing to live with a dog with dementia. Frustration is often the initial and overwhelming emotion: it is like living with a newborn. However, perhaps it is the stark contrast that is most daunting. I can see, almost week to week, the ways in which his body betrays him and his mind tricks him. However, his personality and his energy have remained diligently his own.

In a conversation with my father about existentialism and political economy, he mentioned how both are a way to explain our existence, to find some semblance of an answer to What are we? Dogs are another manifestation of this, my father said, akin to religion or aliens. This rang true for me, especially at this point in my life and Atticus’. Dogs have acted as companions to humans for thousands of years, and perhaps it is because they strike that perfect balance of consciousness. Apes would probably not make pets: they are too willful, too intelligent, in short, too similar to humans. Dogs, on the other hand, seem perfect by nature: obedient, social, impressionable, and yet conscious enough to reassure us of our own consciousness, our own humanity.

For Atticus, someone I have grown up with, changed with, moved with, to suddenly drop off the map of what I know to be consciousness, connection, awareness, is a startling change. At a time when I am changing drastically as both a person and in my life’s course, a slice in my tether to existence and companionship and stability is really something to think about. I am a person deeply rooted in sentimentality; everything in my life relates back to people, places, smells. Because of this, growing up has often been a heart-renching experience for me. It seems both fitting and tragic that at a time when I am getting too old to play, so is Atticus. As my hours of sleep decline, his increase. I can more eloquently and accurately communicate my thoughts, while his have become a tangle of wool only understood through a shnuff or an aroough. We are, in many ways, aging together and at the same pace. I, too, am entirely different than I was a year ago. But although mentally, Atticus is completely addled, he has never varied far from his sociability, his affection, his overwhelming desires. He has made me astutely aware of the separation between mind and overall being. Senility may take over one’s judgment, motor skills, memory, but humanity—even, and most especially, in a dog—overpowers that. Atticus stands as a model to me, in whatever aging or growing process I am embarking on.

College Essay by EH

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