A compassionate conservative

Our dog Tuddy just left me a "gift" — in my sneaker, no less. Oh, well … When there’s ice and snow on the ground, in the canine world it’s any port in a storm.

Tuddy is entering his 12th year on this earth. He is still frisky, thanks to the glucosamine in his vitamin tablets. He does have a pronounced paunch, the kind of belly that on a Wall Street banker would almost require a vested suit with a pocket watch. It’s the kind of belly that tells of good living in the Cardella household.

Tuddy no longer takes walks in the rain. Even a slight drizzle will make him plant his paws solidly on the floor and make it difficult to budge him. He realizes that time is on his side as I get weaker and his vitamins seemingly make him stronger. Tuddy also will not walk outside in the snow, and he has a pronounced distaste when the winter wind blows his floppy ears straight out behind his head.

In fact, Tuddy has become just another senior in search of a Florida retirement home. He seems to hang in there with us hoping against hope that we will come to our senses and move to a balmy climate. He no doubt dreams of a palm tree on which to do his thing and a cute French poodle strolling the beach. On the latter score, Tuddy can do nothing but dream since, being the politically correct owners we are, we had him neutered.

The neutering decision was a big deal in our household, and we delayed making it as long as we could. It wasn’t so much that we were concerned about Tuddy’s potential sex life being messed up (that wasn’t going to happen while we were on the alert, anyway); it’s just that we have devoted our lives to making certain that our pet suffers as little pain as possible and experiences as much pleasure (sex excluded). Tuddy had less effects after his surgery than we did (I crossed my legs every time I looked at him in the immediate post-op period).

I never imagined myself catering to a pet, but here I am carefully wiping his rear end with a scented disposable wet towel (and not the store brand, either). I swear on one such occasion, he looked up at me with his big brown eyes and muttered, in a voice that sounded very much like Mel Brooks, "It’s good to be the king."

Pet ownership has not turned me into a member of PETA, but it has changed me. (Tuddy just walked into my back office, no doubt, to check out what I’m writing about him.) About the changes in me: I have come to assume that all animals experience the pain and pleasure of my pet cockapoo. Dogs are not unique in that respect, but most of us operate under the pretense.

This nagging feeling interferes with the pleasure I used to get from being a carnivore. The thought that the veal chop I once enjoyed so much came from a living thing that was penned and slaughtered disquiets my conscience. It hasn’t stopped me from eating veal or lamb chops or a big steak, although in part because of this feeling and for health reasons, those occasions have become infrequent. Tuddy has turned me into one of those guilt-ridden people at whom I used to laugh.

Tuddy also makes me feel guilty every time I leave our home. It doesn’t matter whether I’m going to a nearby store or China, Tuddy reacts the same way. He has no conception of time. A 15-minute absence is the same as if I had left for a month.

His greeting is always the same. He raises up on his hind legs to lick my hand and then races to find a bone to chew on in his overwhelming joy that I have found my way home. When I leave, Tuddy has no way of knowing whether I will ever return. Each time I do leave, he must take the same leap of faith that I will be back, and it must be difficult for him to do so.

Our most difficult time is at dinner. Once the table food comes out, Tuddy loses interest in his Alpo. He then will lean on your arm during every forkful you raise to your mouth in hopes that you’ll share your meal. He will do so until dinner is over, when he then returns to the Alpo. Through the meal, he will constantly bark until you share. He is the main reason we eat out a lot.

With all of the trials and tribulations, the chewed gloves, the disturbed meals, the accidents on the carpet, we could not love Tuddy more. He was named after a mobster in the movie Goodfellas, but Tuddy is the nonviolent type. I suspect if he could speak, he would be upset by my support for invading Iraq. He is only menacing to mail carriers and cable-TV guys. Tuddy is friendly unless you disrupt his world by ringing our doorbell.

Tuddy is that most elusive of creatures — a compassionate conservative.