I went to a garage sale a while back and bought a few books. Back at home I put the books on my have-to-read-pile and a few pages fell down on the floor. Two old and yellowed pages, ripped out of a magazine; the pages don’t show the name, just the page number 38 and 40. I read the story and it made me smile -wish it would show the author. I kept it and it’s on my desk since a while. Today is Valentine’s Day and I thought I will no write a smoking post, but will share this article with all of you instead. So here we go:
I send my son and my husband out on a mission. We have seen the ad in the local penny-saver: a litter of 11 golden retrievers, seven weeks old, no papers, $50 each were free for adoption at a local shelter. An hour later the phone rung, it was my husband, nervously clearing his throat. “There are actually, um, two possible puppies,” he reported. “The problem is, I chose a puppy and another one chose me”. “How about we get two?”
Like a fool -for love- I didn’t give the matter a moment’s thought. Months later, my beloved sheepishly confessed. “I expected you to be the voice of reason and was stunned when you weren’t.”
Some people have no desire to own domestic animals; I respect their right to live pet-free lives. But in the household I grew up in, critters were as natural as the kitchen sink. We had horses, cats, house cats, and the inevitable kittens) plus turtles, bunnies, ducks a demented chicken and of course a dog. So falling for our two golden retriever puppies “Daisy” and “Carlos” was a no-brainer. We all fell in love, they became instantly family members. As a word, bonded isn’t strong enough for what happened, grafted, maybe like some kind of military issue rivet that holds tanks and battleships together. It was folly to behave as though we owned them; they owned us.
They ate my blue silk wedding shoes a week before the ceremony, they gummed my visiting mother-in-law’s nightgown out of the suitcase and paraded it into the kitchen at breakfast. They peed from one end of the house to the other and gleefully sank their baby teeth into the antique oak pedestal table. They shed year-round, thus choking to death two vacuum cleaners and tripling the antihistamine budget. They tried to dig to China under my father’s rosebushes, vomited God knows what on the Oriental rug, and chewed a hole in my diaphragm, which they then presented to my son as a tug toy.
Maturity kicked in during year two. They stopped digging and chewing and learned to swim beside us in the lake without trying to drown us. They were gentle and patient with little kids, a visiting baby meant one dog across the bedroom threshold, another relaxed but watchful beneath the crib. And they had no tolerance for domestic strife – raised voices sent them hurtling at our knees in a show of force more persuasive than a family shrink. “Stop fighting” the panted. “You are scaring us.”
We moved from the country to the city when the dogs were three, they made the transition gracefully-they mostly sighed, stretched, rolled over, and went back to sleep. They learned to tolerate leashes, sidewalks, and poop-scooping, they warily joined the doggy social hour in the par. They recognized my husband’s football in the apartment hallway long before I did and were up on their feet, tails widely slapping the wall, before his key finished turning in the lock. My son navigated adolescence with his face buried in dog fur, his long arms clutching them for dear life; only half joking, he often introduced them to his friends as his sister and brother. When he eventually went out into the world on his own, they eyed the front door for weeks, long-faced and mopey.
An whenever I went to my desk to write, Carlos followed, to sit on (not at) my feet. Daisy, insulted that I chose an activity that didn’t center around her, always flung herself across the room with a divalike “phuff!” – nose to the wall, butt facing defiantly out.
We passed 15 years together, as age whitened their faces, diminished their vision and reduced their Frisbee speed. First one, then the other, grew crippled and ill. Arthritis, skin cancers, stomach ulcers, deafness, blindness – as the pills and ointments and pain accumulated, the vet gently suggested that the time was near for big decisions. We weren’t stupid – we knew the score. But how could we judge the time? And one dog was sicker than the other – could one survive alone? Or, having put one down and grieved, how would we find the will to do it again? Finally, the decision made itself: it was simply in their eyes. And so we resolved that they would leave us, as they’d come, together.
On a cold and rainy November morning we drove up the the little vet hospital in the country; sunshine, of course, would have been a rebuke. We held their soft heads and sobbed, and then their souls departed, leaving only warm fur and wrecked humans. Afterward, we went home to have Bourbon fo breakfast, swimming in a sorrow much deeper than we’d imagined it could be.
After that, our house was aesthetic perfection. We didn’t have to sidestep when carrying groceries to the kitchen or stumbling to the bathroom in the dark; we didn’t rig the Christmas tree with guy wires to keep it from crashing down in the middle of the night. We didn’t flip the couch cushions (hair side down) just before company arrived, and we hardly ever sneezed. When we went for a walk, we were just walking, not loping or yanking. When we went to the woods, we just walked there, too – no sticks, no tennis balls, no phantom squirrels halfway up a tree, no frantic snuffling beneath the leaves, no trips to the shower afterwards for mud removal. We were footloose, carefree, unencumbered. We stayed out, slept in, and actually went on trips -Montauk! Maine! Paris! Hawaii! We weren’t owned by anyone.
On the other hand, we weren’t loved unequivocally, either. What the hell kind of life was that? After two years o decorator-magazine domestic order, we decided it was not the one we wanted. So: screw the voice of reason.
Molly moved in just before Christmas, seven weeks old, hungry for sucks and eyeing the tree. Her arrival kicked off the coldest, snowiest winter in years – and there we were, out in it, every damn, er, bracing day. And night.
Since then we have learned that early morning walks are more daunting than they used to be: they usually require ibuprofen, plus the pup beats the alarm clock almost every day. Sure, the outings have strengthened our cardiovascular systems; they’ve also raised hell with older, crankier knees, and at least one chronic rotator cuff problem. And we’ve relearned that leaving the pot roast pan on the kitchen counter is a very bad idea.
We’ve also discovered -or rediscovered – squirrels in the trees, birds in the skies, and neighbors on the sidewalks who are far more likely to greet folks with a puppy than folks without.
We’ve recovered our ability to cuss and we believe the dog things Molly Damit is her whole name. Oh, and we need a new vacuum cleaner. Once again, we’re owned. And very grateful to be. Our second puppy will be moving in on Valentine’s day!