Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Living with a Very Old Dog

When you first came into my life you were soft and small and sweet, and you looked at me with those eyes, and I thought that I loved you already but that wasn't even possible, was it? I wondered if I could live with you and if we would bond all the way, the way we should.

You were a perfect puppy, no doubt about it. You were so bright; seemed you came already knowing all the rules. Sometimes there was an accident in the house, but not if I paid attention. You would wake me up three times at night to go out and pee. I couldn't blame you for getting distracted by a blowing leaf, or moon shadows, could I? You loved life! Of course there were those shoes, but that was my fault for putting them right there in the closet on the floor where they were entirely too tempting. I left the birthday cake where you could reach it on the kitchen table and you couldn't help throwing up that colorful icing on the oriental carpet. Your favorite part of the game 'fetch' was watching me throw a ball/stick/toy, sitting stock still while it landed, and then running with me to get whatever I had thrown. You must have known that I needed the exercise. Such a good puppy.

That contented sigh as you noodled your nose into the crook of my neck when we were on the couch? I wondered how I ever lived without you, now that we had bonded all the way, the way we should. You were my shadow.

Now your eyes are a bit cloudy and your ears look like satellite dishes, but someone has played a cruel trick and turned the volume way down. Unless it's the cookie jar; you can still hear that from upstairs. Those darn stairs. You are quite certain that you can do those stairs. You've been doing them for fourteen years, after all. I want to help you, and you are considerate, so most of the time you wait for me. But, I am slow and don't pay enough attention. When you tumble down the last three or four, I have a heart attack. You struggle back on your feet and wag at me so I don't feel bad. You limp and wag and look embarrassed for me.

You are a perfect old dog. You wake me up three times each night to go out to pee. There aren't that many accidents in the house; who cares? You look at me with those eyes, the eyes which have welcomed me home every time, which have said, "It's okay, just throw the stick and we can chase it together, and whatever is making you sad will get left far behind." You are so soft and sweet; your breathing is louder and you don't bark anymore. That happened gradually. I didn't notice until you stopped barking, ever.

As I type this you plunk down from the couch and shake, legs going wonky, come and give me an old dog breath wag. Your breath makes that raspy old dog noise and I smile at you. I love the smell of your corn chips feet.

We've bonded all the way, my sweet old dog. You know me better than I do. You know secrets. You know joy. You know when I wake up from a nightmare and you noodle that nose into the crook of my neck. You know me. And now I wonder, every once in a while, how will I ever live without you?

Sweet Old Dog.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Oh Mama Pajama

Mama Pajama in one of her few 'safe places' with puppy Jabber in May.

Mama Pajama is fourteen and a half, just about. She has been the Bravest Little Soul in the World. She was a phenomenal lure courser in her day. (In fact she was the #1 AKC whippet all systems except Bowen one year. Number one in dogs defeated, Best of Breeds, and Best in Fields.) She loved lure coursing. Usually she was one of the smallest dogs out there, but she would out turn, out follow, and out run the competition, much to their surprise.

And then she got sick. She got a disease which nearly killed her. (Neutrophilic vasculitis.) And when I thought it was time to put her down she said to me clear as a bell, "Not yet. Not yet." She could barely breathe, but she said, "Not yet." We cancelled the appointment and to everyone's astonishment, she got better. That was nine years ago and she's been in complete remission for four years.

Now we have a new problem. She's terrified. At first I was what terrified her. I am the tooth-scraper, the toenail-grinder. (I am also the dog-walker, and food giver, but that didn't get me anywhere.) Needless to say, nowadays Mama Pajama's teeth are gross and nails are long, because I can't stand to be her boogeyman.

The look that breaks my heart - her ever-present expression ... oh, Mama

Even with me being the Great Satan, Mama Pajama has had Happy Times. She is happy, happy, happy first thing in the morning. She bounces around me and wags and sparkles as we make our way from the bedroom through the half mile trek down the crazy stairs out the back door. She gives me silly nose pokes just like she used to on the way to the starting line. She dances and play-bows. And when she gets outside sometimes she even does her Spins of Joy. A tiny whirling dervish, channeling her half sister Willow, with a big grin and eyes afire.

Mama Pajama's Spins of Joy make me feel like I've won the Super Bazillion Lottery, only better. And if her brother, Sweet Old Dog Fat Charlie, is simultaneously running laps on his wobbly old legs with a big toothy grin directed my way and his breath raspy and loud through his worn out larynx ... then, my dear readers, life is grand.

Where she spends 99% of her days - on the daybed in Bill's study with Delia

She stopped going on walks this summer. It was too hot even at oh dark thirty and she said, "No." After breakfast - which she ate with relish - she would head up to the daybed in Bill's study. Only Delia would go in there, and only when Bill wasn't in the studio. Mostly she has the room to herself. I take her out to potty at lunch time, after which she runs back up to the study. Then she would happily come down for dinner, happily come down before bed, and happily tuck into her doorless crate in our bedroom for the night. (She does NOT like to share our bed.)

She used to come down for visitors, but that stopped. She used to sit on the porch with us, but that stopped. She used to love her walkies. (Back when she was too sick to walk, I carried her the whole way, because she still wanted to go.)

This week she has decided she is terrified of the kitchen and the dog room (where meals are served for goodness sake). She is so terrified that I must carry her through the kitchen, and then she won't come to the door when she's finished pottying. I have to put her in a crate while I prepare breakfast and dinner, or she slinks upstairs. She shakes in the crate. (But she does at least eat all her food.)

I'm not aware of anything that went wrong, and Bill can't recall any mishap while I was at work. Oh it is awful.

Well, Friday it was purely glorious out. I marched myself upstairs and carried my petrified dog down and said, "Mama Pajama we are going walkies." When I put her lead on (in the dog room so she was shaking and cowered) she smiled and wagged. PAY DIRT!!! We went with Fat Charlie and Sam I Am around the block, stopping to sniff at everything and to stand still in the sun, because we could. She had a good time, until we approached the house, when she got small and scared. But we had a good time for a bit. I let her slink back up to her safe place and called it a minor victory.

Yesterday, I went to help with a project at the Kennel Club. (Turned out they didn't need me, but...) Bill is out of town, and I was going to work at the hospital from three to seven-thirty so another nurse could be off to be in a wedding, and I really didn't want to crate the dogs all morning too. So, I loaded everyone up in the van and off we went.

Mama Pajama has the crate right behind my head, and she looked frightened and miserable, even after we passed the vet's office. But when we got to the Kennel Club property, and I got Mama Pajama and Fat Charlie out of the van, and she spied her beloved friend Dee, oh happy day!!! She wagged and she JUMPED UP ON DEE!!! She wagged some more and smiled out loud! BINGO BINGO BOOYAH!!!! Slot machines going crazy in my heart! And I thought, what would she do if she got to see her Linda again? Her Sara? Her Rhonda? Her nana Terrie? Oh, Mama.

Today is another gorgeous day. We will go for a walk, Miss Mama Pajama, Fat Charlie, sweet Sammy, and I. And I have some figuring to do. I have to figure out some short little visits for her with her Special People. I need to figure out some Fun Stuff for Mama.

My job is to give Mama Pajama a bit of joy every single day. It's only fair. That is only a fraction of what she's given me.

hug your hounds