Friday, April 3, 2009
It was the fall, and my daughter had just started her last year at UMASS Amherst, out in central Massachusetts, at the edge of the beautiful Berkshires.
I was pretty lonely at the time. She and I used to be close and spend lots of time together, but in recent years, not so much.
Mac goes to work at dawn, before I am awake. He comes home at supper time and because he is a heavy smoker and I quit years ago, he retreats to the barn right after dinner. He comes in after an hour or two and usually falls into bed and is unconscious almost instantly. I was remembering how good it was to have a dog, but when I was working and away from home for nine hours each day, I just didn't see how it could work.
Our last dog was a big, female, shepherd/lab cross, rescued from a local shelter. Gretchen had thick, white fur, and a bad back leg. At some point, we think she may have gotten hit by a car and was never treated. In spite of this, she was a joy and a blessing, sweet and loving as she could be. Gentle with the kids and obedient. I was working part time back then; mother's hours, nine to two thirty, so she was never alone for too long. She became a part of our family.
She started to deteriorate from old age about seven years after we'd gotten her. She had been hospitalized with pancreatitis a few times, and she had developed cysts all over her body. In addition, she had arthritis and could no longer get down the stairs by herself. We live on the second floor, and since she weighed more than 80 pounds, she was too big for me to carry downstairs. I had to make a sling, so we could lift her back end and help her get outside to relieve herself. Worst of all, she had vestibular syndrome...what the vet referred to as; "old, rolling dog syndrome". In the wee hours of the morning, I would wake from the sound of her crying. I would find her on the floor outside our bedroom, with her big head rolling around, and her eyes spinning in their sockets, while she whimpered and her legs thrashed. She was so frightened, it was utterly heartbreaking. All I could do was hold her head in my lap and talk softly to her to try and comfort her until the episode subsided. The vet told us there was nothing else we could do about it.
Then she lost control of her bladder. I found her one morning, lying in a pool of urine, looking embarrassed and miserable. I brought her to the animal hopital that day on my lunch hour, and I knew what was coming when the vet came out into the waiting room and said: "Let's have a talk".
Her ashes are in a canister hidden somewhere in the barn. Mac knew how devastated I was about it, so he never showed them to me. I want to plant a tree in the yard for her and empty the ashes into the ground around the base of it. Maybe this year we will finally do that.
A decade had passed after Gretchie's death, and although I had the two cats and a couple of rabbits in the meantime, I longed for a dog. I knew I should not be selfish about it though, and resigned myself to waiting until I was either retired, or could work part-time.
Then, one autumn day in 2007, I turned on the computer, signed on to AOL Instant Messenger and saw this on my daughter's away message: "A dog - what a terrible idea...what a WONDERFUL idea!" Oh, no! Oh my goodness, she'd gotten a dog! I quickly called her and asked her if she was crazy - her lease had clearly stated; no pets were allowed in the house. She was unconcerned. She and her three roommates had gone to the local shelter and picked out a puppy, and had already bought all the necessary equipment, a crate, a bed, two big aluminum bowls, a variety of toys. And what if the landlord told her she couldn't keep it? One of the roommates' parents had supposedly agreed to take it in that case. All the same, somehow I knew, I felt it in my gut, I would have a dog soon...