How your dog can remind you of what matters in your life
Last Thursday, I officially became one of those women who cook for their dogs.
It wasn’t my choice. The day after Passover, I gave my dog a tin pan to lick clean, a pan that had contained some very tasty potato chip chicken. There was nothing unusual about this. He’s been licking tin pans since he came to live with us.
But this time, he became ill.
To us, it has always seemed that Sky has nine lives. When he was six months old, he galloped out the door and into a main artery, where a car struck him. A talented and dedicated thief, he’s eaten chocolate, raisins, and grapes, all deadly to dogs; he’s eaten popsicle sticks and tin foil and dead birds – and that’s just the stuff I know about.
In other words, he’s no stranger to an upset tummy. Until now, he’s always shaken it off in a day or two. But this time was different. He couldn’t keep anything down. He looked miserable. His fur looked dull. He had no appetite. Clearly, I had to get him to the veterinarian.
On the vet’s table, he tolerated the gentle pokes and probes. I held his beautiful head, whispered to him reassuringly, looked into his unhappy, almost-human eyes, and steeled myself for the worst. After all, he’s 12 1/2 years old.
When Sky arrived, he was a fluffy little package of fur stuffed into a cat carrier. His round, wide eyes, as pale as moonstone, as blue as the sky, peered worriedly at us through the perforations.
“Let’s call him Sky,” my husband suggested.
For a while, I tried to crate-train him. That’s where you put your puppy in a cage to teach him not to pee or poop in the house. I’d put him to sleep with a towel and all his toys, tell him goodnight, and then I’d go upstairs to put my little ones to sleep. Sky didn’t approve of this at all. Night after night, he woke up promptly at 4 a.m. and howled his head off. For a couple of weeks, no one got any sleep. Finally, in desperation, I hooked him onto the leash and let him sleep on the floor next to my bed. From then on, he was perfectly quiet. After all, he just wanted to be near Mommy.
He’s too big for it now, but 12 1/2 years ago, he was so little that I could stow him under my arm like he was a stuffed animal. My daughter dressed him in her jumpers and t-shirts. My son brought him to school for show and tell, proudly carrying him around his kindergarten class so that the kids could take turns petting him. My 2-year-old wasn’t talking yet beyond the word “Dis,” but with Sky’s arrival, he began to spout full sentences. Two years later, when I had a baby, Sky was the first to reach him when he cried, lovingly licking his scrunched-up face to comfort him.
When Sky was young, my children were little.
When Sky was young, I was new to the suburbs.
When Sky was young, I was new to owning a house, new to schools, new to carpools and afterschool activities.
When Sky was young, I still had my mother.
When Sky was young, my knee didn’t hurt.
When Sky was young, the kids on our block were still in elementary school.
When Sky was young, I still had toddlers who were too little for school.
When Sky was young, my kids couldn’t ride a bicycle, let alone drive a car.
When Sky was young, I was still a new mom.
Now my baby is 10, my daughter is away on her gap year in Israel, and the son who carried the puppy around his kindergarten class is looking at colleges. The boy who wasn’t talking yet is taller than I am, and growing a scruffy beard.
As for Sky, he has silver around his eyes and muzzle where there used to be copper, he’s a bit deaf, and he doesn’t run as fast or jump as high as he used to. Like the old man that he is, he’s a bit stiff in the joints. It takes him a while to get up and down the stairs. But he’s still thrilled to play with his toys, to chase tennis balls, to chew on a nice big rawhide bone, to be petted by the people he thinks of as family.
The vet told me what a handsome and sweet boy he is. “He’s dehydrated,” she said. “I’d like to do some tests.” She took blood, gave him some fluids, and sent me home with medication and instructions on how and what to feed him.
It was so much better than what I feared. But for the first time, I hear the clock ticking.
Our pets are wild animals that choose to live among us. They listen to us talk. They follow us from room to room. They clown. They dance. They sing. They beg. They fetch balls for us to throw. They look guilty when they do something bad. They let us hug them when we cry. They insist that we pet them. They love us for no good reason. And they are living reminders of the fleeting passage of time.
Sky isn’t just my dog. He’s a furry symbol of 12 1/2 rollercoaster, event-packed years. Together, we leave the age of the playground behind for a new era in our lives.