Her eyes are a deep chocolate brown, with long dark lashes. Both are cloudy now, and the left has an opaque area that I’m beginning to worry might be a cataract. I haven’t taken her to the doctor yet, out of fear that he’ll tell me she needs surgery. I don’t want to put her through that, I’m not sure enough that it will help. Her deep chestnut hair is almost completely white, and looking at older photos make me ache. My partner says he prefers her like this, that she looks stately. I don’t want her to be stately – I want her to be young.
Her hips hurt her, too frequently now for my taste. I’ve had to carry her up the stairs a few times, and I worry when she walks on ice. I make sure she takes her supplements, glucosamine and shark cartilage and blue green algae. They probably don’t make any difference, but it’s something I can do to try to stave off the inevitable. It’s been years since she could jump on and off the bed without help, but last week she made it onto the couch – one simple jump, and she was up. I’m not sure who was more amazed, of the two of us.
I was there the day she was born. I watched her eyes open, and her first steps. I carried her with me, inside of my coat, to work and school and once into the movies. She never made a sound – she liked it there. She knew what drive-throughs were by the time she was three months old. Did I spoil her? I’m sure I did, that I still do. I don’t care.
For almost thirteen years, she has been my heart and my center. I’ve changed jobs, careers, lovers, homes, myself. I’ve changed everything, but she has been my one stable core, the single thing that has kept me grounded, and made me a better, less selfish person. I’ve taken responsibility for her, I’ve been responsible, both because I owe her that, and because I could never give her any less.
I was sick, once. In the hospital, for quite a long time. I was scared, and I didn’t like being there, alone. My boyfriend brought her in, late at night, inside of a duffel bag, and laid her on the bed with me. The nurses knew, but left us alone. She slept with me, at my side, and in the morning she left with him again. He told me she stayed at the door, her nose pressed to the bottom of it, waiting. Her waiting is part of what brought me home.
It hasn’t all been easy, though. She’s stubborn, and has tried my patience on more than one occasion. I foolishly attempted obedience with her, convinced she was smart, but I was smarter. I wasn’t. She once was doing a retrieve, over a jump, bringing me back a small wooden dumbell. She approached the jump, spit the dumbell over it, then walked around to pick it up and complete her recall. She looked very pleased when she arrived. My trainer said ‘what can you do with a dog this smart?’. I concurred.
Her strength then amazed me. I would shake her rag bone at her, and she’d clamp on with her teeth. I’d pick her up and twirl her around, while she closed her eyes and growled softly under her breath. When I’d put her down, her whole body would wag with happiness. She’d never let go, not ever, so it was always up to me to give in. Once I didn’t stop soon enough, and there was blood on the rag. She’d held on, even after her gums began to bleed. I was ashamed of not knowing when to stop.
That determination was part of everything she did. I had her certified as a pet therapist, which allowed us to volunteer to visit hostels and sick wards. She was relentless in loving everyone we met. Scared, angry children found comfort by burying themselves in the soft fur of her neck. They shared secrets with her, and she would stare at them with deep, dark eyes, giving them assurance that she’d keep what they told her safe. With fragile ones, she would be still and quiet, lying as close as she could. Did she know? I believe so, in spite of what some might think.
The time we live in prohibits us from speaking about the ones we love. We’re all supposed to be so detached, so cool. Loving just an ‘animal’ so much that your heart can be broken just by thinking about the inevitable is a betrayal of everything sarcastic and ironic. We laugh off what secretly kills us, in the most valuable places inside. I can accept that my love for her isn’t cool. I owe her more than that. I owe her everything that makes me proud of myself.
She has lived what is, for her breed, a very long life. I’ve watched friends lose dogs much younger than she is, knowing every day that I’m lucky. She comes from a family that lives longer than most, and her genetics have always been good. I’m thankful for that. I watch her, as she slows down every day. I know what is coming, but it isn’t here, not yet. I will do everything in my power to delay it, so long as it doesn’t cause her pain. I will keep her with me, and when that time comes, I will be with her.
I write this now, because when it happens, I will not be able to write anything at all. I can barely complete this, but I will. Out of love for her, and honour for her love for me.