Let me start by saying my dog is still alive. However, he’ll be fourteen in October and he isn’t the same dog I met nine years ago.
J (not his real name) was part of the reason I was interested in my husband. The mister and I met online (that’s another post entirely) and J was featured in one of his pictures. Think of that montage in 101 Dalmatians wherein they show how much dogs resemble their owners. Well, J was noble, handsome and athletic, so I figured his owner was probably worth a coffee date.
As it turns out, he was. Through the years, J was central to our lives as a couple. He accompanied us on walks along the San Diego River when we first moved in together. I cuddled up to him one winter night on a road trip to the midwest. He was snoozing under the table while we had our cake tasting. He’s in our wedding pictures. When I was pregnant and napping on the floor, he rested his head on my belly. When Fox arrived, J was his playmate, gently taking and letting go of a rubber bone as Fox demanded. And that’s about when my love started to fade.
Soon, I was disgusted when my precious, crawling baby was covered in dog hair. I was annoyed when I tripped over a Seabiscuit-sized lab in the kitchen. I was frustrated by feeding him when I was already busy trying to keep a little person alive. Basically, I was Jennifer Aniston losing her poo over Marley. I feel you, girl.
Things only got worse with the expectation of baby number two. There were no more leisurely naps with a big brown head resting on my blooming belly because there were no more naps. My fat, clumsy self could not be bothered with stepping over his speed bump of a body. A toddler and a dog circling me like sharks, both needing more than I could give, was just too much.
Then baby two arrived. Now when J barks at the pest control guy, he risks waking two kids. Somehow, he manages to shed even more than before (why is he not bald?). He can’t see and he can’t hear, and the only time I seem to give him attention is to yell at him or to push through him like a saloon door.
I may be the worst person I know. This gentle giant has licked away my tears, befriended the homeless, given strangers the chance to tell their own dog stories, coped with two cats, and has asked nothing more than two feedings a day and the occasional walk. He lives to be with us, even though he sees us through cataracts and has to smell us to know who we are. Uh oh. I feel my eyes starting to mist.
Today he stumbled as he went down the front steps. As usual, I was rushing him because I was late again. However, seeing his legs quaking as he navigated the stairs softened my heart. Today I patted his rump and scratched his nose, reminding him that I loved him and that he was a good boy.
I miss the dog he was-obedient, athletic, intuitive-and I’m frustrated by my inability to love him despite the changes time has rendered (I’m also thinking this doesn’t bode well for my husband). Maybe, if I’m honest, I also miss the life we had with him-dinners out, simple road trips, camping. I know we will have something closer to that life again, and maybe someday, we’ll have another dog to share it with. For today, though, I’m going to try and take a deep breath, and remember to love J for the dog he’s been and to model the kind of unconditional care and affection I want my boys to offer all the animals (and people!) in their lives. Fur tumbleweeds and all.