“I think you need a dog.” My husband had just informed me somewhat sheepishly that he was considering getting me a puppy as a Mother’s Day present and there were a few possible candidates he was checking out on-line and wouldn’t I like to go see them, you know, just to look. No pressure, no commitment, as if any dog lover could visit a pack of puppies and come away without one! I could think of many things that I needed, but a puppy was not on the list. Maybe an older dog. A senior for seniors special. A dog who like me had been around the block a few times. But a puppy?
Dogs have been a part of my life since childhood, and while there were periods of time when I was dog-less, a fair number of my happiest years not to mention happiest relationships have been with members of the canine world.
My husband and I had gotten a dog early in our relationship–a Golden Retriever named Zanzibar whose greatest joy in life was retrieving food handouts from the neighbors, and whose goofy behavior and happy-go-lucky personality graced our family life for 15 years.
Then one morning he fell over on his side and by evening he had crossed over to wherever it is that dogs go to claim their well-deserved reward.
Then there was Lucy. Our children were ten and eight and it had been a year since Zanzibar died. On impulse one day I took them to the local animal rescue and there in a cage was a white Shepherd/Lab puppy who looked at me with a calm dignity as if to signal that she had been waiting for just such a family to come take her home. Lucy turned out to be one of the best dogs I have ever known, a combination of steadfast loyalty, pack instincts inherited from her wild ancestors, and playfulness that complimented that of two young children. She lived 16 years and then her hind quarters began to weaken. She was often unable to go to the bathroom without falling and she was clearly stressed at the frequent accidents she had in the house. I was now faced with the decision that an animal lover dreads. When is enough enough? I was not unwilling to continue cleaning her after accidents or cleaning up the floor and carpets, but it was her obvious distress and discomfort that finally made me ask whether I was delaying the inevitable for her or for myself.
It was two years before I could drive past the vet’s office without choking on tears and at bedtime I would gently touch the small cedar box containing her ashes as a talisman against whatever evil comes in the night. Six years passed, and yet there were still times when I whispered my longing for her to return. Probably I would never live with another dog because in all fairness I did not want to burden a new dog with the expectation that she couldn’t possibly live up to my memories of Lucy. My husband said he would never have another dog because the emotional investment was too intense and the inevitable end too painful.
But here he was with his Internet research, facts, figures, names and addresses. I hemmed and hawed, perplexed at this development. Despite my belief that I would never replace Lucy, there was always that small hope that someday I would find her spirit living in another dog. But I was now happily retired and one of the biggest perks of retirement for me is that in the morning I can sit in bed as long as I want, sipping coffee, reading a book or just looking out the window at the hummingbirds, the budding apple trees, or the winter evergreens covered in snow. An older dog would obviously require some pre-coffee attention in the morning. But a puppy would mean a mad dash to the door at 5 AM, and at 72 years old, mad dashes hampered by arthritis, a slipped disk and a bad knee were something I thought it was prudent to avoid.
That afternoon when I returned from the grocery store, I was informed that we had an appointment to see one of the puppies the next day. In his well-practiced and skilled way my husband downplayed the whole scenario by saying that he didn’t know if it was a legitimate offer, the ad was vague and confusing, he wasn’t really sure how much they wanted for the dog, so it probably wouldn’t work out anyway. The owner lived almost two hours away in a large city with some really good restaurants. My husband sweetened the pot with “What’s the worst that can happen? At least we can get a really great Italian meal!”
It’s probably no surprise to anyone how all this played out. We did have an excellent Italian meal, and then brought home 20 pounds of Black Lab puppy exuberance named Molly. It’s been a mere three days and I am bleary-eyed and exhausted, an echo of those early motherhood days now long behind me. I have survived several mad dashes in the middle of the night, cleaned up the usual puppy messes, rescued slippers in danger of extinction and suffered shock over the amount of money that we are already spending on one small creature.
Most people say that the best way to assess a situation is with your eyes wide open, and honestly I did do that three days ago. But then, as every dog knows, sometimes it is better to keep your eyes tightly closed and your heart wide open. Puppies will make you do that.
©Martha Hurwitz, 5/19/19