She still finds a way to squeeze into her favorite chair-this dog, well- worn like a child’s favorite toy. For a long time, she betrayed her 12 years. Luminous eyes, body nimble and quick. In late winter, we brought Little Dog home. Though she was nearing retirement, The Dog was a good teacher- demonstrating what it meant to be a part of this family. When it rains and The Dog’s coat is soaked to the skin, Little Dog is dry because he hides underneath her. And she lets him. If a dog can be compassionate, she is.
Then overnight, The Dog wasn’t spritely anymore. She was lazy. Ignoring the food the kids dropped on the floor. Only thumping her tail when we called her name- but no longer able to spring up and come. Wooden legs, arthritic curve of the spine, thin clouds across her eyes. Like flipping a switch, she was suddenly an old lady.
I was lying with her on the floor one night, rubbing her stiff legs. She sighed like she does when she is happy. Don’t grow old. Please don’t grow old. I’ve loved you best of all of them-my loyal, patient, grateful companion. My resolute protector. You never tried to run away-even when the gate was wide open. How many would-be-ne’er- do-wells have crossed to the other side of the street because you gave them a firm warning? ‘Don’t even think about messing with this family.’ You remembered that day, so long ago, when I walked by with our baby boy. When you heard me coming, you bolted out of a dumpster-chains wrapped around your puppy ankles. A man was walking ahead of us on the path. You ran to him first. For some reason, he thought you were mine. ‘Lady, call your dog please!’ he yelled frantically as you viciously assaulted him with wet kisses. I called you and you came running to me. And from that point on you were my dog.
Her tail thumped against the floor and she plopped a heavy head in my lap. Little Dog curled up against her. They both exhaled sighs of contentment. It was then I realized that bringing Little Dog into the family wasn't just for our benefit- to enjoy the companionship of another canine. The the arrival of Little Dog had given her permission to begin ‘letting go,’ to peacefully, guiltlessly enjoy old age without the fear that she would be abandoning us. She nestled her head deeper into my lap and then rolled over and looked me in the eye. You are going to be okay. I promise.