My dog is poised on her rocky perch, staring out at I don’t know what. Alert to anything and everything, squirrels and deer high on the list of attention getters, cars and trucks (UPS and Fed Ex especially) a close second. I learn a great deal from watching her. She’s a smart dog, smart enough to turn a command– Come, Maggie! Now!– into a game of ‘catch me if you can.’
The wind spooks her, so does heavy rain, with or without thunder. She follows me around, a panting shadow. It is a bodily thing, sound and air pressure combining to unsettle her. No amount of soft words or gentle stroking reassures her. She wants to be – with me – downstairs where she can tuck herself away in the washroom, knowing I’m within easy reach, on the couch in the family room. Who, I wonder, has trained whom?
She stands next to me, awakens me with her restless pacing and a slight whimper. It is the middle of the night, she wants to – needs to – go out. I admit it, being awakened in the middle of the night by a dog who has in all likelihood feasted on something in the yard not really meant to be eaten is not the way I pictured my life. On rare occasions (for example, years ago when a family of foxes was playing near the pile of logs in our backyard) it is the call of the wild rather than the euphemistic call of nature that makes her wake me. And yet, inconvenienced (do I daresay annoyed?) as I might be, there is a kind of silence that only comes in the deep night outside. If it’s a star-filled night, or the moon hangs high, I might even say I’m grateful to be pulled out of bed. In ministering to a dog in her senior years, annoyance gives way to compassion.
Old dogs do not get up so quickly in the morning. That’s not all that different from old people. An older dog with lymphoma has a way of making you worry when you look at her lying on her bed, a little like a teenager, do I really have to get up? This is a far cry from the dog standing so close to my side of the bed I can feel her breath, feel her tail wagging, wake up wake up! The dog who would start barking at my husband, barely finished with dinner, let’s go out, have a catch! The fact that her idea of fetching is to retrieve the ball about three times before running off with it and hiding it is irrelevant. The fact that she almost never does this anymore is something I’m just coming to grips with. It's said that humans are the only animals with a conscious awareness of what it means to die. When I watch my dog poised on her perch, looking out at anything and everything, I gain some new awareness of what it means to live.