Seventeen years ago I was a young mama full of enthusiasm. We had just moved into our house and I absolutely hated it. It was so small, so bland but the landlord offered to sell it for a rock-bottom price and I had HGTV so we started making it our own for our little family. We had a bubbly little girl, a bundle-of-joy baby boy, and a black Labrador retriever that was never meant to be our dog and she’d just had a litter of puppies.
We weren’t going to keep any of them. I swore it up and down as my little Dyl Pickle toddled through the hallway saying “puppy” for the first time. Then Blondie started getting attached to the runt. “But Mama, this one is so tiny…..”
I knew where she was headed. She worked me over like a skilled FBI agent interviewing secret-holding criminal. I tried to give her good reasons why we simply couldn’t afford another dog, and she had a comeback for each one, and a load of tears in case rational pleas weren’t enough. Eventually we gave away the litter. Macy stayed.
She was supposed to stay out back with Daisy, that was the deal. By winter I’d wake up Blondie for school and find Macy snoring in her closet. Eventually I gave up on sending the sweet dog outside. She’d somehow managed to housebreak herself. She wasn’t a “Marley and Me” kind of canine.
She didn’t chew up my favorite boots or eat any of the neighborhood children or destroy the house like most of her zoo-mates. She never sat on the couch or slept on the beds. In fact, today I let her sit in the big leather chair like a princess, and she looked at me like “are you sure?!” but she deserved it. She was a good dog. It was only dangerous to pat her on the head because once you did, she wasn’t going anywhere until she had her fill of belly rubs and ear scratches.
Years went by. Other dogs came and went through our lives. She outlived them all. I broke all of the rules with her. She ate table scraps. Sometimes she stole a piece of turkey on Thanksgiving. I was terrible about getting her shots on time. When we were really young and poor and before I knew better I fed her “Old Roy”… I wish I could go back and never buy that for her, but despite all that she managed to live a pretty healthy life for the most part.
This past year I noticed her eyes were failing. The thick cataracts made her big browns eyes appear a hazy blue. But when her eyes failed her, I said “you don’t really need to see to survive in this world” and I patted her head a little more often. Then one day I realized she couldn’t hear me anymore. We called her name and nothing happened. We tried clapping and snapping and whistling and getting her attention a thousand ways, but I finally faced it, her ears had failed her. But when her ears failed her, I said “you don’t really need to hear to survive in this world” and I patted her head every night a lot longer before I closed my eyes and said “goodnight old girl”.
Last week she started having puppy dreams again. I woke in the middle of the night to the yips and yaps and youthful barks she once made dashing across the grass and I wondered if she was dreaming of crossing over but I said to myself “not yet, old girl, please….”
You see, she raised my babies with me. That Blondie is grown and that Dyl Pickle is starting his senior year, and this family has added so many children that she has helped me love through all the sleepless nights and busy days- Whether I was wiping away the tears of a skinned knee or a broken heart or filling out 72 forms for the first day of school or walking a cranky baby up and down the street there has been one constant in my life, she has been my shadow. When I did the dishes, she sat behind me. When I wrote my blog, she was under my desk. When I changed diapers, she followed me. When I felt sick she put her head on my bed. If I was in the bathroom she was by the door. People had fun testing her, making me pace the living room just to see if she would follow and the older she got- the closer she was behind me. She walked with me, she listened to me, and lately it seems as though she was hanging in there just because she knows there aren’t many people here to lend me an ear.
But this morning her bowels had failed her, and her hips had failed her, and her stomach had failed her, and I couldn’t put the burden of my friendship on her shoulders for another day. So I made one of the hardest calls I’ve ever had to make….
Goodbye my sweet old shadow. I’m gonna be missing you… I’m not sure who else I’ll be talking to or tripping over when I need to pee at 3 in the morning. Things won’t be the same without you here….