In appreciation for the dog days of summer and our little furry friends who remind us to relax and savor them, my guest blogger is my sister, Karene Hughes. This is part of her chapter from our anthology of stories by 30 women, What We Talk About When We’re Over 60. Karene reminds us of the simple and yet most important pleasures our dogs offer us. Enjoy. ~ Linda
By Karene Hughes
I’ve never thought of myself as a patient person. I did, after all, inherit that embarrassing family temper. Remember the dad in the movie Christmas Story, down in the basement having the “conversation” with the furnace? Yup, that was my dad. My mom used to have her own conversations with the sewing machine and I was well into adulthood before I knew sewing didn’t involve #$%X@# words. My sister once told me of the time she was putting up curtains in her bedroom, conversing with them as well, when her husband came into the room, calmly looked at her and asked “Do you need a pill or something?” And me? Well, I’m the one who has a little conversation of my own with the MicroSoft gods who have pre-determined that I can’t possibly know what I really want so they auto correct for me. Don’t even get me started on cable and all those remotes.
So, imagine my amazement in learning that I do indeed have a very patient side. All it took to discover it was 14 pounds of spunk and tenacity named Chelsie.
Although I grew up with a variety of dogs in our family, I had never adopted one as an adult. Living alone it’s quite a commitment, always having to adjust your schedule around them. So when my sister-in-law Val suggested I adopt her sister’s 11 year old Westie Chelsie, I hemmed and hawed. Val and my brother Tom had two dogs of their own, which I often dog sat for, and they knew I loved dogs. Val’s sister had remarried, had several children and had started a day care in her home, so Chelsie, being an older dog, was having trouble adjusting to all those children and their commotion. I knew Chelsie from our family get-togethers and yes, I finally adopted her, but only on a trial basis. I wasn’t at all sure how this would go. Well of course, I absolutely fell in love with her in no time at all. Loving and loyal, she was such a curious and happy dog that she was a delight. I went from worrying about adopting her to worrying about the family wanting her back or her wanting to be with them and not me. As it turned out, she was always very happy to visit them, but right by my side when I headed for home. It was a perfect match for all of us.
If you know anything about terriers, you know they come with a surplus of personality. While they may be stubborn, that stubbornness can also represent a tenacity that I came to deeply respect and admire. Little dogs don’t see themselves as little. They’re ready to take on the world. Chelsie was such a character, she always made me laugh and I never grew tired of watching her watch the world. She was very territorial. In fact, she would leap off the couch and bark at any animal that appeared on TV. I was amazed she could even recognize them, but she could. Even a horse in the background would warrant a bark. It was actually quite fascinating. One day, though, I was sure she had it wrong. A commercial came on with a man fishing from a boat. Chelsie planted herself in front of the screen, stomping her feet and barking ferociously. I laughed and told her “Sorry, Chelsie. There are no animals in this one!” Just then, the fisherman’s cell phone rang. He answered it and heard “meow meow meow” and the screen changed to a cat on a cell phone calling him. OK, either Chelsie was way too smart or had been watching way too much TV!
Chelsie and I spent almost two years together and she became an important part of my life. I never tired of her adventures and grew to love simply watching her confident, adventuresome self while in the yard or on our walks. Often I watched her in awe. How on earth could so much attitude, affection, and just pure life be encompassed in that little 14 pound body.
When Chelsie neared 13, she developed kidney disease. Hospitalized for several days, I was so in fear of her dying. Once home, on meds and a new diet, she required subcutaneous saline injections several times a week to keep her hydrated, a necessity due to her disease. During this time, as I knew her health was declining, she became slower and slower on our walks and in our activities. While I always appreciated a good steady walk, I now slowed down, letting her set the pace. The truth was, I grew to admire and respect her tenacity and attitude. Here she was, having come so close to death and now in declining health, and yet she was still curious about the world around her and anxious to get out there and be a part of things. As she became slower, stopping more often to sniff (her way of resting), I came to appreciate this slower pace myself. I noticed this interesting tree with wildly twisting branches that I’d never really noticed before. I’d stand and watch birds building a nest or see the first little crocuses making their way up through the snow. All things we’d simply marched by before. I came to appreciate this gift Chelsie was giving me.
Chelsie started to lose her interest in eating. Each meal, I sat on the floor next to her, putting morsels of food in my palm, offering them to her and encouraging her to eat. Meal time now had to be planned for and could span a half hour. Instead of just letting her run about the yard on her own, I’d stay close, keeping an eye on her in case she needed me. My whole world slowed down along with hers and more and more, I found this to be a blessing of its own. I enjoyed simple moments in a way I hadn’t in quite some time. I quit rushing so and became more patient with life itself.
When I realized Chelsea was failing and there was no more the vet or I could do, I took the day off work and spent it with her. It was a beautiful, sunny day in June. I got a blanket and we laid in the sun. I stroked her, sang to her, napped with her and even sketched a picture of her. When my brother and sister-in-law got home from work, we all went together to the vet’s. It’s hard to explain, but I know that Chelsea knew and that she really was ready. The vet put her to sleep with us all stroking and talking to her. She went very, very peacefully.
I learned a lot from Chelsie. I had worried so about it being too much of a commitment (OK, a bother) to have a dog on my own, yet quickly found that the companionship, joy and unconditional love she offered was so much more fulfilling that I ever imagined. It truly amazed me to discover that patient side of me, as well. I’ve thought about that a lot since. Part of it is that our dogs are truly so vulnerable and dependent on us. How could I be impatient with that? They have no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives. That’s the great thing about dogs. They live in the moment with absolute honestly. Somehow, that makes whatever they require from you so much easier to give. I learned a lot from Chelsie.
Oh yes, I eventually got a new dog, another rescue mutt. I knew I needed another little four legged friend to come along and teach me what I don’t even know I have yet to learn.