Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How will I know?

I have an old dog. A really old dog. She's 96 in dog years, you do the math.

We used to spell out w-a-l-k because she knew what the sound walk meant and if we weren't going to do it, why get her all dancey and tappy?

Now we can spell all we want, d-r-a-g, p-u-l-l, take her for a c-r-a-p and it doesn't matter because she's deaf. She's so sweetly deaf that we can walk by dogs across the street who are flipping out and barking at her and she just keeps her head down, staggering slowly and sniffing. When I come home most times she's curled in her bed and after checking to make sure she's still alive I just let her sleep on. Her sense of smell still works because as soon as I start cooking I hear the slow click click of her walk across the floor. And there she is: Winnie! Oh you're a good girl! Yes you are, you are!

She was four months old when my daughters and I picked her out at the SPCA. She had to stay there for another day to see if an owner showed up. My boss at the time, a dog lover, ordered me to leave work early to make sure that we got her, a story that always makes my mother laugh. "As if someone else would want that dog!"

That first day I took Winnie with me to pick up my daughters from daycare and I can remember so clearly turning around and seeing the two girls in the backseat of the car with Winnie between them, each holding a paw. I knew that I had completed one photo for my mental family album. Then a motorcycle drove past and she climbed on Alice's lap scratching her and the girls started screaming and Winnie was barking, climbing further over Alice who started to cry which started Elizabeth crying and that's pretty much a good illustration of the next 12 years: screaming, barking, crying, misbehaving.

I read Good Owners Great Dogs and took obedience classes with Winnie. It actually seemed possible to have a trained dog, we had a certificate after all, but then I got distracted in ten minutes with the kids and the house falling down and the job and Winnie ended up not being very well behaved, because, well she had an okay owner, maybe even a bad one.

At family gatherings Winnie was the loser cousin to my brother's well-behaved chocolate lab. Winnie would be barking, trying to chase motor boats and Bosco would lift his noble head and just stare at her as she drove herself nuts. Then she would trot up to Bosco like, don't worry, I took care of THAT one. Oh Winnie. At Thanksgiving the relatives would shake their heads when she jumped up on people, begged, barked, stole food or ran away and turn to Bosco and say, What a GOOD boy!

Another stupid idea that I felt I had to adhere to was that having a dog would teach the kids responsibility. Elizabeth's task was to walk Winnie to the stop sign and back. I would peek out the window before hopping in the shower (my only free three minutes) and see Elizabeth running down the street with Winnie biting her ankles. What it taught Elizabeth is to hate dogs.

I dated this woman who had two dogs, one blind and diabetic, the other a little circusy dog with a serious gas problem. Silly me, after a year of dating I brought Winnie over to meet the fam. I'll never forget seeing Martha trying to pull her dogs away from Winnie, yelling at me, "You said she wasn't an alpha dog! You said she was a beta dog!" I felt a little bad but hey, if she couldn't dominate these two, what kind of dog was she? Even Bosco might have nodded slightly in approval.

The crazy, jumpy dog has slowed way down. For the past few years she's been a model dog, quiet, sweet, sleeping most of the day. Her world has become narrower. First we blocked off the stairs because she just couldn't make it up there and she sleeps downstairs in her bed. It's hard to look at her and say good night buddy before I climb the stairs she used to climb with me. She falls down a lot. Her back legs just give out. Avert your eyes I say to myself, so I don't see her flounder. I also avert my eyes when she goes down the stairs to the back yard. Trying to help her only makes it worse because when I bend down she freaks and hurtles away from me. Just, don't, look.

She still gets excited about food and taking a walk and she does bark at the cat for about one minute every night.

The cat. Did I mention that we got the cat the same year as Winnie?

I used to think that when Winnie started pooping in the house that would be it. Guess what, it's not. Then I thought if she bit me. Not then either it appears. When she can't walk at all? Two nights ago when I was putting Neosporin on my finger I thought, please Winnie, don't make me decide. Help me out here sweetie because I'm going to find it very hard to let you go.

No comments: