Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Dog Left Me by Elizabeth McIntosh

There were very few things I could be sure of in my twenties. The only constant in my life at that time was my toothpaste, good ol’ Tom’s of Maine, Cinnamint. Everything else in my life was in flux, but each morning and night Tom took care of my teeth. I’d been traveling, had worked on a farm, lived in two half-way finished shacks, and now was proud to call home a 20-foot Prowler travel trailer. No longer could I fit all that I owned into my Honda Civic and drive away (something I prided myself on), but at least all that I owned was on wheels. The Civic sure wouldn’t be what hauled it off, but it could be hauled off to somewhere else if necessary. You see, I had a desperate need to be free. Not bound to anything. So much so that I couldn’t even bring myself to put a bumper sticker on my car. One might say I have a fear of commitment; I like to call it a preference for flexibility. Did I mention that I am a Libra?

At the same time, however, some part of me—the maternal part no doubt—yearned to take care of something. When presented with the opportunity to own a dog I jumped at the chance. The important fact being that this was a grown dog, not a puppy. If there was one other thing I was sure of, it was that I did not want a puppy. I’d had a puppy. Under no circumstances did I want another. A dog was unmistakably a commitment, but if the need arose to move on, it would always fit in my car. And hopefully it wouldn’t puke in my car like the puppy once had, over and over. (Who ever heard of a dog with motion sickness?) Anyway, I had plenty of time to think this through since the dog in question had been found abandoned on the side of the road, pregnant, and was now nursing a pack of hungry puppies. I told my friend who found her that I’d take the mother if she’d find homes for all the others. Six weeks later and “Lilly” was mine.

She, as a matter of fact, fit in the Civic quite nicely. Everywhere I went, Lilly was the co-pilot. Not confined to the backseat like any old pet, she claimed the front passenger seat as her own. And when I couldn’t bring her in with me somewhere, she dutifully kept my seat warm. We were inseparable. Except when she got a little too friendly with a skunk. Lilly did not sit in the front that week.

Life goes on, however, and soon she found herself sharing the passenger seat with my new beau, who would within a year become my husband. Lilly took to John just fine and he accepted her as part of the family. Fast forward another year and Lilly’s world (as well as ours) was rocked. We had a baby. My mother had once told me that when we had kids I’d forget all about Lilly. Never, I protested. She was practically my first born. I am beginning to realize that Mom’s know everything.

As my mother accurately predicted, life with a child (a human child)has a way of rearranging one’s priorities. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly and surely Lilly was no longer the favorite. She began to take a back seat. No longer did she get the full belly massage. A distracted rub under the table with the sole of someone’s shoe would have to suffice. But she took it in stride, and like most dogs she made the best of what little attention she was offered.

Her time inside was limited. She spent a good deal of the day pining away at the front door wondering, I suppose, when we would come to our senses and realize how easy we once had it. I mean, for goodness sakes, she came house trained! And there I was scrubbing baby poo off cloth diapers. What were we thinking? Trained, weaned, and fixed. And if she stunk, (usually due to her uncanny ability to find road kill and roll in it) out she went. No back-talk (in fact, no talking at all), and she ate the same food, straight from a bag, everyday without complaint. Mind you, our subsequent son ate chow of one sort or another by the fistful. Cat chow was prized above all else. I love my children dearly but sometimes I find myself wanting to run up to child-free dog people and shake them and say, “You have no idea how easy you have it! Stick with the dog!”

When our first son was barely one we heard him yelling “eye Da-Da eye” on the porch. Only to find him with his index finger knuckle deep in her eye socket, her tail wagging the whole time. Lilly doubled as the perfect pillow, and even occasionally permitted passenger rides. She was a trooper, and if ever there was a perfect dog for kids, she was it, almost.

Problem was, as tolerant as she was, at some point she must have realized this isn’t what she signed on for. Lilly may have been great with the boys, but I think at the end of the day she would have been pleased as punch for them to go back where they came from so she could return to being numero uno. Our child psychiatrist says my older son has had a hard time coming to terms with having a brother. He doesn’t know how to share me. Looking back, I suppose Lilly suffered from this affliction as well. Sadly, she never adjusted to having siblings.

Years passed, the boys got older and wilder. Lilly also got older. However, far from getting more rambunctious, she was turning the corner from middle-age to her golden years, silently yearning for some peace and quiet. She began wandering, as I am often reminded (I suppose to ease my guilt) Golden Retrievers are known to do. As long as I was home she was loyal to her homestead. But within seconds of my departure even if everyone else was home she split. It took us a while to figure out was happening, being all consumed as we were with our growing boys. Eventually a phone call from our across-the-creek neighbors shed some light on the situation.

Lilly, in her desperate quest for a quiet sanctuary, had stumbled upon the canine equivalent of Sun City. Not only did the neighbors not have children, but they had a pool (which strangely enough seems to intensify dog stink to levels otherwise unheard of). After retrieving Lilly countless times from the other side of the creek, and a few heart-to-heart talks, we agreed that she had made her choice. She ruled the roost once again. Lilly could return to being the completely spoiled-rotten, only child she was before. She even got the front seat back.

I remember being particularly concerned with how the boys would react to my decision. I didn’t want to look like the uncaring Mom who would give up her dog the minute the going got rough. But then again, what would I be teaching them if we kept her here against her will? It was my hope that they would see how much joy she brought to our neighbors lives and know that we did the right thing. In the end I learned once again that kids are tougher than we give them credit for and it was really my conscience I was trying to reassure.

Now half-way through my thirties, I’m still not sure of a whole lot, and some part of me is still desperately hanging on to the flexibility thing, but there are a few things I have gleaned about myself. One: I’m still loyal to Tom. The flavor has changed over the years—from Cinnamint to Spearmint, with fluoride and without—but you can be sure to find that trusty tube of Tom’s on my bathroom counter. Two: I am no longer a dog person. Jaded, I suppose, by Lilly’s abandonment I am now perfectly happy with cats. Given their druthers they are content to eat, sleep and lick themselves. Cats don’t roll in road kill, never would they consider eating another animal’s feces, and if they don’t like the kids, so what. Cats don’t need constant reassurance like dogs. Three: I know that all I own will probably never again fit in my car (awful mini-van that it is), but everything that I hold dear could. It’s a seven-seater and since we’ve drawn the line at doubling our numbers, there’s plenty of room for me, the boys, the hubby and of course the two cats—who, thank God, don’t get car sick. Everything else is just stuff. And last but not least, Four: Lilly still loves me. I see her at the neighbors quite often and although I’m more like an aunt these days she hasn’t forgotten our time together. And if the going ever gets too rough here for me as well, my neighbor has offered me a one way trip to Mexico.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Elizabeth, I really connected with your story. Our first dog never recovered from the growth of our family from 3 to 5 members. She died 2+ years following the birth of our second child. Keep on writing . . . .